The Temple of Artemis & Hadrian's Gate: A trip to the ancient city of Termessos.


Hadrian's Gate

When planning my trip to Antalya, I spoke with my buddy Bader who had spent a lot of time there and knew the must-see spots in and around Antalya. Although he did share a lot of places, there was one that spoke to me the most, and that was the Ancient City of Termessos.

Nestled on top of a peak in the Western Taurus mountain range, Termessos holds a mystical status as a lost city that was rediscovered. I mean, Bader had me at Ancient city. So I took a quick look using the trusty RWGPS and found a faint red line leading up to the city's base, which is still up high!

I put together a route and headed out on a ride to experience a bit of the ancient city. Let me preface by saying that I wish I had brought my sandals! I explain why further in the article.

The Western Taurus

Termessos:

Although I mentioned in my first article about Antalya that you could find so many ruins all over the area, Termessos is nothing like that. In fact, I don’t think I can compare it to anything else. It, indeed, was a trip back in time.

Termessos, or Eagle’s Nest, as it was called by Alexander the Great, is an ancient Pisidic city that weathered many nations over thousands of years until it was reclaimed by nature and forgotten about deep within the Taurus.

The earliest appearance of Termessos in the literature was on the pages of Iliad. Homer mentions that Bellerophon, the Chimera killer, a Greek hero who rode a Pegasus, was appointed by the king of Lycia to conquer Termessos. Legends say that the city’s residents surrendered after the Greek hero hailed stones at them from above.

My inner kid, who spent years playing Age of Mythology, couldn’t be happier to visit a land that inspired me as a kid who was fond of Greek Mythology.

The city was built by a tribe called Solymi, derived from the name of an Anatolian god called Solymeus. Who was identified as Zeus in later times after finding coins minted in Termessos with the engraving of Zeus and his name.

How cool is this that?

In 334 BC, Termessos was mentioned in literature about the time Alexander the Great attempted to conquer the city but failed to do so. Marking it as one of his few failed attempts to conquer a city. But once you look at the terrain, it wouldn’t be hard to understand why. Termessos sits atop a sharp mountain peak, crowning the area, giving it more than your average motte. With deep gorges and sharp slopes, the city was well-positioned to defend itself from any and all invaders.

Although the city had a few prosperous eras and became an ally to Rome, it inevitably came to face the same fate as many of the nations around it. The end of Termessos as the great city came when an earthquake ravaged the area, destroying parts of the city and, most importantly, the main aqueducts that supplied the city with drinking water.

The city was completely deserted by the 5th century AD until it was rediscovered again by European travelers in the early 19th century.

The Ride:

To get to the ancient city, I had a few options from where I was staying. I decided to follow the faint red line on the heatmap to the city on the way out. However, I chose a different way back through some roads with no bike traffic information (on strava or RWGPS) just to sprinkle some “exploration” onto this ride.

On the way out, I took some B-roads through farmlands which eventually merged with a main road, which turned into a highway. Sketchy? Yeah, but I later learned from the locals that it's pretty normal for cyclists to be on the highway. Albeit, I wasn't a fan of that road anyway. The highway quickly comes to a steep table in the terrain. Climbing up that road and looking back towards Antalya revealed the sudden drop in elevation in a series of steps leading to the coastline.

Following the main road northwest for a while, I passed through small villages here and there. At a certain elevation on the main road, the landscape changes from farmlands and developed areas to thick pine forests on both sides.

Eventually, I reached the intersection, where I took a left turn towards the national park entrance at the base of the giant mountain the city sits on top. It was a muggy day, and reaching upper elevations brought some cool winds along with it.

The paved road to the city is built alongside its ancient counterpart, and they eventually part ways up the road. The paved road continues alongside the contour of the mountain. In contrast, the ancient road disappears between the gorges and the trees.

As I climbed up the road, the land started doing that thing I spoke about in the "Circumnavigating the Çandir Stream Valley" article. As you gain elevation, mountains reveal themselves, with even more mountains on top.

You have to see it.

I slowly made my way up the road since A) I wasn't in a rush, and B) the scenery stopped me in my tracks as the clouds danced above me, casting fast-changing sunrays all over. I came around a corner and saw 2 teenagers on the road on Mtbs (mountain bikes) fixing a flat. They confirmed they were doing okay with the bit of Turkish I knew/understood. So I continued up the road towards the cloudy peak hugging the skies.

