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Blessed with a shoreline of golden sands, verdant peaks, and antiquity juxtaposed against modernity, Turkey’s Mediterranean coast defies any one description.
The TurquoiseCoast is a feast for all of the senses. It’s the scent of wild sage, parsley and jasmine. It’s the refreshing sensation of cold marble on your skin as you sit in an ancient amphitheater on a blazing summer day. It’s the exciting and unforgettable flavors of Turkish cuisine sourced directly from the bounty of its many gulfs. And it’s the sound of the steady rush of the sea, the soulful call to prayer, the lilting melody of the oud.
Turkey’s Mediterranean coast is custodian to all of this and more. Here, the memories of remarkable civilizations litter the poetic land and seascapes of densely forested mountains and pristine turquoise waters.
History, culture and nature converge along the Gulf of Antalya, where magnificent castle fortresses and waterfront Greek temples share the spotlight with Mother Nature’s creations. The ancient architects of Side certainly designed their city to best advantage, building an enormous seaside amphitheatre and the Temples of Apollo and Athena on the water’s edge.
One of the most sought after seaside destinations in Turkey is Alanya, a port city both in ancient times, when its fortress promontory stood sentinel against invasion, and today, where sunseekers and outdoorsmen take full advantage of the resort’s caves, competitive sports andCleopatra’s Beach.
In the mountains north of Antalya are the excavations of the relatively undiscovered site of Sagalassos, its Great Theater constructed at the highest altitude of any ancient theater in the world. Much of the remains of the city stand intact and reveal monumental fountains, agoras, temples and baths.
The ruins of Perge once greeted St. Paul on one of his missionary journeys, while the superb, 2,000 year old ancient theater of Aspendos, built during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, is now a magical venue for symphonic concerts and operas in the summer months.
Sitting at the base of a lush gorge where the river meets the sea, is the ancient city of Olympos, a beachfront wonder of nature, history and mythology, home of the fire-breathing Chimaera. A trio of protected harbors are secluded by a dense forest of pine trees at Phaeselis, once a major Roman port flanked by semicircular theaters, baths, ornamental gates and agoras.
To the west lie the monuments of Lycia, a powerful federation of 23 city-states characterized by great stone and marble metropolises and ornamental tombs taking advantage of the best views the Mediterranean has to offer. The Lycian mode of federated government served as the inspiration for the American model of democracy.
From his seat at ancient Myra, near the present-day town of Demre, Jolly Old St. Nicholas faithfully served the Church as the Bishop of Myra, spearheading a society that bequeathed a wealth of well-preserved, inscribed rock cut tombs.
The antique port city of Patara, today home of one of the finest, and certainly longest, beaches on the Mediterranean, was the seat of Lycia’s ground-breaking representative style government, one that inspired James Madison and Alexander Hamilton as they crafted the US Constitution.
All along the storied bays of Fethiye, Kas, Kalkan and Kekova, from the village hamlet growing around ancient Simena and up to the mountaintop citadel city of Termessos, appear the gothically crowned sarco phaguses and complexly carved portico tombs typical of Lycia. The trails taken by ancient shepherds now are used for cultural hiking routes, some following the steps taken by St. Paul himself on his way from Perge to Antioch in Pisidia.
Soaring monuments and Roman mosaics indicate why the city of Xanthos was mentioned by Homer in the Iliad. Xanthos, together with its center of worship at Letoon, comprise one of Turkey’s numerous World Heritage sites. In the mountain village of Kayaköy where wine houses and home cooked meals can be enjoyed in restored stone granaries, rest the ghostly remains of Karmylassos, a long-forgotten Greek community abandoned in 1923.
The coastal road wonderfully less traveled east of the region of Antalya traverses the ages as it navigates the Taurus Mountains before arriving at the Çukurova plain, a coastal flat lands richly planted with cotton fields, citrus and banana groves and grain. This vast, historically rich portion of the Turkish Mediterranean was once a land called Cilicia, ruled by the Hittites, conquered by Persian King Cyrus, incorporated into Rome, governed by Byzantine rulers, and then settled by Armenian communities. Today, the region is divided among three provinces, Mersin, Adana and the Hatay, each with its own connection to antiquity, faith and lore.
One of the major commercial and intellectual centers during Roman times, Tarsusis celebrated as the place where Marc Antony and Cleopatra first met, and most renowned as the birthplace of St. Paul. Today it is a site of pilgrimages for those who wish to see the house where he lived and the well from which he drew his water.
The ruins of the antique city of Seleucia, near Silifke, contains the venerated tomb of the martyred virgin St. Thecla of Iconium, revered as Christianity’s first female saint.
In the nearby ancient Cilician city of Corycos, the fortress of Kiz Kalesi rises imposingly offshore opposite an attractive beach. The famous Corycian Caves known as Cennet and Cehennem(Heaven and Hell) were formed millennia ago when the cave ceilings collapsed. These verdant and yawning cavities are natural wonders, with Heaven beckoning the public down below via a steep stone stairway, and at the base sits a monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Adana, gateway to 100 miles of shoreline, is a vibrant city of industry, culture, festivals, art and sports. Its highlights include the medieval marble mosque complex of Ulu Cami, decorated in the 16th century with stunningly crafted Iznik tiles; the old Roman Tasköprü, a multi-arched feat of engineering built by Hadrian in the 4th century; and the historic center of Tepebag, one of the city’s original settlements, adorned with Ottoman mansions and delightful historic row houses displaying traditional Ottoman architecture.
On the outskirts of Adana is the ancient city of Anavarza, with its castle, triumphal arch and arena separated from the small village of Dilekkaya by the ancient city walls. The cloud-borne Demir köprü railway bridge is another engineering feat built in 1912 as part of the Berlin Baghdad project.
Positioned at the easternmost corner of the Turkish Mediterranean is the region of the Hatay, its impenetrable Nur Mountains providing passage through the much-coveted Syrian Gates to the Holy Land. Conquering the Hatay was the goal of a succession of ancient armies. Here Alexander the Great crossed swords with Persian King Darius, the earliest followers of a new faith were called Christians, and today, the peaceful coexistence of diverse communities of Christians, Jews and Muslims and of Armenians, Arabs and Turks sets an example of multiculturalism for the ages. The resulting historic, cultural and religious melting pot has made the Hatay one of the more rich and exciting destinations in Southeastern Anatolia.
Christian pilgrims flock to the Grotto of St. Peter in Antakya, the world’s first church said to have been carved out of the rock by St. Peter himself. Beautiful pictorial mosaic panels recovered from the ancient city of Antioch ad Orontes, now reside at the Antakya Archaological Museum, housing the second most important collection of Roman mosaics in the world.
The Romans executed yet another engineering feat in Samandag, at Seleucia Pieria, the port city for Antioch ad Orontes plagued by rainwater runoff from the surrounding mountains. In the 2nd century, the vast Tunnel of Vespasian ordered by the Roman emperor was cleaved into the mountain to channel the waters away from the city. Yet just beyond the confines of these outstandingly preserved Greek temples, Roman baths and amphitheaters, grand porticos, colossal theaters, and venerated sites of faiths beats the heart of Turkey.
In village hamlets up and down the Mediterranean, from the shoreline to the mountainside, traditional families, some still nomadic, live lives of simplicity, honor and faith. This is where mountain nomads herd sheep from their yurts, where sturdy old men set out to sea every day with empty nets, where stubborn old women haul firewood from the forest underbrush and where a shared cup of tea will start a conversation that lasts a lifetime.
All these and more are the reasons for you to go to the Turkish Mediterranean.