By: Sarah Arnesen
Deep in the famed Tekke peninsula, Turkey’s Ölü deniz lies on a wooded shore of azure waters. Yet holidays to Ölü deniz can span far beyond the warmth of its immaculate beaches and luscious seascapes. In the ancient world, “Lycia” was a place of cultural independence, artistic expression and a birthplace of democratic principle. Today, ancient sites remain in abundance and range from antiquity to the times of Alexander the Great, to Rome and Byzantium and beyond. With conditions of sites ranging from extremely good to others buried deep beneath the Mediterranean sands, there are ruins here to tantalise both the amateur historian and the windswept romantic alike. Here is my top five to start you on your way:
Not far from the grand sites of Xanthos and Letoon, Patara’s ruins lie alongside the world famous beach of the same name. Maintained as a port until as recently as the 15th century, Patara was eventually abandoned and quickly reclaimed by the sands of the Mediterranean, creating the vibrant nature reserve which exists today. Excavation of the port is currently underway and, though many remain buried, exciting structures are being revealed. Sites include not only the famous Oracle in the Temple of Apollo (said to rival in reputation that of Delphi, though sadly still to be fully excavated) but also the oldest lighthouse in the world and the Parliament building of the Lycian League. American visitors on holiday in Ölü Deniz will be interested to see the semi circular arrangement of the seats, the inspiration for the arrangement of their own House of Congress.
Little visited and reached by road from the Ölü Deniz resort, Sidyma is a wonderful blend of the old and the new. The modern village of Dodurga lies within and amongst the ancient remains, with the current tenants utilise pillars and other early classical remains in the structure of their homes. The village Mosque was even constructed from the surrounding ruins, the back wall boasting an inscription in which the pagan Gods Zeus, Athena and Apollo are mentioned. One of the friendliest villages in the region, the eighty or so inhabitants are as welcoming and gentle as any you could hope to meet.
As with any holiday in Ölü Deniz half of the attractions of this area lie above and half below the water. Strange as it may seem, amongst the streets and waters of the modern village of Kaleköy lie the remains of the ancient city of Simena. At the top of the village stand the prominent remains of a castle built by the Knights of Rhodes (Kaleköy literally means ‘Castle Village’) while beneath the waters of the harbour and alongside the neighbouring islands lie the ruins of the residential part of Simena, submerged by terrible earthquakes in the 2nd century A.D.
Two: Lycian Way
Originating in nearby Fethiya and winding through the hills of Ölü Deniz, Turkey’s Lycian Way runs via 509km of breathtaking coastline to distant Antalya. Comprising mule trails, footpaths and limestone cliffs this route passes through land that has been settled, conquered and farmed through thousands of years of human history; including many of the sites mentioned here. Now host to an ultra marathon, it is regarded as one of the most beautiful long distance walks in the world and connects the traveller with the landscape of the region with unrivalled intimacy.
One: Xanthos / Letoon
Clearly marked on the road east from Fethiye, itself barely a few kilometres north of the Ölü Deniz resort lie the twin sites of Xanthos and Letoon. As the capital city of the Lycian Federation, Xanthos boasts strange and terrible histories. Twice in their past the people of this city chose mass suicide rather than submission to the invading forces of Persians and Romans. The fierceness of their attitude is easy to imagine when gazing down at the Xanthos valley and the Taurus Mountains from these elevated remains. Equally it is easy to imagine the serenity of more peaceful times when strolling through the UNESCO World Heritage listed temples at Letoon. What is certain is that no holiday to Ölü Deniz should overlook what is regarded as one the finest archaeological sites in Turkey.