Belek and Antalya, Turkey

We set out early in the morning from a rainy and grey Germany.

Stepping out of the plane in bright and sunny Antalya a few hours later was a bit like the moment in "The Wizard of Oz" when Dorothy first sets foot outside the house after the cyclone and the movie turns from black and white to glorious technicolor.


Sunshine! Heat! Palm Trees! Flowers! and a minaret. "A whole new world..." ;-)


First impressions of a Turkish village... note the sea turtles on the fountain.

Our hotel was about half-way between the cities of Antalya and Alanya, right on the beach, in walking distance of a village named Belek.

Belek is pretty much a tourist place with lots of modern buildings of the type that is literally erected overnight. (Our guide told us that in Turkey, especially in this area, plenty of buildings "appear" overnight without a building permission - their owners count on it that once they´re there, it´s too late to do a lot about it). There were quite a few half-built houses as well, plus rather rundown older ones.

As far as we could see, the entire village consists virtually of nothing else but souvenir shops and boutiques (with lots of cheap brand copies), one lined up next to the other. But it has a nice fountain with an artificial grotto at the centre.

While Belek is more or less exchangeable with any run of the mill tourist spot in Italy or Spain and did not feel very "oriental" except for having a mosque, we got a first glimpse of oriental Bazaar atmosphere nevertheless. Most of the owners stand already in waiting in front of their stores, waving you inside if you show even the slightest bit of interest. Few items have price labels on them, which leaves the sellers free to adjust the prices when haggling - and to fudge a little with their tax declarations.;-)

Hotel Arcadia

The hotel is surrounded by a 100 year old pine forest.

The architecture of the hotel imitates traditional Turkish architecture.

The hotel had an artificial Pamukkale in its pools.  Soon, we would be getting to                       see the real thing.

Our Travel Blythe, Rouge, relaxing by one of the the outdoor pools.

Rouge: "Hmmm... I think I´ll get up and get myself a nice ice cold coke..."

Sea turtles come to lay their eggs on the beaches in the Antalya region. Some beaches are protected from development and tourism for the purpose. We actually came across a live turtle on our way from the hotel to Belek, but thought someone had abandoned their pet.

Souvenir booth on the hotel grounds.

Woven bags and purses are very typical souvenirs that are offered everywhere, as are hookahs and all kinds of jewellery and talismans.

Plenty of deck chairs on the beach

That piece of land you can see in the background is where the ruins of Olympos are (the city, not the Greek mountain). Here, you have is the site of one of nature's curiosities, the eternal flame of Chimaera. Natural gas escaping from holes and crevices in the rock has burned here since ancient times. Back then, people believed the flames were breathed out by a monster living underground - the famous chimaera, a three-headed creature with the body of a lion, a goat´s and lion´s head in front and a snake´s head on its tail. Rouge: "Why is it that everywhere we Travel Blythes go we hear about monsters that have been there as well?"

Although barely discernible in daylight the flames are said to be visible far out to sea at night (we did not see them from our hotel, unfortunately). The gases are still to be properly analyzed but are known to include methane. 

Rouge: "Err... I think I´ll go for a walk... no monster food, me."

Rouge: "Mmm... monster?"

Rouge enjoying the indoor pool at the hotel. "Guaranteed monster free, har har."

The hotel also had a Turkish bath (hamam) which we perused,but of course I couldn´t take any pictures in there. The foam massage was heavenly, though!

The buffet was yummy and gave us the chance to taste some Turkish dishes as well as providing regular European food.


"...without [a] doubt Antalya is the most beautiful place in the world"                            - Kemal Atatürk

We took a taxi from our hotel to Antalya. Unlike the taxis we are used to at home, the driver couldn´t just drop us off anywhere we liked to, but had to take us to a taxi stop in the city centre (so it was more like a call shuttle than an actual taxi). There, we were to get the details on who to call and where to meet our taxi back later in the day.

This taxi stop just happened to be a jeweller´s store, and of course the manager just happened to be busy so we were asked to wait a moment, have a cup of tea and take a look around in the store... 

Everyone was very friendly, though, and the stop was very central indeed, so we didn´t really mind. After all, everyone´s only trying to make their living - and as long as they´re nice about it and don´t start to pressurize you into buying...

Antalya was founded in 150 BC by Attalos II., king of Pergamum, as a naval base. Attalia - as it was then called - was an important harbour town for the following centuries, and St. Paul came here on his first mission together with his pal Barnabas.

