Fethiye – The Wonder City by the Mediterranean Sea
Fethiye, build atop the ancient city of Telmessos, is a must-visit.
Fethiye, a city in the district of Muğla Province in the Aegean Region, is a popular tourist destination in Turkey, thanks to its museum, its architectural marvels, and its location to the coast. The harbourside city is a great starting point for those wishing to explore the surrounding beaches, and serves as a great spot to explore more of the region’s ancient Lycian culture.
The city was built on top of the ancient city of Telmessos, part of Lycia, which was a confederation of independent city-states. The Lycians are historically known thanks to their unique burial habits, leaving behind rock tombs in the cliffs outside Fethiye, and 2,500-year-old sarcophagi in the city’s streets.
Lycian Sites and Cities
The Lycians were an ancient people who inhabited the areas between Antalya and Fethiye in modern-day Turkey, and the Lycians were admired for their institution of the democratic Lycian Federation – the first known democratic union – and the various Lycian cities were able to enjoy peace amongst themselves, while other Greek city-states would war against the other. The Lycians ruled over Turkey’s cost from 200 BC, and Fethiye stands atop an important Lycian city, Telmessos. Guests can still see a number of monuments scattered throughout the city, the most popular of which is the Tomb of Amyntas, a rock-cut tomb in the south of the city. The limestone cliffs that form Fethiye’s southern boundary contain traces of the ancient Lycian city, and there is a foot-path available for guests to go up to the base and get a better look at the Lycian tombs along the way. The Tomb of Amyntas lies at the highest point, and was carved in around 350 BC, larger and more detailed than the other tops. The tomb is inscribed with a small phrase on its side, reading “Amyntou tou Ermagiou”, (Amyntas, son of Hermagios).
For those who want to stay within city limits, Lycians buried their dead across the town as well, rather than in one necropolis (which was a practice in Ancient Greece). The tombs and monuments are built from local limestone, and the city of Fethiye grew around these monuments and incorporated them into their culture. The tombs themselves are old, dating over 1,000 years, are richly decorated, and can sometimes rise to three storeys tall. One of the tombs worth visiting is in the garden of the town hall (Belediye); the tomb is designed like a two-story house, and features rich reliefs on its walls, including a relief on the roof depicting a scene of soldiers carrying shield.
The Fethiye Museum, too, contains a stunning exhibition that details the city’s archaeological history, ranging from the Bronze Age through the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods, with special focus on Lycian history as well. The exhibition contains a selection of coins that were minted over the civilisations, along with pieces of jewellery, pottery, altars, amulets, busts, and architectural fragments that have been unearthed. The highlight of the museum is the ‘Trilingual Stele’, a stone that is inscribed with Lycian, ancient Greek, and Aramaic, and was found during an excavation in Letoön. This discovery was crucial in helping archaeologists and linguists understand the Lycian language.
For those who are interested in soaking in the cool breeze while staying within the city, the waterfront in Fethiye is open to the public, and includes a promenade that lines the bay, reaching the marina on the south side of the city. A walk down the promenade can feel rejuvenating, and the promenade houses a number of restaurants and cafes to sit and take in the sight of the water, along with a designated cycling path. The promenade is shady as well, with palms and pine trees lining the walkway to make the experience cooler and more pleasurable. Guests are invited to enjoy some tea-time snacks and enjoy the boats sailing up and down the waterfront. The marina also offers water taxis to reach other sections of the city, and the picture-worthy views alone make this ferry on the water worth the journey.
Kayaköy is a village about 8 kilometres south of Fethiye, and was a thriving centre containing a rich mixture of Greeks and Turks who lived as neighbours for centuries. The village has existed through civilisations, and was known in ancient Greek as Karmilassos, shortened to Lebessos, and finally pronounced as Livissi in modern Greek. The village used to house Greek-speaking Christians and Turkish-speaking Ottomans, and lived in relative harmony from the end of the Ottoman empire in the 14th century to the early 20th century, when the Population Exchange in 1923 resulted in Greeks being forced to move back to Greece, and Turks who lived in Greece move back to Turkey.
This move, along with massacres of Greeks during World War I, led to the depopulation of the village, and the village now lies eerie and abandoned. The village has been left to decay since the Greeks were forced to leave, and stands as a reminder of the centuries-long harmony and brotherhood that existed between the two nations. The village also houses the Katapongagia Church and the Taxiarchis Church, both of which contain stunning interior decorations, and the quiet, abandoned village itself is a thoughtful, yet melancholic visit.
The Saklikent Gorge is a bit of a drive away from Fethiye (around 30 kilometres), and is a gorge that cuts deeply into the Akdaglar Mountain Range. The gorge is open to visitors, with wooden boardwalks that form a trail high above the river, with the last section of the trail fording the river itself and running through a narrow fissure to the end. The gorge is an 18-kilometre long, 300 metre deep gorge that was carved out by a branch of the Eşen river, known as the Karaçay.The river is also open to rafting trips for more adventurous visitors, while there are tea houses alongside the river for those who wish to cool their heels after a trek through the gorge. The gorge is accessible via the Saklikent National Park, which was established in 1996.
Guests who wish to spend a day exploring the Saklikent Gorge can also visit Tlos, an ancient ruined Lycian hilltop citadel that’s approximately 4 kilometres northwest of the gorge. This site is believed to have been an important religious cite for Lycians, and it is theorised that settlement on the site began more than 4,000 years ago. The site is a fascinating visit, as it is one of the oldest and largest Lycian settlements, and was inhabited by the Romans, Byzantines, and Ottoman Turks, making it one of the Lycian cities that was continually inhabited till the 19th century. The Tlos Ruins are an interesting visit thanks to their amalgamation of architectural styles from various civilisations; for example, the fortress atop the hill is of Ottoman style, but the walls display Roman and Lycian stonework. The Tlos Ruins also house a few Lycian rock tombs, including the Tomb of Bellerophon, with a relief portraying Bellerophron riding Pegasus. The ruins also contain remnants of a stadium, a market hall, and a basilica, dated from the Roman period.
The Ölüdeniz lagoon, Turkey’s most famous beach, is a short 15-kilometre drive from Fethiye. The Blue Flag Ölüdeniz Beach is a mix of white pebbles and clear water that seems to have a turquoise glow in the sunlight. The calm water is sheltered from the sea and is rimmed by a dense pine forest, making the waters still and easy to swim in. The beach offers a range of activities for everyone, and many tour packages are available for those who want to cruise on, swim, or dive into the lagoon’s crystal-clear waters. The beach is a must-visit when coming to Fethiye because of its additional sights along the margins; the peak of Babadağ, a mountain in Turkey, is around five kilometres from the coast and its stunning peak is visible from the beach. There are beach clubs on the lagoon’s shores as well, where guests can rent a pedal boat or swim in the water.
Those who aren’t interested in swimming or sunbathing can try paragliding from the mountain out onto the lagoon. The Babadağ mountain offers a great launching point for paragliders, and this is a popular activity during the summer months. For beginners who want to try the sport for the first time, tandem paragliding is available, where an instructor will take the jump with you.
Fethiye is one of Turkey’s popular tourist destinations for two main reasons – for its historicity (its access to historical architecture, monuments, and remnants) and its natural beauty (from the lagoon to the mountain peaks). From old villages outside the border to ancient tombs within the city limits, Fethiye is truly a fascinating city, for those interested in history, in culture, in heritage, or even those who are just looking out for more natural wonders. The city combines the best of both realms – natural and man-made – to provide a rich experience for tourists and guests to the city.
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