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Antalya and Surroundings in the middle ages

When the Roman Empire dissolved into Eastern and Western entities, Anatolia remained within the Eastern Roman Empire, known in following centuries as the Byzantine Empire. Antalya and surrounding regions were part of Eastern Rome.

Islam was born on the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century and reached the Mediterranean in the second half of the same century. The raids of the Arabs, particularly on the coastal cities of Cyprus and Anatolia, continued for centuries. As with many other port cities, the people living on the coastal cities of Antalya moved inland for safety. The cities on the coast then began to decline and were gradually abandoned. Through an agreement made between the Byzantines and Arabs a large part of the rebellious Mardaite people living in the mountains of Lebanon in the east were relocated to Antalya and other vacant coastal towns.

However, this measure was not enough to bring the region back to the glory days. “At the beginning of the 10th century, the Christian-turned-Muslim renegade sailor Leo, who was of Syrian Arab origin, raided and ransacked Thessaloniki with his fleet. He returned with thousands of prisoners and a large fortune amassed from raids in the Aegean islands. Byzantium built a second fortification wall around the city for fear of a similar raid to Antalya.”

The remnants of the second city walls still remain standing in the Old City of Antalya. With the demise of adjacent port cities Antalya gradually lost its importance and became a small coastal town. “In the first half of the 12th century during the Second Crusade, a Crusader army on its way to the port of Antalya was ambushed and heavily defeated by Turkmens living in the mountains. The King and the nobility were taken into the castle, while the large part of the Crusader army consisted of the sick, injured and hungry and who became trapped between the Turkish enemy and the castle walls. A Christian cleric amidst the wretched Crusaders wrote that the Turks who saw that the castle gates were being shut immediately called off their attack and helped and fed the sick and wounded adding: “O cruel mercy, worse than death!”

Antalya Old Town


At the beginning of the 13th century, first Antalya and then Alanya were conquered by theAnatolian Seljuks. With Seljuk sovereignty over the region, a new period was born which lasts until today. The Seljuk sultans began using Alanya as a second capital where they would spend the winter months.

“The local Christians who conspired with the Lusignan Crusader Kingdom of Cyprus attacked their Muslim cohabitants on a Friday and gained control of Antalya. The Seljuks quickly took back the city and built an inner wall separating the Christian and Muslim populations. Most of these walls still remain standing to this day. They divided the city into two parts and on the walls facing the Christian sector of the city is an inscription which tells of the reconquest of Antalya.”

The Seljuks were not satisfied with this and resettled the Turkmen Yörük nomadic tribes who were stockbreeders, roaming the higher plateaus during summer and living near the coastal areas during winter. Many Moslem seminaries, hammams and charitable foundations were built in Antalya. The Yivli Minare Camii or Fluted Minaret Mosque, which is the symbol of the city today, takes its name from its unusual shape and was built at an exceptional height for this period. The section reserved for the Muslim population within the city walls became too crowded, so that another wall and a second inner wall was built in 1225, whose towers are still standing.

The region rose in importance during the reign of the Seljuks after being sorely neglected in the Byzantine period. The defensive walls of the city were strengthened and Alanya now has a dockyard consisting of five dry-docks. The Red Castle was built as a defensive and observation tower taking its name from the red bricks used during its construction. Sailors of all faiths and nationalities were provided with the freedom to trade freely and to benefit from tax reductions or exemptions. Security measures at sea and land further stimulated trade.

Inns and caravanserais were built according to the daily distances covered by caravans. It is written that wooden extensions were assembled on the walls of the stage of the Aspendos theatre and were used as a sort of inn. Who knows… maybe a short note left by a merchant or passenger lies still preserved in the inaccessible crevices of the theatre walls after all these centuries!

Beside the permanent bazaars which existed within Alanya Castle, the immediate surroundings of the inns and caravanserais on the roads served as open-air markets. These markets were set up on certain days of the week attracting producers and merchants from near and far and enabling foreign traders to easily conduct business. The local fairs established especially after the autumn harvest were lively marketplaces.