The city, along with the whole region, was conquered by the Seljuk Turks in the early 13th century. 

The Arabic traveler Ibn Battuta who came to the city in between 1335-1340 noted:

“ From Alaya I went to Antaliya [Adalia], a most beautiful city. It covers an immense area, and though of vast bulk is one of the most attractive towns to be seen anywhere, besides being exceedingly populous and well laid out. Each section of the inhabitants lives in a separate quarter. The Christian merchants live in a quarter of the town known as the Mina [the Port], and are surrounded by a wall, the gates of which are shut upon them from without at night and during the Friday service. The Greeks, who were its former inhabitants, live by themselves in another quarter, the Jews in another, and the king and his court and Mamluks in another, each of these quarters being walled off likewise. The rest of the Muslims live in the main city. Round the whole town and all the quarters mentioned there is another great wall. The town contains orchards and produces fine fruits, including an admirable kind of apricot, called by them Qamar ad-Din, which has a sweet almond in its kernel. This fruit is dried and exported to Egypt, where it is regarded as a great luxury." (nicked from Wikipedia).

By the second half of the 17th century Antalya was a city of narrow streets containing 3,000 houses in twenty Turkish neighbourhoods and four Greek. The town had grown beyond the city walls and the port could hold up to 200 boats.

The old port of Antalya is used exclusively as a yacht harbor ever since a new industrial harbor west of Antalya went into operation.

The Hidirlik tower, situated right where the land walls of the city join the sea walls,
has a square base surmounted by a cylindrical edifice. It is one of the mysteries of Antalya, as  no-one is quite sure what it was used for - a lighthouse, a defense structure or a maybe a burial monument?  It was probably begun in Hellenistic times as a square building and turned into a circular tower in the 2nd century.

This has been a place of sacred worship for roughly two thousand years. There must be something really special about it... ;-)

The earliest parts of these ruins date back to the 2nd century A.D.. In the 5th century A.D. a basilica was built on what was left of the ancient temple. Somewhat later, the basilica was transformed it into a mosque and had a minaret added. When a fire broke out in the 19th century the timber section of the minaret was burnt out, and since then it has been called the "truncated minaret". (Kesik Minare)

It´s fascinating how this place unites architectural elements from ancient, Byzantine and Ottoman times and at least three different religions (Greek, Christian and Muslim).

Hadrian´s Gate - built in 130 A.D. to honor the Emperor Hadrian - is one of the best preserved monuments in Antalya, mainly because it had been enclosed by the city walls for centuries and was only revealed when the walls collapsed.

The ancient city of Antalya was protected by two walls in the shape of a horseshoe, one enclosing it along the shore and the other on land. In addition, there were walls within the city separating the various settlements, and a great number of towers on the outer walls. These walls date back to ancient times - the Romans built on the Hellenistic foundations and these were subsequently widened and repaired by the Seljuks. The walls were kept well in order until the 19th century. Today, only a number of remains are left.

Hadrian´s Gate is built entirely of white marble, with striking and well-preserved ornamentation. It is considered the most beautiful gate in Pamphylia.

The original Gate had two stories but little is known about the top story. On either side of the Gate are towers, which are known not to have been built at the same time. The southern one is known as the Julia Sancta tower and is a work of the Hadrian era. It was constructed of plain stone blocks. While the base of the northern tower belongs to antiquity, the upper part is left over from the Seljuks.

It is worth while stopping in front of the Gate and reflecting for a few moments.

On the one hand you are standing on modern Antalya's dual carriage way, lined with palm and orange trees, Ataturk Caddesi, while behind you is ancient Attalia - the past and the present separated by Pamphylia's most beautiful Gate, which itself has on either side towers representing the art and civilization of two different epochs. This blending of the epochs that we have also seen in the "truncated minaret" is very characteristic for Antalya.

Kaleici - the Ancient City Centre


The ancient city center enclosed by the sea and land walls is today called the "Kale Ici" (Inner Bailey).  The houses are not only special in their architecture but in the way they reflect the living habits, customs and social ways of the inhabitants of ancient Antalya.

The streets are narrow, and stretch upwards from the harbor and along by the walls. The difference in the houses shows the economic status of the owners or the purpose for which they were used. However, they share many common factors.

Most of them were built of masonry interspersed with timber. Each one has a front and back garden. There are very few windows on the street side of the first floor of the house. On the top floor is a "cumba" or trellised projection in harmony with the architecture of the house and street, adorned with wooden ornaments.

