From the central plains we traveled south to the aptly named Turquoise Coast. Our first stop was to the small village of Olympos, named after the ancient Lycian city whose ruins still lie in the hills above the beach.
The path down to the beach took us past pomegranate, lime, and orange trees and through the ancient ruins. While the exact date of the city’s foundation is unknown, Olympos had risen to prominence by the 2nd century BC and remain inhabited until the 15th century. The ruins include Roman baths, remnants of a theatre, cemeteries, and hilltop fortresses.
Olympos sits on the Lycian Way, a 509 kilometer trail hiking trail that connects the coastal cities of Fethiye and Antalya. We trekked a small portion of the trail which brought us to a secluded beach where we took a dip in the sea.
From Olympos we traveled west along the Turquoise Coast to Patara, home of the longest uninterrupted sand beach in Turkey. Like Olympos, Patara is littered with ancient ruins. The ruins at Patara are extensive and impressive. Since the 1980’s, archeologists have been clearing massive amounts of sand and have unearthed incredible structures, including a massive amphitheater.
We spent our days hiking through the ruins and relaxing on the 12 mile long beach. The best part of such a large stretch of sand was that you could pick a spot on the beach and be alone for most of the day. For lunch we often ate a tasty and traditional turkish dish called gözleme, reminiscent of a quesadilla filled with an assortment of tasty ingredients of your own choosing. sweet or savory gözleme, it’s always delicious!
Patara beach is also a key nesting site for sea turtles. The hotel we stayed at was home to two biologists in charge of counting and marking the nests along the beach. We arrived at the tail end of the hatching season and found several nests with empty eggs in them. Hopefully they made it to the sea!
Another interesting fact that we discovered about Patara is that it was the birthplace of St. Nicholas (A.K.A Santa Claus!).
Our last stop on the coast was to the famous ancient city of Ephesus. Founded in the 10th century BC by the Greeks, the city ultimately fell under Roman rule in the 2nd century BC. Under Roman rule, the city flourished and became home to approximately 50,000 people. It is also the namesake of the book of Ephesians in the Bible.
Archeological research and excavations began in1863 and continue until this day. It is estimated that only 10-15% of the ancient city has been unearthed. The most impressive building that has been reconstructed is the Library of Celsus, built in 135 BC and re-erected in the 1970s.
We arrived at Ephesus in the early morning when the site first opened. We even had the Library of Celsus almost to ourselves! As we left the Library, however, we were shocked to see hoards of tourists approaching us. We soon learned that Ephesus is a popular stop for cruise ship passengers and the site was soon so crowded that it became hard to navigate the walkways between the ruins.
To escape the crowds we ducked into the Terrace Houses (a separate ticket that surprising a lot of people don’t purchase). The Terrace Houses contain six residential houses that date back to the 1st-7th century BC. These homes belonged to some of the wealthiest citizens at Ephesus and contain magnificent frescos and mosaics. These houses even contained running hot and cold water and clay pipes that delivered hot air to the houses, creating heat for winter.
With a flight to catch, we left the ancient ruins of Ephesus and the Turquoise Coast behind and headed back to Istanbul. We loved our time in Turkey. The diverse geography and the complex history of the region captivated us during our three weeks. We hope to return one day and explore more!