If you are driving towards Antalya along the recently opened coastal highway, which allows the most spectacular view of the beauties of the Mediterranean, you will encounter a road sign at the exit some 35 km. before Antalya that points in the direction of Phaselis, which is down a forested road in the village of Tekirova.
Although the nearby Beldibi Cave shows some signs of prehistoric dwellings, we can trace the city of Phaselis back no further than the 7th century B.C. As it possessed three harbors and was in close proximity to a rich forested region, Phaselis was established as a colony of Rhodes in 690 B.C. Phaselis, which derived its existence from the sea in the Gth-7th centuries B.C., was captured by Persia after they took Anatolia, and later by Alexander the Great after he defeated Persia. However, the inhabitants of Phaselis opened their gates to Alexander and accommodated him in their city. It was here that Alexander accepted many of the envoys from the cities of Pamphylia, then advanced to Gordion, taking each of the coastal cities in quick succession.
After the death of Alexander, the city remained in Egyptian hands from 309-197 B.C. under the the Ptolemiac Dynasty. With the signing of the Apemaia Treaty, it was handed over to the Kingdom of Rhodes, along with the other cities of Lycia, where it remained under the sovereignty of Rhodes from 190-160 B.C. Soon after, it was absorbed into the Lycian League under Roman administration. Like Olympos, Fhaselis was under constant threat of pirates in the 1st century B.C., and the city was even taken over by the pirate Zenicetes for a spell. The threat was eliminated when Zenicetes was ignamiously defeated by the Romans.
In 42 B.C., Brutus had the city annexed to Rome. During the Byzantine Period, the city became a bishopric. In the 3rd century A.D., its convenient harbor had fallen under the threat of pirates once more and it began to lose importance, suffering further losses at the hands of Arab hordes until becoming totally impoverished by the 11th century. Phaselis’ fate was permanently sealed when the Seljuks began concentrating on Alanya and Antalya as their ports of preference. As we previously indicated, Phaselis was a city of harbors, of which it possessed no less than three. The N harbor is beyond the place where we parked the car park, next to that is the naval base, whereas the southern harbor is to the S.
It was with the sealing off of two small islets with a breakwater that the N harbor was made secure, whereby it was subsequently enlarged and dredged to accommodate a large number of ships. The military harbor to the S of this was protected by a breakwater which was an extension of the fortification walls that surrounded the peninsula, whereas it is possible to see traces of all this. Let’s take a look at the other remains to be found at the spot where the forest splashes into the sea, an insatiable view that made it one of the favorite harbor cities of antiquity.
As you begin to wander about Phaselis, which was established on top of a peninsula that narrowed into bays to the N and 5, you will first encounter the intact ruins of an aqueduct. While water needs were met during Phaselis early period with cisterns and wells, later on, a system of aqueducts brought in water from faraway places as well as from a spring to the N of the city to the hill behind the Hadrian Agora, where it was then distributed throughout the town via a network of channels and waterpipes.
The actual ruins of the city lie on both-sides of the main avenue that connects the military harbor with the S harbor. Measuring 125 m. long by 20-25 m. long, the avenue has sidewalks on either side that are reached by ascending three steps. You will reach the S harbor after encountering a plaza in the middle of the avenue. This avenue, which was laid with flat stones, also had a sewage and drainage system running under it.
Now, as you enter the avenue from the military harbor, you will come across ruins on both sides. The rubble that you see on the W side used to be shops lined up along the avenue. Behind these, you will come across a structure with an confusing plan, whereby you will also see the bath-gymnasium complex a bit further down from this. Behind these were the training rooms. Because the gymnasium, which had mosaics on the floor, was used for different reasons in later ages, it hasn’t maintained its original layout. One entered the bath dressing room through two doors in the 5, and stepped into the cold and warm sections from here. The floor and walls of the baths, which were constructed in the 3rd century A.D., were once covered in marble. From the looks of it, we assume that it was renovated and put into use again at a later date.
The large structure to the S of the bath is an agora. The layout of the agora, which had a wide gate that opened up into the town square, was almost square-shaped and as it was constructed during the reign of Hadrian (117-138 A.D.) it was called ‘Hadrian’s Agora. The agora was surrounded by porticoes and behind these were the shops. A basilica with a rectangular layout was added in the 5th-6th centuries to the NW half of Hadrian’s Agora, whereas the tri-windowed apse can still be seen today. In addition to this, several wings were added onto the agora’s E and S sides. The large cistern found here is rather interesting.
It is understood that statues were once lined up along the rim of the agora wall which overlooked the avenue. It is known that there were two statues extant on either side of the entry gate; one of Opramoas, from Rhodiapolis, who helped a number of Lycian cities and who had provided Phaselis with major assistance during this time; the other one was of Saxa Amyntianus. In addition to these statues, there was also once a fountain that decorated the facade of the agora.
In making a wide angle, the second section of the avenue begins after the square and turns S. You will immediately see the Domitian Agora at the corner. This building had two gates facing the avenue, whereby it was called the Domitian Agora’ as there was an inscription written in honor of Emperor Domitian (8 1-96 A.D.) which was found above one of the gates. The courtyard of this agora was in the shape of a major structural complex. On the W side of the avenue are ruins of yet another agora which date to a later period. This agora’s inner courtyard was surrounded with corridors in a portico fashion, and the shops were located in the rear. This agora was connected to the S harbor.
At the end of the main avenue lies the Hadrian Gate, and from here it is possible to look out into the S harbor with all its grandeur. The view of a myriad shades of blue sea with mountains in the background topped with winter snow and fog gives this place a mysterious aura. Before falling too far into a hypnotic trance, you should take a look at the ruins on the E side by returning back to the main avenue.
Below the theater, one comes across the remnants of another baths complex. The formation of this bath, which is mainly intact and dating back to the 3rd - 4th centuries B.C, comprised of three main spaces running parallel to each other. The first of which once held the swimming pool was known as the frigidarium; the second section was the tepidanium; whereas the third part was the caldanium. Today, the brick foundations that once provided heat for the baths can still be seen. Moving along S of the bath, you will may encounter ruins of the town’s mosaic-covered public toilet, which was situated above the avenue.
Up above this bathing complex, - you will see the town’s theater which once had a seating capacity of 1,500-2,000 spectators. This Hellenistic theater was established on a hill overlooking the town, with a panoramic view of the sea, as well. You will ascend stone steps to reach the theater from the avenue. The entrance and exit were located on either side. These sections underwent major changes during the Byzantine Age. The cavea, which was in the shape of a semi-circle, had 20 rows of seats. The auditorium was divided into five sections by four sets of stairs. The stage originally had two stories, but today only the bottom one remains intact. It also had five gates. The theater continued to be utilized during the Roman Period after some renovations were made. On the acropolis in the Temple of Athena, located above the upper section of the theater was the broken spear of Achilles which was crafted from ash wood. Ancient writers wrote that while Alexander was in Phaselis, he visited the temple and touched the spear. In addition to the Temple of Athena, we know that there were also the temples of Heracles, Hestia and Hermes on the acropolis, which goes back to the early period. Moreover, there were also palace and official buildings on this site.
Today, late-period ruins and cisterns can be seen through a thick blanket of vegetation. Phaselis’ necropolis is found in several locations, the most widespread of which is along the coastline at the edge of the N harbor, whereas you can see a number of various types of tombs.