Crystal balls speak the future. Crystal waters speak the past. Beneath the clear Turkish Mediterranean encircling Kekova Island, a breath-taking ancient settlement hides in plain sight. These sunken ruins of Kekova are what remains of a major port for Lycian and Byzantine civilizations. What remains after a history of numerous successive natural and man-made upheavals. A visit to Kekova and its sunken city is truly a visit to the ancient world. All that separates the visitor from a rich and tumultuous Turkish past is an aqueous window.
THE BEST THINGS COME IN SMALL PACKAGES
Brushing against Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, Kekova is a small island but one with major importance. Only 500m wide and 7.5 km long, the island is a place of outstanding environmental and architectural beauty. Kekova Island and the 260 km² surrounding region has been governmentally recognized as a Specially Protected Area since 1990. UNESCO also lists it as a candidate for World Heritage status.
Boasting blankets of wild thyme (from which the name “Kekova” meaning “plain of thyme” derives), the popular yachting “Kekova Roads”, beautiful terracotta rooftops, a wealth of waterfront restaurants and the striking fortress in Kaleköy village, the island is a picturesque retreat from the clamour and bustle of mainland Turkey.
The island is uninhabited, apart from the grazing mountain-goats. And, of course, the ghosts which lurk in the Sunken city to the north of the island.
A SUNKEN CITY?
The sunken city of Kekova is arguably a misnomer. The geological movements of the island have meant that half of the city is underwater and half above. Even the underwater ruins are not quite fully submerged, with public buildings and staircases partially protruding out of the water. What is more, Kekova is still sinking. The coasts have tectonically sub-sided at a minimum rate of 1.6 mm/yr over the last 1400 years. Even today, it is as if the island wants its visitors to feel its historical turbulence.
THE SUNKEN CITY: BEFORE IT SANK
The modern visitor to Kekova will see beautiful and mysterious underwater remains. Red-green tiled mosaics, foundations of buildings, stone staircases and a few striking tombs are among the ancient wonders to behold.
Fast-backward around two and a half thousand years, this was all part of a thriving city. A city which went through repeated natural disasters, invasions and raids, before sinking into the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
The ancient town of Dolchiste in Kekova was politically and economically significant. During the Lycian civilisation, it formed part of the influential Lycian League. This was a pioneering democratic union, whose ideas actually came to influence the writing of the founding documents of modern democracy, such as the U.S. constitution.
ECONOMY AND TRADING
Economically, Kekova was considered part of a trading tetrapolis. With its sheltered and maritime location it was a strategic point on trade routes. Exports from the area included timber, wine and stone masonry. These fuelled the city’s prestige, prosperity and concomitant population density. Dolchiste in Kekova later came to serve as an important base for intensive shipbuilding and repair, and later as a Byzantine military base. Archaeologists have discovered shipwrecks dating from Archaic to Byzantine periods in the region, evidence that Kekova was a major economic port for several centuries.
However, Kekova’s location was also a drawback. Numerous destructive natural disasters occurred in this dangerously active zone. Ancient historical documents by writers such as Tacitus and Cassius reveal that:
- Earthquakes destroyed the cities of Pergamum, Laodicea, and Collosse in A.D. 60
- Major devastating tsunamis hit the region in A.D. 68. and A.D. 142
- A particularly significant earthquake hit in A.D. 529, which forced mass exodus from the region.
This compounded with an outbreak of plague in A.D. 540 and bloody conflict between Arabs and Byzantines. Following an Arab naval victory against the Byzantines in A.D. 655, repeated Arab invasions began in the unprotected region. Kekova was pummelled away to become the partially underwater city it is today.
KEKOVA TODAY: WHERE TO LOOK
Downwards: When exploring the Sunken City, take your time.Whether you choose a glass-bottom boat or steer your own canoe, sail slowly so you can take in all the fascinating underwater remains.
Across the bay, to the east: A ring of olive trees crown an ancient Lycian necropolis with sarcophagi overlooking the Mediterranean. A beautiful tribute to the strong ancient Lycian civilisation.
