3-7 September 2015. It is an easy two-hour drive from Marmaris to Fethiye. We walk into our hotel room and fall in love. Suddenly, unexpectedly, we have arrived in paradise. The whole front wall of our room is glass and looks out over the deep turquoise Mediterranean. It opens onto a balcony. We are surprised and overjoyed by the splendor of our circumstances. Please can we stay here forever? We immediately decide to stay a second day and give up a day in Antalya, our planned next stop.
A lazy afternoon; we will go down to the water eventually but for now we are content just to look at it. It is very hot as usual. Since Izmir it has been in the mid thirties or higher (95+) every day. Later we take a walk along the pedestrian-only walkway, the beach on one side, restaurants and bars on the other.
We find a place for dinner with agreeable music: blues and jazz instead of the usual screaming disco-bubblegum pop.
Early one morning we climb up to the Lycian cliff tombs that overlook the town. Some of them are over two thousand years old, hand hewn into the cliff sides. I am trying to imagine people, probably hundreds of them, scaling these cliffs and carving huge edifices from the sandstone, with perfectly straight horizontal and vertical lines, perfectly formed Ionic columns. How did they do that? It seems incredible to me.
The Lycians were an Anatolian people dating from as long ago as 3000 BC. It is known that by 2000 BC they had strong land and sea forces, and were an independent state. They inhabited the compact mountainous area in the southwest of Turkey along and inland from the Mediterranean coast.
There is little historical record of them, but what is known tells of a people culturally divergent from the rest of the ancient world. They were most likely a matriarchal society. The Greeks revered the Lycians for having solved the problem of balancing free government in smaller communities with the needs of the greater political whole. The Lycians were the first democratic union and valued their unity while Greek city-states were still constantly at war with each other.
I’d not heard of the Lycians until we read that we’d be able to see some of their magnificent rock-cut tombs, dating back to 400 BC, during our cruise of Dalyan River. The more elaborate tombs were the resting places of kings. Throughout the Lycian region one thousand and eighty-five tombs of various types still survive.
The Lycians believed their dead were carried to the afterlife by magical winged creatures so their dead were placed as high as possible to facilitate the journey. The more important the person, the higher the tomb. The exteriors for royalty were intricately carved, while the older tombs, and those for “lesser” mortals were unembellished holes dug into the cliff face. The interiors are unremarkable – sparse chambers with a simple platform for the body, and now after years of looting they are otherwise empty. The entrance was sealed with a sliding stone door that ran sideways along a groove. The most elaborate are carved in the form of Ionic temples, the largest and most famous being the Tomb of Amyntas overlooking the town of Fethiye.
I was disappointed that we were not able to climb up to the temples that overlook the Dalyan River, so I’m pleased to discover we can do it in Fethiye. The climb is worth it. We are rewarded with panoramic views of the city and a closer look at these ancient wonders, still remarkable despite the graffiti.
Stopping at the ancient tombs during the Dalyan River cruise I notice several young girls in their bikinis posing with the tombs in the background. Photos, it seems, are no longer about the place, they are about ME at the place, me looking cute and sexy at the place, me showing off where I’ve been, what I’m doing. It’s all about me. The posing is truly clichéd and corny. One is lounging with bent leg, another with her boyfriend by her side stands on one leg on tippy toes with the other leg bent up and a sex kitten pout on her face. Take a photo of my boyfriend and sexy me! I watch bemused. They don’t even look at the tombs. But just to make sure this is an equal opportunity rant here is a photo of me snorkelling on yet another Mediterranean boat cruise ☺
This is our third cruise on the Turkish Riviera. There’s a thing in this part of the world: a “Blue Cruise”, or “Turquoise Cruise”. You live on board a gulet (a traditional Turkish boat) for anywhere from three to seven days as you cruise the coast. We looked at prices and our overall itinerary and decided not to do it but instead opted for three separate day-cruises. This third from Fethiye is almost as good as the first from Bodrum.
We stop in three different places to swim and snorkel in the crystal clear water. Underwater in deeper water the opaque white misty shafts of sunlight go straight down converging together the deeper they go. In shallow water the sunlight dances. It is yellow and forms small wavy circles, or multi-sided wavy shapes, one joined to another to another. Through the light I see a huge school of hundreds of tiny fish about three centimetres long, silver with a flash of blue, hundreds of them swimming in formation turning as one unit as if they are one being. Perhaps it is safer that way.
there are about twenty people, all Turkish or Brits, and us. The music ranges from the Eagles Hotel California to Whitney Houston I will always Love you to Pavarotti Miserere to the country tune It’s Five o’clock Somewhere to R&B to Eric Clapton to Elvis to Rod Stewart to Jerry and the Pacemakers. I love the eclectic mix.
