The engines of the gulet slowed to a steady purr as we pulled into the natural sweeping harbour. Pine trees and the sweep of a sandy beach greeted us as the chains rankled. The anchor dropped for the first time on our blue cruise from Kemer to Kekova and back again. “Phaselis,” said our deck hand, and then began the explanation.
We could either swim in the bay for an hour or so before lunch. Or he could take us by dinghy to the shore and we could explore the ruins of Phaselis…
This was where we realised everyone was on this gulet holiday on their own agenda. Some of the guests were rooted to their relaxation stations, reading books. They were going nowhere! Others immediately jumped – or eased themselves – into the more-than-inviting turquoise sea.
Me and Barry were the only ones bursting to get into that dinghy and get over to the Phaselis ruins. Okay, granted, that first time of striding from gulet steps to dinghy was a bit tentative (for me) but it would soon become second nature as the week progressed…
Phaselis Ruins And Surprise Beaches
As for our own personal agenda for this cruise, we were excited to scoop up as much of ancient Lycia and the remote ruins of Turkey as we could. And the Phaselis ruins were high on our list. But, as the putt-putt-putt of the dinghy engine ferried us to the shore, all we could see was a curve of beach framed by pine trees. Where was Phaselis?
We pulled up at a tiny jetty. And, after having established that we had mutual friends with our deck hand (we always say Turkey is small), clambered out onto the jetty.
“I’ll come for you in an hour,” he shouted as he started to pull away.
“Where are we going? Where are the Phaselis ruins?”
We could still only see pine forest ahead of us, the sweep of beach we were standing on, stretching away to our left – and our gulet on the Mediterranean behind us. I’m not sure what we were expecting, but it wasn’t this…
“Straight ahead! You’ll see the entrance gate after a few metres.”
Ahhh, beautiful Phaselis. It was a hot, still October day and we walked towards the hidden entrance from the blazing late summer sunshine into the dappled shade of dense pines. Entrance fee paid and here we were, faced with a stack of ancient ruins that we’d wanted to see for so long.
And no intense sun to contend with. The sun was there, directly above us, but it was outmatched by the ancient forest all around us. As ancient as the Phaselis ruins? Who knows? It’s certainly witnessed a few events in its time, though…
The Hellenistic, Roman & Lycian Phaselis Ruins – A Head Mash Of History
We all know there’s an astounding number of ruins in Turkey, some of which have made it onto the country’s UNESCO World Heritage List. But the Lycian coast, for us, baffles the logical mind with history; dates, anecdotes, legends, mystery, major historical events, world known names transcending different faiths and beliefs.
Compared to many ancient sights, Phaselis is tiny. But it crams all of this in. And it offers the 21st century visitor a contemporary pastime, too. More of that in a moment. Back to this head mash of history…
In many places, Phaselis is piles of crumbling rubble. Well the town does date back to the 7th Century BC when colonists from Rhodes arrived and quickly realised its strategic importance. Phaselis is built on an isthmus and has large, natural harbours which were used for receiving guests, and, of course, goods to support the local communities.
In the 21st century, we had just arrived in an inflatable dinghy, via one of those harbours, the South Harbour and were now walking along Hadrian’s agora and the main avenue towards the Military Harbour.
Despite the crumbling ruins either side of the agora and main avenue, the boundaries of these avenues are completely intact.
And, with lush towering pines reaching above, they lead the eye directly towards the beach and the turquoise waters of the south harbour. You can’t help but be drawn in that direction. It’s a magnetic vista, but we resisted the pull for a while whilst we explored the baths, the gymnasium and the theatre.
Phaselis theatre is reached by wooden steps as the ascent is currently too dangerous – that rubble, again. You come here not just to view the theatre – there are lots of them in Turkey – but to enjoy the views from the top, too. From here, we can see the summit of Mount Olympos, framed by pines and olive trees and low lying hills.
What’s so special about all this area is that the coastal D400 is relatively new. Can you imagine how remote and untouched all of this must have been before that construction? Even as we explored, the majority of the tourists had, like us arrived by boat.
We weren’t even a full day into our gulet trip and we were already losing ourselves in Lycian explorations. We felt miles away from anywhere.
Phaselis was the eastern point of Lycia and was incorporated into the Lycian League between 190-160 BC under the rule of the Romans. Because of its position, over the centuries, the city of Phaselis was often attacked and pillaged by pirates. It even came under pirate rule at one point.
In the modern day, there’s very much a pirate theme (à la Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow) going on around Kemer tourism circles in the form of boats and bars, and, although it’s not explained anywhere this is probably the reason why.
While we loved exploring the avenue of Phaselis in the cooling shade, it was time to allow ourselves a closer look at that oh-so-inviting beach with its clear turquoise lapping sea.
Whether it was because we were coming to the end of the season or because of the remoteness of Phaselis, hidden in thick forest as it is, there was just a smattering of people both around the ruins and on the beach. The ancient South harbour once used by the Greeks, Romans, Lycians and pirates is now a quiet bay for sunbathers and swimmers.
To our left were significant ruins of the Roman aqueduct that brought water not just to the people of Phaselis but to the whole area. And directly through the arches of the aqueduct? Well, we are in the 21st century, don’t forget. A small car park and a snack bar with picnic tables. Sunbathers, swimmers and explorers of ruins need to feed and water themselves at some point.
Arriving by gulet to Phaselis does have certain magical qualities that you become carried away with. The car park at the far end of the Roman avenues was a reminder that we’re not actually too far away from Kemer, the holiday resorts of Tekirova and, of course, the D400 coastal road.
For this journey, we didn’t want that reminder so, after having a quick pit stop at the snack bar, we made our way back along the avenue, through the trees, and emerged at our little jetty where the dinghy was waiting for us to take us back to our gulet.
Life at sea – and arriving at Lycian sites by sea – was already suiting us well! Next stop; Olympos…
Phaselis Ruins – Useful Information
- Phaselis is in the Antalya province of Turkey in Kemer.
- The Phaselis ruins can be reached by boat or by road. By road, the site is signposted from the D400 just before you reach Tekirova from the west. From Antalya, heading west towards Tekirova, it’s around 35 miles.
- We arrived at the Phaselis ruins by gulet as part of our week-long Kemer-Kekova-Kemer Blue Cruise with http://guletvoyage.com.
- Entrance to Phaselis is 10 TL (2015).
- As well as exploring the Phaselis ruins, you can also use the beach. There is also a snack bar selling soft drinks, confectionery and sandwiches etc.