Olympos is one of Antalya Province’s most popular tourist towns, albeit with an altogether different vibe from your typical beach resort. Instead of highrise hotels, you’ll find simple rustic accommodation, while the town attracts a younger, largely Turkish crowd. In addition to the ancient ruins along the beach, nearby is the unique Mount Chimaera, known for its eternally burning flames.
In the following guide, we’ll be going over a brief history of the ancient kingdom, and later federation, of Lycia, of which Olympos was once part. After a rundown of the main sights to see around Olympos, we’ll cover the mysterious Mount Chimaera along with how to get there.
And be sure to check the end of the article for information on transport and accommodation.
What was Lycia?
Lycia was an ancient kingdom, and then province, situated along the Xanthos River. Its former territory overlaps with much of modern-day Antalya Province along with parts of neighboring Muğla.
Lycia was mentioned as far back as Homer’s Iliad, which, while written in the 8th century BC, takes place around 500 years prior. The characters of Sarpedon and his son Glaucus were the Lycians who fought alongside Troy in the Trojan War.
And Lycia is likely indeed that old. In the 13th century BC, the region was known as Lukka, a vassal state of the vast Hittite Empire. And after the Hittite Empire’s dissolution, the native Lycian language evolved out of Luwian, an ancient Indo-European tongue.
The Lycians were also part of the confederation of ‘Sea People’ who regularly attacked Egypt during the New Kingdom period. These battles were immortalized in carvings at Ramesses III’s temple of Medinet Habu.
But it’s not until the 5th century BC that a more definitive history of Lycia begins to take shape. At that time, Lycia was taken over by the Persian Achaemenid Empire before they briefly allied with Athens as part of the Delian League. After declaring independence, they were conquered by Persia yet again until the arrival of Alexander the Great.
As the region became increasingly Hellenized, the Lycian language completely died out. Sadly, not many monuments remain from early Lycian history either.
Today, Lycian architecture is largely synonymous with the elaborate rock-cut tombs that have survived in places like Myra, Fethiye and Dalyan. Other than tombs, the Lycians were also known for their interesting coins.
In the 2nd century BC, during the later stages of the Roman Republic, Lycia became a protectorate of Rome. But it was still largely autonomous. The Lycian League, a federation of independent Lycian city-states, then formed in 168 BC.
Over a thousand years later, the political structure of the Lycian League would even greatly inspire the framers of the United States Constitution.
In 43 AD, Lycia officially became part of the Roman Empire, but the Lycian League would persist for centuries longer.
Olympos was one of the largest cities of the Lycian league, with the earliest archaeological findings dating back to the 4th century BC. The city was named after nearby Mt. Olympos, which in turn was named after the famous Mt. Olympus in Greece. (The mountain is also known as Lycian Olympos or Tahtalı Dağı in Turkish.)
Today, scattered throughout Olympos are ruins from Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine times. Interestingly, like nearby Phaselis, the city was victim to frequent pirate attacks. And it was even under a full-blown pirate occupation for a couple years in 70 BC!
Later during the Middle Ages, groups like the Venetians and Genoese would even built fortresses here. But ultimately, the city was abandoned in the 15th century, with the Ottomans never taking an interest in the town.
EXPLORING OLYMPOS: Both the ruins and the Mediterranean coast are situated to the east of the modern tourist town. You’ll need to pass through the ticket gate each time you want to access the ruins area and then the beach.
Conveniently, you can buy a multiple-entry pass, which allows up to 10 visits to the ruins/beach. At the time of my trip it cost 40 TL.
If you’re staying in neighboring Çıralı, the only way to access the ruins is to walk several kilometers down the coast! (See more below.)
Byzantine Ruins / North Necroplis Street
Entering the archaeological zone, you’ll encounter Byzantine-era ruins on either side of you. On the right-hand (south) side of the central avenue are the remains of a formerly elaborate church
Built in the 5th or 6th century AD, it was originally a three-aisled basilica with an atrium and annex to the north. As it’s situated by a large necropolis, archaeologists have dubbed it the Necropolis Church.
Nearby are a series of connected buildings that archaeologists call the Entrance Complex. Consisting of 11 rooms in total, the complex also likely had additional stories. It was probably used for trade, storage and also as a residence.
