5-8 January 2017, Antalya

Nature's Gift: Antalya

Strabo states that Attaleia was founded by Attalos II Philadelphos, the king of Pergamon, soon after his accession to power, possibly about 158 B.C. Its location, at the place of a small fishing settlement called Korykos, was around the harbour area. The city, together with her harbour, was always an attractive haven for pirates, particularly after the end of the Pergamene kingdom in 133 B.C. At the end of the second century B.C. pirates attained great power in the Mediterranean basin by taking advantage of the political hiatus that arose with the fall of the eastern Hellenistic kingdoms. The Roman governor of Cilicia, Publius Servilius Vatia, captured Attaleia in 77 B.C. following his war on the pirates. The city lost her freedom after being annexed to the Roman Empire, but it is not clear whether she assumed the status of a Roman colony. The Pamphylia region, in which Attaleia was located, was united with her western neighbour Lycia in A.D. 43 during the reign of Claudius. The new "double-province" was first given to the authority of the emperor and then to the Roman Senate. Around A.D. 47, Saint Paul visited Attaleia following his mission in southern Galatia. It is also known that the Emperor Hadrianus visited the city in A.D. 131. Other emperors like Lucius Verus would have seen this well-protected city from a distance during their voyages along the southern coastline of Asia Minor.

Attaleia, which suffered her share in the persecution of the Christians during the reign of Decius, appears as a bishopric at the Ecumenical Council held in Ephesus in A.D. 431. In 688 Justinian II settled the Mardaites, who had helped the local Christians during the Arab raids, on the edge of the city. Leo VI improved the defence system in 916. In the ninth and tenth centuries the city had become the centre of the Cibyrrheote (Kibyraiote) theme formed by Heraclius (610-641) and an important military region of the Byzantine Empire. Emperor Alexius I honoured the city with the title "metropolis" in 1084. However, shortly thereafter, the Seljuk pressure increased and the city fell.

Although the Byzantines managed to reconquer the city in 1120, the Seljuk Sultan Kaykhusraw I conquered the city again in 1207. The Seljuks transformed this port city for their headquarters on the "blue sea" and used her in their overseas connections with the Venetians and others. Commerce and culture attained high levels at this time. When the Seljuk Sultanate disappeared from Anatolia in the early fourteenth century, the city was mostly under the rule of the Hamidids, who further strengthened sea commerce with the Levant, Egypt and the Aegean. The city came under Lusignan rule between 1361 and 1373. With the arrival of the Ottomans about 1397-1399 under Bayezid I, the city came under Ottoman sovereignty. However, Aegean trade dependent on grain coming from Anatolia and attention given to military objectives started the commercial decline. Timur's destructive conquests reached Antalya as well. The city was pillaged and ruled with great cruelty. In 1415 the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed I reconquered Antalya for good.

During the Ottoman period the city started to decline, reduced to a population of about 15,000 by the mid-nineteenth century and reaching about 25,000 in 1947. Today Antalya, with a population of over one million people, is representative of growing, modern Turkey. As the population has multiplied twentyfold since 1960, the settlement area has also greatly expanded. This developmental process has attained a stunning speed. One-third of the 30 million tourists coming to Turkey every year for beauty and peace come to Antalya, either to stay or to transit to other sites along the Turkish Riviera.


Kaleiçi lies over the ancient city and covers an area of about 80 hectares. Considering the monumental remains of other ancient cities in Asia Minor, one does not find many here. Apart from the necropolis and part of the agora, many important structures such as a theatre, temples, stadium, and baths cannot even be localized. Continuous settlement at a site hinders reaching ancient levels as many things disappear in time. Strolling around Kaleiçi, one notices many pieces of antiquity embedded in the walls of buildings or displayed in gardens or by doorways.

The best-preserved remains are the city walls, which possibly retain their Hellenistic texture. The latest parts of the fortifications date to the Ottoman period, and they remained in use until the early twentieth century. Images from the 1880s show not only the clock tower but also seven gates and more than fifty towers. The most striking part of the walls is Hadrian's Gate. Clearly dated after A.D. 129, the gate has three passages with no defensive character. It once had an honorary inscription in gold-plated bronze letters saluting the emperor. The round monumental tomb at the southwest end of the walls, known as the Hıdırlık Tower, reaches a height of 14 m. It dates to the Roman Imperial period, and the fasces in relief that flank its entrance point to an owner of consular rank.

Along the ancient (now modern) street that once ran from Hadrian's Gate to the Hıdırlık Tower are the remains of a five-aisled basilica. It was built in the fifth century employing material from earlier buildings and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The church was converted to a mosque in the Ottoman period. Another surviving example of Seljuk art is the Yivli Minare (Fluted Minaret) – indeed the symbol of Antalya – which is partly built with glazed bricks*.

* J. Gorecki, "Ein Kampf um den Hafen des Attalos", bkz.: J. Gorecki – E. Schallmayer (Ed.), Heroische Landschaften: Eine pittoreske Reise zu den antiken Städten der türkischen Mittelmeerküste, 2000.

Click here for an introductory video on Antalya: