ANTALYA LIES AT THE CENTER OF A BROAD CULTURAL BASIN EXTENDING FROM THE AEGEAN OVER THE TAURUS TO SYRIA. AT THE CONFLUENCE OF CIVILIZATIONS FROM THE LYCIAN AND ROMAN TO THE SELJUK AND OTTOMAN, ANTALYA IS THE SUN THAT ILLUMINATES THE MEDITERRANEAN.
It is no coincidence either that the world’s oldest shipwreck as well as its oldest lighthouse are located here. The Lycian civilization, whose style of government inspired the western democracies, flourished here.
The Seljuks, who brought a vast culture and aesthetic to the Mediterranean basin, built their first shipyard here. Santa Claus lived here, Cleopatra swam here.
The sun, which endows these lands with spring three seasons of the year and summer the other, illuminates Antalya, and Antalya the entire Mediterranean.
In a style befitting such civilizations, one enters Antalya through the Triple Gate, a monumental triple-arched portal erected in honor of the Emperor Hadrian, of whose achievements the French writer Marguerite Yourcenar was so enamored.
Slipping through this gate in the castle walls, one instantly escapes the fast pace of modern life. Boasting minarets adorned with resplendent stones, old wooden houses with jutting cantilevered balconies, narrow lanes and quiet courtyards, the Castle is a graceful old Ottoman quarter.
The first place to see is, without a doubt, the Grooved Minaret. This 45-meter spire, studded with turquoise stones, is visible from all over the city, just like the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
But Antalya has much more than the natural beauty of cities nestled between the mountains and the sea. The 3,000-meter peaks are almost never out of sight.
The mountains that excite skiers at Saklıkent and mountain-climbers on Kızlar Sivrisi harbor vestiges of countless ancient cities, among them Termessos and Selge, aka Arykanda.
Each one of the cities, accessible only by breath-taking roads running through forests and canyons on the brink of precipices, is like an eagle’s eyrie.
If you’re interested, the Lycian Way is ready and waiting for you, uniting along its 509-kilometer route the major ancient settlements of the Antalya basin.
This trail, which runs from the tranquil, secluded coves to the steep mountain slopes, has been designated as meeting international criteria. The migration ritual has been going on since time immemorial in the virgin highlands of the Taurus Mountains.
If every great city boasts a river that gives it life, then Antalya has dozens of them. Xantos, for example, is an ancient Anatolian capital which is watered by the Eşen River.
Water brought civilization to Antalya, human intelligence developed it. Antalya, which has nurtured numerous civilizations in its bosom for 4,000 years, exhibits one of the finest examples of an aesthetic-creating culture, as you can observe yourself, be it in the capital of a column or the eaves of a mosque.
The Antalya basin is full of ancient theaters. Once used as gladiator schools, most of them, like the one at Side, are now festival venues. In almost perfect condition, the more than 2,000-year-old Aspendos Ancient Theater has been hosting an opera and ballet festival every summer since 1994.
And the Antalya International Golden Orange Film Festival, which goes back half a century, is one of the Antalya basin’s longest standing cinematic events. For Antalya is a city of culture today as it was in the past.
Charlize Theron, one of countless stars who have chosen Antalya for their holiday, has described her beloved Olympus as being ‘like heaven’. Yanartaş is another surprise in this famous region with its unique wooden houses, its eco-agriculture farms and its magnificent beach, which is home to the Caretta caretta sea turtle.
The spontaneous flames that burn here and there on the volcanic slope can be reached in a climb of approximately half an hour on an ancient trail. Eight kilometers south of Olympus, Adrasan is known for its lovely beach and Cape Gelidonya for its lighthouse.
France’s St. Tropez has nothing on Antalya’s beaches, which in fact have more. Kaputaş, near the scuba-diving center of Kaş, is indicated as one of the world’s best beaches.
Meanwhile the Üçağız coast is another world entirely. And the nearby forested hills are like a mysterious oasis dotted with sarcophagi and monk’s cells at every step. Kaleköy (Simena) and the sunken ship just 15 minutes from the ferry landing are the region’s two wonders.
In sum, there are wonders aplenty in the city of the sun. All you have to do is keep your window and let the light in! Hosting different faiths down the centuries, Antalya is a place where you can see numerous places of worship from ancient temples to churches and mosques.
The church in neighboring Demre where St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) once served is a museum today. He is commemorated every December at the church, which is also used occasionally for weddings.
The Castle area, aka Old Antalya, was built along an historic harbor surrounded by walls. Many of the Ottoman mansions in its narrow streets have been converted into antique shops, restaurants and boutique hotels.
