Olympos is an ancient Lycian city, its ruins lie at the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, in the borders of Antalya province, in a river valley near the coast. It was presumably taking its name from nearby 2,375 meters height (7,792 feet) Mount Olympos (or Mount Olympus – Turkish: Tahtalı Dağı, Timber Mountain), one of over twenty mountains with the name Olympos (Olympus) in the Classical world.
The Lycians were an ancient people who inhabited the area of present-day Turkey between the bays of Antalya and Fethiye, known as “Lycia”, a compact, mountainous territory. The ancient Greeks knew and admired the Lycians, for the Lycians had solved a problem that baffled the ancient (and even modern) world: how to reconcile free government in the city-state with the needs of a larger political unity. The Lycian League (Lukiakou systema in Strabo’s Greek transliterated, see notes 1, a “standing together”) is the first example of a federation in history.
According to the ancient Greek historian Strabo (64/63 BC – c. AD 24), the league comprised some 23 known city-states as members. The Roman consul Lucius Licinius Murena (elder), added three more in 81 BC. Strabo also identified the major cities of the League; that is, the three-vote cities, as Xanthos, Patara, Pinara, Olympos, Myra, and Tlos, with Patara as the capital.
According to Herodotus (see notes 2), the Lycians originally came from Crete and were the followers of Sarpedon (see notes 3). They were expelled by Minos and ultimately settled in territories belonging to the Solymoi (or Milyans) of Milyas in Asia Minor.
The Lycians were originally known as Termilae before being named after Lycus who was the son of Pandion. Their customs are partly from Crete and partly from Caria. Herodotus mentions a particular custom where the Lycians name themselves after their mothers instead of their fathers. Strabo, on the other hand, mentions “Trojan Lycians” and suspects them to be different from the Termilae already mentioned by Herodotus.
The Lycians were also one of the few non-Hellenistic nations of antiquity that could not be called “barbarians”. They were speakers of the Luwian language group. The Lycians were most likely in origin an Anatolian people since they spoke their own Indo-European language closely related to Luwian and Hittite.
Ancient city of Olympos
As mentioned above, Olympos became one of the six leading cities of the Lycian League. The coins of the city of Olympos date back to the 2nd century BC. It was described by Cicero as an ancient city full of riches and works of art. In the 1st century BC, Olympos was invaded and settled by Cilician pirates.
This ended in 78 BC, when the Roman commander Publius Servilius Isauricus, accompanied by the young Julius Caesar, took the city after a victory at sea, and added Olympos to the Roman Empire. The pirate Zenicetes set fire to his own house and perished. The emperor Hadrian visited the city after which it took the name of Hadrianopolis for a period, in his honor.
In the Middle Ages, Venetians, Genoese, and Rhodians built two fortresses along the coast, but by the 15th century, Olympos had been abandoned. Today the site attracts tourists, not only for the artifacts that can still be found (though fragmentary and widely scattered), but also for its scenic landscapes supporting wild grapevines, flowering oleander, bay trees, figs, and pines.
Olympos as a holiday resort
Olympos was a hippie haven until recently. But the completion of a surfaced road from the main highway in summer 2009 means that there are many more people (including families with fussy children, and rowdy and drunk teenagers) heading there compared with only a few years past.
On summer weekends when hordes of day (and night) trippers pour in, Olympos is sadly not much different from any ordinary resort town now. However, when everyone else quits the scene in autumn, Olympos is just as beautiful as it used to be. I went there in October and it was quiet, empty, the weather was more bearable, and the sea was beautiful.
Main sights in and around Olympos
The Olympos Beach
The beach at Olympos is known as “Olympos beach” and is popular with backpackers drawn to its tree-house hostels. The beach is also a nesting place for the sea turtles (or should I say it “was”?) If you’re lucky, you can even saw sea turtles while swimming (I saw many).
The Roman Temple
This structure, in the north of the town, has been identified as a temple owing to its monumental portal and the architectural features at the front. According to the inscription on the base of the sculpture at the front of the portal, dates to the second half of the second century B.C. It is further learned from the inscription that the statue was erected in honor of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (see notes 4).
The monumental portal is positioned along the north-south axis. The upper lintel block is ornamented at its corners with two consoles. The door jambs are ornamented with an unfinished series of pearl motifs. The masonry of the wall is notable for its unplastered joining technique encountered in some other Lycian towns.
The Chimera (burning stones)
The Chimera (Burning Stones – Turkish: Yanartaş), the eternal flames on a rocky mountainside above Çıralı village near Olympos (Olimpos), is a fascinating natural phenomenon: about a dozen flames issue from a mass of rock with no apparent fuel to sustain them.
In ancient times, mariners passing by along the Mediterranean coast below used the bright flames as a landmark on their voyage.
The flames are burning a sort of methane gas that has been venting from the earth on this rocky slope for thousands of years.
There are two flames areas, the second one, which is less famous than the first one, is about 300 meters above the other. Both flames are on the famous trekking path named Lycian Way (Likya Yolu, in Turkish).
The flames are most dramatic at night, and the forested park is open 24 hours a day, allowing visitors to hike the three kilometers (2 miles, about 45 minutes by walk) uphill along a rough stone path to the Chimera anytime.
There’s a small admission fee to enter the site. A spring near the parking lot and ticket kiosk provide drinking water (bring your own bottle), but there are no services -and no water- at the flames themselves.