The center of the house is on the ground floor and opens onto a paved courtyard called "taslik" where there are wooden benches. This leads into the ground floor rooms and there is also a staircase to the upper floors.

The ground floor is largely the house's servicing area and consists of the kitchen, storage room, etc. while the upper floor contains the living quarters, although kitchen and storage room can sometimes be seen on the top floor. The upper floor rooms are larger and lighter with large windows.

In some of these houses the top floor rooms have two rows of windows, one on top of the other, and in some cases the upper rows do not have any glass only wooden lattices. The bottom row can be opened. In the upper part of some of the "cumba" are small pieces of glass, sometimes colored. A few of the buildings within the harbor have been restored and restoration is continuing. 

Today the inner bailey is a thriving centre of tourism with cafés, restaurants, places of entertainment, guesthouses, shops selling souvenirs and old carpets and much more.

Mevlevi house, a fine arts gallery combined with exhibits showing traditional life in the area, is in the Kalekapisi area, where a number of buildings of Seljuk origin are concentrated: the Fluted (Yivli) Minaret, the Yivli Mosque, the Giyaseddin Keyhusrev Medrese, the Seljuk Medrese, the Zincirkiran Mausoleum and the Nigar Hatun Mausoleum.

We also visited the mosque next door, but didn´t take any pictures in there. After a lunch break we had a look into the

Kaleici Museum

The garden of an Antalya house is enclosed for privacy by high walls and tall trees, which also provide much shade during the daytime. In all of the gardens there is a cistern (well), which at the same time is used as a refrigerator where food is suspended in a basket. Throughout the streets there are canals running parallel to the houses and the water running through these canals is used in turn by people to water their gardens.

The blue and white building in front used to be an orthodox church - today it is a part of the museum and used as a concert and exhibition hall.

There were lovely examples of Anatolian ceramics on display.

Antalya summers are very hot and winters are cool. The main objective in the houses is to avoid the heat and to provide cool air. For this reason shadowy pebbled mosaic courtyards (taslik or hayat), high ceilinged rooms and courtyards are specific features of Kaleiçi houses. To benefit from the gentle breeze that wafts from sea to land during the day and land to sea during the evenings is the pride of a traditional Antalya house.

The rooms of the middle floor are low ceilings with small windows and function as a cellar.

At the top of the stairs there is a semi-covered area, the vestibule (hayat), furnished with a seating area and a wash sink. The vestibule (hayat) where most of the household activity takes place is the central point and gathering area of an Antalya House.

The main floor of the house is the first floor. The size of the basements depends on the measurement of each property and for this reason many of the basements are of irregular size, however, this is corrected in the first floor by placing many bow window balconies in the upper floors. This irregular architecture of the buildings prevents monotony and gives life and richness to the streets that weave and wind in a labyrinth through the city.
On the upper floors there are many rooms leading to the vestibule (hayat), which are carefully planned for the comfort of the private lives of the family members. The biggest and most well furnished room (Baş Oda) belongs to the man of the house and the guests to the house. The most important items which define the identity of this room are: a wooden hooded chimney, hand carved bedding chests, the carved and paneled ceiling with a carved center piece, high shelves and many specially named cupboards like used to hold water pitchers, napkin holders, lamp holders, cup holders and hats.

Inside the house, sofas are located in the alcoves between the windows. These sofas were where the women could look out and also entertain their guests. The colored rugs and carpets laid in the empty spaces were used for various functions.

Since I did not take any pictures inside, I took the liberty of scanning the museum flyer with pictures of the scenes showing life in old Antalya. (Check out the museum´s website for more information - and if you´ve got the chance, do pay it a visit, it´s worth it). 

The upper picture shows the shaving of the groom and the lower left picture shows the henna night,  both part of traditional marriage preparations.  

"In the olden days this celebration would normally last for a period of 1 week and it began with sending the brides' trousseau to the grooms' home. The trousseau would be packed onto a horse driven cart, accompanied by a clarinet and drums, and paraded through the streets for all to enjoy. Close relatives of the bride to be would arrange everything in the new home and display all items with pride to the many guests.

On Tuesday relatives of both the bride and the groom, together with friends of the bride would all go for a Turkish bath. This was known as the "Brides Bath". After the games and enjoyment in the bath house the bride would enter the bath house accompanied by folk songs and candles which were given to the guests. The bride would wear a silk belt and clogs ornamented with mother of pearl.