While the central road will take you directly to the beach, don’t miss a walk down the northern ‘Necropolis Street’ at some point.
As the name suggests, the area was used as a necropolis from the 1st-3rd centuries AD. But from around the 4th century, inhabitants decided to build residences here, with many structures built right over existing sarcophagi!
There are a lot of old houses to explore in the area, though little remains except for the walls. You can, however, see a few sarcophagi inside some of the houses. In total, archaeologists have found over 100 graves.
Many of the buildings here were large, multistory houses complete with large courtyards.
Further east is the Episkopeian, or bishop’s house, the largest building in Olympos. While it was closed to visitors due to reconstruction, I was able to get a decent view of it from above.
You can still make out parts of the huge walls and columned courtyard, while the complex also contained the Episcopal Church and baptistries.
What’s more, is that the builders incorporated a preexisting Roman temple into the complex. It was built in the 2nd century AD, and while unclear which deity it was consecrated to, once housed a statue of Marcus Aurelius.
Speaking of pre-Christian religion in Olympos, the main deities worshipped here were Artemis, Appolo and their mother Leto.
The South Side
Olympos was divided into two halves – north and south – by the Olympos River. The river today appears more like a swamp, but it still cuts the archaeological site in two.
At the time of writing, the southern ruins appear to be completely inaccessible, though excavations and restorations are ongoing.
The south side of town was once home to Roman baths, numerous Christian structures and an additional necropolis.
There was also a theater but, judging from pictures, was relatively small and now in pretty poor condition.
Only a small section of the original stone bridge remains, but archaeologists believe it originally contained three arches.
From other points along the river, you can spot various tombs of the former necropolis.
The Forested Area
Aside from the airy, open Necropolis Street, the north side of Olympos features a densely forested area with a slew of ancient ruins.
As you walk along Olympos’s central avenue, you’ll spot a natural pool that visitors often swim in. Simply follow the trail which runs alongside the stream and proceed deeper into the forest.
Not far from the entrance is what’s called ‘The Monumental Tomb of Lykiarkhes Marcus Aurelius Archepolis.’ The Lykiarkhes was the head of the Lycian League, and this leader lived some time in the 3rd century AD.
Interestingly, even after Lycia’s official annexation by Rome in 43 BC, the Lycian League functioned largely autonomously for centuries.
The sarcophagi currently in the Monumental Tomb belonged to the Lycian head’s family, while his own elaborate sarcophagus now rests in the Antalya Museum.
Moving deeper into the forest, you’ll come across yet another stone sarcophagus, this one belonging to a man named Antimachos who lived in the 2nd century AD.
It’s been entirely decorated with reliefs, including a ‘false door’ carved into one end. And looking closely, you can also spot a ‘Tree of Life’ motif.
Not far away is the ‘Mosaic House,’ a Byzantine-era rectangular building. It was likely the residence of a wealthy family, and, as the name suggests, contains lots of mosaic art.
Sadly, the building was locked during my visit, though I could spot some small mosaic fragments on the ground nearby. The ones inside are supposed to be rather elaborate, featuring faces and animal motifs.
The forest also contains numerous other unlabelled structures along with plenty of walking trails. While most of them don’t really lead anywhere, they’re fun to explore nonetheless.
As we’ll go over further below, it’s also from this forest that you can access the seaside fortress. But first, you’ll probably want to check out the beach itself.
Shortly before approaching the beach, you’ll pass by yet another set of ancient sarcophagi. Known as the ‘Harbor Monumental Tomb,’ the grave belonged to a ship captain named Eudemos and his family.
The main sarcophagus is adorned with a carving of a ship as well as Aphrodite. There’s also a brief autobiographical inscription about the captain’s journeys.
As interesting as the sarcophagi in Olympos are, be sure to also visit somewhere like Demre or Fethiye to see Lycia’s trademark rock-cut tombs.
Olympos’s long pebble beach offers amazing views of the surrounding mountains. Just don’t expect to find yourself alone.
Having first arrived on a Sunday, I was dismayed to see how utterly packed the beach was. But returning the next morning, it was virtually empty. This was likely due to most visitors to Olympos being Turkish locals who work weekdays.
Looking ahead, the beach appears to go on forever – and that’s because it extends around five kilometers to the neighboring town of Çıralı!
