Exploring Ancient Olympos and the Chimaera: A Visitor's Guide
Immediately west of the Gulf of Antalya, the 700-square-kilometer Olimpos Beydaglari Milli Parki (Olympos National Park) stretches from the coast into the rugged pine-clad mountains. The romantic site of the ruins of ancient Olympos and the fascinating eternal flame of the Chimaera are both near the holiday villages of Olympos and Çirali, in the southern section of the park. This is a place to kick back and take a rest from sightseeing, and the long beach here is a major attraction for tourists.
Çirali attracts an older, European crowd with a family-friendly atmosphere, while Olympos is a backpacker favorite, with rock climbing and beach lounging among the most popular things to do. Both are good beach bases, although accommodation is of a much higher standard in Çirali.
The Olympos ruins can be walked to from both, and evening trips to the Chimaera are easily organized from both (though keen hikers can also walk to the Chimaera). Those who don't want to stay the night and have their own transport can also easily visit both sites on the scenic coastal drive between Antalya and Kas.
Olympos was once one of the most celebrated cities of the Lycian League. During the Roman period, Olympos was widely known as a cult site dedicated to the fire god Hephaistos (with a grand temple built in his honor at the site of the Chimaera). There are also references in Plutarch to ritual feasts taking place here in honor of Mithras, the Persian god of light. The city began to slip into decline due to constant raiding by pirates, who plagued the town even after the successful campaign waged against them by the Romans in 78 BC.
Today, although the ancient Olympos ruins are badly overgrown and in a severe state of dilapidation, the site is incredibly picturesque, standing in a valley, just off Olympos' beach, with the forest densely packed around it. The remains include a Roman theater, Byzantine basilica, temple, bridge, defensive walls, and chamber tombs.
One of nature's great curiosities, the eternal flame of the Chimaera (the fire-breathing monster of Greek mythology) is a phenomenon first mentioned in AD 300 by the Byzantine Bishop Methodius. Natural gas escaping from eighteen or so holes and crevices in the rock has burned here since ancient times. Although barely discernible in daylight, the flames are said to be visible far out to sea at night. The gases are still to be properly analyzed but are known to include methane.
To visit, it's best to go at night. You can walk from Çirali along the marked path to the site. Once you've reached the car park, there is a 150-meter ascent to the top of the hill. From Olympos, the Chimaera site is seven kilometers away.
This long sweep of beach changes its name as it heads south from Olympos to Çirali. At the Olympos end, it's backed by a swoop of cliff and the Olympos ruins, but the sand here is very pebbly. The southern Çirali section is extremely pretty and has a line of outdoor restaurants and cafes along the shore. Both are mellow places to toss down your beach towel, and neither get overcrowded. As with the villages backing the sand, though, both do have a different vibe, with Çirali definitely being the more laid-back and family-friendly option.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Olympos & Chimaera
- Chimaera Evening Tour: The private evening tour of the Chimaera heads to the eternal flame after dark, the perfect time for viewing. It includes transport by jeep, with excellent views of the Kemer region along the way; entrance fees; and dinner.
- Getting Here: If you don't have your own transport, you can get to both Olympos and Çirali by public transport. All the buses traveling between Fethiye and Antalya can drop you at the roadside restaurant from where small minivans to the villages depart. In winter, though, there are far less minivan services.
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Exploring the Region: To the south is Antalya, one of Turkey's most popular beach holiday towns and a bustling Mediterranean city. To the north is the old fishing village of Kas, with its hiking, diving, boating, and kayaking activities, and the town of Fethiye with its harbor crammed with yachts waiting to whisk you away onto the sea for the day.
More Ruins: This Mediterranean section of coast is scattered with important Lycian and Roman ruins. Among the most famous are the ruins of Aspendos, with its colossal Roman theater, and the tumbled temple remnants and theater of Side, with its ruins hemming this tiny resort town.