Finishing up our tour of the Turkish Riviera, we wound our way to Antayla, which for many of the last five years has been reported as the third most visited city in the world after Paris and London – and trading back and forth with New York for third. I know right? I had never even heard of this city until I was looking for a city with an airport convenient to Istanbul. According to Turkish statistics – the number of international travelers surpassed Istanbul quite a few years ago. Perhaps someone is having trouble with their math – because there is no way I can believe that is the case. Istanbul is packed with tourist type people, while Antalya is a laid back largish Turkish city surrounded by resort type towns. For a large city it had little of the hustle-bustle that made navigating it nerve racking. It was one of the friendliest places we’ve visited – and sure there were a few aggressive carpet sales people, but not even as bad as Bodrum or Kusadasi.
Some of the highlights in the city were:
Kaleici – the old town. This old town is a maze of pedestrian only streets leading to the small port. Shockingly, it has better restaurants and a better variety of shopping than the adjacent busy (and more local) pedestrian mall and ‘old’ bazaar. Not that you don’t have to wade your way through the knock off stores – but there were more than a few local stores tucked away on the less busy streets, run by great people just trying to make a living in the tough economy. The local nomadic tribes still create carpets and kilims in traditional patterns with root-died wool. (I’m finding it increasingly easy to tell the fake cheap imported carpets from the real ones -not that I have any idea about good pricing.) Kaleici is really quite ancient (dates from 150 BC), although many parts have been rebuilt – and there were Roman-aged ruins in many of the corners.
The Archaeological Museum in Antalya (a short tram ride from Kaleici) is one of the best in Turkey, and mainly focuses on antiquities from the Lycian coast. Its statue collection (Roman) is one of the best in the world – with many of the statues from nearby Perge (Perga) that served as the backdrop to the stage. The collection rivaled anything we saw in Italy!
The museum also contained some of the artifacts from the excavation of the Karian Cave. The Karian Cave is located in the limestone bluffs (Katran Mountains) about 30 kilometers from the city. It is the oldest settlement in Turkey – and has around 11 meters of soil in the entry way that has been excavated, yielding some fragments of a neanderthal baby’s skull and tooth (middle Paleolithic – 160,000 – 60,000 BC), and early paleolithic tools (dating to 500,000-450,000 BC. If you’ve read Clan of the Cave Bear you can easily conjure up a picture of this sort of cave with your imagination. The cave is set around 130 meters up a slope from what is today a very fertile plain – and was likely even more fertile in the paleolithic, supporting a wide range of grains and fruits.
Even though none of the artifacts are at the actual cave, it was really interesting to wander through it and imagine why early people would choose the cave (food, safety, water.) We were the only people wandering through while we were there, but there were a few workmen working on the entrance and the lights were on in the cave. It was great having the place to ourselves – the caves were large, but not large enough for modern crowds.
Another interesting site we visited was Termessos, set in a notch at around 1,600 m elevation in the Taurus mountains, and today nestled in the Güllük Mountain (Termessos) National Park. Termessos was a Pisidia city, and with its mountain location was impregnable – even Alexander the Great couldn’t get by the double city walls – one set far down the valley, and another near the town proper. It was one of those sites that grew better and better the higher we climbed. There were multi-story building still standing, and the highlight was the theater – which had amazing views down the valleys.
I think it is fair to say that we’re a little overwhelmed with all the different civilizations we’ve seen in unique geologic settings – especially considering the time frames they span. It’s going to take a lot of reading when we get home to pull this all together in our brains.
Next stop is Istanbul, and then home in less than a week.