Alexander the Great failed to conquer it, but earthquakes and time have opened Termessos to the tread of tourists, Bridget Martin reports.
Sometime in the thousand years before the birth of Christ, the warlike Pisidian tribe built a city in the Toros Mountains. The valley they chose for their citadel was 34km from modern-day Antalya, on Turkey’s south coast, and commanded a position on the route between the Mediterranean and the Aegean. They blocked the route with a wall and demanded taxes from all who passed. Termessos grew rich.
The Pisidian people had chosen their site well. In 333BC Alexander the Great amassed his armies in the valley below but his attack was repelled.
Later, when the Romans took control of the surrounding area they recognised the strength of Termessos. In 70BC they signed a friendship treaty with them, guaranteeing their independence.
In the end it was the force of nature which was the undoing of Termessos. A massive earthquake struck in 243AD and the city was probably abandoned at that time.
We start the climb from the carpark and soon find ourselves clambering over hewn rocks which have tumbled down from a nearby wall, once the impregnable boundary of the city.
A beautifully carved capital – the top of a tumbled pillar – lies in our path. Instinctively we avoid it, not wanting to walk over an ancient treasure but the entire site of Termessos is littered with such antiquities.
Further up we take a side track to the bath house and gymnasium. Grooved rocks indicate the remains of a water piping system. Carved pillars sit crookedly in window frames.
A doorway stands alone, the surrounding wall having disintegrated, leaving it as a portal to the sky. A sign indicates the colonnaded street, but it is now an impassable jumble of stone blocks.
We have fun scrambling around the ruins. Vegetation is taking over the ancient remains and the site has never been excavated; the substantial ruins of one building are signposted “Unidentified building”.
Flowers sprout between the rocks and birds flitter among the trees – we have our first sighting of the strangely named sombre tit.
Then, suddenly, we find ourselves at the theatre. In contrast to the other ruins it is in an excellent state of repair. Semicircles of tiered seats dip down below us. Beyond, the surrounding mountain peaks rise dramatically, Mt Gulluck reaching 1265m; understandably this has a reputation as the most scenically positioned of all ancient theatres.
Entertainment in the theatre, which seated up to 4200 people, consisted of the slaughter of wild animals. Tunnels, leading under the stage, were added during the Roman period presumably for safety reasons.
This was a time when the locals were capturing the now extinct Anatolian leopards to send to Rome. It is sad to think of such carnage in this now blissfully peaceful place.
Near the theatre the ancient temples of Artemus and Zeus are now in ruins. We peer down into the massive cisterns, carved out of the rock for water storage below the market place.
Another 3km path leads further up the mountainside to the necropolis. Dozens of stone sarcophagi here once held the remains of the dead. Now these massively heavy rock coffins have been thrown down the mountainside by earthquakes, as carelessly scattered as if they were created from cardboard.
We take a longer route down, passing the quarry from which the limestone was cut for the city’s construction. Tombs and temples have been carved into the rock and more sarcophagi lie along the route.
Long ago the indigenous Anatolians, known to outsiders as the Solymian barbarians, grew olives and grapes and hunted wild goats, deer and bears in these mountains. Now it is curious tourists who wander the hillsides. Who will be next?
GETTING THERE: If driving to Termessos, take the road from Antalya to Korkuteli. After 25km look out for the signpost to Termessos on the left. This is the entrance to Gulluk Mountain National Park which encompasses the site of Termessos. Entry fee is 8 million Turkish lire (about $8) per person. From here a 9km road winds through pine forests to the carpark at the base of the site.
Using public transport, take the Korkuteli-bound bus from the main bus station (otogar) and get off at the entrance to Gulluk Mountain National Park. Taxis wait here to take people up to the carpark. Expect to pay about 30 million lire (about $30) for the return trip.
An easier alternative is to ask your hotel in Antalya to arrange a car and driver. We paid 80 million Turkish lire ($80) for two for a tour which also included the interesting Duden waterfall.
DETAILS: Allow a minimum of two to three hours to explore the site. A thorough tour, including the necropolis, will take four or five hours. A visit to Termessos involves a certain amount of climbing. A reasonable degree of fitness is necessary and visitors should wear good footwear for clambering over ruins. Also, especially in summer, carry water, hats and sunscreen.
© S.B. Martin. All rights reserved