Ancient Turkey: Discover the Great Empires of Caria and Lycia

Lycian rock tombsTurkey is home to numerous ruins dating back to ancient times and the country’s south western coastline is one of the most historically populated areas. Dubbed as the ‘Turquoise Coast’ for its stunning scenic colours, this vast area spans two significant and influential regions in antiquity, namely Lycia and Caria. From intricately carved tombs to underwater towns, this area of Turkey has much to explore!

The charming resort of Dalyan – close to the regions’ main airport, Dalaman – straddles the delta and is an area rich in natural beauty and historical attractions. Until the late 1980s, this traditional fishing area remained somewhat undiscovered by tourists, despite its impressive landscape, diverse wildlife and ancient ruins. However, the delta gained international fame after developers attempted to construct a luxury hotel close to the breeding ground of the endangered loggerhead turtles. As a result, the Dalyan Delta became a protected area, thereby maintaining the unspoilt nature of the region. Nowadays, visitors head to Dalyan not just to observe this endangered species, but also to see the other impressive attractions the area has to offer.

Lycian rock tombsOne such attraction is the Dalyan Tombs that are set high up in the cliff face above the Dalyan Delta. They were constructed for the Carian city of Caunos around 400BC to house the bodies of deceased kings, providing us with a fascinating insight into the burial customs of the inhabitants of this ancient city. The location of the tombs also helps us to understand the way of life in ancient Lycia and Caria, as they believed that a winged creature carried the deceased to the after world, therefore the burial chambers were constructed on a cliff face.  Whilst the entire landscape of Lycia is scattered with a selection of fascinating funeral monuments, it is these on the Dalyan Delta that are considered the most imposing and awe-inspiring tombs of the ancient region. At night time the tombs are lit up creating a dramatic, atmospheric backdrop to the delta which can be seen for miles.

Caunos itself is another fascinating attraction. The largest ancient city in the Carian era, it was constructed, according to Greek mythology, by Apollo’s grandson. Those who visit these iconic ruins can discover remains of many different parts of the old city which were uncovered during an excavation, from the ancient amphitheatre to the traditional Hellenistic and Roman temples, to name a few.

Patara ancient theatreFurther eastwards, Kalkan lies at the heart of some of the most impressive Lycian sites. Xanthos was a site of exceptional importance in antiquity as it is thought to have been a main centre for culture and commerce. Extensive excavations and research of the area have led to the discovery of a selection of texts in the Lycian language and Greek, as well as a considerable amount of artefacts. The British Museum now houses two tombs, the Nereid monument and the Tomb of Payava, both of which were discovered at the ruins. Another tomb, known as the Harpy Tomb, is still located at the remains of the city. Only 4kms south of Xanthos, positioned on the banks of the Xanthos River, is one of the most important religious centres in the region – Letoon – where the foundations of temples can be seen.  A further remain – the ancient city of Patara – can also be found in this historically rich region. Excavated in the 1980s, a magnificent Roman arch can be admired, as well as an impressive theatre. Once a prosperous commercial city, the ruins are positioned just a short distance from Patara Beach – one of the most photographed beaches in the Mediterranean.

Bozburun PeninsulaThere are also a number of other smaller sites and one of the more interesting and unusual ones is nearby Kekova which is home to the semi-sunken city of Simena. Originally a fishing village, a 2nd century earthquake had devastating effects on Simena – however it left behind an exceptional historical site. Half of the ancient houses have become submerged, with staircases leading down underwater, where the foundations of the buildings and an old harbour can be found. In 1990, this region was declared a protected area, prohibiting swimming and diving.

Further north and on its own peninsula lies the unspoilt rural region of Bozburun, yet another area which is home to other interesting historical settlements located in ancient Caria. From here, you can explore the ancient Greek settlement of Knidos, located just a short drive away on the nearby Datça Peninsula, a ruin that is built partly on the mainland and partly on the Island of Triopion which, in antiquity, was connected to the mainland by a bridge.

For holidays to Turkey, Silver Travel Advisor recommends Simpson Travel

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