Antalya is the heart of Turkish tourism, and Kaleiçi is the heart of Antalya. Kaleiçi is the old town inside the citys fortifications, and consists of a maze of streets lined by old houses. When I got out of the car and headed for Kaleiçi I had planned to stay just a few hours, and could never have foreseen that I would spend eight days wandering through its streets. It was like exploring a miniature country. Here were the houses of Safranbolu and Muğla, the doors of Ayvalık and Bergama, and the narrow lanes of Cumalıkızık; the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul with its shops selling kilims, carpets and silk puşi from as far afield as Van, and even the rag dolls of Cappadocia. Here were the nomadic hair tents which I had seen on Mount Küçük Nemrut, with women weaving carpets inside them, and the ancient walls, churches, mosques, medreses, hans and hamams dating variously from the Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman periods as seen in many parts of Anatolia.
How could I ever have thought that a few hours would suffice? There was the old harbour, now a marina, encircled by the city walls. The harbour scene looked quite different by morning and by evening, each as beautiful as the other, with the light slowly flashing at the end of the breakwater, the sailing boats of all shapes and sizes, and the palm trees and date palms along the waterfront. It is no wonder that King Attalos II of Pergamum declared this spot to be heaven on earth when he first came here.
The story goes that around two thousand years ago King Attalos sent a vanguard out into the world with the order, Find a place that should be the envy of all kings and princes, a place to draw all eyes. Discover paradise for me. When they came to the place where Antalya stands today, it was so beautiful that they realised they had found the paradise of which the king had spoken, and sent a messenger back to inform him. When Attalos arrived he immediately commanded that a city be founded here, to be called Attaleia after himself. The city changed hands over the centuries, but the name remained. Under the Seljuk Turks, who first took the city in 1085 and on a permanent basis in the early 13th century, it was variously called Stelai, Satalya, Adalya and Antalya.
Kaleiçi is the site of the ancient city of Attaleia, making it one of the oldest inhabited cities in Turkey. Structures dating from the Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks and Ottomans are still standing in the old town, which has an area of 35 hectares and consists of four neighbourhoods, Selçuk, Tuzcular, Barbaros and Kılıçarslan. Both sea and land walls were built right around the city, for protection against pirates in particular, and subsequently a second wall with towers and turrets was built as the city grew larger. It is this second wall which now encloses the old quarter of the city, and around which the main streets of modern Antalya run.
In the narrow shaded streets of Kaleiçi even the blazing heat of the noon sun is muted. Large or small, every house has a garden surrounded by high stone walls, over which hang branches of orange, bitter orange, lemon, plum and wild apricot trees and palm fronds. Great wooden gates, usually double, lead into the courtyard, around which are vegetables and flowers as well as fruit trees. These courtyards are the most important part of traditional Antalya houses. In hot weather the occupants wash them down with water, which collects between the pebbles and cools the air as it evaporates.From the courtyard a staircase leads up to the hayat, a broad balcony off which the rooms open. In the past the word for room was ev or house, and indeed each room was designed like a self-contained dwelling, the largest belonging to the master of the house.
Around the walls of each room were shelves about two metres from the floor. The rooms on the ground storey had low ceilings, but those on the upper storeys were up to 4 metres in height, enabling the movement of air to keep the rooms cool in this hot climate.One day I was invited into a house near the Oscar Cinema by Atiye Hanım, who had seen me from the window as I looked at the old houses. Atiye Hanım had lived in this house ever since her marriage, and her elderly mother had lived here all her life. I followed her through the door, across the courtyard, and up the stairs into a pretty sitting-room with the original decorated ceiling. The house had been restored, and she was proud of having retained most of its original features. As we sipped our coffee in the kitchen, I admired the blossom on the tree beyond the window and breathed in its fragrance. Although images can be photographed there is regretfully no way to preserve scents.
Some of the houses of Kaleiçi have been restored and others are awaiting their turn. Passing old deserted houses I imagined how it would be to look through the courtyard gate and see freshly washed pebbles, wells in working order, crisp white curtains, and windows framing carnations and geraniums. This dream is shared by Antalya Kaleiçi Association (ANKAD), which was founded a year ago to restore the abandoned and derelict houses of the area. When I met chairman of the association Murat Erdoğan and some of the members, they told me about their plans and projects. As more people lend their support to their work, it will not be so long before all of Kaleiçi is rescued for posterity.