Straddling the Mediterranean coast and flanked by the Taurus Mountains of southwest Turkey, the region of Antalya, known as ‘Pamphilia’ in the ancient world, is full of archaeological treasures, many of which are within an hour or so of the city.
If you’re interested in the ancient world, there is more than enough to keep you busy here for at least a few days. To make the most of your sightseeing, also consider checking out Antalya’s Archaeological Museum, which has an impressive collection of art and artifacts from excavations throughout the region.
Perge and Aspendos
Located only 11 miles east of Antalya, Perge has the region’s most significant Roman ruins.
Originally settled by the Hittites in the Bronze Age, under Roman occupation Perge grew to become one of the most impressive cities of the ancient world. Little of this ancient splendor remains, but ruins include a large Greco-Roman theater with fine marble reliefs, a stadium capable of seating over 12,000 people, a long colonnaded street, an agora, public baths and a gymnasium. Of these, the theater and the stadium are the best preserved.
Down the main road a short drive east of Perge is Aspendos Theatre, built in the 2nd-century AD. It is considered the best-preserved ancient Roman theatre in the world and is still used for opera and ballet performances and concerts. Behind the theatre you can also visit the ancient Roman Aqueducts.
Less than half an hour (24 miles) from Antalya lies the remains of ancient Termessos, the mountaintop city that Alexander the Great once found impenetrable. You can drive to lower reaches of Termessos through the Gulluk Dagi National Park, but wear some decent shoes and be prepared to do some climbing if you want to reach some of the higher, more impressive ruins. Most impressive is the Theater, which is built into the mountain and offers spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. Other major sights in the upper part of the city include the Agora, the Cistern with Five Partitions, a colonnaded street, and the Corinth Temple.
Side offers visitors a unique combination of ancient Roman ruins alongside a modern, seaside resort. The ruins here, like those of Ephesus on the Aegean, are in fairly good condition. The large main gate and the Temple of Athena date to Side’s Hellenistic period. The site also features a large amphitheater and a temple dedicated to Apollo.
Heading west from Antalya the first ancient city you’ll come across is Phaselis. Founded around 700BC by the Rhodians, Phaselis was once an important harbor city and a center of commerce between ancient civilizations in Greece, Asia, Egypt and Phoenicia. Like most historic cities in Turkey, Phaselis’ history involves being swallowed by empire after empire, but most of the ruins seen today date from the Roman period, including a 24-metre-wide ancient street, an aqueduct, a theater, bathhouses, agoras and numerous sarcophagi.
Located 34 miles south of Antalya, Olympos not only boasts some well-preserved Lycian, Greek and Roman ruins, but it is one of the most atmospheric backpacker hangouts in Turkey, with a relaxed hippy vibe and plenty of cheap tree houses and bungalows. Built during the Hellenistic period, a part of the Olympos’ theater still remains, as well as a Roman bathhouse, a Byzantine Church and a necropolis with more than 200 inscribed tombs. Also nearby is one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions — the Chimera — a collection of ground vents that emit mysterious flames from the mountainside.