Muğla province sits on the coast of the Aegean Sea, in south-west Türkiye. In the past, the area has been home to many different peoples, including the ancient Anatolian Carians and the Leleges – described in Homer’s Iliad as allies of the Trojans. The region’s rich history is reflected in the abundance of ancient ruins found scattered throughout the province.
Stratonikeia, known as the city of lovers and gladiators, was one of the most important towns in the ancient land of Caria, and was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 2015. Established in the 3rd century BC, it was founded on the site of an older Carian town by a Seleucid king, Antiochus I Soter, who named it after his wife, Stratonike. Today, the site is home to many Classical and Hellenistic ruins, including an acropolis, a city gate, a bouleuterion, an agora, a theatre, a large gymnasium, and many well-preserved tombs. A number of inscriptions have also been identified in Stratonikeia, including two rare examples found on the wall of the bouleuterion – one an ancient calendar dating to the early 1st century BC, and the other a Latin price list for merchandise and services in the town in AD 301. Located near the ancient site is the village of Eskihisar, which contains some impressive examples of Ottoman architecture.
Situated on the Bodrum Peninsula, the port town of Halicarnassus became the capital of Caria in the 4th century BC. The city was once home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, a monumental tomb built for King Mausolus. The impressive structure was famous for its size and ornate decoration, and is even believed to be the origin of the use of the word ‘mausoleum’ to mean a grand or stately tomb. Little of the Mausoleum remains today, but the ruins can still be seen at the site. About an hour’s drive away is the forerunner of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Mausoleum of Hecatomnus, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 2012. Construction of this monument began in the early 4th century BC, but it was abandoned before it could be completed, after the capital of Mausollos was moved from Mylasa to Halicarnassus.
Halicarnassus is also famous for its association with the famous ancient historian Herodotus, and later, the medieval Knights of St John, who built the biggest crusader castle in the Mediterranean here and renamed the city Petronium (after St Peter). The modern city of Bodrum now occupies the site, but many ancient structures still survive. Bodrum is also home to the world’s biggest museum of underwater archaeology, housed in Bodrum Castle. Also located nearby, on the hills of the Bodrum district, sits Pedesa, once the capital of the Leleges, a people famous for building their settlements in difficult-to-access locations.
In the south of Muğla province, near the beautiful Saklıkent Gorge, is Tlos, one of the largest and most important settlements in the ancient land of Lycia, which bordered Caria. The settlement has origins dating back to prehistory, but the main attractions for modern visitors are the ancient acropolis and medieval fortress that stand on a hill overlooking the rest of the site, as well as the Lycian tombs cut into the hillside. Tlos is strongly associated with the mythological hero Bellerophon and his winged horse Pegasus, and the most impressive rock-cut tomb here is believed to be dedicated to him. Also found at the site are the remains of temples, an ancient theatre, an agora, Roman baths, a stadium that once seated 2,500 people, and a basilica.
In the past, Telmessos was the last large Lycian city in the west before the land of Caria began. Today, many of the site’s ancient ruins have been buried beneath the modern resort town of Fethiye, but you can still see evidence of its past dotted around, including the theatre discovered in 1993, and a selection of magnificent Lycian tombs, including the Tomb of King Amynas, which dates to the 4th century BC and is one of the most impressive Lycian tombs in Turkey.
Now located several kilometres inland, Kaunos was once an important port town, with a history dating back to the 10th century BC. The ancient settlement sat at a junction between the lands of Caria and Lycia, and was described by Herodotus as having an identity and culture distinct from that of its neighbours, although it was later controlled by a series of conquerors. Near the harbour, you can still see many of the structures that were at the heart of the ancient town, including the agora, a shrine to Aphrodite Euploia, and a nymphaeum, while the Upper Terrace, overlooking the rest of the site, contains the remains of a Roman bath, theatre, and palaestra. Recent excavations have also uncovered earlier layers of construction underneath this terrace.
At the tip of the Reşadiye Peninsula, which separates the Aegean from the Mediterranean, sits the ancient Carian city of Knidos. The city is believed to have been moved to its present picturesque and strategic location in antiquity in order to take advantage of the growing sea trade at the time. Knidos was famous around the ancient world as the home of the first naked statue of Aphrodite, made by the classical sculptor Praxiteles, and of the architect Sostratos, who designed the Lighthouse at Alexandria, another of the wonders of the ancient world. Visitors to Knidos today can see the temple of Aphrodite, the agora, two harbours, an ancient theatre, a sundial, and several other ancient buildings.
Euromos Ancient City is located on the İzmir-Milas route, approximately 12km from Milas. The ancient city dates back to the 7th century BC and many of its structures are still in excellent condition today, including the city walls, the theatre, and the baths. The most striking ancient building at the site is the Temple of Zeus Lepsynos, dating to the Roman period, which is one of the best-preserved temples in Anatolia.
Muğla is also home to many other ancient sites, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Letoon, the cult centre for the Lycian city of Xanthos, situated in the neighbouring province of Antalya (see our guide to Antalya here).
Other locations worth visiting include the Carian city of Labraunda, home to well-preserved temples, shrines, tombs, and other buildings, and the Lycian cities of Cadianda and Pinara, located among beautiful pine forests, which contain many intact ancient structures, including theatres, stadiums, and hundreds of Lycian rock-cut tombs. The ancient city of Oenoanda – best known for the inscriptions of Diogenes of Oenoanda, an important source of Epicurean philosophy dating to the 2nd century AD – also contains many surviving fortifications, temples, and public buildings from the Roman period.
Or if you’re looking for something different, explore Kayaköy. Like many other sites in Muğla, Kayaköy was once an ancient settlement, but apart from a few Lycian rock-cut tombs not much evidence of this survives – the site’s real attraction is the 19th– to early 20th-century town, abandoned in 1923, complete with cobblestone streets, red and blue painted houses, a large school building, churches, and chapels, which are still standing empty today.
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