I ran into yet another cyclist and stuck a conversation with him, as he was one of the few local cyclists I saw during my trip. Verum was kind enough to let me ask him about the local riding scene and all the jazz.

The road gets to a point where it straddles alongside the mountain as if it was floating above the cliffs and within the Pine forest. The backside of the peak was in view, scraping the sky above it as the clouds collided into it.

Nearing the crown, we climbed the switchbacks, alternating views between the peak and the rest of the Taurus mountain range behind us. The mix of cloudy and sunny weather under a mile away from us added to the mystical feel of Termessos. Crossing the same roads Alexander the Great did thousands of years ago and many other nations is an experience in itself.

With every hairpin we went around, there were ruins left in place, drawing our imagination to imagine what this area looked like over the years! Those ruins were huge structures that looked like gates and watch towers made out of marble stone with the utmost attention to detail. Some of those stones were cut precisely as if a machine had done that. Some had engravings of humans, gods, and animals, evidence of how developed these people were.

Reaching the base of the city at around 3000ft, just below a tall, rugged peak rising from the ground towards the sky, acting as a natural wall. So it made sense how Termessos managed to stay protected over millenniums from foreign invasions.

Here is where I realized that I had missed a great opportunity. Had I brought my sandals, I could've left the bike with the security guard in the parking lot and hiked up to explore the ruins of Termessos.

However, there is still a lot to explore in the area. Closer to the base of the sharp peak was a scene from an Indiana Jones movie. The ruins of the temple of Artemis, the Goddess of nature, were scattered around the area. However, there was a gate standing still, untouched and unbothered by the earthquake that ravaged the area thousands of years ago. Looking at Hadrian's gate cast this mystical sensation in the area. The world stopped for a second, not even a slight breeze. Hadrian's gate was built during his reign as Emperor of Rome.

I was bewildered by the conditions of the ruins; on the one hand, it carried that patina of the arrow of time. Yet, on the other hand, I felt the spirits of those who lived here still roaming the area. The Hadrian gate stood over the ruins, boasting the complexity of the people who built it.

I climbed up the steps leading to the gates to ponder its history. The scene spoke to my inner child, putting an image to the imagination I developed over the years of reading about Greek Mythology. Lost in my imagination, I saw those spirits walking around and through the gate.

Time travel made possible? I would argue so. Although through my imagination, not physically.

Verum and I checked out the area till we saw the two cyclists who were at the bottom earlier in the day. It turned out those were his friends, who rode their Mtbs all the way from the city to the top! It's no easy feat.

They were a gracious bunch fueled by their love for cycling and exploring their hometown. They struck luck living in such a historic and beautiful part of the world, regardless of the current hardships the area is experiencing.

After we had our fill from exploring the area, we were excited about the long descent home! As is always the case when you pay the climbing toll. As you can imagine, the descent was out of this world. The sky had cleared up a bit as the sun melted away the clouds above us.

Toward the bottom of the hill, I jokingly wanted to climb up the mountain for another shot. However, it was mid-August, and the sun can sometimes be very intense. With that, we marched back down the mountain towards a small village, where we split in our directions. Verum and I were headed toward the same area, so we rode together.

With interest in exploring the area, I routed myself through some B-roads back to my accommodation. 99% of the way back was spot on. Empty roads, magnificent views, and perfect twists and turns.

Knowing that I always have to throw gravel on my routes, we followed the planned route down a gravel road. Although it seemed pretty ridable from the pavement, it quickly turned to Chunder Splunder. Baby head rocks and loose gravel for the next 15-20 mins. Ironically enough, I felt homesick for Portland. It reminded me of my exploratory/poachy rides back in Oregon throughout the years.

The Chunder Splunder eventually turned to packed gravel and connected back to the paved road we turned from. Of course, had we continued on the pavement, we would've ended up at the same point, but where’s the fun in that?

6 miles away from Hurma, where I stayed, Verum and I split ways and continued through the same farm roads I had ridden earlier in the day.

Termessos was worth the trip. In fact, I wish I had gone back with my sandals while I was there, but there was so much to see in the area, especially up the Western Taurus Mountains.

Antalya quickly became one of the best areas I've ridden at.


What about you? Have you ever visited Antalya? What are your thoughts on ruin hunting on a bike?

"Prehistoric Baklava" Verum