While we stayed in the southern Turkish city of Antalya we had a multitude of options for visiting ancient sites. We ended up doing a half dozen of them in the three full days we spent there, and one of our favourites was the climb up to Termessos. Seeing the ruins strewn along the mountain gave a sense of how strong the city was during its heyday.
This tentative UNESCO World heritage site has an incredible history. It has been mentioned in The Iliad in connection with the mythical hero Bellerophon. In more historical times. the city was so defensible that Alexander the Great gave up attacking it and moved on during his campaign through the region. it was one of only two cities in Asia Minor that he couldn’t conquer.
As we drove to the west from Antalya the elevation quickly changed and we were driving through mountains. We arrived at the main gate and paid the park entrance fee before driving up to the parking area further up the mountain. The road we took was the same path that was used in ancient times to reach the city, and was called the “King’s Road” back then. Along the way we passed small sections of ruins. Just getting up the eight kilometres of switchbacks to the parking area was a bit of a climb for our subcompact car, but it wasn’t too taxing.
Termessos is part of Güllük Dagi-Termessos National Park, named after the mountain Güllük Dagi (Mount Güllük). This mountain was originally called Solymus, which was both the name of a mythical Greek hero and also the name of the Solymoi people who once lived there and who are now lost to history.
At first the hike was easy, and we didn’t see too much except for the odd piece of cut stone or part of a wall. After about 30 minutes going up we started to see larger ruins as the lower city walls came into sight.
The path began to get rougher as larger rocks and boulders were sometimes strewn across it. Never conquered, the reason people left the city was likely because the aqueduct was destroyed by an earthquake.
Unlike most ancient sites, only surface surveys have been done and no excavations have taken place in Termessos. It has been left in much the same condition it was when it was abandoned in the 5th century. This might be due to the inaccessibility of the ruins high up in the mountains.
Eventually we began to see other buildings such as the gymnasium area were students were educated and trained in sports.
After coming out of the gymnasium area we went towards the main square which is set facing a valley. From the main square it was possible to see far into the distance.
After walking around the walled portion of the city we walked higher. Again the path was uneven as the rocks and building stones hadn’t been cleared away.
We found an open area with some examples of cisterns that were used to store collected water. In modern times they had iron bars added to prevent people from falling in. The bars made it look at bit creepy–almost like they were preventing something from getting out…
A little further up we came to the last flat area where many of the main buildings were found. These included municipal buildings, entertainment spaces and the marketplace.
One of the best parts of the trip was how quiet it was there. We met only a handful of tourists during out visit and most stayed down at the first area where the gymnasium and city walls were. We only saw a few people in the upper area of the ruins and the lack of tourists really added to the experience.
Eventually we came to the highlight of the trip–the theatre. It was remarkably well preserved and its high location juxtaposed against the mountain behind it made for an impressive sight.
The theatre was built downward from the side of the mountain and seemed to hang there in space. In its prime it held around 4,000 people who must have enjoyed the dramatic views behind the stage performers.
Looking through the doorway gave another dramatic view so we climbed over the rocks to enjoy it. There was very little space to maneuver as there was a drop into the valley just beyond it.
After checking out the theatre we chose a good spot and sat down to enjoy lunch. It was a relaxing end to a climb into some of the most dramatic locations I’ve ever seen in an archaeological site.
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