Once seen simply as the gateway to the Turkish Riviera, Antalya today is very much a destination in its own right. Situated smack on the Gulf of Antalya (Antalya Körfezi), the largest Turkish city on the western Mediterranean coast is both classically beautiful and stylishly modern. At its core is the wonderfully preserved old city district of Kaleiçi – literally ‘within the castle’ – which offers atmospheric accommodation aplenty within a bundle of finely restored Ottoman houses. The old city wraps around a splendid Roman-era harbour with cliff-top views of hazy-blue mountain silhouettes that are worth raising a toast to. While just outside of the central city is one of Turkey’s finest museums.
Antalya which means “the home of Attalos” was founded by Attalos II. Following the fall of Kingdom of Pergamon (133 BC), the city was independent for a while but then fell into the hands of pirates. It was later incorporated into the Roman Empire by Commander Servilius Isauricus in 77 BC. In 67 BC, the city then became a naval base for Pompeius. In 130 AD, the visit of Hadrianus provided progress for Attalia city. Attalia which was accepted as the centre of episcopacy during the Byzantine period made great advancements after possessed by Turks. Since modern city is located on the ancient settlement, the ruins of antiquity can barely be traced. The first one of the ruins that can be seen is the part of harbour pier that indicates the old harbour and the walls surrounding the harbour. Hadrian’s Gate with ongoing restoration works on the other side of the walls is one of the unique ancient monuments of Antalya.
In antiquity, Antalya and its surroundings were known as “Pamphilia” meaning “very productive” and the west side of the city was known as “Lycia”. The people who migrate from the west coasts of Aegean Sea founded the cities like Aspendos, Side in VIII century BC. The King of Pergamon who reigns in II century besieged Side. The King who could not capture Side came to a place where now Antalya city centre is located and founded the city. The city was named after him as Attaleia. In time, people called the city Atalia, Adalya. The name Antalya originated this way.
In the archaeological excavations, people were proved to have lived in Antalya and its environs 40.000 years ago. From the date 2000 BC, this region was ruled under the control of city states such as Hittite, Pamphylia, Lycia, Cilicia and Persia, Great Alexander and its successors Antigonos, Ptolemais, Selevkos and the king of Pergamon. Roman Period later started to reign. The ancient name of Antalya was Pamphylia and the cities built in this area lived their golden age especially in II and III century. Towards V century, they began to lose their glory.
While the area was under Eastern Roman Empire or, widely known name in Turkey, Byzantines, in 1207 the Seljuks took over the lands. In the period of Anatolian principalities, the city entered into sovereignty of Hamitoğulları which was a family from Teke tribe. Teke Turkmen are also one of the largest populated tribe in today’s Turkmenistan, old Turkish homeland. In XI century, a part of this tribe came to Antalya. Today Teke Area is another name of the region of Lake (Göller Yöresi) which covers the north of Antalya and some parts of Isparta and Burdur. In the Ottoman period, today’s Antalya city centre is the centre of the Teke District of Anatolia Province. In those years, this place is called Teke District. The current name of the city is a changed form of her ancient name and has been given in the Republican period. Evliya Çelebi, the Ottoman traveller, who came to Antalya in the second half of the XVII century, stated that there were 4 quarters and 3.000 houses inside the ancient walls and 24 quarters outside the walls. The market of the city was outside the walls. According to Evliya Çelebi, the Harbour had the capacity of 200 ships. Antalya which was the centre of Teke district connected to Konya administratively was made an independent district in the last period of Ottoman Empire.
Antalya, one of the tourism capitals of Turkey and the world, is a modern city with broad boulevards decorated with palm trees, an international award-winning port, and a mixture of charming vernacular architecture and modern shopping centres.
The special atmosphere of the narrow thoroughfares and antique buildings of Kaleiçi (the Old Town) brings the relics of the history of Antalya up to the modern day. Kaleiçi, with its restored hotels, restaurants, bars and shops, is a unique mixture of modernity and antiquity. Even so, there is no less fascination in the ‘new’ Antalya than there is in the old town.
The natural environment of Antalya is extraordinarily generous. Spring water gushes out from between the rocks, and the sweet perfume of orange blossom pervades the city in the springtime. From the sea cliffs, you cannot gaze long enough at the deep translucent blue of the Mediterranean, and the purple silhouettes of the surrounding mountains spreading before the evening sun.
What To See
- Old Town (Kaleici)
Antalya Old Town – or Kaleici – is the picturesque old quarter in the center of present day Antalya. With its narrow winding streets and historic wooden houses, bars, restaurants and Ottoman-style boutique hotels, it’s a lovely place to wander around or base yourself while visiting Antalya.
Kaleici can trace its orgins back to the Roman period, when it grew around the old harbor, protecting the harbor from the west and the passage of produce from the east. Originally surrounded by massive stone walls and several gates, Kaleici has only two walls and one gate remaining.
