At one time, Antalya was the southern-most outpost of the Roman Empire. At that time it stretched from more or less the border between England and Scotland all the way down and across Europe and into Asia, on this Western coast of modern day Turkey.
Hadrian built a wall in the North to keep out the Scots, Danes and Vikings, and in the South, well, there’s a gate. It was built to celebrate Hadrian’s visit to the city in 130 AD, and it still stands today, separating the Old Town within the old city walls from modern Antalya. That makes it nearly 1,900 years old. And it’s still standing.
There were deep grooves worn into the stone through the main arch from not centuries, but millennia of traffic passing through. It was our first real brush with antiquity in Turkey, and gave us a hint of what more we had to discover.
A little way into the mountains to the West, are the ancient ruins of Termessos. The city was set high on a mountain, and after passing into the national park, we climbed 9km on steep switchbacks to get to the trail head leading up further to the ruins.
The trail was steep, but well maintained and easily traveled. The city sits at 1000m above sea level, and you notice the elevation in the fantastic views from around the site. Alexander the Great tried conquering it a few times around 330 AD, but failed repeatedly due to the difficult terrain (he called it the Eagle’s Nest). Eventually he gave up, setting his sights on other cities nearby. Termessos even plays a role in the Iliad, where Bellerophon (Perseus) was commissioned by the king of Lycia to conquer.
About 50m from the top, Austin discovered that his camera battery was flat. Mark didn’t miss the opportunity to lecture us all on checking our cameras before we left to go somewhere, and then generously went back down the mountain to get a spare out of the car. This lecture would come back and bite Mark in the ass a few days later when he would discover that his camera had no battery in it at all at the beach. But it was very nice of him to go back and get Austin’s battery for him!
While we waited for Mark, Austin and I scrambled up to a lone wall standing out on it’s own on a ridge. It wasn’t until we got up there that I realised just how precariously positioned that wall was, and that the stones we climbed over to get there weren’t stones at all, but actual pieces of fallen columns and stones from the rest of the wall!
The view from up there was spectacular, and it revealed more of the city beyond it, with two large walls of arches overgrown by the pine forest around it.
The site is huge, and the trail takes you around to a large perfectly intact wall that must have served as a retaining wall at the edge of the cliff. The whole site, while neatly signposted, still has a feel of being totally undiscovered and unrestored. Higher up, the trail is composed of large square stones, parts of pillars and cornice pieces, and even stones engraved with ancient writing. They seem to lie where they fell. You have to scramble over and around these massive ancient stones to navigate the path, and it just feels wrong to be walking over something seemingly so precious, and certainly so very old!
We made our way through various parts of the city to the crowning jewel, the nearly completely intact theatre that is perched on the edge of a cliff, 1000m above the valley and the sea below, with a dramatic cliff as a backdrop. It is just spectacular…if not a little scary!
I kept thinking that one tiny little tremor, and surely the whole thing would come crashing down. Of course it was more stable than that, and I started to appreciate the untouched feel of the place. Because we were there on a random weekday in October, toward the end of the day, we more or less had the place to ourselves. It was like we were Indiana Jones discovering an ancient city, but without the snakes and poisoned dates!
Near to the theatre was a deep cistern divided into five wells, and fed by an aqueduct system. They were covered with an antique looking metal grate (read: would’nt let my kid get near it), and you could see deep deep down and imagine the whole thing filled with water while a busy city went about its business overhead. Even creepier than standing in a theatre on the edge of a cliff was peering into this cistern with no apparent bottom, and realising the ground is completely hollow just a few inches below your feet!
From Termessos, we drove down the mountain again toward Cirali, our beach village home for the next three days.
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