Aperlai: Ancient port city built on the slopes of Lycia


Who knows how many civilizations the waves hitting the shores of the Mediterranean have witnessed to date, how many songs in different languages ​​they have accompanied or carried these tunes to different fairy tale towns around the world. By building sandcastles from the mystical words that have spread on the shores of the Mediterranean for thousands of years, one can feel the experiences of the ancient cities of these lands. Or leaving aside romance, one can simply embark on a mysterious journey by visiting the ruins of ancient cities. Here is what a visit among the remains of the ancient city of Aperlai, located between the current district of Kaş and the island of Kekova in the jewel of Mediterranean tourism of Antalya, can offer enthusiasts.

A view of the ancient city of Aperlai, Antalya, southern Turkey. (Courtesy of Türkiye Kültür Portalı)

Port cities of Lycia

To the north of the Lycian region, which is bordered by the cool blue waters of the Mediterranean coast to the south, there are mountains like Akdağ and Beydağları with their majestic positions that seem very difficult to conquer. The region is mainly dominated by the Mediterranean climate. Lycia became one of the commercial centers of the Mediterranean with its port cities in the past.

The Greek historian and geographer Strabo said that despite being rugged and difficult to cross, the Lycian coast had extremely well-equipped ports. Archaeological remains have shown that the importance of Lycian ports increased especially during the Hellenistic period. Thanks to its very important position in Mediterranean trade, Lycia also held naval power at this time. However, this paved the way for hacker attacks. While unrest reigned in the Mediterranean trade at that time, some cities cooperated with pirates. Yet only the cities of Olympos, Corycus and Phaselis in Lycia chose to work with the pirates.

In Roman times, the port cities established in the Lycian region began to develop magnificently. Aperlai was a small one among these ancient towns.

Ancient port city of Aperlai

The name of the town, which is “Aprillai” in the Luwian language, means “stream strait”. This small ancient port town is located at the beginning of the narrow and long Asar Bay on the Sıçak Peninsula between today’s Kaş and Kekova. The name of the ancient city has been mentioned in the works of late-period writers such as Gaius Plinius Secundus, called Pliny the Elder.

Silver coins minted in the Lycian language proved the existence of Aperlai before the Lycian Union. During the Lycian Union, Aperlai led a united group of three or four small towns but shared “one voice”, according to historical sources.

Aperlai signed and formed a “sympoliteia” (a type of political organization treaty in ancient Greece) with Simena, Apollonia and Isinda. The inhabitants of this politically emerging town center were referred to in inscriptions as “Aperlai people of Simena”, and their original ethnic names were not used. The city was damaged after an earthquake in 141 AD. The benefactor Opramoas of Rhodiapolis, who was the wealthiest at the time, helped Aperlai as he did in other Lycian cities and was instrumental in the restructuring of the city.

Tyrian violet, also known as Phoenician red, Phoenician violet, royal violet, imperial violet, or imperial dye, is a natural red-violet dye produced by several species of predatory sea snails. According to some sources, the color, which was extremely difficult to obtain due to its expensive production, was produced in the city of Aperlei and sent to nobles in many parts of the world through trade. Thanks to the Tyrian purple, the inhabitants of the region were able to lead a rich life. Therefore, Aperlai was an ancient port city where purple and blue met.

Architectural features

The ruins of the city, located north of the Bay of Asar, are located at the foot of the hills descending towards the sea. The city walls, built using rectangular and polygonal techniques and supported by towers, start from the edge of sea ​​and surround the whole city towards the acropolis. On the northern walls of the city there are three square defense castles. The southern city wall is polygonal and continues perpendicular to the slope of the hill. The western wall, on the other hand, is one of the best preserved constructions of the ancient city and has three gates, one arched and two standards. There is a gate with a tower on both sides in the middle of the city. However, this work, giving the entrance to the city, has been largely destroyed.

The remains of two Roman baths have been found in the city. Two churches that reflect early Byzantine architecture, built to a basilica plan and dating from the 6th and 7th centuries AD, are also among the notable structures in the city. One of these small Byzantine churches is located in the northwest corner of the acropolis and the other is located in the southeast. The city necropolis, which has many Lycian sarcophagi, is located to the east of the castle ramparts.

A view of the ancient city of Aperlai, Antalya, southern Turkey.  (Courtesy of Türkiye Kültür Portalı)
A view of the ancient city of Aperlai, Antalya, southern Turkey. (Courtesy of Türkiye Kültür Portalı)

Flooded structures

An area of ​​about 15,000 square meters (160,000 sq ft) of the city, which was built into the hillside, is today under water. The mole, the port, part of the city walls and many buildings to the south of the city were gradually submerged due to earthquakes and rising Mediterranean waters over time. The quay and pier walls, which are the continuation of the 700-meter-long fortification wall that defines the city’s southern border, are also under water today.

How to get there?

There is no land access to the ancient city of Aperlei, so you can get there by boat from Kaş or Üçağız. Another option is to walk the Lycian Way. The ancient city can be reached by walking the approximately 7 kilometers (4.5 miles) road marked with red and white lines at the end of Kılınçlı village on the Kaş-Üçağız road. If you come to Aperlei, you can also visit other historic towns and structures in the immediate vicinity of the town.

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