You should resist the temptation to keep stopping to take a picture. Because on the Lycian Way, every view surpasses the previous one.
“Better wait until you’re at the top,” says Cigdem Gündogan.
For years she has been exploring the former trade route of antiquity bit by bit, delving deeper and deeper into the history and myths surrounding it.
The Lycian Way was inaugurated in 1999 as Turkiye’s first long-distance hiking trail and is now considered one of the most beautiful in the world. With a length of more than 500km, it consists of 26 stages that lead along the Teke Peninsula from Fethiye to Antalya.
Almost every section of the route has highlights. These include the high rock tombs of Myra, the well-preserved ruined city of Patara and the ancient Lycian capital of Xanthos, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
“You breathe in history at every turn,” says Cigdem.
The path is named after Lycia, the historical name for this region in ancient times. Some of the ruins date back to around 800BC, when the Lycians lived here. Then came the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans, and in between time and again pirates who dropped anchor in the hidden bays.
Alexander the Great was here
Olive, lemon and fig trees, broom shrubs, pine and cedar are ubiquitous on the trail that Briton Kate Clow, who lives in Antalya, made world famous in 1999 with her hiking guide.
If you want to go along the whole route, you’ll need time – a month at least. However, you can also walk the route in individual stages.
Lycia means Land of Light, although it is not entirely clear whether the name derives from the Latin word “Lux” or whether the region is so called because Apollo, the god of light in Greek mythology, is said to have been born here.
“The people here are proud of their history,” says Cidgem. Homer mentioned the brave people of the Lycians in The Iliad. They were allies of Troy in the fight against the Greeks.
According to the chronicles, Alexander the Great spent a winter in the port city of Phaselis on the Lycian Way, an important stop on the trade route between Egypt and Rome.
From the amphitheatre in Phaselis, which dates from the Hellenistic period, there is a magnificent view of the almost 2,400m-high Tahtali Dagi mountain, known as Lycian Olympus. An imposing backdrop was always important to the Greeks in their theatres.
The eternal flame
The Lycian Mount Olympus, whose summit is often covered with snow until April, is also easily visible from the 3km-long sandy beach of Cirali. It is a popular destination for hikers to relax.
The seaside resort, rich in ruins, was once the site of the ancient city of Olympos, described by the Roman historian Cicero as a city of wealth and art.
Today, Cirali is the poster child of Turkish ecotourism. Large hotels are not allowed to be built, and the lights are dimmed at night. From May to July, loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) come ashore at night and lay their eggs in the sand.
They hatch from July to September, with the beach protected during the summer months.
At the eastern end of the beach, a path leads up the mountain to the flame fields of Chimaira, a spectacle that attracts visitors every evening. Flames erupt from the rocky ground, a natural phenomenon that has existed since ancient times.
As soon as you move away from the coast, you’ll soon find yourself on your own. Only very rarely do you meet other hikers. Instead, you will find a Turkiye that is natural and unspoilt, for example, in the mountain village of Bezirgan.
Just outside the village stand several rows of granaries made of cedar and pine wood, up to 400 years old. Their shape is inspired by Lycian sarcophagi and they are part of the region’s cultural heritage.
“The grain is better off up here and safe from pests,” says Davut Karadeniz. He runs the quaint Dervish Café in the village. He likes to invite his guests to a game of backgammon under a 900-year-old maple tree. The fireplace in the guest room is burning, while family photos greet you from the walls.
Above the television hangs a huge portrait of Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.
In the hinterland, you repeatedly stumble upon fields of ruins that have never been excavated, as in the ancient city of Sidyma, now called Dudurga Asari. In addition to monumental archways, ruins from Roman times can simply be found laying in a meadow. – dpa