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Part of the Roman bridge in the ancient city of Olympus on the east coast of Lycia in TurkeyDuring our 2-week gulet trip around the coast of Lycia, we visit the ancient city of Olympos, where a sandy beach is overlooked by stupendous cliffs, the opening of a gorge and - at second look - various ruins teetering on steep rocks. It is one of Lycia's most unusual ancient cities.

We usually go ashore in the afternoon and land on the beach with our dinghy. Unlike most ancient settlements here, which tend to be set on hills, slopes or in plains, Olympos is strung out along both sides of a mountain stream running through a narrow valley, in places a gorge.

We don't know all that much about ancient Olympos, although the current archaeological excavations are gradually illuminating its history and ruins. The name may be derived from a nearby mountain - but this is not to be confused with Mt Olympus, home of the gods, which is in Northern Greece. Lycian Olympos appears to have thrived between the third century BC and the fifth or sixth AD, as indicated by a series of rather monumental graves and sarcophagi and various buildings, among them at least one large Roman temple, a theatre, and numerous early Byzantine churches. There are quite a lot of additional structures associated with the latter, probably due to the site being the seat of an early bishopric. There was also a rather substantial Roman bridge spanning the river, of which the central support survives (shown in our image). The city must have had its role in coastal trade - and it is reported, at times in piracy!

The antiquities of Olympos are interesting in their own right, but it's the setting that makes them unique. On either side of the river, there is a jungle-like dense thicket of trees, reeds and other plants, interspersed with streams (many of them channelled in antiquity) and pools. Everywhere, ancient architecture, walls of large stones or of bricks, arches and vaults and gateways stick out of the undergrowth, often indicating lost buildings of impressive dimensions. For many of them, we have no idea (yet) of what they were, although a major survey by Turkish archaeologists is helping to clarify the picture and enlighten. The sounds of wind-rustled leaves, of birds and of frogs and the aromas of fresh cold water, of damp and moss, are characteristic of this strange and otherworldly place. It is strange to think that a community existed here for so many generations.

We usually combine a visit to Olympus with a pilgrimage to the remarkable natural flames on a hillside nearby, known as the Chimaira (or Chimaera).

To explore Olympus with expert guides, do please join our Cruising the Lycian Shore trip.

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