Written by Missy Johnston
Amphitheater of Knidos in Datca, Turkey
The southern coast of Turkey offers scenic beauty, crystal clear water, and fascinating history. Ruins of ancient cities dot the length of the coast and provide many stopping points for history-minded yacht charterers to come ashore. The western and southern coasts of Turkey were the location of an ancient trading route, often referred to as the Maritime Silk Routes of Anatolia, which today are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Silk Roads Programme. Cruise along part of the Maritime Silk Routes of Anatolia in the wake of Ancients, discovering these ancient cultures in the ruins of the trading cities left behind.
The main ancient sites that can be visited on a crewed yacht charter cruising along the coast of southern Turkey are:
Excavated streets of Ephesus, Turkey
Ephesus isn’t technically on the southern Turkey yacht charter route. However, it is a wonderful destination for anyone interested in fascinating historical sites, and it’s easy to visit on the way to or from the southern coast.
The known history of Ephesus began around 700 BC. Ephesus was an important trading post in the Mediterranean and was also one of the earliest Greek cities to embrace Christianity. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus is canonized in the New Testament and contains practical doctrine that still resonates with Christians today. Ephesus also contains the Temple of Artemis, regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today, Ephesus features more than thirty wonderfully preserved ruins, including the amazing Celsus Library, the Stadium, and the Aqueduct of Sextilius Pollio, along with a special exhibit of newly excavated “Terrace Houses” which were fully functional houses, with sewers and running water of the very wealthy in the city center.
Visit the Hellenic Site of Priene, Turkey
Though Priene was home to only about 6000 people, it may be one of the best places to see an ancient Roman city today. None of the buildings or artifacts have been damaged by wars or demolition, so any structure capable of withstanding time is still standing.
The timber used to fashion the floors and roofs of buildings has disappeared, but almost everything else that was constructed from marble still stands today. Paved streets, terraces, building walls, and even a perfectly intact sewer system remain. It will be easy to imagine walking through the ancient city back when it was still bustling with people. In fact, because the city was relatively small compared to others of its time, Priene was constructed with every major public building within easy walking distance. The ruins are situated today in a beautiful pine forest that has grown up through the ruins as left in time so many centuries ago.
Miletus Amphitheatre Ruins
Miletus is an Ionian city known for its large amphitheater that lies just under the ruins of a Byzantine castle. Though evidence points to the Neolithic and Bronze ages as major eras for Miletus, many of the artifacts’ visitors today enjoy are from the Minoan civilization, which ruled the area around 1900 BC. Minoans were followed by Cretans, Persians, Greeks, and Romans in successive years.
The amphitheater isn’t the only ruin to see in Miletus. The Baths of Faustina, the Harbor Gateway, and several ancient temples and churches are just a sampling of this ancient city’s charms. Those interested in religious history visit the Harbor Monument, where the Apostle Paul met with local Christians.
From Miletus, it’s an easy journey along the Sacred Way, still partially intact with marble pavers to reach Didyma, the next destination full of fascinating ancient ruins.
The Temple of Apollo in the antique city of Didyma
The Temple of Apollo is located in Didyma. This temple would have been the fourth largest during the time of the ancient Greeks if it had been completed, and the oracle who presided at the temple was just below the oracle at Delphi in terms of hierarchy. Construction began on this current temple near 300 BC, but evidence shows a temple existed at this same site as early as 800 BC.
Alexander the Great, the Emperor Diocletian, and many others trusted the oracle at Didyma for spiritual guidance from Apollo. It was Diocletian who, under the guidance of this oracle, began the “Great Persecution” that resulted in the martyrdom of many Christians. Ironically, the temple later became a church around the 5th century.
In the 15th century, an earthquake ravaged the temple and left only ruins behind. It is now an archaeological site that still features interesting artifacts, along with massive columns and other temple carved building blocks and column rounds partially intact or littering the ground where thrown by the earthquake in the 1400’s.
Ruins in Knidos turkey
Picturesque ancient Greek ruins are by the sea in Knidos. By 500 BC, Knidos had used its proximity to the harbor to propel itself into prominence as a major trade hub along The Silk Routes of Anatolia, as well as a center of culture and politics.
Ruins that remain in Knidos today include several temples to Apollo, Aphrodite, and Dionysus, as well as Byzantine churches, theaters, and a necropolis. They are littered on either side of the twin harbors, with white marble glowing in the moonlight at night, providing fabulous otherworld scenery for guests on any charter yacht overnighting in one of the ancient harbors.
Caunos on the Dalyan River
Cruising up the Dalyan River
From the 10th century BC through 1500 AD, Caunos was a bustling port city filled with wealth and trade. The city’s peak years of prosperity fell between 500 BC and 600 AD and included several centuries of regime changes before the Romans seized control in 85 BC. Eventually Caunos diminished in status and the harbor silted in, creating a landlocked city. It was finally abandoned around the year 1500. For the past 500 years it has gone to ruin, but many of Caunos’s relics are still preserved.
Today, Caunos is accessed via a special tour in on flat-bottomed river boats cruising up the shallow Dalyan River. Within the city, ruins include a massive theater that once entertained 5000 guests, a basilica, a high seaside acropolis, an agora, Roman baths, and several other interesting civic building ruins. The most unique ruins near Caunos, however, appear just outside the city’s walls, which are the next stop on a flat-bottomed river boat trip up the Dalyan River, on a yacht charter along the southern Turkish Coast.
