Once among the Mediterranean's major port cities, Phaselis has a beauty that held even Alexander the Great in thrall... Have you ever seen a city that was founded in return for dried fish? If your answer is "No" and you ask whether such a city exists on earth, it is time for you to visit the ancient city of Phaselis, 45 km from Antalya and 12 km from Kemer. Yes, legend has it that the land upon which Phaselis was built by Rhodian colonists in the early 7th century B.C. was purchased by the founder Lacios from a goatherd named Cylabros for a small mess of fried fish. Before we start roaming through the ruins of Phaselis, how about a brief look at the city's history.
CHOICE OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT Ancient sources tell us that from the time of its founding Phaselis was ruled by a number of states, with its first masters being the Persians in the middle of the 6th century B.C. Indeed, such was the case for all of Lycia.
Granted autonomy by the Athenian general Cimon in 469 B.C., the city again came under the sway of the Persians when the latter defeated Athens in the war of 411 B.C. About a century later, in 333 B.C., Phaselis hosted a very famous guest: Alexander the Great. Having first entered Anatolia in 334 B.C., the Macedonian king received an invitation from numerous cities but chose to winter in Phaselis, the fame of which had reached him earlier. The sources recount that while he was in the city, Alexander frequently visited the temples of Athena and Heracles as well as the statue of the philosopher Theodectes which stood in the heart of town. Considering that the broken spear of Achilles was kept in the Temple of Athena, these particular visits may be considered the homage of one great warrior to another. After the death of Alexander, Phaselis, together with all of Lycia, came under the dominion first of Egypt's Ptolemaic Kingdom, then of the Syrian king Antiochus III, and finally of Rhodes. In 168 B.C. it achieved independence and joined the Lycian League. Starting in the early 1st century B.C., however, when Lycia lost its authority, the city was used as a base for pirates. Then in A.D. 43 it became part of a Roman province embracing all of Lycia and Pamphylia. Some 250 years later pirates again made their appearance on the scene. But during that period pirates were not the only problem Phaselis had to face. According to the Roman author Aelian, wasps plagued it as well, in such numbers that many residents had to flee the city. In the 7th century A.D. began the Arab raiding of the Mediterranean port cities, and Phaselis, because of its strategic situation, once again came into prominence. The population began to increase, and there was much defensively oriented building. However, this return to prominence was not long-lived, and in the 9th and 10th centuries the title of leading port in the gulf shifted to Attaleia. After maintaining its existence until the 12th century, Phaselis, like an actor who has completed his role, stepped down from the stage and vanished.
THE SHREWD PAMPHYLIANS Apart from its strategic situation, one reason everyone wanted to possess Phaselis was its economic power, with the chief exports being ship-building lumber, rose oil and perfumes. Another reason that the city changed hands frequently was that its denizens felt no tie to any one power or state, and were on good terms with whomever came along. Gifted in trade, the people of Phaselis were known for centuries as the shrewdest folk in Pamphylia. And the trade revenue garnered by these people constituted the source for a budget that made Phaselis one of the most beautiful and modern cities of its age. Like many colonies, Phaselis was built on a peninsula, the highest point of which was on a promontory near the sea where the city's first inhabited zone lay, the Acropolis or Upper City. Because this zone was high up and surrounded by rugged terrain, it was protected from possible danger. In line with the traditions of the age, the temples (other than the Temple of Athena) were erected here,
along with the palaces and public buildings. Today one sees only a few remains poking up through the vegetation, plus cisterns of various size. Having been for many centuries a major point for Mediterranean trade, Phaselis had three separate harbors. The North Harbor was obtained by filling in the gap between two small rocks on the sea to form a long mole. Today the North Harbor is a rocky, windy bay, and southward from it along the shore one can make out the remains of a wharf. But the main harbor is on the eastern part of the peninsula. An inlet that looks like a pool, this harbor is entered through a mouth some 20 meters wide, on either side of which was constructed a tower that stood as a continuation of the Acropolis fortifications and provided security for the harbor. In honor of these two towers, the main harbor is sometimes called the Military Harbor.Remains of the towers, fortified walls and wharf may still be observed under water. Meanwhile, the harbor on the south was planned for larger ships. Its mole is also completely submerged today.
In addition to wooden piers, piers were also made in the harbor using stones quarried from buildings as well as pedestals bearing inscriptions. The inscriptions which on your visit to Phaselis you will see lining the main avenue on both sides were salvaged from this harbor.
FROM THE BATH TO THE THEATER The zone which we may call the city's center lies below the Acropolis. The main axis of this center is an avenue more than 200 meters long and in some places 25 meters wide that links the Military Harbor to the South Harbor. Signs of construction activity are evident on both sides of the avenue, with the most interesting remains being those of a bath and gymnasium complex unearthed in recent excavations.There is a courtyard where athletes worked out, porticoes surrounding it, and farther back the Gymnasium, consisting of classrooms; and south of all this two doorways that lead to the dressing area of the bath,otherwise known as the Apodyterium. Beyond this section, with its marble-clad walls and floor, there is the cold room (Frigidarium),
then the warm room (Tepidarium), and finally one reaches the hot room (Caldarium). South of the bath, which has been dated to the 3rd century A.D., there is a market place or Agora built in the reign of the Emperor Hadrian. Inscription-bearing pedestals unearthed during various excavations indicate that there were statues along the side of the Agora facing the square. And now we arrive at the theater, considered the most splendid structure in all of Phaselis. Built according to ancient Greek tradition in a spot where it would blend with the fine view provided by the city and its surroundings, the theater at one time was packed with two thousand spectators, a breathtaking thought. With its unmatched natural beauty combined with an ancient historical legacy, Phaselis should be at the top of your list of places to visit. And when you go, don't forget to take along a servicable pair of goggles that don't fog up, or a face mask. To view the underwater remains.