Jaw-dropping ancient city of Termessos

pano shot of termessos theater in ancient city

Termessos is one of the best naturally preserved ancient cities in Türkiye, and it might be the most impressive we’ve ever seen. There’s been no restoration and no excavation. Termessos looks and feels like an ancient city that’s 2,000-plus years old — unlike the restored, manicured Mayan pyramids and the Khmer temples.

The sprawling ruins are in such a rugged, naturally defensive position that Greece’s Alexander the Great couldn’t conquer Termessos. The Romans didn’t even try – they gave the Pisidian people who lived there autonomy.

Foundation ruins are in surprisingly good shape. Archaeologists have done surface surveys, but there has never been a single excavation at Termessos. It blows my mind to think of all that lies beneath untold tons of ruined stone structures. And that’s probably why it hasn’t been done: it would cost untold millions of dollars to excavate any part of this ancient city with endless massive stone ruins.

Termessos is like an adult playground. We climbed over ruins and felt like true adventurers. Other ancient cities don’t give this type of experiential thrill. At other sites, tourists usually look onto ruins behind a gated-off access area. Or, if you can climb on them, access is restricted to small areas.

At Termessos, you are allowed to wander, explore, climb and discover to your heart’s content.

The most impressive part of the the ancient city is the theater. We had a picnic in the top shaded part on the right. Of all the unusual places to have a picnic all around the world – this one was tops.

Pack out what you pack in. There is hardly any litter around the site, thankfully. That might be because Termessos is not as easy to reach as other ancient cites and sites in this part of Türkiye.

A little bit about the ancient city of Termessos

The ruins date back from the 3rd century B.C. to the 5th century A.D., when an earthquake destroyed the cistern. Without water, the Pisidian people left the city into the surrounding region.

The stunning theater is on a plain surrounded by higher peaks. After our picnic, we explored them thoroughly- including the animal enclosures to the side of the stage.

There were hardly any tourists there during our November visit. In fact, we had the place all to ourselves for a while! That likely wouldn’t have happened during peak tourism time during the summer months.

The necropolis is another jaw-dropping, mind-blowing area of this ancient city. Termessos features 2,000 giant sarcophagi strewn all over a mountainside. Grave robbers pilfered the tombs long ago, and now they are empty aside from weeds.

Several temples are crumbled, with a few pieces here and there still standing, especially at the Temple of Artemis, a Greek goddess who roamed mountains with nymphs.

The bathhouses and cistern ruins are intact enough to reveal how water must have flowed.

Everywhere: ruins ruins ruins. We walked on ruins that now act as pathways around much of the city.

More history, maps & signs

There is only one map of the site at the trail entrance in the upper parking lot. Take a picture of it — it really came in handy.

Signs are minimal and only name the building ruins. Read about the various buildings before you go – or load the information before you get there because cell service is spotty at best.

I recommend the Turkish Archaelogical News site for more history of the Psidia region and the ancient city of Termessos. Info like Homer’s mention of it in the Iliad, Alexander the Great’s connection, and the stories behind the Tomb of Alcetas and the Temple of Artemis.

Most travel bloggers have stolen the information from that web page and wrongfully call Termessos a ‘Roman ruins’ site.

Fun fact: the ancient city of Termessos is under consideration as UNESO World Heritage site.

Getting to Termessos

Entrance to the huge national park cost 70 lira ($2.45) in November 2023. (The lira still wasn’t stabilized.)

Tours from the City of Antalya go for 50 euros minimum. You can also hire a taxi or rent a car for the day (I don’t know those prices).

We did this the budget travel way, of course.

From the city, we took the tram (15 lira per person – 60 cents) to the otogar (bus station), then took the minibus for 40 lira pp ($1.40). The minibus goes to Kurkuteli, but drops you off on mountain highway at the park entrance. It takes about 30 minutes.

From the park entrance, it’s a 1,700 foot elevation gain over nine kilometers to the start of the Termessos ruins. That takes two hours to walk. However, we hitchhiked up and back down. With public transportation each way, it only cost us $11 for two people.

We went in early November- when there aren’t many tourists- so we were prepared to hike if needed with plenty of snacks and water.

Getting around Termessos ruins – for older people

From the upper parking lot, it’s another 20-minute hike on a rugged trail to where the ruins begin. We then hiked all over the site, including a bit up the mountainside to some of the gigantic overgrown necropolis.

The site itself – without the 18 kilometer hike in and out – is easy for older people who are fit, with good shoes or sneakers.

If you have physical challenges, mobility issues or you are not in decent shape, this is probably not the site for you. And you can certainly see that in the all of the photos above.

We walked about 5.5 miles around the city, and up and down the equivalent of about 40 floors.

In Theo’s case, he went barefoot around the theater. Most of the fallen stones were not loose.

Adult playground

The place is really a wreck, but it was so damn fun to climb around like kids! This is we retired early. If we had waited until we were 65 – or older – would we have been able to easily scramble around a jaw-dropping ancient city like this? Maybe… and maybe not.

If you can manage an easy hike (not steep) on a rugged trail (somewhat treacherous), and you’re in good physical shape – give it a go!

Because life is now!

Thanks for reading, “Jaw-dropping ancient city of Termessos.”

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