Side (pronounced See-da, stress on the first syllable) is a small seaside resort of about 10,000 inhabitants on the south coast of Turkey, the so-called Turkish Riviera, 75 km east of Antalya where the international airport is. We chose a hotel about 3,5 km west of Side for our hols last October, the idea was to not only lie on the beach or swim but also take in the culture the town has to offer.
3,5 km isn’t far, I’ve walked longer distances in my life, but due to a health problem I wasn’t able to cover even this distance, so I can tell you that a one-way trip by taxi from our hotel was 7,50 Euro (10,70 $, taxi drivers want Euro), a trip by dolmuş (pronounced ‘dolmoosh‘, stress on the first syllable) a mini van with 14 seats = 1,50 Turkish Lira (1 $). The dolmuş constantly cruise up and down the big streets, one doesn’t have to wait longer than ten minutes to find one. When all seats are taken, the dolmuş isn’t full by Turkish standards, I haven’t made any exotic experiences, but have heard strange stories from experienced travellers.
I knew that there was a lot of old stuff to see but when we approached the town and suddenly were in an area full of ruins, standing columns, lying pieces of columns, stubs of columns before we had passed a normal house, I was dumbfounded. And then the Roman amphitheatre came into view which once seated 15,000 spectators. Wow.
When I was younger, I prepared my travels more thoroughly, nowadays I only have vague ideas and superficial knowledge of the places I’m going to visit and I avoid looking at too many photos before departing. In this way I’m still able to be surprised which is a good thing. If you have too much information beforehand, your only reaction after reaching your destination is to compare, "Oh, I thought the statue was much bigger." etc.
The dolmuş stop in front of the old town wall, the taxis beside the amphitheatre. Tourists can go through the site by a mini-train pulled by a tractor (I don’t know the price) or walk around individually, only small areas are fenced in, excavations are still going on. Unfortunately my imagination isn’t vivid enough to see Side as it was thousands of years ago, I’d be grateful for some reconstructed houses to help me along.
We visited the amphitheatre, a ticket costs 10 Turkish Lira (~ 6,60 $). Pity that its condition is too bad so that it isn’t used any more like the one in Aspendos (about 40km away) which is 1,800 years old and the biggest Roman theatre in the Eastern Mediterranean, in summer concerts and operas are performed there for about 15, 000 spectators.
But tourists don’t go to Side to see only ruins, what else is there? Just in front of the entrance of the theatre modern Side begins, a bustling seaside resort. I’d advise visitors to turn left and walk along the narrow street (no cars) parallel to the coast, it’s full of shops and restaurants on the right side which have their tables outside on the left side of the street meaning that you’re looking at the sea while you’re eating.
Is Side full of touts hassling tourists? Full of touts, yes, but I don’t feel hassled, my husband does. I don’t react when they talk to me, I don’t look at them or only with a cold, vacant, outer space stare, I’m deaf mute, I never answer a question, don’t shake outstretched hands which turns them off. My husband is too friendly and communicative, if a tout asks him if we want to eat / buy XYZ, he says no and explains why not, the guaranteed beginning of a conversation which can be difficult to get out of. Of course, many tourists like being addressed, if that weren’t the case, there wouldn’t be any touts, but if this is not your thing: Do. Not. React!
The street ends in front of the remains of the Apollo temple from the 2nd century AD, five columns are still standing or have been put up again. To the right are ruins of Roman buildings and behind the temple is the marina, a pretty sight. It’s enclosed by a mole with many benches facing the sea as well as the town. From there it’s possible to see the coastline in the direction of Antalya and how Side has grown. The mole is the southern point of the peninsula - about 1km long and 400m across - on which Side is built, please have a look at the photo at the top of the site to get an impression.
Modern Side sits on the remains of the antique settlement which was founded in the 7th century BC, the name Side means ‘pomegranate’ in the language of the first settlers and tasty, healthy pomegranate juice is offered everywhere (one glass 1,50 Euro). In ancient times Side was an important port, the Persians, the Greek, the Romans, Cilician pirates, who established their chief naval base and a slave-trade centre there, and Arabs fought for supremacy. In 333 BC Alexander the Great conquered the place, the invasions of today come from tourists from central Europe and Russia.
According to my guidebook the streets are packed with tourists and it‘s hardly possible to move and at night the whole town is a party zone. Well, definitely not in the second half of October, the number of tourists was just right, one wouldn‘t like to see a seaside resort without any tourist, would one? I can‘t comment on the night life, sorry.
From the central square at the marina, dominated by a more than life-size bust of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938), the founder of modern Turkey, the main shopping street (reduced traffic) leads up to the entrance of the theatre where we started the tour. You can either walk straight up or zig-zag up through some side streets which also have shops and restaurants but are a bit quieter.
I visited Side twice because I liked the town so much the first time, on my second visit I went to the museum in the old Roman bath house which I hadn‘t been to before. The entrance fee is 10 Turkish Lira, no concessions, an impudence for what is exhibited if you ask me. Two rooms full of Roman sarcophagi, statues and heads, some well preserved, some not, and remains of columns and more sarcophagi in a garden beside the building. Each artefact has a short description in Turkish, German and English, but the leaflet lying at the entrance is only in Turkish, two showcases have texts in Turkish and English (kind of) which are so high up the wall that even tall people have problems reading them. Not good.
On the other hand, if a museum offers only few artefacts, one looks closely at them which is a good thing. When I see a piece of a column with chiselled ornaments, I imagine the craftsman doing the job and I‘m deeply impressed. No matter where the piece was, maybe high up where it couldn‘t even be seen by the onlookers standing in front of the temple, it‘s perfect, line upon line of floral ornaments without a flaw. So, all things considered, a visit to the museum may be recommended if you‘ve got an artistic or historical vein. It‘s forbidden to take photos using a flash inside the museum, I know that flashlight can destroy paintings but have never heard that it can damage stone so I took some photos inside without qualms of conscience.
Should you ever visit the South coast of Turkey in spring or autumn, include a visit to Side, I don‘t think you‘ll be disappointed.