On a clear day, the beach also offers an excellent view of Mt. Olympos, after which the town was named. It’s just one of many such mountains named after the famous Greek one.
Walking around the beach, you’ll encounter small ruins here and there. And looking behind you, you’ll see an old hilltop fortress.
It is indeed climbable, and definitely worth doing for the views.
Up to the Castle
Rather than directly from the beach, you’ll need to get behind the fortress to find a way up. While a little confusing, make your way to the forested area and over to the sarcophagus of Antimachos (see above). Follow the trails east and you should eventually find the base of the castle.
It’s a little tricky to climb up, though it’s still possible even with sandals.
While there’s seemingly no definitive information about this structure, perhaps it was added by one of the Italian kingdoms that briefly occupied Lycia in the Middle Ages. Or maybe it’s just another Byzantine structure.
In any case, the fortress offers unrivaled views of Turkey’s Turquoise Coast.
No visitor to Olympos should miss a trip up to Mount Chimaera, known locally as Yanartaş. Located in the neighboring village of Çıralı, nightly group tours depart from Olympos at 21:00 for around 40 TL. While the flames burn 24 hours, visiting in the dark of night is the best way to see them.
The eternal fires are likely the result of methane gas beneath the rock surface. The flames then shoot out of the various cracks, of which there are a dozen or so in total. They’ve burnt this way for thousands of years, are were said to be even larger in ancient times.
Departing from Olympos, we briefly stopped at a shop for water. Even at night, the air here is very humid, and it would be wise to grab a bottle or two. The driver will then hand out flashlights. They’re not only helpful for the walk up, but especially useful for those doing photography at the top.
From the main parking area, visitors must walk up a steep ascending staircase leading to the top of Mount Chimaera. It can get rather tiring, but you’ll want to stop occasionally anyway to appreciate the stunningly clear view of the stars.
You’ll know immediately when you’ve arrived at the top when you see the mysterious glowing flames up ahead. At first glance, the place appears like a campsite that had to be suddenly evacuated.
The flames of Mount Chimaera vary in size. If you happen to make it up first, be sure to photograph the larger ones before the rest of your group arrives.
Annoyingly, families will crowd around the more impressive flames, claiming them for awhile as they take countless selfies. But that’s only to be expected in our current era.
In ancient times, this was considered a sacred place, as evidenced by the temple ruins scattered about the ground. In fact, Mount Chimaera wasn’t merely named after the fire-breathing monster of legend, but the origin place of the myth itself.
According to Greek mythology, the Chimaera was a fire-breathing lion with a snake for a tail. It was sometimes described as having a goat protruding from its back, and it was the offspring of the monsters Typhon and Echidna.
The earliest reference to the Chimaera is in the Iliad. And in other myths, Bellerophon, grandfather of Sarpedon, is credited with slaying the Chimaera while riding atop Pegasus.
He did so by cleverly lodging a block of lead down its throat, suffocating it. And according to the Greeks, this all took place in Lycia.
As mentioned above, during the Bronze Age, the Lycia region was a vassal of the vast Hittite Empire. Interestingly, the very first depiction we have of the Chimaera comes not from Greece or Lycia, but from the eastern Anatolian city of Karkemish, current Gaziantep Province.
Currently on display at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara, the carving dates back to the 9th century BC – a century before the Iliad was written.
It was created by one of the numerous ‘Neo-Hittite’ splinter states that formed after the dissolution of the Hittite Empire. Many of these states spoke Luwian and borrowed many artistic motifs from the Hittite civilization.
It remains unclear where the true origin of the Chimaera myth lies, but one wonders if it dates back even earlier.
And thinking back to the Bronze Age, one can’t help but notice the similarities between the Chimaera and Sekhmet, the Egyptian lioness goddess. Commonly associated with fire, Sekhmet was a fierce form of Hathor.
In the ancient world, such fierce deities were jarring but necessary reminders that the same force which creates and nurtures us (i.e. ‘Mother Nature’) will also eventually kill us.
Those visiting as a tour to Mount Chimaera from Olympos will have over an hour to walk around at the top. While almost pitch black, you can also find more substantial remains of ruins up here. If you’re hiking independently, you may want to arrive around sunset to see them in the light.
