Known for its long beaches and Greco-Roman ruins, Side is one of the best places to go in Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. The temples at the harbor are a dramatic sight in the evening, and the ancient theater is hugely impressive with its 15,000 seats.
For a dose of culture, pop into the town’s museum, which is housed in a Roman bath complex and houses finds from local excavation sites. It’s also worth visiting the ancient theater next door.
The ancient theater
The ancient theater of Side is one of the most famous attractions in this city. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean, it was built by the Greeks in the 7th century BC.
The theater was used for theatrical performances based on the Greek tragedy and comedy genres. It had a wooden skene (stage) and a proscenium.
It was decorated with sculptural friezes and statues. The scaenae frons contained ten elaborately carved Corinthian columns.
In 25 BC Side became part of the Roman province Galatia and prospered through its trade in olive oil and slaves. The roman ruins of Side that are in fairly good condition today include a temple, city gate and an ancient theatre which could seat about 15,000 to 20,000 people.
The archaeological museum
The archaeological museum in Side, a small town eight kilometers from Manavgat, displays a vast collection of artifacts found during excavations in the ruins of ancient Side. The collection includes inscriptions, weapon embossing, sculptures that are copies of Roman Period Greek originals, torsos, temples, tomb steles, portraits, ostotecs and column pedestals.
One of the main attractions of the museum is its collection of statues from Perge, Letoon and Patara excavations. These figures usually graced temples, and they often portray gods or mythological subjects.
The museum also houses a number of sarcophagi, some of which were brought back from the necropolis of King Sidon in Sayda. Other artifacts on display include bronze figurines, a marble horse and an impressive statue of Kouros Kriosos.
The Alarahan fortress
The Alarahan fortress is a castle that was built on a steep rock near Side. It was a fortification designed to protect caravans that were passing along the Silk Road.
The fortress is surrounded by thick stone walls and includes observation towers, a church, a palace, grain warehouses, weapons depots and underground sanctuaries that can accommodate 400 people. It also features 54 cisterns and rock tombs.
A dark stairway, cut into the rock, leads to the citadel’s interior. The stairs are quite difficult, but once you get to the top, a wonderful panorama opens up before you.
The fortress’s interior is adorned with decorative elements such as “Mukarnas,” a form of ornamented vaulting in Islamic architecture that symbolizes protection against the wicked and harmful. 79 lion-headed sculptures, positioned on the corners of the fortress’s walls, light up when candles are placed on them.
The Apollo Temple
Originally a sleepy fishing village, Side's ancient ruins have become a major holiday resort. Take a guided walking tour around the ruins, with time to explore the picturesque narrow lanes of the town.
Dedicated to Apollo, the god of music, harmony and light, the temple leans against the sea, its columns with Corinthian caps forming the temple's frieze. On its rooftop, there's an ingenious display of terracotta sculptures, each figure depicting a mythological scene.
This temple's third rebuilding occurred in 330 BC, and the fifth temple was completed by Spintharus, who designed the structure with limestone and Parian marble. It was then destroyed by an earthquake in 373 BC and later restored, with its pediment adorned by large sculptural figures. It is the first to have been built with this unique sculptural decoration, an Etruscan innovation.
The old town
In Side's old town, you will find charming streets and plenty of attractions. There are also many restaurants to choose from and an excellent nightlife.
In ancient times, Side was a major trading port. It was a centre of the slave trade and also one of the main bases for Cilician pirates.
The city was occupied by Alexander the Great without much resistance in 333 BC. This was the start of a long and fruitful period of development. After this, Side was ruled by the Ptolemaic and Seleucid dynasties. Its prosperity soared and it became an important cultural center.