Termessos, Antalya, Turkey

The ancient city of Termessos has the most dramatic situation of any ancient city in Turkey. Just look at its theater:

Theater, Termessos, Turkey

High in a mountain defile 38 km (24 miles, one hour) north of the Mediterranean coast city of Antalya (map), the walled city of Termessos defied even Alexander the Great in 333 BC.

Now protected within Güllük Dağı National Park, Termessos requires at least half a day (4 or 5 hours, preferably in the morning—start early), and bring a water bottle and snacks or a picnic lunch. (Driving to or from Cappadocia via Konya, you can visit Termessos on your way.More…)

The park opens at 08:30 am in summer. Last entry to the park is at 17:30 (5:30 pm), but you don’t have to leave the park until 19:30 (7:30 pm). In winter, the park may open at 08:00 am, and close early if there is bad weather (heavy rain, fog, snow), but otherwise the last entry is often 16:30 (4:30 pm).

I started driving from KaleiçiAntalya at 08:35 am, reached the entrance to the national park at 09:15 am and paid the small per-person admission fee.

Just beyond the park entrance is a restaurant (open sometimes), café and snack shop, picnic area, toilets, and a small “exhibition room” (museum) of photos of Termessos’s ruins.

Guides wait here on some days (particularly weekends) for those who might want to employ them for a tour of the ruins—not a bad idea if you have a lively interest in archeology, as Termessos is an unrestored site: signs mark the major buildings, and the principal paths are kept clear of brush, but you still get a good Indiana Jones feeling as you poke around looking at the fields of tumbled limestone blocks.

From the park entrance, I drove the 9 km (5.6 miles) up a winding, one-lane switchback road to the archeological site parking lot, arriving at 09:30 am, an hour after leaving the Tuvana Hotel in Antalya(map).

At the site parking lot are a few picnic tables, signs saying “No Picnicking” and “No Camping”, toilets, a tiny ranger post, a temple and propylaeum dedicated to Emperor Hadrian and the goddess Artemis, an ancient cistern, and the Northeastern Necropolis, a hillside of tumbled tombs and sacrophagi, including a Monumental Tomb (Mezar Anıtı) and a grand tomb with reliefs of lions (Aslan Mezarı).

From the parking lot, I walked fairly slowly along the rough path uphill toward the city heights.

After 10 minutes I was at the Lower City Walls. A few more minutes brought me to the City Gate, and another 10 minutes to the Gymnasium and Baths.

By 10:00 am, after a half-hour hike from the parking lot, I was at theUpper City Walls and Drainage System, on level ground at the top of the valley.

A few minutes walking on level (but rough) ground took me to the spectacular Theater with its vast views and precipitous site, teetering on the rim of a steep defile.

Major sights at the top include the Upper AgoraOdeon-BouleuterionHereon (monumental tomb), Cistern with Five PartitionsColonnaded Street, and the Corinth Temple.

Look up the hillside from the Theater and the Agora and you’ll see a fire lookout tower (yangın kulesi) at the very top of the mountain. The path up to the tower takes you through the Southwest Necropolis, a large and impressive collection of huge stone sarcophagi tumbled about as though on judgement day. The necropolis is a 15-minute hike from the Theater, some of it uphill, the lookout tower another 10 to 12 minutes.

At the fire lookout tower (which will probably be unoccupied and locked), you get a spectacular 360° panorama of the mountains, forests, valleys, and the setting of Termessos itself.

From the Theater, I started down the rocky path to the parking lot (otopark) and arrived just over 16 minutes later. My visit to the site, including walking up the hill as far as the theater, lasted two hours. One hour would be too little, three might also be fine, four might be too much.

Seeing Termessos requires hiking some rough paths, and climbing over some big stones. It is not an easy place to walk. Spraining an ankle or two is easy to accomplish, so be careful.

To reach Termessos from Antalya, leave the city following signs for the Otogar (bus terminal). When you see signs for Burdur, follow those instead. The road to the park, marked by “Termessos” signs, is off the Burdur-Korkuteli highway.

Visit on a day excursion from Antalya, or stop for a half day going to or from Antalya along the Burdur or Korkuteli (D350/E87) highways on your way to or from Pamukkale and Denizli.

You should consider combining your visit to Termessos with one to theKarain Cave, 19 km (12 miles) east of the Termessos archeological site parking lot (map). The two sites make a good day excursion, and you can be back in Antalya in time for a late lunch and a swim.

Distances & Travel Times

Antalya (Kaleiçi): 38 km (24 miles) S, 1 hour

Karain Cave: 19 km (12 miles, 35 minutes) from the Termessos archeological site parking lot

—Tom Brosnahan

Karain Cave

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