Wonders of Turkey: Old Antalya (Kaleici)

My initial research on where we should go when on holiday in Turkey revealed what seemed like endless opportunities.  Although Turkey is less than a tenth the size of the U.S., it is a relatively large nation in the greater Middle East region with an intriguing history and rich culture.  Sites to visit ranged from Pamukkale in southwestern Aegean Turkey with its hot springs feeding calcium-laden terraces (cotton castles); to Mount Nemrut in southeastern Turkey where in 62 BC King Antiochus constructed a tomb surrounded by 30 foot Greek and Iranian god statues; to Cappadocia in central Turkey (Nevsehir Province) with its fairy-like chimneys fashioned from volcanic stone.

View of Mediterranean & Taurus Mountains from Antalya

Following our two remarkable days in Istanbul, which included a whirlwind tour of various Byzantine and Ottoman historical sites such as the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, we chose to focus on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.  We would begin in Antalya, a popular tourist destination on the southwestern coast of Turkey, where we would stay for a day, rent a car and travel west along the Mediterranean shoreline to Kas, a cheerful, picturesque town, and then onto Selcuk and Ephesus.

Our one hour and fifteen minute flight from Istanbul to Antalya on Turkish Airlines was uneventful, other than the nearly two hour delay on the tarmac in Istanbul.  (We were told that there were 24 flights ahead of us waiting to take off.)  Good time for a “cat nap” and a bit of reading.  The stewards on the flight were great, very accommodating and happy that we were enjoying our visit to Turkey.  We were impressed and thankful to see Turtas rental car representatives eagerly awaiting our arrival at the Antalya airport – (although heavily used for tourist traffic the airport is on the small side and very manageable).  The representatives helped us program our GPS, very important in Turkey, as most road signage is in Turkish, and it is easy to become lost in the maze of cobblestone streets in the small towns and old districts of larger cities.

Hadrian’s Gate (Old Antalya)

As we made our way from the airport, the cityscape of Antalya proper came into view, and once within the city it wasn’t long before we spotted Hadrian’s Gate, (built in honor of the Roman Emperor Hadrian), the Fluted Minaret (Yivli Minare), and stone cut walls and structures affirming that we had reached Kaleici (“Old Antalya”).  Our boutique hotel, the Mediterra Art Hotel, was off of a cobblestone street in the middle of Antalya’s historic district.  Simple, yet clean and very quaint, the Mediterra Art Hotel, had a European feel to it and due to its prime location offered a host of opportunities for viewing the sites of this celebrated town.

Mediterra Art Hotel in Kaleici

Our first night we ambled around the immediate vicinity of our hotel, sans map, to get a lay of the land, and were treated to a Turkish hamam (bathhouse), which are prevalent throughout Turkey.  We were greeted by locals and tourists alike on the streets and from open windows of a restaurant bar where music beckoned.  Although tempted by the festivities, we resisted and decided to make it an early night, as we wanted to fully enjoy this attractive city in daylight hours.  Before bedding down, we had a delightful dinner at our cozy hotel restaurant furnished with four unpretentious wooden tables inside and four outside by the pool.  The red house wine served as a savory complement to our cheese roll pastries, salad daubed with olive oil and pomegranate dressing, and lamb over rice with vegetables.

Turkish Hamam in Antalya, Turkey

Dinner at Medeterra Art Hotel

Indications are that present day Antalya was founded in 3rd century BC and early on was part of ancient Rome, later falling under Byzantine, Seljuk Turkish (the Persian poet, Rumi, was among this tribe) and Ottoman rule.  As a result of its illustrious and varied past, old Antalya abounds with an amalgam of historical sites that range from the Hidirlik Tower (built during the Roman Empire), to the Ottoman clock tower and the Kesik Minare (first a Roman temple, then a Byzantine church, and finally a mosque).  Antalya, is a preferred vacation spot not only due to its rich history, but also by virtue of its location, nestled between the Mediterranean sea and the impressive Taurus mountains.  Bishara and I would only have half a day in this appealing town before departing for Kas, so we looked forward to packing in as many of the sights, and as much of the local culture, as possible.

Kesik Minare (Antalya, Turkey)

After a hearty breakfast at our hotel that included an assortment of cheeses, breads and rose jam, black and green olives, mortadella-type cold meats, and soft boiled eggs, we were off to experience the allure of Kaleici.  It was early April, and we were fortunate to be met with Mediterranean temperatures in the high 60s, sunny skies and a meager number of tourists, as we were visiting at a non-peak time of the year.  Since we were limited to only a few hours in old Antalya, we decided to simply wander along the town’s alleyways and cobblestone streets to obtain a flavor of the place.  Restored Ottoman homes, with traditional second story bay windows and wooden windowpanes and shutters, were a prominent feature of historic Kaleici, often serving as hotels, restaurants/bars, and curio shops for vacation goers.  Gates of exquisite boutique hotels opened up to courtyards where poolside brunches were underway beneath massive orange and olive trees.  Bishara and I made sure to visit the cliffs to the west of town where we were enthralled by magnificent views of the Mediterranean sea and Yat Limani harbor.  We enjoyed sweet, flavorful Turkish coffee at Mermerli restaurant atop the craggy bluffs, and marveled at the snowcapped mountains in the distance and aqua blue sea below where boats were docked at piers and bikini clad women soaked up the rays on a nearby beach.

Restored Ottoman houses.

Courtyard of boutique hotel. (Antalya)

View from Mermerli Restaurant.

Mediterranean Sea with Taurus Mountains in background.

We had far too little time in Antalya, but looked forward to our drive to the charming Mediterranean town of Kas, approximately three hours away.

. . . To Be Continued!

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