We stop to fish for lunch.
who works on the boat, catches dozens, pulling in line after line each with several fish dangling from it. She obviously has done it many times, but is still overjoyed with her success. I suspect that without her we wouldn’t have had more than a small taste. They are the same type of fish I saw while snorkelling. Now they are lunch.
We laze on the boat, snoozing on the mats on the upper deck, everyone languid and comatose from the heat and the activity of the day. There is nothing that needs alertness or attention so all energy seeps away and resting happens: deep resting in the sun and this all-blue world.
In Fethiye we explore the Grand Bazaar offering exquisite Turkish crafts,
and climb the stairs to the oldest part of town.
Wandering further away from the central hub into the back streets we find some of Fethiye’s older residents relaxing in front of their homes.
Back at our hotel on the beach a little out of town we watch the sunset from our balcony as the sounds of vacation life drift up to us. Below us is one long strip of restaurants – people talking, laughing, sounds of silverware on plates, soft music, the waves beating rhythmically ashore in the background like a metronome. A soft sultry summer evening when all is right with the world.
And next morning, a little after sunrise, this is the tranquil scene from our balcony.
It is two hundred kilometres (124m) from Fethiye to Antalya. Don drives the first half. It is a tense time – narrow roads and enthusiastic Turkish drivers. By the time it’s my turn to drive there is little traffic and we are on dual carriageway: a lucky break for me. Arriving in town it’s impossible to find our way to our hotel, which lies within the old city walls. We eventually find a place to park and walk to the hotel. The hotel owner walks with us back to the car and shows us how to negotiate the maze of streets to the entrance to the Kaleiçi.
Kalesi is Turkish for fortress. Kaleiçi means within the fortress walls. The entire Kaleiçi, or old town, is a grand museum,
with 21st century entertainment.
It is 39 degrees (102). We are back in the “dripping days”. When it is this hot your whole body is damp, all the time. There is no help for it. We set out to explore anyway, and even in the heat still manage to walk ten kilometres.
Attalos II, king of Pergamon, founded the city in 150 BC and it was named Attalia in his honour. It became a Roman city after the death of the last Pergamene king in 133 BC. It was a prosperous port surrounded by thick defensive stone walls that still exist today.
There were four gates. The grandest, and the only one surviving, is Hadrian’s Gate. It is an immense triple-arched entryway modeled on the Roman triumphal arch. It was constructed in 130 AD to commemorate Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the city.
Outside the walls, next to Hadrian’s Gate, there is a shady park where people gather,
and beyond the walls is a modern metropolis of one million people. Antalya is Turkey’s largest Mediterranean port. The old town is not a tourist destination. Most tourists to Antalya go to the beach resorts up and down the coast and seldom leave them. We find the streets largely empty and quiet.
Taking a break from our explorations we stop at a café. I have iced peach tea, and enjoy the simple pleasure of watching as Don stirs honey into his mint tea, which is served in the traditional glass cup. I watch the mint leaves swirling round and around in the golden liquid, mesmerized. It is hot. We are enervated. It’s a slow day. We drink our tea and wonder about the etymology of the word sofa since the museum of Kaleiçi has a sofa, or courtyard, in the traditional Turkish house. Perhaps it is where they lounge around. I discover later that the word sofa comes from the Arabic suffa but I’m none the wiser since I don’t know what suffa means. Also the usual Turkish word for courtyard is avlu.
We go to the big archaeological museum by tram and on the tram Don is happy like a five-year-old. The museum is huge with an astonishing collection from all the nearby Roman, and pre-roman ruins. I’m always amazed by the skills people had so long ago. Two to three thousand years ago – beautiful jewellery, tiny (and larger) perfectly formed glass vials, exquisite pottery as beautiful as any to be seen today. There are many huge statues of Roman emperors and gods. Some are really magnificent.
I’m also astonished by the way archeologists can piece together shattered pots and statues, like jigsaw puzzles, but I have a short attention span in the museum. I can only look at so many flints, pots, and sculptures. We go home for a rest, stopping for good Italian ice cream on the way. We don’t like Turkish Ice cream. We subsequently discover that it is made from goat milk.
We venture out again later. We find the small private “beach” at the bottom of a long flight of wooden stairs. It consists of a collection of closely spaced lounge chairs on rock shelves and wooden platforms built out over the water.
We continue on to the harbour, and then climb up to the top of the city walls.
Antalya is our last stop on the Turkish Riviera. We didn’t really know what to expect, and it is better than we could have imagined: eleven days in a sun-soaked blue-water world.
Next post: from Antalya we drive to the extraordinary travertine terraces of Pamukkele. It is my greatest disappointment of all our travels in Turkey, and perhaps of all our travels ever.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2016.