The tombs in the harbor
These edifices date to the end of the 2nd century AD. In later years they were subjected to pillage and damage by pirates, but in the second half of the 5th century AD, they were again put to use. They remained behind the Acropolis fortress walls which constituted the citadel in the middle ages.
Very little is known beyond historic facts about the single sarcophagus in the burial chamber on the Eastside. In the burial chamber with two sarcophagi, the floor is covered in a mosaic depicting a soldier fighting a lion. The Eastern sarcophagus is attributed to an Olympian named Marcus Aurelius Zosimas.
The Northern sarcophagus was built for Zosimas’ uncle Captain Eudemos. On it, there is a unique ship in relief without sails, mast, or oars, but on the prow is an Aphrodite in relief. From an inscription in a frame, we learn that Captain Eudemos sailed to the sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.
On the left of this frame is an original and touching poem:
“The ship sailed into the last harbor and anchored to leave more,
As there was no longer any hope from the wind or daylight,
After the light carried by the dawn had left Captain Eudemos,
There buried the ship with life as short as a day, like a broken wave.”
How to go to Olympos?
Olympos is about 50-60 km south of Antalya. Kumluca to the south and Kemer to the north are the nearest major towns of Olympos. There are small buses from Antalya otogar (main station for intercity buses) as well as buses from Antalya to Kaş (and all those others on the way west like Kumluca), which stop at the junction on the upland section of the main coastal highway of the region, which is about 10 km away from Olympos.
There is a station at the junction with an open-air cafe, which also offers some snacks. From there a dolmuş (minibus), which depart fairly frequently nowadays, can be caught.
Where to sleep in Olympos?
There are a lot of treehouses and bungalows. Air condition and laundry are available. Breakfasts and dinners are free.
There are not many mosquitoes, but a lot of flies, and these flies are biting the skin, it is annoying and painful. They’re coming to salt, so after the swim, take a shower as soon as possible. And consider using a fly repellent spray or lotion.
I took the photos below in October 2009 and July 2012.
In October 2009, I spent one week there. The weather was fair enough to swim at the sea, and the sea was warm and lovely. But the mornings were becoming chilly, due to late sunrises.
It was really hot (even unbearably hot) in July 2012. Between 2009 and 2012, some restorations were made on the ruins. And the old river valley has been cleared from the reed bed.
Mount Olympus (Turkish: Tahtalı dağ) is a 2375 meters height mountain near Kemer, a seaside resort on the Turkish Riviera near Antalya. It is on the east coast of the Teke Peninsula (Lycian Peninsula) and dominates the landscape around Kemer. Can be booked between Antalya and Finike to him as dominant peaks of the mountain range Bey Dağları (Turkish: Men’s Mountain) see a part of the way through the south of Turkey withdrawing the Taurus Mountains.
The mountain’s close proximity to the coast of the Mediterranean Sea makes it far visible to mariners. It is the highest mountain in the Natural Park of Olympos – Beydağları – Milli Park. From November to often into June, the summit is covered with ice and snow. In the spring of this snow, the layer is often reddish-brown colored by Sahara winds, while it is often not seen in the summer because of the clouds. The vegetation-free zone starts at about 1900 meters in height.
In ancient times the mountain was called Olympus or Olympos, the home of the ancient gods, a name it shares with many other (at least 20 in the world) high mountains. Today’s Turkish name could derive from tahta (a Turkish word that means wooden panel, wooden board), but more likely it derives from the Turkish taht (a Turkish word that means Throne: Olympos – Throne of the Gods).
Some say the Tahtalı name comes from a kind of pigeon, which were living around the mountain.
Olympos photo gallery (October 2009)
Olympos photo gallery (July 2012)
The river was cleared from the reeds in 2012. There was also a lot of restoration work. The city looked more beautiful now since the ancient buildings are more visible.
- Strabo (or Strábōn; 64 or 63 BC – c. 24 AD) was a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian who lived in Asia Minor during the transitional period of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.
- Herodotus (c. 484 – c. 425 BC) was an ancient Greek writer, geographer and historian born in the Greek city of Halicarnassus, part of the Persian Empire (now Bodrum, Turkey).
- The first Sarpedon was a son of Zeus and Europa, and brother to Minos and Rhadamanthys. He was raised by king Asterion and then, banished by Minos, his rival in love for the young Miletus or Atymnius, he sought refuge with his uncle, Cilix. Sarpedon conquered the Milyans, and ruled over them; his kingdom was named Lycia, after his successor, Lycus, son of Pandion II. Zeus granted him the privilege of living three generations. The second Sarpedon (Herodotus refers to the second Sarpedon), king of Lycia, a descendant of the preceding, was a son of Zeus and Laodamia, daughter of Bellerophon. Sarpedon became king when his uncles withdrew their claim to Lycia. He fought on the side of the Trojans, with his cousin Glaucus, during the Trojan War became one of Troy’s greatest allies and heroes.
- Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (26 April 121 – 17 March 180) was Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and a Stoic philosopher. He was the last of the rulers known as the Five Good Emperors (a term coined some 13 centuries later by Niccolò Machiavelli), and the last emperor of the Pax Romana (27 BC to 180 AD), an age of relative peace and stability for the Roman Empire