Phaselis was an ancient Greek and Roman city on the coast of Lycia, today situated 35km south of Antalya. Shaded by towering pine trees, its ruins lie scattered around three small beautiful bays. Once a thriving port shipping timber and rose oil, its beauty is now admired by thousands of visitors each year.
Phaselis was founded in 690 B.C. by colonists from Rhodes. Due to is geographical position, on an isthmus, it became the most important harbour city of the western Lycia and an important centre of commerce between Greece, Asia, Egypt, and Phoenicia. The city was captured by Persians after they conquered Asia Minor and in 334 B.C. by Alexander the Great. Alexander admired the beauty of the city and remained at Phaselis throughout the winter of that year, which elevated the city’s importance and prestige throughout the Mediterranean. After the death of Alexander the Great, Phaselis came under the rule of the Ptolemies and of Rhodes.
There was a temple of Athena at Phaselis on the acropolis, which was said to have housed the famous bronze pointed spear of Achilles.
After 160 BC Phaselis was absorbed into the Lycian confederacy under Roman rule. The city was under constant threat from pirates in the 1st century BC, and it was even taken over by the pirate Zekenites for a period until his defeat by the Romans. In 42 BC Brutus had the city linked to Rome.
Hadrian visited Phaselis in 131 A.D. The Phaselisians erected statues in order to greet the emperor with a flamboyant ceremony. They also built a gate and an agora near the south harbour. Most of the remains which can be seen today, date back from this period.
Upon entering the ancient site, the aqueduct, Phaselis’ best preserved and most impressive ruins, greet the visitor to the city.
The aqueduct began at a spring on the hill behind the northern harbour and extended as far as the agora. The water was then distributed within the town through channel water pipes.
As Strabo states, Phaselis had three harbours. The best preserved of these is the main one, otherwise known as the military or middle harbour, which fishing and tourist boats easily enter and leave even today.
The street linking the main harbour to the southern port is paved with blocks of conglomerate rock and measures 225 metres long by 25 metres wide. Narrow raised pavements in the form of terraces and reached by stairs, line both sides of the street.
The paved street ends on the side of the southern harbour with a single-arched monumental gateway erected for Hadrian’s visit. Sadly, it is now in a state of ruin.
Epigraphic evidence provides us with solid evidence for the emperor’s visit to Phaselis. The dedicatory inscription (below), carved in three lines onto the architrave at the top of the arch, honors Hadrian as savior and benefactor, with credit for the construction of the monument given to the entire city.
Other inscriptions found near the gate are dedicatory inscriptions to Sabina and Matidia, Hadrian’s wife and mother-in-law respectively. The empress Sabina would have accompanied him on his tour of the Roman provinces.
A second agora, the commercial heart of the city, was built during the visit of Hadrian. The agora was lined by porticoes and shops and was decorated with statues and a fountain.
Statues were erected to Hadrian as “saviour of the universe and their country” by a woman from Phaselis named Tyndaris. Two neighboring cities, Korydalla and Akalissos, also erected altars in Phaselis for the explicit purpose of honoring his visit.
Domitian’s agora lies along the second section of the main street. It had two gates that faced the street. The courtyard of this agora was in the shape of a major structure complex. The agora’s inner courtyard was surrounded with corridors in a portico manner, and the shops were located in the rear.
An inscription written in honor of the emperor was found above one of the two gates.
The theatre, situated on the north-west slope of the acropolis, is approached by steps from the town square. In all probability it was rebuilt on the Roman plan in the second century A.D. on top of an earlier Hellenistic theatre.
The cavea building, which is in quite good state of preservation, had a capacity of around 2,000 people. The partially preserved walls of the two-storey stage building indicate it had five doors.
The Roman theatre overlooks the city and the sea with a spectacular view on Mount Olympos (Tahtali) which rises 2,365 metres.
On the west side of the main paved street are the baths which was part of the bath-gymnasium complex unearthed in recent excavations. The floor and walls of the baths, which were constructed in the 3rd century A.D., were once covered in marble and mosaics.
One the east side of the main street the Bath built in the late period 3rd-4th century A.D.
The Acropolis, covered with a thick vegetation, is located above the theatre. According to ancient writers, here stood the Temple of Athena where Achilles’ broken spear was exhibited, and which is said to be the first place Alexander the Great visited upon his arrival in the city. However the temple has not been yet localised. Other temples, a palace and official buildings were also built on this site.
With its unmatched natural beauty combined with an ancient historical legacy, Phaselis should be at the top of your list of places to visit if you are travelling to the Antalya province or following the Lycian way.
Phaselis is on the Lycian Way, a long-distance footpath along the Lycian coast. It is approximately 510 km long and stretches from Ölüdeniz, near Fethiye, to Hisarcandir, about 20 kilometers from Antalya. According to the Sunday Times the Lycian Way is one of the ten most beautiful long distance hikes of the world.
Further photos can be viewed from my image collection on Flickr.
Sources: Antalya, Lycia, Pisidia, Pamphylia: Antique cities guide by Kayhan Dörtlük / Hadrian: The Restless Emperor by Anthony R Birley