The ancient site of Tlos is situated at the modern village of Yaka, 42 km east of Fethiye, and is a major tourist site located on a strategic hilltop in the upper Xanthus River valley. The site is dominated by its impressive ancient acropolis, a rocky outcrop rising from a plateau with steep cliffs covered with well-preserved rock-cut tombs. On top of the acropolis are the remains of an 19th century Ottoman citadel.
Tlos was the oldest Lycian city dating back to before 2000 BCE and one of the six cities forming the Lycian League, along with Myra, Olympus, Pinara, Patara and Xanthos. A tomb on the acropolis dating back to 350-320 BCE is associated with Bellerophon, progenitor of the Lycian royalty. In 168 BCE the city started minting coins in Lycian style. In 43 AD the Lycian region became a Roman state, in which Tlos was a metropolis. Many ancient roads from the neighbouring cities met in Tlos.
A Jewish community is also known to have existed at Tlos with its own magistrates. Archaeologists at Tlos have recently uncovered statues of Emperor Hadrian, Emperor Antoninus Pius and his daughter Faustina the Younger, as well as the goddess Isis (all now at the Fethiye Museum). Christianity eventually triumphed and a bishop from Tlos attended the Council of Chalcedon in 415.
Near the site of Tlos is a large carpark and from there one can walk via a good path directly up the slope to the acropolis and the Lycian house-type rock-cut tombs cut directly into the rock, some with figures depicted. At the summit stands the fortress of a notorious 19th century Ottoman feudal lord, built over a Lycian structure as well as a Roman era wall. To reach the so-called Bellerophon tomb on the north face, take the lower trail to the right below the cliffs. A ladder leads up to the tomb. Faint relief figures of Bellerophon and Pegasus, as well as four other animal figures adorn the tomb exterior, above and below the entrance portals.
To the south-east below the acropolis is the great Roman stadium with seating for 3500 people. Columns strewn around the area suggest a columned portico once stood to the north. Parallel to the stadium to the south-east are remnants of a 150 m long, two-storey structure with large arched doors in the western wall, which was probably an agora. To the south was a palaestra (wresting hall). Further south-east was an extensive baths complex. Near the palaestra lies the remains of a late Roman church. Further up across the modern road on the left is a large 2nd century Roman theatre with 34 rows of seats supported by a structure of vaults (in 2015 it was not accessible). A portion of the stage building still stands and theatre mask reliefs on stone blocks remain visible.
By car: the site of Tlos is easily reachable via a good and well-signposted road leading from Fethiye via Kemer through the mountains to the modern village of Yaka. Near the site one can park the car and stroll to the entrance where you have to pay an entrance fee. Near the car park are a few cafés and restaurants.
Text and photographs: Michel Gybels