I set out early to explore the outskirts of Antalya, more to be on the wheels of history strewn on the Aegean coasts. My major halt was to be at the once-docile fishing village of Side. It’s just that the old vibes of Side have liberally refashioned to suit themselves to souvenir peddlers and restaurant and resorts hustling for business. The ancient village of Side is a melange of mythological history with sun, sea, and sand. A short one-hour drive or bus passing through the other historic cities of Perge, Selge and Aspendos, brings you to this quintessentially Pamphylian city.
The first impressions of Side are hardly of an ancient town. The West beach is full of holiday resorts always bubbling with hopes of a beach party and lined up like rosary beads, and boat rental, diving, para-sailing and massage parlors, sauna, and spas for more relaxed travelers. Skipping the holidayers getting tanned on the beach, the numerous souvenir shops with board signs in various European languages, and the occasional bars and restaurants, and ice-cream stands, I walked towards the more relaxed and quaint East beach which houses the ancient treasures of Side.
And in the Eastside, Side comes to its true self, with the massive Apollo temple (now standing in ruins) to embrace you in its charm. The re-created colonnade of the Temple of Athena (built next to the temple of Apollo) marching towards the blue sea, is possibly the image of Side that will forever remain with you. And yes, you don’t miss to take good shots of such a place, from every angle. The white marble columns of the Temple of Apollo backed by the blue of the sea proudly proclaiming its magnificence. The ancient Side was a center of commerce, and the temples were built next to its harbor so that gods would protect it.
All along you can feel the old world hue in Side, shades of history dating back to the Persians, Alexander the Great, Macedonians, Ptolemaians and Seleucids, and then the Roman. During the Roman rule, the city bloomed, and it became Anatolia’s capital and a Roman Navy base. The town continued to expand during the Early Byzantine period, before declining from the 7th century A.D. onwards during the Arab raids and later being completely abandoned by the 13th century after the takeover by the Seljuks. For almost six centuries, up to the 19th century, Side remained abandoned. After the fall of the Ottoman empire, Side stepped back into the shadows as a small, fishing village, before turning into a holiday destination.
But the real pleasures are further in, as you go further into the town to discover the antiquities of the past. Eastside is a charming walk – less crowded, has a backdrop of the Taurus mountains, an ancient harbor, cozy waterfront restaurants, and comfortable cafes, cobbled streets lined with interesting shops, and bundles of history. I reached the main market area where the remnants of the public platform are still intact. Besides that, is the main attraction of Side, the giant roman amphitheater for the gladiator fights.
A little ahead is the main gate, dating back to the 2nd century, and then the monumental fountain, which used to be the largest fountain in Anatolia in the 2nd century. The fountain and the colonnaded courtyard around it, speak of the architectural dexterity of that era. Through the gate of the ancient city, you come to a street flanked by colonnades. Water from as far as Manavgat river was fuelled to provide water to the fountain through aqueducts, splendid examples of human ingenuity.
Even a walk through the town takes you through layers of history. All along well preserved Byzantine and Roman era ruins and monuments, exist along with the side of Side that caters to the contemporary tourist. On one end are the ancient Agora ruins depicting the old marketplace, and on the other is the Roman amphitheater the central place for many political discussions and gladiatorial amusement.
The Side Museum is another great place to discover the history of Side. The museum is located next to the old cisterns, in a restored Roman Baths complex. This 5th-century bathhouse has now been redesigned as a home to exquisitely detailed Roman Statuary and Hellenistic artworks that are found within and around the town.
After a stroll through the old streets and taking a heartful plunge into the history of Side, I came to the contemporary side of it. The once cobblestoned pathways now cater to the new age tourists, effortlessly combining antiquity, a typical old-town charm, and stylish wining and dining. In various parts of the town, you’ll see a glass floor showing the antique remains below it, reminding you of the centuries of history that lives in the city. Even in the middle of town, there are always excavations going on to find more signs of the world long gone by.
As with other historical spots dotted along the Aegean coast in Antalya, Side takes you way back in history. And while it quietly lives the historical part of it, there’s always a throbbing, vibrant side to the town, the trendier one, the chic and fashionable kind, that invites the new age European travelers. This side shines like a dreamy pearl. It is lined with resorts, dotted with cute cafes, occasioned by wealthy travelers in love with the salty whiff of the Mediterranean coast, and the vim and vigor of the town. Side exists in these two lives, one for the traveler looking for its calmer side holding the secrets of Roman history, and the other seeing it as a sleepy town by the day and reveler by the night.