Its character shaped by tourism, Alanya is a warm Mediterranean town with year-round appeal for its colorful festivals and ever-changing face. Not so long ago, just fifty years to be exact, Alanya was a small fishing town surrounded by orange groves and banana plantations. Today it is a giant resort whose character has been shaped by tourism. This township, which hosts over a million tourists a year, has recently become the most serious contender for tourism among Turkey’s southern resorts such as Bodrum, Çeşme and Antalya. Only 135 km east of the latter, it stretches along a 70-km coastline nestled against the Taurus range. But Alanya today is done with construction and determined to do some cosmetic restoration. In the first step, the forested areas that make up 65% of the region have been taken under state protection and all the buildings painted in pastel colors. The second step will be to turn Alanya into a lively year-round festival town. The October schedule of this city, where some twenty festivals, competitions and seminars are to be held annually, is already chock full. On 15 October mountain bike races will kick off the sporting events, which will continue on 18 October with the International Triathlon Cup, a competition that includes rafting, mountain biking and running and culminates with swimming.
Alanya township, which boasts a magnificent four-millennia-old history, became the homeland of the tribes that were scattered into Anatolia in the wake of the Trojan War. In the Byzantine period the city was known as ‘Kalonoros’, or ‘beautiful mountain’. Experiencing a golden age in medieval times, the city grew and developed inside one of Anatolia’s most impressive fortresses, built by the Seljuks. This citadel remains a good starting point for an Alanya tour today.
Alanya Fortress, the city’s oldest center of settlement, is situated on a steep promontory just behind the harbor. The 6.5 km long walls of the fortress, built by the Seljuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad I in 1225, are reinforced with exactly 83 towers. The ground floor of the 33-meter-high octagonal Kızılkule or ‘Red Tower’, which is the symbol of Alanya, houses an ethnographical museum today.
To the left of the tower a stone structure resembling a five-arch bridge is the only surviving dockyard from the Seljuk period. Meanwhile the interior of the citadel, which preserves Alanya’s historic texture while harboring impressive examples of Ottoman architecture as well, is a virtual open air museum. No one remains of the former residents of the Tophane quarter, Orthodox Turks who spoke the Karamanlı language, a variety of Turkish written in the Greek alphabet. On the highest slopes of the fortress, which are accessible by an arduous hour-long climb from the harbor, lies hidden a mysterious quarter known as ‘Ehmedek’ which is reminiscent of a medieval Mediterranean town and crowded with 2500-year-old ruins.
Lined with silk and cotton textile workshops and gift stands, the path leading from Ehmedek to the summit of the peninsula ends at the Inner Citadel. The structure built of red stone to the left of the entrance is the largest of the over four hundred cisterns inside the fortress. Exactly opposite it, in the garden of the Byzantine church, a viewing terrace has been built affording a panoramic Alanya vista. Alaeddin Keykubad’s palace meanwhile has been newly restored. The ‘Hurling Tower’, another intriguing spot inside the Inner Citadel, is notorious as the site of a frightful game that was played with convicts during the Roman period. Legend has it that the convicts who were brought to the tower, which stands at the brink of a steep precipice, were given three stones. If a prisoner could succeed in hurling one of them into the sea he would be freed; otherwise he himself would be hurled into the abyss. The walls of this tower, which was hollowed out of the rocks, were decorated with images of ships built in the Seljuk period. The tradition of tossing stones from the tower lives on today but for the more innocuous purpose of making a wish.
Atatürk Caddesi, an avenue fringed with palm trees and date palms, is the best venue for acquainting yourself with the city’s exotic, modern face. The first of two surprises this thoroughfare has to offer is the Alanya Museum, where a rich archaeological collection illustrating the area’s 2600-year-old history is exhibited together with Karamanlı inscriptions. The second surprise is Damlataş Cave, about a kilometer outside town. The air of this cave, a true natural wonder with its honey-colored stalactites and stalagmites, is said to be beneficial for asthma sufferers. And at the Alanya Market at the end of Atatürk Caddesi you can find gifts of every variety from jewelry and clothing to handsomely worked items of wood or leather. The Havuzlu Park along the esplanade with its tranquil bowers and pools with lily pads under the shade of the date and palm trees is an ideal place for weary townsfolk to catch their breath. One side of this park opens onto Rıhtım Caddesi, one of Alanya’s most popular promenades, while the Liman Meydanı or Harbor Square at the other end of the avenue is the hub of the city’s nightlife.
Did you know that some ten thousand Europeans have now chosen Alanya as their permanent home? Germans, followed by Dutch, Irish and Swedes, form the largest group among these newcomers, who have their own restaurants, bakeries, churches, and even daily newspapers. It is not unusual to find swimmers and sunbathers even in the fall months in Alanya, thanks to its temperate climate which is one of the city’s main drawing points. And on Alanya’s beaches, winner of the Blue Flag award, international symbol of cleanliness and order, a wide range of water sports is available from jet ski and water skiing to banana and paddle boating. The most popular of these beaches, which extend for kilometer after kilometer, are Kleopatra Plage, Damlataş, Portakal, Keykubat, Mahmutlar, Incekum, Fuğla, Ulaş and Konaklı…
Those who crave more than just the sea can join one of the jeep safaris in an adventure-filled foray into the Taurus highlands. Part and parcel of life in Alanya, the Western Taurus Mountains are cool and refreshing on even the hottest summer days. At the higher elevations these mountains are the home of the Yörüks or nomadic pastoralists with their millennia-old way of life. Setting out for the mountains every spring in search of fresh grazing lands for their herds, these pastoralists live until winter in their goat-hair tents where they weave colorful sheep’s wool kilims.
Whether you tour the deep Taurus valleys thick with pine and cedar, or sample the village fare at a country restaurant, follow your instincts and be sure to visit one of the many highlands such as Türbelinas, Söğüt, Dereköy, Gedevet, Pınarbaşı, Türktaş, Gökbel, Söbüçimen or Mahmutseydi. And don’t forget, if tourism is one source of livelihood in Alanya, the River Dim is the fount of the region’s agriculture. This river, which runs through a wooded valley with hundreds of hiking trails, is also ideal for rafting. Stroll through the orange groves and banana plantations that line it and you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a tropical paradise. The choice is yours! But you’ll have to wait until spring to imbibe the intoxicating scent of the orange blossoms. For in Alanya, the fragrance of the orange flower means the arrival of the swimming season. Alanya, where the scent of oranges mingles with the smell of the salt sea…