When visiting Alanya it is hard to miss the massive fortifications that dominate the skyline. This fort, beautifully situated on the promontory overlooking the sea, is the goal of many hikers who got tired of the continuous sunbathing. Can the area of the fortress (tr. Alanya Kalesi), known in town simply as 'kale' (the castle), hide any secrets and little-known nooks and crannies? It is worth to set off on a hike, discover many interesting places and become enchanted by the stunning panorama that extends from the top of the castle hill.
Brief history of the castle
The documented beginnings of the fortifications on the hill in Alanya date back to Hellenistic times when the city was known as Kalonoros. The fort was then extended and rebuilt by the Romans and the Byzantines who understood its great importance as the castle is situated strategically, guarding the Mediterranean harbor which attracted the local pirates and hostile armies. From the 7th century AD Byzantium was regularly attacked by the Arabs and it this period the special significance of the fortress was fully understood as it was strengthened again.
All the effort put into the modifications to the castle came to nothing when the Seljuk forces attacked in the beginning of the 13th century. The city was conquered by the army led by the Seljuk sultan Alaeddin Keykubad I who transformed Alanya into his winter capital city and started the program of its systematic development in 1221. The majority of the preserved fortifications dates back to this period of history.
The fortress had a purely military function during the Seljuk and the Ottoman times. In the 19th century the first residential buildings were erected in the area surrounded by the fortifications and in the 20th century the castle became one of the main tourist attractions in Alanya. Numerous restaurants, bars and souvenir shops appeared in this area and the road leading to the top of the hill was paved.
In order to fully appreciate the area of the fortress many hours must be spent walking around it. The fortifications are situated on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the water of the Mediterranean Sea. The highest point of the hill is about 250 meters (820 feet) above sea level. The whole hill is surrounded by fortifications, and their total length is up to 6.5 kilometers (4 miles). The walls were reinforced with 140 defensive towers, and there are also 400 cisterns for drinking water hidden in this area. These cisterns enabled the defenders to survive even a prolonged siege of the fortress.
Most of the buildings on the hill are located on its eastern side, where the slope is more gentle. On the western side there is a cliff, additionally fortified by the line the walls, but there was no place to erect other buildings. Some buildings that are an integral part of the fortifications of Alanya were constructed at the foot of the hill, on its eastern side. These are: the Red Tower, a Seljuk shipyard and an arsenal.
The Inner Fortress (tr. İç Kale), which is the main citadel of the castle, is situated on the south-western side of the hill. The city buses and taxis bring the tourists to its main gate and it also attracts most of the hikers. After purchasing the ticket you can explore the area inside this citadel. There are many well-preserved structures here, and the most interesting of them is the church of St. George from the Byzantine period, dating back to the 10-12th century period as well as numerous water cisterns.
The walls surrounding the inner fortress have been partially reconstructed and walk around its circumference provides you with stunning views to Alanya beaches to the west and to the east and the wide expanse of the Mediterranean Sea.
Archaeological excavations are still conducted within the fortress and recently, on its southeastern part, archaeologists have discovered the remains of the building which was tentatively identified as the palace of the Sultan. Other traces of structures testify the existence of barracks and warehouses.
The tip of the peninsula, jutting out far into the sea, is clearly visible from the Inner Fortress. It is formed from narrow and tall rocks and the locals call it Adam Atacağı which literally means "Men Thrower" as here the death sentences were carried out, by throwing the convicts into the water.
On the northern side of the castle hill, just next the slope connecting the peninsula with the mainland, stand the remains of a fortress now known as Ehmedek. This name is a corruption of the word açmedek from already extinct Chagatai language that meant 'the castle in the fortified area'.
Ehmedek fortress was built in the Seljuk era in an area where earlier Hellenistic fortifications had stood. Significant fragments of these earlier walls were used in the construction of the fortress and can easily be spotted when visiting the castle.
During the Seljuk and Ottoman times there was a military garrison in Ehmedek Fortress as well as the sultan's treasury and an arsenal. The fortress also served as a prison and criminals were detained in its dungeons. Moreover, in the fortress area there are the remains of a small bath building, several cisterns and the ruins of many unidentified buildings.
Ehmedek Fortress neighbourhood
The area located near Ehmedek Fortress, also bearing this name, is very interesting, worth closer investigation in search of historic buildings. One of them is the Mosque of Suleiman (tr. Süleymaniye Cami), built in the 13th century and rebuilt during the reign of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. This brick and stone building has one minaret and is a perfect example of Ottoman religious architecture. It can be visited off prayer times, but wear appropriate clothes should be worn. For the forgetful there are scarves available near the entrance, which can be used to hide bare shoulders, and, in the case of women, cover the hair.
Just next to the Mosque of Suleiman stands so-called House of Culture (tr. Kültür Evi) where an ethnographic exhibition, illustrating daily life in the area during the Ottoman times, has been prepared. In addition, nearby there are the ruins of a bedesten or a commercial building and many historic houses, built in the 19th century with wood and stone.
The walk from the top of the hill to the harbor
If you decide to come down from the fortress to the harbor situated on its foot, there are several attractions waiting on the routs. The road leads partly very close to the eastern side of the hill, and the designated terraces allow you to enjoy the magnificent scenery, including a view of the harbor and the Red Tower.
At one point the way to the center of Alanya forks: if you go left, along the main route, you will descend on the western side of the peninsula, right on the Cleopatra Beach and Damlataş Cave. However, if you choose the right leg, the path will lead you to the east, to the harbor and the district known as Tophane, where you can find the Red Tower, a Seljuk shipyard and an arsenal.
Along this way you may notice a small abandoned building of the former mosque, the remains of the Byzantine chapel and a lot of cisterns. One of the gates leading into the fortress has recently been restored, and the adjacent guardhouse is open for tourists (free of charge), from 9:30am to 12:30pm and from 2:00pm until 6:30pm.
The fortress area has the form of an open-air museum and the major part of it is available for visitors free of charge, at any time during the day and the night. You need to buy the tickets to visit the Inner Fortess and Ehmedek Fortress. The combined ticket costs 15 TL (in 2015). The ticket booths are situated near the entrances to both fortresses. Remember to keep the ticket after the visit to one of these places as it is valid for both fortresses! These areas are open daily, in summer (from April to October) from 9:00am to 6:30 pm and in winter (from November to March) - from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
The most economical solution for a single tourist who wants to get t the top of the hill is the city bus number 4 that starts from Alanya city center (Hürriyet square) on the eastern side of the city and on its way stops opposite the Tourist Information office (next to Damlataş Cave). This bus goes all the way to the top and its final stop in at the gate leading into the Inner Fortress. The bus goes every hour, from 9:00am to 7:00pm and the price of the ticket is about 2 TL.
In the case of a larger group it is advisable to take a taxi from the center of Alanya that will take you to the top of the hill for 10 euro - there are official price lists at the taxi stops so you will know exactly how much is expected for the trip.
If you have a car the road uphill starts from the area next to Damlataş Cave. The distance you have to go is just over 3 km (2 miles), but the road is winding and, in some places, very narrow. Watch out for the buses traveling downhill, especially in the places where the road goes through the gates in city walls.
With plenty of time at your disposal you may simply walk to the top, but this is the task for persistent and very fit traveler, especially in summer. This walk can take up to one hour or even more if you make frequent photo breaks. If you do not feel up to it, you might try to walk down after catching the bus or a taxi uphill.