By Kayhan Dortluk
Legend has it that in the 2nd century BC King Attalos II of Pergamum sent out a search party to find 'heaven on earth', and that on the spot they selected the king founded a city which he named Attaleia after himself. Today known as Antalya, this city was situated on the fertile lands at the junction of the ancient lands of Pamphylia, Pisidia and Lycia. Antalya has always been celebrated for its art, architecture, colourful cultural legacy, and lush vegetation, both natural and cultivated.
The azure waters of the Mediterranean, the thyme scented heights of the Toros Mountains, ebullient waterfalls, bougainvillea and sweet williams create a symphony to delight the senses here. The poet Mehmet Emin Yurdakul has likened Antalya to 'a charming girl watching her beautiful visage in the clear mirror of the Mediterranean'. Some of the travellers who were drawn by Antalya's attractions over the centuries fortunately recorded their impressions of the city, the earliest known being the Arab Ibn Battuta, who visited Antalya between 1335 and 1340.
A few lines from his account will have to suffice: 'It is one of the finest of cities, enormous in extent and bulk, among the most handsome of cities to be seen anywhere, as well as the most populous and best organised. Each section of its inhabitants live by themselves, separated from each other.
Thus the Christian merchants reside in a part of it called al-Mina [the Harbour] and encircled by a wall, the gates of which are shut upon them at night...; the Greeks live by themselves in another part, also encircled by a wall; the Jews in another part... The rest of the population, the Muslims, live in the main city, which has a congregational mosque, a college, many bath-houses, and vast bazaars most admirably organised. Around it is a great wall which encircles both it and all the quarters which we have mentioned.'In 1662, three centuries after Ibn Battuta, the Belgian traveller Vincentio Stochovio Brugensi described Antalya as follows: 'Satalie, which the Turks call Attalie, has always been regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in Asia Minor It is impossible to describe in words the beauty of this region and the exquisite orchards outside the city. The plains stretching for two or three leagues are so thickly planted that no sunlight may reach the ground, with orange, lemon, pomegranate, apricot and other such trees as tall as our pear trees. They are watered by countless streams which lend coolness to the intoxicating fragrance of the trees whose branches are always laden with flowers and fine fruits, transforming the region into a corner of paradise.'
Now it is the turn of a Turkish traveller, Evliya Celebi, who visited Antalya in 1671-72 and has left us a long account of the city, including this brief extract: 'There are eight bath-houses in the city, most within the walls, and a bazaar on the outskirts. Here there are twenty Muslim neighbourhoods and four Greek neighbourhoods, but the non-Muslims know no Greek. The harbour has space for two hundred ships, but since wind and gales are frequent in the harbour, the ships moor to high rocks on the shore.
The oranges, citrons, dates, olives, figs, sugar cane and pomegranates are of world renown. On every side are gardens and orchards, the most famous being Tekeli Pasa Gardens. Like the other people of Anatolia, the inhabitants speak good Turkish, are courteous, and kind to those in trouble.'
Captain Francis Beaufort visited Antalya in 1812 with his ship, and later wrote in his book entitled Karamania, the name then given to the southern region of Turkey, 'Adalia is beautifully situated round a small harbour; the streets appear to rise behind each other like the seats of a theatre; and on the level summit of the hill, the city is enclosed by a ditch, a double wall, and a series of square towers, about fifty yards asunder... The gardens round the town are beautiful; the trees were loaded with fruit... The soil is deep, and every where intersected by streams... Upon the whole, it would be difficult to select a more charming spot for a city.'
A quarter century later, in early April 1838, another Englishman, the archaeologist Sir Charles Fellows arrived in Antalya. Naturally his first concern was the archaeological remains in the area, some of which he carried back to London. In his book, A Journal Written during an Excursion in Asia Minor, he wrote, 'Every house has its garden, and consequently the town has the appearance of a wood, - and of what? Orange, lemon, fig, vine, and mulberry, all cultivated with the artificial care of a town garden... I have returned from a walk laden with flowers, and I now inflict upon myself the penalty of ignorance by drawing those with which I am unacquainted; it is a severe one, for their varieties are numerous... The little land which is in cultivation immediately around the town seems at this season to teem with produce.' The Austrian scholar Karl Lanckoronski led a large archaeological expedition through Pamphylia and Pisidia in 1884-1885, and in his book about the former region wrote, among much else about Antalya, '
Now let your imagination conjure up a vista of mountains
tumbling over themselves from left and right to reach the sea. An
entrancing harmony of blue and green, varying at every hour of the
day. Cascades, streams, date palms, and minarets from which sounds
echo as the twilight mist descends... In short, this is a real landscape
of a beauty far surpassing the imaginary scenes described by European
Ataturk, too, came to Antalya, and declared, 'Antalya is undoubtedly the most beautiful place in the world', words which recall those of King Attalos 2150 years earlier. Antalya's beauty has remained unchanged over so many centuries.