On Death and Drowning in Lycia:
The Rock Tombs of Myra and Kekova Sunken City
Southern Turkey is hugely popular with travelers, but most will stick to the beaches of Antalya or Alanya. What most miss, and perhaps the most interesting part of the province, is the many centuries of Greek and Lycian civilizations and Arab and Italian rule. Indeed, Lycia ruled over a large region of modern-day Turkey and fought with the Persian Empire in the Greco-Persian Wars of ‘300’ fame. This was, for a time, a flourishing civilizaton.
But now? Now they’re all dead.
That very death, or rather the ruins of Myra and Kekova that remained after the Lycian League disbanded and was annexed by the Roman Empire, have left behind an incredible collection of historic sites that go a long way towards supporting the common assertion that the whole of Turkey is one giant open-air museum.
The Myra tombs are perhaps the most celebrated of these ruins in the Antalya region, in large part because they’re great for climbing up and over a piece of history perched somewhere between the worlds of the dead and the living. Carved into the very hillsides that once stood above the largest city of Lycia, the rock tombs of Myra are equal parts fascinating and creepy. A strange vibe from the place said to have been the home of ol’ St. Nicholas over 1600 years ago.
These two necropoli, one surrounding the coliseum and the other outside the main city ruins near the hilltop acropolis that stands over the town, are carved to look like intricate temple fronts. Though the city didn’t become the capital of Lycia until 408 CE, the oldest surviving ruin in the area actually dates to around 117CE.
The rock tombs in Myra are not the only Lycian ruin in the area, and while the most photogenic they’re not even the most historically interesting. That honor goes to the sunken city of Kekova, but to get there you’ll need to head back to Demre’s harbor and hire a boat.
Kekova, in the Mediterranean just across from the village of Kalekoy and its’ Byzantine-era fortress, is a small island where once stood the Lycian town of Dolchiste. Once an important dockyard and harbor, the village was destroyed by an earthquake in the 2nd century before being rebuilt and abandoned once more due to piracy. The whole area is a protected zone now (a shame since it would make an amazing SCUBA diving site!), but visitors can still reach the shores of Kekova by boat to gaze down into the clear water at the sunken ruins of the city beneath the waves.
Some small reminders still stand above the shoreline of the sunken city, old doorways and crumbling walls that testify to the city that once was. Like so many other civilizations that once ruled their realms, a handful of ruins and a collection of legends are all that remain of the Lycian culture. An important reminder for any culture, and one readily at hand while exploring the open-air ruins across the Turkish countryside.
I was in southern Turkey primarily to work as a photographer with GetYourGuide, including shooting their Lycian Tombs Full-Day Tour in Myra and Kekova. For a one-day trip it would be hard to organize on your own, and so this would be a good choice. The other option is to spend a few days in the area to explore at a slower pace.
If staying in Demre (the nearest town to Myra and Kekova), there are a number of hotels in the area. In Antalya, the main city of the region, there are both hotels in town as well as a number of hostels there. For budget travelers in particular, I would recommend the Camel Pension in Antalya’s Old Town.