Imposing Hadrian’s Gate is a glorious example of Roman architecture and was constructed in 130 AD to commemorate Emperor Hadrian’s visit to Kaleici. It has a triple-arched portal and decorative marble columns and is supported by enormous, turreted stone towers (from a different era). Hadrian’s Gate remains the most impressive way to enter the Old Town.
- Old Harbour
Nestled into a recess in the cliffs, Antalya’s old harbour is a picturesque huddle of boutiques, pretty cafés, bazaars and gently bobbing yachts that look out over a shimmering Mediterranean. With its peaceful pleasure-boat atmosphere now, it’s difficult to imagine this place was once Antalya’s major economic hub. But from the 2nd century up until the mid-20th century this was the main port, bringing trade and prosperity to the city and surrounding region. These days you come here to shop and then watch sunset over the sea while you sip a coffee. Or, head out onto the Mediterranean on one of the many excursion boats before spreading out your towel on an empty beach.
Location: Mermerli Sokak, Kaleiçi
- Roman Fortress (Hıdırlık Kalesi)
This squat 14 m high cylindrical tower watches over the old harbour from high above on the edge of Karaalioǧlu Park. Built in the 2nd century no one is quite sure what its main function was, but most agree it acted as a watchtower or lighthouse over the busy port below. Now it’s a fantastic spot to watch sunset or get that all-important panoramic view over the old harbour area. The park itself is a tranquil, flower-filled spot to escape the city streets and prime picnicking territory.
Location: Karaalioǧlu Park, Kaleiç
- Duden Waterfalls
The Duden Waterfalls make a pleasant side trip from Antalya and its surrounding gardens are a popular picnic spot with locals.
The Duden river extends from the Taurus mountains all the way to the Mediterranean and creates two cascades know as the Upper and Lower Duden Waterfalls.
The Upper Duden waterfall is 15m (49ft) high and 20m (65ft) wide and set in a pretty valley. A natural cave has formed behind the falls and it is possible to sit here and watch the cascades. There are restaurants, boardwalks and picnic tables in the gardens immediately surrounding the falls to help you make the most of this scenic spot.
- Alaaddin Mosque
Also called the Yivli Minare Camii or the Fluted Minaret Mosque, Alaaddin Mosque is Antalya’s iconic mosque serving as the city’s symbol.
Located at the Kaleici (Old Antalya), the 125 ft tall 8-fluted minaret dominates this part of the city. Walking along the main Ataturk Street where the old tram is passing, the minaret is very prominent, towering over the old town.
Built during the reign of Alaaddin Qaykubadh I in 1230.
Presently, it houses the Antalya Ethnographic Museum
Where To Eat
- Seraser Fine Dining
Located in the historical centre of Antalya, in a 300-year old house, Seraser Fine Dining is one of the most exquisite restaurants of the city. Committed to offering its guests a memorable experience for all five senses, Seraser takes full advantage of its impressive décor featuring sculptures, hand-crafted furniture and authentic ornaments. Live piano music and a splendid Mediterranean garden are extra perks that come with dining here. The rich menu, offering international and Turkish recipes, completes the experience with highlights such as homemade pastas, fillet steak with gorgonzola sauce, sea bass wrapped in wine leaves and tempting desserts.
- 7 Mehmet
Just a few kilometers from the city center, 7 Mehmet enjoys a magnificent position on a lush green hill overlooking the Konyaalti Plaji beach, offering superb views over Antalya. This is one of the most famous restaurants in Antalya, and one that respects its fascinating heritage: it was founded years ago by chef Mehmet, who started his life-long culinary adventure at an early age as a kitchen help in order to support his family. 7 Mehmet is an unmissable gastronomic attraction for all those who enjoy tradition, Turkish recipes with grilled meat, fish and meze, and beautiful scenery while enjoying their lunch or dinner.
- Patio Bistro & Restaurant
In the heart of the historical neighborhood of Kaleici, just a few steps away from Antalya’s unique cultural attractions and the Marina, Patio at the Puding Marina Hotel is a memorable choice for all those who enjoy discovering a variety of home-made marmalade, cheese or omelettes, all served up in the form of an appetising breakfast. The wine and dinner menus are also worth exploring, filled with a fusion of recipes and international cuisines with highlights such as foie gras, shrimp and squid tempura, baked seabass, or the succulent beef tenderloin.
- Club Arma
One of the most established restaurants in Antalya, Club Arma greets its guests with wonderful views over the old city and the marina. Built by Italians in the late 19th century, the restaurant’s building has served many purposes over the centuries, including a flourmill and a flour storage point. A true fusion of cultural influences is noticeable in Club Arma’s design, as the stones of the columns are typical of ancient Antalya, while the bricks and arches are reminders of the building’s Italian construction. Club Arma offers an a la carte menu with fresh fish, seafood and a solid range of Mediterranean dishes.