Lycian Tombs on the Dalyan River
Lycian Cliff Tombs
Cruising on flat-bottomed river boats up and down outside Caunos will reveal the Lycian temple front cliffside tombs set into the stone along the river’s edge. These rock-hen tombs house families, elite members of Caunos society, and even kings of the region.
The tombs resemble temples at first glance, but upon closer examination open into burial chambers instead of houses of worship.
Ruins of Sardes, Lydia, Turkey
Lydia is a fascinating region that became known in the 8th century BC for its rich supply of gold, silver, and fertile soil. Interestingly, Lydia was the first known place to produce coins made of gold and silver for trading.
Once known as Maeonia, with a capital city of Sardis, Lydia was ruled by the Mermnadae people until Lydians conquered the region in the 6th century BC and transformed it into an empire. The empire was very prosperous and fell only after Cyrus the Great captured Sardis in 546 BC, making Lydia part of the expanding Persian empire. Later, Alexander III conquered Persia, and Lydia came under control of Greek and Macedonian influences. Today, the ruins of Sardis are tucked up in a valley along the southern coast of Turkey outside of Gocek Bay, accessible after about a half-hour easy trek into the mountainside from the coast.
Cleopatra’s Baths, Gocek Bay, Turkey,
In the sparkling turquoise waters of Hamam Bay, just outside of Lydia, lie the ancient stone baths built by Marc Antony as a wedding gift for Cleopatra, or so legend says. Whether or not the baths were a wedding present from Marc to Cleopatra, the ruins are definitely that of a little ancient bath that could very well have been private. As the baths now lie well beneath the surface, exploring them requires snorkeling or diving equipment. However, volcanic activity near the bay warms the waters enough to make bathing, swimming, and snorkeling a pleasant and refreshing experience, as the water in the baths once was in ancient times. The cut stone walls under the beautiful clear turquoise waters make this a beautiful snorkeling site and terrific photo op.
Gemiler Island Ruins
Just next to Turkey’s mainland coast, Gemiler Island provides a nice venture off the beaten path. This uninhabited island is a prime spot for nature walks through the pine and olive trees, but the real attractions are the remains of churches and one very interesting tomb.
Gemiler Island is the location archaeologists believe to be the final resting place of Saint Nicholas, and the island’s churches were believed to have been visited by St. Paul. One of the island’s churches appears to feature paintings of Saint Nicholas, which bolsters the conclusion that he was laid to rest nearby.
It is possible, according to historians, that Gemiler Island did not earn the nickname St. Nicholas Island for this reason, though. A competing theory argues that medieval sailors used the island as a safe harbor during bad storms and began to refer to the place as St. Nicholas Island because St. Nicholas was the patron saint of sailors. However, the island gained its name, it is a beautiful island to visit and wander the ruins. In the protected anchorage between the island and the mainland are submerged foundations of ancient harbor buildings and homes, which creates a very interesting snorkeling location.
Kekova Sunken City
The island of Kekova features the Sunken City of Dolichiste, a partially submerged ancient Lycian city with fascinating ruins to explore. Dolichiste has the shipwrecks and rock-cut water channels to prove its prominence as a major Mediterranean trading hub.
The city was occupied for several centuries between the Archaic and Byzantine periods before it became partially submerged under the sea because of earthquakes, tsunamis, and other tectonic events.
Today, some of Dolichiste’s ruins are visible above water—there are stone buildings, pipes, and sarcophagi, for example—but interesting history also lies beneath the water. The sunken portion of the city features numerous underwater structures including staircases, water channels, amphorae, with terracotta roofing tiles and parts of terracotta pipes visible on the sandy bottom.
Demre, Turkey, Roman Theatre
Demre, once known as Myra, was a large city within the empire of Lycia. Beyond that, Myra is largely a mystery. Much of the city remains buried under river silt, yet undiscovered, with bits of ruins here and there protruding from the surrounding countryside, hinting at what is lying underneath the soil.
One of the most interesting historical remnants within the city is an imposingly large 12000-person theater that was rebuilt after the original was leveled by an earthquake in 141 AD. Today, archeologists are attempting to rebuild the theater to reveal its once-imposing glory.
Surrounding the theater site are decorated Lycian temple-front tombs carved into the cliff faces. Lycians used to paint these tombs in bright, welcoming shades so their loved ones would feel comfortable and happy in their final resting places. The paint has long since faded, but the intricate carvings and decorations still offer a fascinating and moving glimpse into history.
As part of more modern history from the 6th century AD is the East Roman Basilica Church of St. Nicholas that today is a museum, and also where perhaps the tomb of St. Nicholas is located. Besides a very important figure in Christian history, St. Nicholas was also, some believe, one of the historical influences for today’s Santa Claus.
Now silted in also, along the southern coast of Turkey and along the ancient trading route are, amongst others, the ruins of Xanthos, Letoon, and Patara, which can be seen on a half-day trip by land between the coastal villages of Kas and Kalkan. For the history buff, just looking a little further will reveal many other sites to visit between Bodrum and Kekova on various different Turkish yacht charter itineraries on the Blue Voyage.