It was 1998 when we first set eyes on the wonder that is the ancient site of Tlos.
Our first time in Fethiye (and Turkey, for that matter) and two friends we’d met here had taken us on a day trip drive around the stunning Xanthos valley area.
And, on the way back down the hill, our new (at the time) friend merely pointed at the amazing scene before us and said, “And that’s Tlos.”
A crowning rocky outcrop whose steep hillsides proudly display Lycian tombs, ruins from the Hellenistic period and Roman period.
And at the summit of the acropolis, the remains of a castle from the 19th century period of the Ottoman Empire which was occupied during the winter months by Kanlı Ali Ağa.
I was mesmerised.
Not just by the high position of this site from ancient times but also by its setting.
The scenery around here is spectacular. These are the foothills of the Akdağlar mountain range – the highest range in the area.
Rugged mountain tops – capped with snow in winter – become lush green hills before the whole valley opens out below you.
The views are stupendous!
Our friend drove on without stopping. That was Tlos. For now!
Clearly, we would have to return to this magnificent site – one of the principal Lycian cities of the Lycian League – in our own time.
And we did. And we have done many times since!
We certainly haven”t seen every archaeological site in the country but we’ve seen a lot.
And for its setting, along with ancient Sagalassos, Tlos is right up there amongst our favourites.
Exploring Tlos Ruins
As with many ancient cities, there are various layers of history that make up what we see today at Tlos ancient city.
Archaeological finds and a good dose of mythology intertwine to ensure this site, and other sites that make up the Lycian region, instills in us that desire to return time and again.
Sometimes to explore. Sometimes just to enjoy the solace and take in the beauty of the surroundings.
The ruins were rediscovered by British archaeologist and explorer, Sir Charles Fellows in 1838 – he who is responsible for many artefacts of historical sites in this area making their way to the British Museum.
Archaeological digs in the 2000s mean more of the ruins have been revealed.
And there was a significant find in 2011 when five relatively intact statues were uncovered.
Much excitement surrounded the story. And, even better for us, the statues were handed over to the care of our local Fethiye Museum.
With Tlos, we have our Greek mythological hero, Bellerophon and his winged horse, Pegasus.
The tomb of Bellerophon is set in the vertical cliff face at the side of the acropolis and is perhaps the most significant on the site due to its size and temple shape.
Bellerophon’s task was given to him by the Lycian king, Iobates; to kill the fire-breathing monster, Chimera.
At this, he succeeded; using Pegasus to fly high and attack the creature from above.
But let’s get back to what we can see before us.
So let’s start at the entrance kiosk at the foot of the hill where we pay our entrance fee and immediately begin to climb the slopes of the famous Tlos ruins of the acropolis.
This is the necropolis area of the city where you’ll see Lycian rock tombs carved into the cliff face whilst your path is lined with free-standing tombs.
It’s not easy underfoot, clambering around the Tlos ruins. And the climb, whilst short, is steep. A decent pair of trainers or sturdy shoes are preferable to summer flip flops.
But because of the setting of this natural fortress, high up in the foothills, your reward is almost immediate when it comes to feeling on top of the world.
First, you can look back on the stadium of the Tlos ruins.
Archaeologists believe the stadium was constructed during the Hellenistic period and then repaired and further developed when Tlos came under Roman rule.
From the opposite side of the stadium, you can see rows of seats, carved from rocks of the base of the hill.
A pool and fountain in the middle of the stadium indicate to archaeologists that this area was also used for social and religious occasions as well as sporting events.
The Necropolis Of Tlos
If there is one feature of Lycian cities that we all recognise, it’s the famous Lycian rock tombs.
And the position of those tombs at Tlos is what makes this site so special for us. It’s an iconic view, as you can see in the very top photo.
When you’re exploring the Tlos ruins, it’s possible to get right up to these tombs, carved into the rocks.
As you climb the hill, you’ll also see a covered area where more tombs have been unearthed.
Look out for the house-type tombs and temple-type tomvs, as well as the free-standing tombs.
King Of The Castle
It’s up to you which way you head upwards towards that former dwelling of Kanlı Ali Ağa. It’s a circular route so you won’t miss out on any sights, either way.
And whichever route you choose, those views will be enough to keep you clambering towards the top of the hill.
It’s easy to see why Kanlı Ali Ağa (Bloody Ali) and predecessors in past centuries chose this as their settling point.
Panoramic views across the valley and the surrounding mountains offered great advantage over those who dared to encroach.
That doesn’t mean these ancient ruins of Tlos never fell into different hands, however.
The city is known as Dalawa in Hittite sources and this shows the city had importance as early as the late Bronze Age.
The name Tlos is the Hellenistic translation of the Lycian name for the city; Tlawa. And before the Greeks were the Persians in 540 BC.
The Roman period followed that of the Hellenistic period and we know Tlos was important because the city was granted autonomy which meant it wasn’t dependent on Rhodes.
And once you’re at the top of the hill, you can look down of the rest of the Tlos ruins. Perfect views for any leader who wants to survey their city!
From the summit, you can see the rest of the Tlos ruins you are yet to explore.
Most notably, the ancient theatre, the magnificent public baths (my favourite part of the Tlos ruins), the Byzantine basilica and the temple.
