Ancient Olimpos/Olympus Archaeological Site
Perched on the cliffs overlooking the picturesque Mediterranean Sea, the ancient ruins of Olympus almost look like they are straight out of a fairy-tale. Tucked away on the Turkish coast it was notorious for once being the stronghold of the pirate Zenicetes who was chased down by none other than Julius Ceasar. The ancient city straddles a river, and a hike up to the acropolis provides a stunning panoramic view. Located near the modern towns of Çıralı and Olympus, visiting this ancient city could make up an exciting weekend excursion accompanied by seeing the Chimera (Yanartaş) Eternal Flames and a boat tour. You could also pair visiting this ancient city with the ancient city of Phaselis, which is only a thirty-minute drive away (~28 km/17 miles).
Olympus was originally a Hellenistic ancient city and part of the Lycian League, holding three votes. Its earliest city wall dates to around 300 BC. Prominent features of the site include acropolis defenses built right over the beach cliffs, several ancient churches, a bishop’s residence, a bath complex, necropolises, and a massive temple.
In 77 BC, the city came under Roman rule, and in 129, Emperor Hadrian visited the site. Researchers have found evidence that the city eventually shifted down to the coast during its later stages. Olympus is also the home of the renowned early Christian theologian and bishop Methodius (ca. 250-312 AD). Like most cities in the Lycia Region, Olympus likely reached its height between the 5th and 6th centuries AD before falling prey to the Arab raids and conquest in the 7th century. Settlement at Olympus declined rapidly; by the 15th century, nothing remained for the Ottomans to conquer. It was possibly used as a winter shelter for local shepherds until the 20th century.
The Olympus site is also part of the “Ancient Cities of Lycian Civilization” submitted to the UNESCO World Heritage’s Tentative List in 2009.
The site can be entered from either the modern towns of Olympus or Çıralı. To enter from Çıralı, you will need to simply walk down the beach, and you will see the ruins built on top of the cliffs overlooking the beach. A river/creek split ancient Olympus, and when you reach it via the beach, there is a short boardwalk which will need you to the ticket office and entrance to the site. You will see a monumental harbor tomb on your right as you enter. You can also enter from the modern Olympus side where the museum shop is located.
I would recommend about 2 hours to explore the site and possibly three if you want to do some extra hiking around some of the unlabeled ruins. Admission cost and more information can be found on the official museum website.
Transport to the ancient city of Olympus is relatively easy from the central city of Antalya (~80 km/50 miles), and there is a bus that can take you to the beautiful beach town of Çıralı from the Antalya Otogar. See our full guide and video on how to get to Çıralı by bus.
Brief Overview and Trail Notes
Exploring ancient Olympus is relatively easy, but some parts are more accessible than others. You can follow stone-paved walkways to site features, but you can also explore off on your own along goat paths and trails. If you see a sign prohibiting entrance, be mindful of it as archaeological excavations by Koç University are still ongoing, and you would not want to hinder their work accidentally!
After you enter (from the Çıralı side), you will see the remains of an ancient bridge which crossed the Olympus Creek (Akçay) on your left. Further in and to your right will be a rough path to the remains of an ancient three-aisled basilica (Church 3). The church was likely in use through the 5th and 6th centuries and featured mosaics and intricately carved columns (mosaics are now covered for protection).
Once you visit the church, come back to the main pathway, and you will see another stone walkway peeling off to the right, which will lead you alongside a lovely stream to more ancient ruins, including a Roman Monumental Tomb. If you continue on the path right of the monumental tomb, you will come to the sarcophagus of Antimachos.
If you would like to hike up to the acropolis, there is a trail that will lead you to the top, which starts behind the sarcophagus. You will have to push through some thick thistles and vegetation and may have to try a few trails before finding the right one. Be careful as parts of this are a little technical! However, the top of the acropolis offers a stunning panoramic view of the beach, sea, and the rest of the ancient site. Byzantine Fortifications crown the acropolis and still largely remain standing to this day.
After coming down from the acropolis, you can backtrack to the monumental tomb and head west along the paved path to the rest of the site. You can follow this out to observe the Building with Mosaics which has some mosaics visible to the public.
Opposite the building is a creek, and across it is a path that leads back to the main walkway and the Bishop’s Residence. The Bishop’s Residence is extensive; recent excavations in 2019 have revealed mosaics and a highly ordered structure. Attached to the residence are the massive columns of a Roman temple built in the 2nd century AD to commemorate Emperor Hadrian. The temple was later incorporated into the bishopric palace. This complex can also be accessed just off to the right of the main walkway.
Across the river is also a Roman Theater and Bath Complex. In addition, the site has multiple other unmarked structures and archaeological features which are accessible along its different paths. Overall, the ancient city of Olympus is an incredible adventure and is situated in a gorgeous location on the coast of Western Turkey. Be sure to check out the Chimera (Yanartaş) Eternal Flames, only a short hike away once you finish exploring the city!
For More Information:
Uçkan, B. Yelda Olcay and Gökçen K. Öztaşkin. “Olympos Excavations 2015.” In ANMED: News of Archaeology from Anatolia’s Mediterranean Areas #14. Istanbul: Koç University, 2016.
Uçkan, B. Yelda Olcay and Muradiye ÖZTAŞKIN. “New Results from the Olympos Episcopal Palace.” In ANMED: News of Archaeology from Anatolia’s Mediterranean Areas #18. Istanbul: Koç University, 2020.
UNESCO. “Ancient Cities of Lycian Civilization.” 2009. https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5408/
“Olympos Archeological Site.” Turkish Museums. Accessed June 2022. https://turkishmuseums.com/museum/detail/1967-antalya-olympos-archaeological-site/1967/4
“Olympos Archaeological Site.” (Official Museum Website). https://muze.gov.tr/muze-detay?sectionId=OLY01&distId=OLY
Wilson, Mark. Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor. Istanbul: Yayinlari, 2020.