An Atlantis resemblance: the sunken city of Kekova


Hidden just below the waters around Turkish island are the ruins of a once great city; the ancient Lycian sunken city of Simena, is often referred to as Kekova. The principle of a sunken city is that it lies underwater, and as a result, it is mostly invisible. But in Kekova some parts are barely submerged, and the crystal-clear water on top gives them a mysterious touch. The city ruins clearly visible just a few meters underneath the waters of the Mediterranean. It’s a beautiful and tranquil place, with water a jeweled shade of blue. It’s also fragrant, as “Kekova” derives from the Turkish word for thyme. On top of the shoreline, further houses, a few Lycian tombs with their unique arched roofs, and the remains of an early church are able to be seen. The boat trip around Kekova is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful ones. Nature is stunning, history distinctly visible; therefore, a visit to Kekova is just one continuous astonishing moment.

The ancient city of Kekova was once of two parts – an island and a coastal part of the mainland.  On the mainland the charming fishing village of Kaleköy (“castle village”) stands today, their building mingling with ancient and medieval structures.  The top of the village is dominated by a well-preserved castle built by the Knights of Rhodes partially upon ancient Lycian foundations. Inside the castle is the smallest amphitheatre of Lycia. At the eastern end of the village is a Lycian necropolis with a cluster of some very nice sarcophagi overlooking the sea and surrounded by ancient olive trees.  Near the harbor of Kaleköy is another sarcophagus, popping up from the water.  Across the bay, along the island are the half-submerged ruins of the residential part of Kekova.

Kekova is a long and narrow island. It’s a steeply built 500-meter-wide town, 7.5 km long, directly opposite of Kaleköy and Üçağız villages. In some parts of the island, which has a very steep hill of 188 meters in length, the depth of the water can reach 105 meters. The island is now uninhabited, occasionally a villager rows across to harvest the wild thyme that gives the island its name. Located near Demre district of Antalya on the Mediterranean Coast, the island is best reached by boat from the Demre Harbor in Cayagzi.  Demre has an interesting history.  It is the Lycian Town of Myra, home to St. Nick (or Santa Claus).  Many Christian Greeks populated the area until the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923.

Since the historical studies have not been completed yet, the history of the island cannot be determined exactly. However, it has been observed that the characteristics here were formed during the Lycian period. Later, in the Hellenistic period, different building elements were added to the island. Kekova was never used as a settlement at any time in history. It did not carry the characteristics of a city like any other nearby ancient cities. With its fine, long structure, it has been evaluated as a breakwater protecting the ancient cities of Kaleköy and Üçağız against the waves. For this reason, a “dead sea” was formed just behind Kekova. Therefore, instead of being used as a city, Kekova undertook a shipyards function. Having served as shelter for marines for a long time in the Lycian era, Kekova was considered a base for intensive shipbuilding and repair. It was also used by the Byzantines as a military base for a while.

The ruins are along the northern shore of Kekova, partly submerged 6m below the sea and referred to as the Batık Şehir (Sunken City). They are the result of a series of severe earthquakes in the 2nd century AD; most of what visitors can still see is a residential part of the ancient site of Simena. Foundations of buildings, staircases, moorings and smashed amphorae are visible.

The coastlines are rich in terms of archaeology. While it is possible to boat or kayak around the area, and dive nearby, under-water exploration has been banned since 1986 as part of a series of measures to protect the lost city’s heritage, something the Turkish government takes seriously. In 1990 the Turkish government declared Kekova Island and the surrounding region to be a Specially Protected Area, preserving it from further development. UNESCO also lists it as a “tentative” candidate for World Heritage status.

The only way to explore Kekova Island is from the water. The most popular time to visit Kekova Island is during the summer months, when lower water levels and higher visibility offer the best views of the underwater ruins. Visitors will find various options for boat cruises, kayaking excursions, and glass-bottom boat tours. A cruise to Kekova Island is a must for history buffs, especially those interested in Turkey’s ancient ruins. The surrounding area offer quite enjoyable opportunities for daily boat trips. Typical boat tours range from hour-long excursions to full-day cruises that include lunch and snorkeling stops. Many travelers combine a cruise to Kekova Island with visits to nearby attractions such as the Myra ruins and the St. Nicholas Church in Demre. Excursions usually set out from the villages of Kalekoy, Ucagiz, and Kas. Apart from the beautiful sunken city in the iridescent turquoise waters, Kekova is also famous for its countless coves and bays as well as the Kaleköy village with its historic fortress. The waterfront restaurants adorned with flowers, the small houses with terracotta roofs, and narrow streets are also standouts in this idyllic village by the water. As for the fortress, it sits on the remains of another Lycian structure built by the Knights of Rhodes. A  Hiking the Lycian Way Kekova Island is also one of many points of interest along the Lycian Way, a 315-mile (507-kilometer) hiking trail that runs along the Mediterranean coast from Fethiye to Antalya is an epic path, taking an average of 29 days to trek, although it’s also possible to enjoy shorter hikes along the route. Additional highlights include the Butterfly Valley, Patara Beach, and the top of Mt. Olympos.

Kekova is the one of main points in the yachting routes of Turkey (known as “Kekova Roads”).  This territory since ancient times to the present day is considered to be very safe harbor for ships. The Roman pirates were approaching here in the past and today Kekova is a very popular anchorage for sailors who enjoy the history together with the nature.

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