By Marco Stojanovik
Antalya is Turkey’s principle holiday resort on the Mediterranean coast, a city of historic and natural beauty located on the Turkish Riviera on Anatolia’s southwest coast, boarded by the Taurus Mountains. Each year tourists are drawn to its subtropical warm climate, abundance of ancient sites, prize-winning marina, shady palm-lines boulevards, and the winding streets of its picturesque old quarter fortified within ancient city walls. Continuously inhabited since its founding in the second century BCE, the Romans, Byzantines, Seljuk Turks, and Ottomans have all flourished in and enriched this ancient city.
Odyssey Traveller conducts a day trip tour of Antalya as part of our Discover Turkey escorted small group history private tour. We spend three nights at a hotel in Antalya as a base to explore the Antalya old town and ancient harbour and bay (with an opportunity to swim at the beach in the beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea), visit the open air Antalya Archaeological Museum – a display of over 5000 pieces of art and archaeological objects – and have a full day trip to two nearby ancient Anatolian cities: Perge and Aspendos. This article explores the history of the city to assist you with your guided tour and Antalya holiday.
Ancient Times: City of Pergamum & Rome
Unlike many of the settlements along the Mediterranean, Antalya city is a relative newcomer. It was founded around 150 BCE after King Attalus II of Pergamum selected the region in his search to find ‘heaven on earth’. Attalus II named the city Attaleia after himself, establishing here a naval base to house his mighty fleet of ship and appointing it the role of the main port of his kingdom.
However, Antalya did not remain under the control of Pergamum for long. In 133 BCE, following the death of Attalus III, a nephew of Attalus II and the last ruler of this state, the kingdom was bequeathed to Rome. When the Romans took over, the town of Antalya grew rapidly into a full-fledged city, prospering as the most important port in the entire region and attracting many traders and travellers. Even Emperor Hadrian visited in 130 CE; the triumphal arch known as Hadrian’s Gate built to commemorate this historic event still stands today.
During this era Christianity made inroads into the Anatolian region through Antalya with figures like St Paul of Tarsus visiting at the beginning of the first century CE. This moment is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles: “Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalea, and from there they sailed to Antioch”.
Middle Ages: Byzantines, Turks and the Ottomans
The Byzantines took over when the Roman Empire fell apart and it became one of their most importance cities. It was the capital of the Bynzatine Theme (military district) of Cibyrrhaeots, which included the southern coasts of Anatolia and the Aegean Islands. It was also a major naval station, a major commercial centre, and the most convenient harbour between the Aegean Sea and Cyprus and further points east, which gave it a diverse multicultural character.
During the Byzantine period many churches were erected in Antalya, a city with a rank of a bishopric. Most notable is the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, in later times converted into a mosque, and now known as the Broken Minaret.
Antalya city was later conquered by the Seljuk Turks in 1207, who gave it a new name – Antaliya. The Seljuk Turks made it the capital of the Turkish beylik of Teke (a small ancestral kingdom) and it soon became the most important town and port of the region. They also built the iconic Yivli Minara Mosque in the 13th century, which is now considered one of the city’s most important sites, a symbol of Antalya since its construction.
Antalya was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1423 by Sultan Murad II. From this time until the early 20th century, the city remained its multi-ethnic character, and was regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the region. It was divided into walled quarters where Christians, Jews, Greeks and also Turks all lived in relative peace – and a great wall surrounded the entire port district, comprising fortified towers and gates. Outside the walls were the governor’s offices and the upper-class houses.
Following WWI, the Ottoman Empire was divvied up and the Italians were given control of Antalya. This brief occupation ended in 1921, when Ataturk’s armies began removing all foreign presences from the region during the Turkish War of Independence. Following the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, Antalya became the capital of the province of the same name.
Until the early 1970s the town was actually little more than a medium sized farming and fishing-provincial town. Since then, however, Antalya has completely transformed into one of the country’s largest metropolitan areas, largely due to the tourism boom. With a subtropical warm climate and an abundance of ancient sites nearby, Antalya is one of Turkey’s main tourist strongholds.
Today tourists flock to visit the old town’s tourist attractions. Surrounded by fortified walls restored during Roman, Byzantine, and Seljuk periods, it occupies the summit of a low cliff overlooking the harbour. Notable monuments amongst the dozens in the town include Hadrian’s Gate, Yivli Minara Mosque (which now houses the local archaeological museum), Hıdırlık Tower (probably constructed as a lighthouse in the 2nd century) and Kesik Minare Mosque (originally built as Roman temple and subsequently converted into a church and then a mosque).
Odyssey Traveller conducts a tour of Antalya as part of our Discover Turkey escorted small group history tour during which we visit some of the most spectacular, varied, and historically important sites in the ancient world. This small group Turkey holiday tour begins and ends in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and seaport, and the place where east meets the west on the Bosphorus strait. Discover Turkey with Odyssey on this amazing guided tour through the ancient world linking the Black sea, Egypt, Syria and Europe together on this history tour. Our tour packages are especially designed to be suitable for mature-aged and senior travellers, whether joining as a couple or as solo travellers.
Odyssey Traveller has been serving global travellers since 1983 with educational tours of the history, culture, and architecture of our destinations. We specialise in offering small group tours partnering with a local tour guide at each destination to provide a relaxed and comfortable pace and atmosphere that sets us apart from larger tour groups. Tours consist of small groups of between 6 and 12 people and are cost inclusive of all entrances, tipping and majority of meals. For more information, click here, and head to this page to make a booking.
Articles about Turkey published by Odyssey Traveller.
- Treasures of the Ottoman Empire
- Turkey: From Anatolia to the Ottoman Empire
- Ten Unimaginable Destinations
- Ten Books for Travellers to Turkey
- Ten Things to See in Turkey
For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.
External articles to assist you on your visit to Turkey.
22 daysSep, Apr, May
Ancient Turkey escorted small group history tour
As a travel company we seek to keep guests off the beaten path. Trips that are remembered for authentic experiences. Our small group journeys in Turkey are fully escorted by an experienced local guide and an Odyssey guide to give this type of experience whether at one of the many UNESCO World heritage sites explored or local bazaars. It is always about the adventure and memories that we will create.
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10 Unimaginable Destinations: The Definitive Guide
Experience and knowledge shows that they are plenty of places in the world still to be explored by the curious. Our collection of small group tours for seniors as well as mainstream tours to France or Italy can take the traveller as a couple or solo traveller to places of curiosity such as Panama or Iran the list is endless for the curious.
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