Alanya Castle 

Wealth and prosperity increased thanks to the security provided to merchants. The roads crossing one end of the region to the other had to traverse numerous rivers. Bridges were built over the rapid flows and many are still intact today. The bridges built during the Seljuk, Karaman and Ottoman periods are of immense historical value. These bridges are not open to motorised traffic, but they continue to be used between the villages and towns of the region.

It is known that Antalya was an independent beylik, or principality, after the demise of the Seljuks in 1308. What is even more remarkable is that the local ruler (or Bey) was elected by the inhabitants for some part of this period. The famed Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta visited Antalya in the first half of the 14th century and provided valuable information about the lives of people from all faiths. The explorer Battuta had nothing but praise for the Ahi guild or commercial fraternity, which was based on the medieval form of commodity production, quality, fair trade and solidarity between its members. With regard to the Ahis of Antalya, he had this to say: “I haven’t seen anyone in this world who performed a more superior and charitable work.”

Antalya was occupied once again by the Lusignan Kingdom of Cyprus in the second half of the 14th century, but 12 years later was taken back by the Turks. After the end of Seljuk rule, Antalya and its surrounding regions first came under the domination of the Beylik of Teke and then under the domination of the Ottomans at the end of the 14th century. Alanya first came under the dominance of the Beylik of Karaman and then the Ottomans in the late 15th century.

“In the years following the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottomans, a crusader fleet was assembled by order of Pope Sixtus IV. This fleet reached the shores of Antalya after looting several Aegean Islands. A large metal chain was pulled across the two towers at the entrance of the breakwater surrounding the harbour to prevent the entry of enemy ships. This chain was destroyed by artillery fire. The soldiers went ashore and started to plunder the shops in the harbour of the town. Nonetheless after realising that they could not enter the city, they embarked on their ships and left.”

History books tell us that during this invasion attempt in the second half of the 15th century the crusader fleet destroyed the chain pulled across the mouth of the harbour with artillery fire. The remnants of the chains were taken to Rome and are preserved in St. Peter’s Basilica as a memento of the “Raid of Antalya.” A similar raid by a crusader fleet took place in 1606 in the port of Finike. “The Knights of St. Stephen of Tuscany arrived at the Port of Finike with a large number of ships and laid siege to the castle. Unable to capture the guards of the castle, the knights captured defenceless women and children instead. The knights set sail to Italy together with their captives.”

At the end of the 18th century during the Egyptian Campaign of the French General Napoleon Bonaparte many immigrants from North Africa came and settled in Antalya. Antalya and Alanya’s trade relationship with North Africa is known to have existed since prehistoric times and further increased with the later migrations. Napoleon’s attack on North Africa caused the Ottoman government to repair and improve the city walls of Antalya. This restoration work was recorded in marble inscriptions and placed on the city walls. Many of these inscriptions are still in existence today. However, the next attack came not from the outside but from inside the castle in the early 19th century. The Ottoman guards garrisoned in Antalya started a rebellion. Antalya Castle was besieged by the Ottoman Navy, but the rebels resisted for more than two years. The castle fell with the support of the inhabitants who faced starvation because of the ongoing blockade. The ringleader was caught and hanged and the remaining members of the family were deported to the Balkans.

The 19th century was marked by constant loss of territory by the Ottoman Empire. This loss was exasperated by the exodus of Muslim Turks from the Balkans, Aegean Islands and the Caucasus to Anatolia. Some of these refugees were resettled in Antalya and adjacent areas. These people, referred to as “muhacir” or refugees, were known from their place of origin, such as “Cretan.” These refugees settled down in newly established villages named after the children of Abdülhamit II , or around abandoned ancient cities like Side (Selimiye). Kadriye is an important tourism centre in the south-eastern corner of Antalya’s Serik district. Ahmediye and İhsaniye, within the Aksu district, are notable villages where immigrants from the Aegean Islands were resettled at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

World War I ended with the downfall of the German, Russian and Ottoman Empires. The victors of the war landed troops in Anatolia, so that they could take their share during the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. Antalya and its neighbouring provinces were occupied by the Italians in the spring of 1919. The War of Independence started by the Anatolian people under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk culminated in victory. This achievement was crowned with the Treaty of Lausanne whereby a significant number of Muslim Turks were brought to Anatolia and resettled in their motherland. Antalya received the largest number of settlers in this wave of immigration.