Besides the 13th century Seljuk Grooved Minaret, other sights worth seeing include the Truncated Minaret, the Mevlevi Dervish Lodge, the Triple Gate and Hıdırlık Tower.
Olympus beach is under protection as the habitat of the Caretta Caretta sea turtle.
NATURE SPORTS PARADISE
Antalya basin is a perfect landscape for nature sports. Scuba diving at Kaş, skiing at Saklıkent, jeep safaris in the Taurus, rafting in Köprülü Canyon and canoeing at Kekova are just a few of those that leap to mind.
The region also offers numerous hiking and cycling trails, most notably the 509-kilometer Lycian Way, as well as extensive alternatives for climbing enthusiasts.
One of the cities that drive Turkish tourism, Antalya attracts millions of tourists every year for its natural beauty. The national parks are another legacy of the Antalya basin, which extends as far as the Lakes Region in the backyard of the Taurus.
With names like Olympus, Termessos and Köprülü Canyon, these parks also provide a habitat for hundreds of plant and animal species.Did you know that many lawyers, doctors and engineers have fled the big cities to raise bananas in Anamur?
Anamur bananas, a bunch of which can weight up to 100 kilos, are distinguished by their unique fragrance and taste.Antalya, where the sun shines 300 days a year on average, is home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.
These golden sands, where even the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra once had her heart stolen, stretch along Antalya’s entire coast. Those who seek comfort will prefer Kemer, those seeking peace and quiet the beaches at Kaleköy (Simena).
The Lycian Civilization that flourished in the Antalya basin is known to have broadened the horizons of the Mediterranean societies with its architecture and models of government.
Among the ancient theaters so frequently encountered in the area, the one at Aspendos is one of the most magnificent. And Myra near Demre is known for its faces carved in the rock.
Oranges, limons and mandarins are grown abundantly in Antalya, the Mediterranean’s citrus orchard. If you happen to go to Finike in winter, you will notice that the streets are redolent of oranges.
You can experience unforgettable moments exploring the Antalya coastline in a sea canoe, which will take you everywhere from the sea caves to ancient trails and narrow crevices in the rocks.
Now rushing wildly, now flowing as smooth as while silk, the beautiful Düden Falls are a boon for those seeking a peaceful refuge. Alternatives are rife in Antalya, a waterfall paradise. And Manavgat Falls 80 kilometers to the east is just one of them.
Turkish Airlines has Istanbul-Antalya flights in both directions every day of the week. For flight times and fares, visit the website.The shops inside the Castle are great places to pick up hand-woven carpets and kilims, antiques, leather masks, pottery, decorative finials and natural cotton textiles.
Boutique hotels have come into their own in Antalya of late. Offering guests a friendly and more authentic environment, they can be found in secluded coves or highland villages.
And the wooden houses at Olimpos boast prize-winning hostels.We recommend that you choose what you eat in Antalya depending on where you are.
You might try döner (roast lamb on a spit) with vegetables at the city center, Mediterranean fish like white grouper, dentex and swordfish along the coasts,trout and savory crepes Turkish-style in the highlands.
Eco-agriculture farms are one of the latest trends in the Antalya basin. You can engage in production yourself as a volunteer ecologist on these farms, which are located at various points around the region, mainly at Çıralı.
IN THE ALANYA CASTLE
One of the wonders of Antalya province, Alanya Castle stands on a high promontory overlooking the harbor. Built by the Seljuks in the 13th century, it is fortified by six and a half kilometers of walls with a total of 83 battlements. A stone structure reminiscent of a five-arched bridge to the left of the tower is the only surviving shipyard from the Seljuk period.
The blue crab served at restaurants on the Demre coast is a delicacy unique to the region. Grilled over charcoal, its snow-white flesh is extracted with the help of a special cracker.Rumor has it that blue crab is even tastier in winter.
March to May is rafting season in Antalya. This period, when melting snows coursing down from the summits cause the current to rise, fuels enthusiasm as well.
Köprüçay and Eşen River are two popular rafting centers in the region.Resort villages and five-star hotels at Kemer and Belek and in the city center offer winter discounts up to 50%. Your best bet is to contact an authorized travel agent.
First held in 2000, the International Antalya Piano Festival addresses the tastes of classical music buffs. Held last year for the 11th time, the festival takes place in November.
CENGİZ KARLIOVA PHOTOGRAPHER
I completed the route, which included the Antalya basin, in a 20-day shoot. Seeing vestiges of history in the ancient city of Termessos, having a bite to eat on the banks of the Dim Çayı, sipping tea steeped over an open fire in the magical atmosphere of Yanartaş at sunset…
Besides the attraction of sun and sea in the region, it was a lot of fun to wander in its natural and historical texture.