The ruins of Phaselis lie to the west of Antalya on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, boasting a beautiful contrast of a mountain backdrop and an attractive white sand beach. The site is distinguishable by three natural harbours, and is located in the Olympos National Park.
History of Phaselis
Phaselis is said to have been founded around 700BC by settlers from Rhodes. Legend states that these newcomers bought the land from the locals by answering a demand for dried fish. Whatever the truth of the tale, the city’s location lent itself to trading – Phaselis had trade links stretching as far as Egypt, and the inhabitants even accepted Persian rule in order to gain additional lucrative trading posts. The city’s great wealth has been attributed to the pragmatism of its many able merchants, but it also had a reputation as a greedy and corrupt city. As a means of raising funds, Phaselis offered citizenship for 100 drachmas, which had the result of attracting many disagreeable characters from across Asia.
Phaselis changed hands numerous times during its history. The city was ruled by Persia on several occasions, being ‘liberated’ by Athens in 469BC, albeit against the wishes of its inhabitants who enjoyed the benefits of Persian rule. After returning to the hands of the Persians, Phaselis was then conquered by Alexander the Great in 334BC. In the second century BC Phaselis became a member of the Lycian League, before falling victim to attacks from pirates, notably Zeniketes who was eventually killed by the Romans in 78AD. By then however, Phaselis had been reduced to a shadow of its former glory.
The city recovered under Roman rule and on into the Byzantine period and enjoyed several hundred years of stability and growth. In 129 AD the Emperor Hadrian visited the city and several monuments were erected in his name. In the 7th and 8th centuries, like much of the region Phaselis suffered due to the turmoil of the period and repeated attacks from the Arab armies. The struggling settlement was eventually abandoned in the 13th century AD after earthquakes destroyed the area.
Today, the beautiful scenery and extensive pine forests are at risk of overshadowing what is left of the ruins. One of the best preserved ancient structures on the site is the Roman aqueduct, which runs alongside the bay by the north port. Another highlight is the main avenue leading into the heart of the city, a wonderful ten metre wide road stretching for some distance.
There are also a number of beautiful mosaics which can be seen in the Roman public baths, as well as a basilica dating from the Byzantine period in the 6th century. At the end of the main avenue, the main plaza still retains some of its original marble covering. There is little remaining of the city’s main port, which one enters through the remains of Hadrian’s gate, although there is a beautiful beach there. Ships weighing up to 100 tonnes would once have docked in this harbour, a stop on the important trade route running between Greece and Syria. There is also a 2nd century theatre, which would have accommodated up to 1,500 people.
A small museum can be found within the Phaselis Archaeological Site and showcases a number of artefacts found among the ruins. The site is open to visitors throughout the year.
Getting to Phaselis
Phaselis is on the southern coast of Turkey, just off the D400. It’s about an hour’s drive from the city of Antalya. Buses run regularly from Antalya to Kemer and Camyuva: they may even stop at the turnoff for Phaselis if you ask, otherwise you should be able to hire a taxi for the last few kilometres.