Away From The Acropolis
To get to these areas, you need to make your way back down the hillside, exit this area of the site and follow the tarmac road uphill to the right.
If you’re getting thirsty at this point, there’s a cafe on the corner on the left that is wholly familiar with dealing with groups of hungry and thirsty tourists.
A couple of roadside stalls also sell trinkets and homemade produce such as local olive oil, dried herbs and nar ekşisi (pomegranate molasses).
From this road, you get a great view back over the stadium and the acropolis as you walk towards the ancient theatre.
Tlos Ancient Theatre
The information boards tell us that the theatre here was one of the major theatres of Lycia for two reasons.
One, because of its architectural design. And the second is because there is small temple at the top of it.
Floral and figural decorations also decorate the stage.
Unfortunately, the theatre of the Tlos ruins is currently closed off to visitors.
This is no bad thing, however. It is closed because excavations are taking place. And this means Tlos will hopefully be revealing more of its secrets to us over time.
It’s thought the theatre was constructed during the Hellenistic period and then underwent much repair and restoration once the city became a part of the Roman Empire.
The Basilica At Tlos
Another layer to the history of the Tlos ruins when you reach the Byzantine period basilica.
Again, at present, we need to view the ruins of the Tlos basilica from perimeter fencing as work is ongoing around this part of the site, too.
The city basilica is laid out on an east-west axis and measures 84 x 33 metres. The cross-shaped layout is typical of Anatolian basilicas.
Difficult to picture from what we see today but findings of paintings on the interior walls tell archaeologists that the interior was once fully plastered. Mosaics also decorated the floors.
The Tlos city basilica was originally built in the Early Byzantine Period but most of what survives today was built during the Middle Byzantine Period.
The Kronos Temple
Perhaps with the exception of the nearby archaeological site of Letoon and the Temple of Leto, temples never seem to fare well when it comes to modern day survival.
In the situation of the temple of the Tlos ruins, parts of it were apparently used to build the Byzantine city basilica that we’ve just visited, above.
So, this is what you will be able to see if you visit ancient Tlos.
The temple is significant because it is thought to be dedicated to the god, Kronos. And this makes it the only temple in Anatolia that was dedicated to him.
Kronos was a Greek god who was the leader of the first generation of Titans. He was god of harvest and abundance.
Quite apt that he had a temple dedicated to him in Tlos – located in a lush green area centred around agriculture even to this day.
The Great Bath
Now on to one of our favourite areas of the Tlos ruins – the great bath.
You can’t enter at the moment but you can still peer through the fencing and see the stupendous view down the Xanthos Valley, through the arched windows.
There are seven arched windows of the great bath of Tlos and its layout is said to be typical of a Lycian bath.
We zoomed in for this photo so you can get an idea of the views beyond – and to block out the wiring of the perimeter fence.
Because what surely isn’t typical is the views bathers must have got as they washed and pampered themselves! Stunning.
First constructed as a bath in the early Roman period, this former Roman baths was converted to a church during the Byzantine period.
Tip: If you are driving along the D400 road between Fethiye and Antalya, keep a look out for the Tlos ruins in the distance, nestled into the foothills of the Akdağlar mountain range. You will be able to see the magnificent setting of the great bath, perched on a vertical cliff face.
The Smaller Bath
Opposite the great bath of Tlos is the smaller bath and the palaestra.
Although this area looks in a more robust state than the great bath, for us, it’s a bit overshadowed by the archways looking out over the valley.
The three arches you can see in the smaller bath were part of the ‘warm room’ where evidence of a heating system has been found both on the floor and in the walls.
The adjoining palaestra was a physical training ground.
Again – you’re getting the picture now – entrance isn’t possible at the moment. But you get a good idea from the surrounding pathways.
The smaller bath is perhaps in such good shape because it was extensively restored after the earthquake of 141 AD and then again after a second major earthquake in the Lycian region in 241 AD.
Ancient Ruins Of Tlos – FAQs
For 2023, the entrance fee is 40 TL (approx £1.20).
If you are resident or a citizen and have a Müzekart, entrance is free.
The site is open every day from 08:30 – 19:30. Last entrance is 19:00.
Tlos is on the route for jeep safaris from nearby Fethiye and other resorts. If you wish to avoid the crowds in summer, arrive early or late afternoon-early evening.
Tlos is in the hillside village of Yakaköy around 35 kilometres from Fethiye (see map below). Journey time from Fethiye is around 40 minutes.
If you are arriving from the east, journey time from Kaş is around 1 hour 15 minutes. From Kalkan, journey time is around 55 minutes.
From Fethiye, it is possible to do an organised day trip via local tour companies. Jeep safaris also include the Tlos ruins in their route.
If you want to appreciate the Tlos ruins in your own time, either hire a driver or drive yourself there.
There is no car park at the moment for the Tlos ruins.
However, the site doesn’t get busy and it’s usually easy just to park along the roadside near the ticket office.
Tlos is currently on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative list.
Restoration work is ongoing around the main structures of the city with the aim of getting the Tlos ruins listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Although you’ll need to be relatively fit to climb the acropolis to the top, if you have mobility issues, you can still enjoy the views of the ruins of Tlos and beyond.
The site is visible from the roadside and this same road also leads you to the theatre, basilica and baths.