Upwards: The nearby fishing village of Kaleköy boasts an imposing castle on the top of a hill, built by the Knights of Rhodes, partially upon ancient Lycian foundations. Inside the castle is the smallest amphitheatre of Lycia. Most of the ruins date from Byzantine times, while some come from the 4th century.
To the south: Tersane: a calm and quiet bay where you can swim and snorkel. You can watch the local elders fishing among the ancient ruins.
Young and old, history-enthusiasts and nature-lovers, the sporty and the more laid-back. Kekova and its sunken city truly provide a magical experience for every type of traveller.
Looking ahead: A visit to Kekova is incomplete without a souvenir. Diving into the ruins for pieces of mosaic is sadly out of the question because of the protected status of the site. However, you can bring home the fragrance of your Kekovan experience. Large bags of the region’s famous dried thyme are available to purchase in Üçağiz and in Kaleköy.
Exploring Kekova and its sunken city will give you a taste for the island. The next step: get a taste of the locality by exploring the delights of Kekovan gastronomy.
– For lunch or dinner: Sample the vibrant cuisine of Kekova at a beautiful waterfront restaurant. Home-cooked seafood specialities, grills and Turkish mezze boards are some of the highlights not to be missed. Try Kordon restaurant and Hassan Restaurant for something more traditional, or Hold&Bite for a superlative burger.
– For the best Turkish ice-cream: Visit one of the local ice-cream-parlours dotted around the island. Cafe Mola 1 offers luxurious goats-milk ice-cream in an array of delicious flavours, with Vegetarian, Vegan Options, Halal, and Gluten-Free Options.
HOW TO GET TO KEKOVA
In A.D. 1191, King Philip Augustus anchored at Kekova on return from the Third Crusade.
In 1817, famous inventor Francis Beaufort visited the island.
In 2017, 10.5 million tourists arrived in Antalya, the province including Kekova, making it the second most visited destination in Turkey after Istanbul.
Kekova’s popularity has rocketed. What hasn’tchanged is the means of getting to the island. Kekova and its sunken city are only accessible by boat, but there are plenty of options:
– Take an official gulet tour. Tours arrive here on a regular basis from Kaş or Üçağiz (19km off the main Kas-Finike highway). Boats operate on a private hire as well as mixed group basis.
– Rent a canoe-style boat and meander along the waters at your own pace.
– Ask a local fisherman to take you. That way you will contribute to the economic well-being of the local community. You will also make your Kekovan experience even more unique and memorable.
DO I NEED TO BOOK BOATS AND BOAT TRIPS IN ADVANCE?
– If you do decide on a guided Sunken City Ruins of Simena boat-trip, it is advisable to book ahead of time to secure your spot.
– Have you decide to hire your own canoe? Because the peak season in July and August is very busy be sure to should book in advance.
WHERE TO STAY
If the charms of Kekova and its sunken city draw you to spend the night, you have a wealth of options to choose from. Family-run pensions, such as Baba Veli Pension and Kekova Fish House Pension, offer a high-quality and authentic residential experience. There are also several Airbnb’s available to hire.
Kaleüçağiz is more practically accessible, while Simena is arguably more picturesque, the choice of location is yours.
WHEN TO VISIT
Kekova and its sunken city is open all year round, from Sunday – Saturday from 09:00 – 21:00. Rarely falling below 15°C in winter and with hot and sunny summers, Kekova guarantees its visitors a warm welcome. For a more lively atmosphere, plan your trip during the tourist season: May to October.
Visiting out of season also has its charms. Most pensions and restaurants during these months will be open upon reservation. Enjoy the privilege of freshly prepared local delicacies and having the run of the whole site all to yourselves.
A UNIQUE VISIT
A visit to Kekova is unique. Where you stand one year will be subtly different the next. This is due to the ongoing and invisible tectonic shifts under your feet. With a balance of historical and geographical wonders, Kekova and its Sunken City are an unmissable experience. The island is a place where sinking sights never equal sinking spirits.
WHAT CAN KALKAN HOLIDAY PROPERTY DO FOR YOU?
At Kalkan Holiday Property, we can help you plan your visit to Kekova, from transport, boat trips, accommodation and restaurant recommendations. We will share our local knowledge and years of expertise with you, ensuring that your Kekovan experience is happy, memorable and tailored to you.