Turkey’s Mediterranean coast is dotted with spectacular towns but none stand out as much as Antalya does. With the beautiful sea on one side and the towering Taurus mountains on the other, Antalya is the country’s eighth most populous city but enjoys the reputation of being a resort city. However, it is easy to overlook the history that surrounds it.
Antalya’s history goes back to the Paleolithic Age and finds mention in Homer’s Illiad. It was ruled by a succession of dynasties from Alexander to the Romans, Byzantines and Seljuks and finally the Ottomans, owing to its prominent position in Anatolia. Some of this is vividly depicted in the massive Antalya Museum, the city’s most prominent landmark, especially for history buffs and culture vultures.
The museum’s façade is both imposing and simple but it is the inside that is enticing and enchanting in equal parts. The museum’s own history goes back to the end of World War I when a local teacher fought to protect archaeological treasures from being removed from the country. An ad hoc museum came up in 1922 while the current building took shape in 1972 and a modern version came into being in 1985. It is known to have an impressive inventory of over 30,000 objects of which around 5,000 are on display.
The museum begins with evocative displays of archaeological finds in the area, pointing to Antalya region’s long history, but it is what follows that manages to take the breath away. In the Hall of Gods and Goddesses, stunning and gigantic marble and stone statues of Greek gods and goddesses from the 2nd century AD line the walls and corridors. Excavated at Perge, an ancient city in the region, the line-up includes almost all the big names in the Greek pantheon, including Zeus, Artemis, Athena, Aphrodite, Hermes, Apollo and Nemesis. There are also those of Egyptian origin such as Isis, Serapis and Harpo.
Equally striking is the Hall of Emperors and Empresses, which has statues of the Roman royal lineage, including emperor Hadrian and his wife Sabina, and emperor Septimus Severus. There are also other interesting exhibits such as the statue of Plancia Magna, the patroness of Perge, a set of three beautiful statues called the Three Graces. The highlight of course is the sarcophagus of Hercules with its exquisite engravings on the façade.
Quite apart from these, other interesting areas include displays of mosaics, ceramics and an area for children. In fact, the exhibits are quite extensive and can be overwhelming to absorb. But this can be easily countered with a break in the museum’s garden section and has an eclectic collection of sculptures including that of a large Medusa as well as other structures. But these are scattered amidst trees, plants and lush gardens, thereby providing the perfect place to take a break before heading back inside to continue with the intense and gripping dose of history.