The remains of ancient Simena, now modern Kaleköy in the Kekova region, form one of the most impressive historical places in Turkey. The city’s striking crusader castle combines with a wealth of partly submerged ancient ruins and the beautiful Mediterranean waters to produce a truly inspiring place to explore.
Indeed, it comes as no surprise that Simena is an environmentally protected site; this unspoilt harbour town is surrounded by blue skies, white sand and a wealth of archaeological wonder. The surviving ancient ruins date to as far back as the 4th Century BC but most of the sites to have survived are from the Roman and Byzantine periods.
Although a member of the Lycian League, Simena’s coastal location afforded it a degree of independence from Lycian affairs, instead Simena was a small port town for traders of the wider Mediterranean. Certainly pirates saw promise in the treasures of Simena and the problem of piracy is prominent throughout the town’s history. The coastline was militarised to deal with the threat and Simena boasts the remnants of a crusader castle, erected by the Knights of Rhodes (an order of the Knights Hospitaller) atop earlier fortifications.
Today this historic castle is probably the most renowned of Simena’s sights and tourists can visit the castle which also possesses its own small ancient theatre among other remains. The well preserved ruins also offer great views of the surrounding countryside and the idyllic coastline.
While many of the ruins were submerged when Simena was prey to earthquakes in the 2nd century AD, many points of historical note still remain. It is evident, for example, that Roman Baths c79AD were dedicated to the Flavian Emperor Titus during his short reign by the townsfolk of Simena, and inscriptions that decorate the ruins are ready to be deciphered by the eager Latin historian.
If you’re brave enough, Simena is also home to a Lycian necropolis or burial ground. The sarcophagi are large structures which can be accessed on foot; many of them still remain scattered along the nearby hill side. A Byzantine wall also surrounds the village, while the remnants of a Temple to Poseidon can be discovered nearby.
However, one of the most fascinating aspects of site are the numerous remains which are now underwater. Visitors can see Lycian tombs protruding from the coastal waters along with half-submerged ancient houses. In fact, a small but thriving boat-tours industry has now established itself to serve the needs of visiting tourists – though more challenging canoeing tours are also available in the village while renting a yacht is another option for tourists looking to get the most out of their visit to this spectacular site.
Today, Simena provides a scenic backdrop for visitors that travel year round by both land and sea to experience the awe inspiring history of the city; what was once a small fishing village is now an idyllic coastal treasure trove for the tourist and the historian alike.
Contributed by Rebecca Lewis