Arriving back in the van, we arrived in Olympos around midnight. I quickly tried to fall asleep as the faint images of dancing flames lingered in my mind’s eye.
For some reason, many visitors to Olympos skip Mount Chimaera, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most unique things you’ll see in ancient Lycia.
Olympos and Çıralı are situated along Route 400, about 60 km south of Antalya and in between the cities of Kumluca and Tekirova. Whether you’re coming from Antalya or Kaş, both towns are easy to reach by bus.
Those coming from Antalya can find a bus at the otogar (bus terminal). Both Olympos and Çıralı are situated downhill from the main highway, and you will need to transfer at a rest stop/restaurant to catch another minibus downhill.
Coming from Antalya, the bus first stopped for those getting off at Çıralı. Just a couple minutes later, the driver then announced the stop for those staying in Olympos. From the highway restaurant, the minibus down to the village leaves every 30 minutes and cost 7.5 TL at the time of my visit.
It’s important to get off at the correct stop, as there’s no easy way to walk between Olympos and Çıralı, despite their proximity to one another.
Leaving town, just repeat the process in reverse. Buses to/from Antalya and Demre or Kaş regularly stop at these highway restaurants.
When most people talk about visiting Olympos, they’re typically referring to one of two neighboring towns – Olympos or Çıralı. While the two towns are situated right next to each other, they’re separated by a long stretch of beach.
To get to one from the other by car, you’d have to go all the way back to the main highway before coming back downhill into the other town.
Olympos and Çıralı have their own unique atmospheres and attract slightly different clientele. Çıralı is a bit pricier and more family oriented. Olympos attracts a younger, budget-conscious crowd who don’t mind sleeping in simple bungalows.
But all that aside, if your main concern is visiting the ruins, definitely stay in Olympos. There are no ruins in Çıralı, so people staying there have to make the long walk across the beach to see them. By staying in Olympos, you’ll be able to walk to the ruins (and then the beach) in minutes.
Çıralı, however, is the location of Mount Chimaera. And you could easily use it as a base from which to walk up the mountain.
As mentioned above, there are nightly affordable tours up to Mount Chimaera from Olympos.
For those staying in Olympos rather than Çıralı, there are several bungalow, or ‘treehouse’ options to choose from. I stayed at a place called Turkmen Tree Houses which was within easy walking distance from the ruins and beach.
It cost me around €19 per night in summer – double what my hotel cost in central Antalya. But the price included both breakfast and dinner, so it was a decent value overall.
The standalone rooms are very simple, but that’s part of their charm. The front desk was managed by some friendly girls from Kyrgyzstan who spoke good English, among other languages. The place has some negative reviews on Booking.com, but I had a good experience overall.
Wherever you choose to stay, be sure to carefully check the location. Some of the cheaper hotels are situated quite far from the ruins and beach. Given the fact that you’ll be visiting the beach at least a few times, I wouldn’t advise staying more than a ten-minute walk away from the archaeological zone entrance.
The Lycian Way is a popular hiking route extending from Muğla Province through much of Antalya Province. As the name suggests, it passes through many of the significant Lycian ruins.
But at 500 km in total, nobody dares hike it all. Instead, people choose certain sections based on their schedules, fitness level and which landmarks they want to see.
As I had way too much luggage for an A-B hike, I have no experience with the Lycian Trail and can’t offer any advice. But it’s worth keeping in mind that both Mount Chimaera and Olympos are part of the route, and this would surely be a fun area to hike.
While the Turkish government isn’t quite as extreme as China when it comes to online censorship, you’ll probably want a decent VPN before your visit.
I’ve tried out a couple of different companies and have found ExpressVPN to be the most reliable.
Booking.com is currently banned in the country (at least when you search for domestic accommodation). However, there are actually quite a few Turkish hotels listed on there anyway. And many them don’t even appear on Hotels.com, which hasn’t been banned.
Over the course of my trip, I ended up making quite a few reservations with Booking.com and was really glad I had a VPN to do so.
Another major site that’s banned is PayPal. If you want to access your account at all during your travels, a VPN is a must.
While those are the only two major sites that I noticed were banned during my trip, Turkey has even gone as far as banning Wikipedia and Twitter in the past.