On Wednesday evening the Henna Night would take place at the girls home. During the day, relatives of both the bride and groom would spread the Henna on a silver tray with two candles and take it to the girls home. On the henna night the bride and all the female relatives would wear dresses called "Bindallı" which were of heavily embroidered velvet or satin. After a meal was provided to the guests, the brides whose face was covered by a red veil would be brought into the room accompanied by her maid of honor and close friends holding lit candles, singing folk songs and she would kiss the elders hands before taking her place on a high seat reserved for her.

Following the entertainment participated in by everyone, the bride would come to the centre of the room, and to a recitation of songs the henna ceremony would begin. Several women would force the brides' right-hand open and a happily married woman would place a ball of henna in her palm. At this time the guests who have brought gold, as gifts would press this into the henna. This was called "Kina Basmasi". Then the brides' fıngertips and toes would be painted with the henna. As a tradition any remaining henna would be painted on the other girls hands to bring good luck and happy marriage, and then the bride would be made to dance.

At the end of the night the bride and mother who were soon to be parted by the girls marriage would cry while listening to the other female relatives singing sentimental songs.

On the day that the bride-to-be was to go to her new husband's house, the groom and his friends would have a party at which the groom would be shaved for the wedding. For this ceremony, the groom would use the shaving-apron, towel, and shaving-bowl that were in the bundle presented as a gift by the prospective bride.

The shaving-apron was a shaped like a long rectangle with a circular section cut out so that it could be placed around the neck. Together with the towel it formed a set and was made sometimes from linen but mostly from silk decorated with scattered embroidery. Other accouterments used on this day were a shaving-bowl, a basin and ewer set, and a razor.

The groom did not shave himself but was instead painstakingly shaved by a barber specially-hired for the occasion. After the introduction of coffee in the 16th century, it became the habit of Ottoman barbers to shave their customers in a corner of a coffee house. Because coffee were constantly at risk of being shut down however, some barbers preferred to ply their trade in the open air.

Not until the second half of the 19th century did barbershops along the lines of the European model make an appearance in İstanbul and for a long time, itinerant barbers continued to serve their clientele outdoors, seated up against a wall or on a street-corner. Barbers are also known to have supplemented their income by practicing dentistry, performing circumcisions, and provided beeding by lancing.

The lower right picture shows the traditional coffee service. Coffee was introduced to İstanbul by Muslim merchants in 1519 following Sultan Selim I's successful campaign against Egypt. Its use spread quickly and by the second half of the century, it had become an indispensable element of the everyday life. From time to time and for different reasons coffee-drinking was subject to prohibitions - for example, one sultan had come across a tavern and heard people singing and watched them getting drunk. He then moved on to a coffeehouse and saw the customers there discussing politics, the empire and the sorry state thereof - which they blamed  on that sultan. The sultan, clearly concerned, went back to his palace to think upon what he had learned.  His decision? To ban coffee and coffeehouses under the Islamic rule that intoxicants were forbidden. The man died at the age of 28 from alcohol poisoning. Say no more.

In Ottoman mansions, the service of coffee involved a ceremony that was prescribed in detail by custom. Before the coffee, guests would be offered a jam. This was presented on a silver tray bearing a covered bowl in the center, surrounded by goblets holding spoons and cups of water to be drunk after taking the jam. After being passed around to the guests, the coffee would be served by three young girls. To prevent the coffee from becoming cold, the jug containing it would be set on a brazier containing warm coals that was carried suspended from three chains attached to it. Also used in the service was a round coverlet. This coverlet held in front of her like an apron by the girl carrying the tray with the coffee cups. A second girl carried the coffee-brazier and jug while the third picked up the porcelain cups one by one from the tray, filled it with coffee, and set the cup in a holder. She would then serve the coffee to each of the guests in turn.

The Basaar

Before returning to our hotel, we strolled through the halls and lanes of the old bazaar.

Some impression of typical Turkish souvenirs and snacks you could find there:

Instant tea (usually apple, but also in many other flavours), drunk from small tea glasses. Turkish mokka. Turkish delight (lokum) and nougat in many flavours. Rose marmalade. Sesame rings. Dried sweetpeas, seasoned or candied. Spices. Ayran.

Ceramics. Full-sized and Doll sized woven carpets. Belly dancing costumes and scarves. Blue Eyes. Designer brand knock offs. Gold and silver jewellery. Hookahs. Woven purses.