This article has been previously published as a part of book Antalya, Side and Alanya: TAN Travel Guide by Izabela Miszczak
Off the beaten track, in Taurus mountains, lie picturesque ruins of ancient Lyrbe. Only a few years ago, the ruins of this ancient city were not easily accessible to the public. What is more, even the identification of this city and its name raised serious doubts among researchers. Recently the road leading to the gate of Lyrbe has been tarmacked and the ruins have attracted more and more tourists, mostly brought there by the pompously called "jeep safari" tours. However, if you are lucky and plan the timing of your arrival carefully, you will be able to have this entire ancient city entirely at your disposal. Lyrbe is located far away from the Mediterranean coast, but the well-preserved agora and the picturesque location in the middle of the forest make this trip a spectacular experience.
Little is known about the history of the city. Moreover, the uncertainty as to its correct identification results in the lack of absolute confidence during the examination of ancient sources that describe the settlement. Until recently, it was quite commonly believed that these ruins, located in the Taurus mountains, were the remains of a town called Seleucia in Pamphylia. However, in the 80-ies of the 20th century the German scholar Johannes Noll suggested that these are rather the ruins of Lyrbe and that Seleucia was a different town, situated near the Mediterranean coast.
The word 'Lyrbe' is frequently derived from the Luvian language, which had been used by the indigenous people of Asia Minor before the arrival of the Greeks to the area. The Luvian origins of the city name may indicate the existence of a settlement here in the 2nd millennium BC, but this theory has not been so far confirmed by archaeological research.
Nevertheless, if one assumes that the preserved buildings could be identified as Seleucia in Pamphylia, the foundation of the city should be attributed to Seleucus I Nicator, one of the generals and successors of Alexander the Great. In the end of the 4th century BC his kingdom encompassed virtually the whole of Asia Minor where at least five cities called Seleucia were founded in this period.
One can also accept the third version: perhaps Seleucia was built on the site where previously Lyrbe had stood. In any event, it is expected that more of Lyrbe/Seleucia will be heard in the future, when some significant archaeological discoveries are made there, facilitating the identification of the city and shedding some light on its history.
Archaeological work was conducted in Lyrbe in the years 1972-1979, by a team led by professor Jale İnan. Since then, unfortunately, no new research has been undertaken. An interesting finding related to Lyrbe was the identification of ancient inscriptions in Side language, specific to this area. Their content suggests that Lyrbe was inhabited by the people of the same origin as the inhabitants of Side on the coast.
The visible remains of buildings in Lyrbe come from the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. The most magnificent building in the city is the agora, considered the best preserved structure of this kind in Pamphylia. In addition, there are remnants of Lyrbe ramparts, baths, temples, cisterns, tombs and a church.
Agora - the political and commercial center of Lyrbe - is a rectangular square, which once was surrounded on all sides by colonnaded galleries in Doric and Ionic orders, and two-storied buildings. Originally, six gates led into the agora. The complex was built in Hellenistic times, in the 2nd century BC and later rebuilt twice - in the early Roman period and the 4tn or 5th century AD.
On the northern side of the agora was a library and an exedra - an open niche in the shape of a crescent which was used to conduct political debates. The eastern side of the agora was dominated by an odeon, in ancient times furnished with wooden benches. Next to the odeon a row of shops stretches on this side of the agora.
In the north-western corner of the agora there are the traces of the early Byzantine chapel. Many of the rooms at the agora were adorned with mosaic floors. Two beautiful specimens of such mosaics, depicting the Seven Sages of Greece and Orpheus, are now exhibited in the Archaeological Museum in Antalya.
Other structures in Lyrbe are located next to the agora and on the slope of a mountain above this square. Thanks to its specific location - far from the coast and up in the mountains, Lyrbe has not fallen victim to predatory acquisition of construction materials. Among the lush forest various ancient structures - churches, temples, residential houses, as well as fallen columns and forgotten quern-stones - can be traced in different stages of preservation.
The entrance to Lyrbe ruins is free of charge and the area of the ancient city is not fenced off. Walking around Lyrbe is a pleasant pastime even on hot days, as the ruins are scattered on the gently sloping and wooded mountainside. You only need to be careful as you explore ancient buildings, because they are not secured in any way and in some places they are seriously damaged by the ravages of time.
Most of the archaeological finds from Lyrbe were unearthed during the archaeological work in the 70s of the 20th century and are now in the collections of the Archaeological Museum in Antalya. Several exhibits from Lyrbe are also exhibited in the Archaeological Museum in Side.
If you travel to Lyrbe by your own means of transport it is recommended to make two stops along the way. The first tourist attraction, just behind the center of Manavgat, is a waterfall of the same name (tr. Manavgat Şelalesi). Up in the mountains, near Lyrbe and clearly visible from the road, there are well-preserved sections of the Roman aqueduct, which provided water from the mountains to the Side.
If you want to have Lyrbe ruins just for yourself and avoid the crowds of tourists, it is a good idea to arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when the organized groups have already left for lunch.
By public transport: regular minibuses run from Manavgat to Bucak Şeyhler village from which it is possible to walk to Lyrbe as the distance is only 2.5 km (1.5 mile).
By car: from 2012 asphalt road leads from the coast up to Lyrbe. In 2013, some sections of the route, situated between Manavgat and Bucak Şeyhler village were being repaired. The distance from the center of Manavgat to the ruins of Lyrbe is about 16 km (10 miles).
With an organized tour: daily jeep safari tours are organized in Side, with stopovers in Lyrbe and by the Roman aqueduct.