Heaven in Antalya
Nestled along the beautiful Turkish Riviera on the Mediterranean coastline, Antalya offers plenty of things to do for everyone. Spectacular scenery frames the city with gorgeous beaches and lush green mountains dotted with ancient ruins. If you want to revel in sightseeing, you'll find a fascinating line-up of attractions to keep you busy.
At the city's center is the picturesque old quarter, Kaleici (literally ‘within the castle'), a cobbled quarter backed by Roman and pre-Roman ruins and Byzantine ramparts guarding the harbor, a living museum of the area's former Ottoman grandeur. The neighborhood has undergone a transformation from its former, dusty and neglected self and is now bejeweled with its original, restored timber-framed manses embracing fragrant garden courtyards. The maze-like Old Town neighborhood was made for strolling. Perfectly restored whitewashed and red-roofed Ottoman mansions line the cobblestone streets, now home to a plethora of boutique hotels, souvenir shops, art galleries, and restaurants. The streets are narrow and it is quite easy to get lost if you don't know your way around, but that is half the fun of exploring this older part of the city. Although it's more a place to simply breathe in the old-world ambience, there are also plenty of small tourist attractions for those who want to sightsee.
The main square (Kale Kapısı) has a fortress gate and stone-clad clock tower and was once a part of the old city fortifications. The 18th-century Tekeli Mehmet Paşa Mosque is interesting for the beautiful Arabic inscriptions in the colored tiles above the windows and along the base of the dome. Along Hesapcı Sokak, you'll find the graceful Kesik Minare (truncated minaret). Destroyed by fire in the 19th century, this is all that is left of a substantial building that started its life as a 2nd century Roman temple, was converted into the Byzantine Church of the Virgin Mary in the 6th century, and finally became a mosque three centuries later. It became a church again in 1361 until fire destroyed most of it. It played a major role in Antalya's religious life over the centuries.
Hadrian's Gate is one of the main (and the most dramatic) entrance gates into the Kaleici district and is a classic example of a Roman triumphal arch. Considerable stretches of the Hellenistic and Roman town walls on the eastern side of the old town have been preserved, and Hadrian's Gate is the most notable of these sections. Erected in honor of the AD 130 visit by Emperor Hadrian himself, this imposing three-arched marble gateway, flanked by imposing towers, is decorated with rich sculptural decorations.
Fantastic stories are told about the gate, like the one about Makeda, Queen of Sheba, who drove through the gate, and then rested in Aspendos, on her way to a meeting with King Solomon. However, there is not a grain of truth in it since these events, even if they had been real, happened in the tenth century BC, and therefore long before the construction of the gate.
The old city wraps around a splendid Roman-era harbor with clifftop views of hazy-blue mountain silhouettes that are worth raising a toast to. It is a picturesque huddle of boutiques, pretty cafes, bazaars, and gently bobbing yachts that look out over the shimmering Mediterranean. The harbor was Antalya's lifeline from the 2nd century BC until late in the 20th century, bringing trade and prosperity to the city and surrounding region. These days you come here to shop and then watch the sun set over the sea while you sip a coffee, or you can head out onto the Mediterranean on one of the many excursion boats to swim, sightsee, and spread out your towel on an empty beach. You can hardly avoid passing by the beautiful old Hidirlik tower. Built in the 2nd century, this squat 14-meter high cylindrical tower watches over the old harbor from high above on the edge of Karaalioǧlu Park. No one is quite sure what the function of this Roman fortress was, but most agree it acted as a watchtower or lighthouse over the busy port below. Now it's a fantastic spot to watch the sunset or get that all-important panoramic view over the old harbor area. Do as the locals do and come here at dusk to promenade. Excellent cafes are also nearby if you need to recuperate after sightseeing.
If you're at all interested in Turkish history don't miss the excellent Antalya Museum, with exhibitions covering everything from the Stone and Bronze Ages to Byzantium. The most important sites represented in this museum are: Karain cave, ancient city of Perge and the cities of Lykian civilization. The Hall of Gods displays beautiful and evocative statues of 15 Olympian gods, many in excellent condition. Most of the statues were found at Perge, including the sublime Three Graces and the towering Dancing Woman dominating the first room. The sarcophagi, including one for a third-century dog from Termessos, are also stunning. Upstairs are coins and other gold artefacts recovered from Aspendos, Side and various Byzantine and Ottoman sites. Even better, the collection is displayed in exemplary fashion, making Turkey's rich (and rather complicated) history easy to understand.
Right beside the Kale entrance gate into the old city is Antalya's most distinctive landmark, the Yivli Minare (fluted minaret), built by the Seljuk sultan Alaeddin Keykubad (1219-36). This handsome and distinctive minaret is a typical example of Seljuk architecture, with a square base surmounted by an octagonal drum bearing the fluted shaft, with its corbelled gallery around the top. Minarets are built for mosques, of course, and there was in fact a 13th-century Seljuk Turkish mosque at the foot of the minaret which is still in use today. The Minaret's eight semi-circular grooved red brick shaft was originally decorated with dark blue and turquoise-coloured tiles. With blue-glazed tiles woven into every other row of the minaret trunk, it gave an illusion of stripes running up the flanks. It still bears traces of its characteristic blue tile decoration here and there.
No trip to Antalya would be complete without taking in some nearby sights. 25 miles to the east is the ancient city of Aspendos, commonly believed to have been settled by colonists from Argos. There's not much left of the ancient city, but the one remaining monument, the Theatre of Aspendos, commonly thought to be the best preserved in the world and one of the top tourist attractions in Turkey. Local architect Zenon under the rule of Marcus Aurelius built this masterpiece in 155 AD. It was a present to the emperor and to the Roman gods. The glory days of this dazzling, ancient town were during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, when most of the ruins that can be seen today were built. Apart from the theater, which has been fully restored and can seat 15,000 people, much of the rest of the site still lies in ruins. Every year, the Aspendos theatre is home to an International Opera and Ballet Festival.
Aspendos may get all the tourism fame, but Termessos beats it hands down for atmosphere. The one city Alexander the Great didn't bother stopping to conquer, Termessos sits at the top of a mountain near the southern Turkish coast. To get there, you need to travel 1000 meters towards the sky, deep into the Taurus mountain range. The difficulties of this journey are quickly compensated for by the vista seen from the ancient theater which is considered to be most dramatically situated of all the ancient buildings of its kind in Turkey. The well-preserved remains of this ancient Pisidian city lie scattered along a rugged hillside with jaw-dropping views across the surrounding countryside. Concealed by pine forests and with a peaceful and untouched appearance, the site has a more distinct and impressive atmosphere than many other ancient cities. Due to its mountainous setting, Termessos is often nicknamed "Turkey's Machu Picchu", although it receives only a fraction of the visitor numbers of its South American counterpart.
Tripelli has a fabulous selection of vacation rental properties ideally situated for sightseers and beach lovers.