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By Oya Gokcen
In Greek mythology Mount Olympus was the home of the gods, and nearly
twenty mountains in Anatolia and Greece were given this name. One of
these is Mount Tahtali in the Olympus-Beydaglari National Park.
Although at a height of 2374 metres the mountain is not of a great
altitude compared to many others in Turkey, the fact that it rises
with such suddenness from the coast south of Antalya makes it an
impressive sight. In its foothills on the shore of the Mediterranean
lie the picturesque overgrown ruins of the city of Olympos, stretching
down a narrow valley to the shore.
Founded in Hellenistic times, Olympos became one of the foremost
cities of the Lycian League, to which it belonged from 168 BC to 78
BC. It was one of only six cities holding three votes in the league.
Later the city was razed by Cilician pirates, but rebuilt during the
Roman period in the 2nd century AD, and most of the ruins visible
today date from this period. In the 3rd century attacks by pirates in
search of plunder left the city impoverished, and the population
dwindled. Later the city enjoyed a brief revival of its fortunes under
the Venetians, Genoese and knights of Rhodes, but was abandoned
entirely in the 15th century after the Ottoman navy gained control
over the eastern Mediterranean.
Olympos straddles the Akdere River, which flows from Cirali in the
district of Kumluca and winds to the sea through a deep valley between
the mountains of Musa and Omurga. The ruins of the city are
picturesque and so overgrown that in places the thick undergrowth is
impenetrable. In ancient times stone embankments were built along the
course of the river to form a canal through the town, and the remains
of one foot of the bridge can be seen on the south bank. The north
part of the city is today a marsh, with bays, southern nettle trees,
figs, and other Mediterranean trees, to which creepers cling in such
abundance that it is difficult to force a way through. Here there is a
large Roman temple with a splendid portal.
At the foot of the hill to the south of the stream are the remains of
a small theatre, beyond it a ruined Byzantine basilica, and on the
shore a Roman bath. It is a delightful walk along the banks of the
small river in the cool shade of the trees, emerging finally at the
edge of the sea. This beautiful stretch of coastline became a national
park in 1972. The Olympos-Beydaglari National Park covers an area of
698 square kilometres, encompassing the foothills of the Beydaglari
Mountains from Gelidonya Burnu headland to the bay of Yeni Liman.
At Cirali, situated at a height of 250 metres northwest of Olympos is
the eternally burning fire which gave rise to the myth of a
firebreathing monster, called the Chimaera by the Lycians. The fire is
known as Yanartas or Burning Stone in Turkish. It is actually burning
natural gas, which seeps through a crack in the rock from deep down in
the earth. A walk of about half an hour along a narrow path through a
forest of red pine (Pinus brutia) brings you to Yanartas. Also within
the boundaries of the national park are the ruins of Phaselis, another
Lycian port city, and the wild and beautiful scenery of Mount Tahtali.
On the cliffs to the north of the Akdere River where it flows into the
Mediterranean is a medieval castle. A path runs beside the sarcophagi
of the ancient necropolis up to the castle, from which there is a
spectacular view over the deep valley between the mountains of Musa
and Omurga through which the Akdere winds amongst reedbeds and maquis
forest, and of the city of Olympos on both banks.
The coast around Olympos is one of the loveliest spots in all of
Turkey, and home to a wide range of flora and fauna. The sand beach is
a breeding ground for the loggerhead turtle, and is under protection.
With its unspoilt scenery and fascinating history, this part of
Turkey's Mediterranean coast is the perfect place for an unforgettable
* Oya Gokcen is a photographer and freelance writer.