The ancient city of Phaselis was an important port city for the Lycian civilisation and is now one of the most intact Lycian ruins you can visit. It’s amazing chance to wander down a millennia old high street and explore ancient baths, markets and amphitheatres.
Turkey’s Antalya province is a history lover’s dream, as it was once home to the ancient civilisation of the Lycians. Lycia was the bulge on Turkey’s southern coast – between the modern cities of Antalya and Fethiye – and to the west of the Toros mountains.
Today all that’s left of the Lycians are their ruins, which now merge with the region’s modern towns, villages and hamlets. Scattered across the land are their stone tombs and remnants of buildings – some built around, like a tomb we found in the wall of our hotel, or half buried in the countryside where goats graze, while others are submerged in the sea.
Ruins of ancient towns keep being discovered – for example Rhodiapolis was only uncovered a few year’s back after a forest fire – and many are just part of the scenery for the locals, where you’re free to wander around, clamber over and explore them.
However, some of the larger ruins, as you’d expect, are now protected sites that tourists can pay to visit. This includes Phaselis, one of the first places we visited during our trip along the Lycian Way, and one of the most impressive of the Lycian ruins we saw.
The history of Phaselis
Phaselis was a major seaport for the Lycians, and was supposedly founded by colonists from Rhodes back in the 7th Century BC. They chose this area as it was perfect for trading with the Mediterranean region, and legend has it that the colonists offered to by the entire peninsula for a supply of barley bread or dried fish – the locals chose the fish!
Because of its location it became an important trading city, but over the years had many different rulers, from Persian to Roman. Even Alexander the Great marched on the city, where the residents welcomed him with a golden crown. Sadly though, after centuries of affluence the city lost its importance, and eventually, by the start of the 13th Century, it had become abandoned and its fall into ruin began.
Phaselis is a short drive off the scenic D400, less than an hour away from the city of Antalya, making it a popular destination for day-trippers. You drive down a shady road through pine woods past the entrance and ticket office, down to the sea. Here you’re greeted by the impressive remains of the city’s aqueduct. Turn your back to the sea and you can get a beautiful image of the aqueducts with Mount Olympos in the distance.
Near here is also the necropolis. Once you’ve explored this area fully, it’s time to head over to the city ‘proper’.
What you can see at Phaselis
It’s a truly amazing city to explore, as the ruins are in such a state that you can make out how much of Phaselis would have looked, even though they’re now overgrown by bushes and plants.
The main street still exists, and you can walk down the cobbled road looking into the remains of the city’s baths, temple, houses and agoras.
At the end of the street, at the edge of the water, lies the remains of yet another Hadrian’s Gate (Antalya has one of its own too), which was built for the emperor’s visit. This is now the bay where the boats full of day-trippers arrive.
Along the main road you’ll also see inscriptions made by the Lycians to honour important people of the time from soldiers to sportsmen. It was nice to find that these had been translated for visitors, so we could find out more about the people themselves.
There’s not a huge amount of information available on the site, but near the amphitheatre is a large wooden map of the site, and a list of what each of the buildings were. This really helps you to bring the city to life in your mind.
Speaking of the amphitheatre, well, wow! Make the effort to walk up some steep wooden steps and you’ll be able to set yourself down when a Lycian would have sat millennia before. The experience is pretty awe inspiring, that is until the hordes of day-trippers arrive!
Beware the ‘Russian party boats’!
We’d arrived before the rush, and were happily wandering around the peaceful site when the sounds of leaves rustling and bird song was replaced with…Celine Dion! The whole experience was very surreal as we wondered what the hell was going on. Stepping out from one of the ruins onto the main street we suddenly saw that the loud music was coming from a group of boats that had moored up by the waters edge. Coming towards us was a huge crowd of heavily tanned Russian tourists wearing flip-flops, sun hats and luminous coloured bikinis and budgie smugglers!
Like a swarm of locusts they took over the site, spreading themselves over the ruins to take selfies galore, or to grab a spot on the small beach where they could further those tans while the little ones splashed in the sea. But then, as quickly as they arrived they were gone, herded back onto their boats and off out into the sea with the music blaring, off to their next stop on what was obviously a whirlwind tour.
The whole experience was quite hilarious for us, and we nicknamed these the Russian party boats. They come from several resorts along the Kemer and Antalya coast, which are popular with Russians, and give the tourists a chance to experience some of the history during their stay.
Free to explore – but should you?
One the groups had moved on Phaselis returned to its peaceful state and we continued to explore. What’s amazing but also odd about visiting the Lycian ruins are that you’re able to actually wander around so many of them, literally climbing though ancient doorways and windows.
I couldn’t help but do this myself, but I did wonder how this access could damage the ruins – with most sites I’ve visited protected from prying hands, I would expect the same at somewhere as impressive as this. I made sure I respected the site as much as possible, but it wouldn’t surprise me if in the future certain areas are closed off to the public.
Tips for visiting Phaselis
- Arrive early – this way you miss the heat of the day but also the crowds of day-trippers that arrive in their droves from Antalya and Kemer.
- Come in your swimming costume and water shoes. Phaselis is one of only a few ruins by the water’s edge. What were the city’s three main ports now make up beautiful bays that are wonderful for swimming. The ground is very stony though, so be sure to protect your feet from getting cut.
- Bring some drinks and snack. There is only one small stand selling food and drinks. The choice is limited and the price high, so it’s best to bring along a picnic if you’re making a real trip of it.
- Where allowed feel free to explore the ruins fully, as it’s an amazing opportunity to wander around such a site. However, be respectful and make sure you keep contact to a minimum. This way protects the ruins for future visitors. And, of course, do not take anything away from the site!
- If you plan to visit several ruins or museums in the region I’d recommend looking into one of Turkey’s museum passes. Most sites cost around 20L to visit, but at the ticket offices, there were very good deals for passes to all museums in Turkey! It appears that they’re more expensive to buy online, so I’d recommend picking up passes at the first site you visit.
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