Trams and trotters in Antalya’s Cumhuriyet Cadesi 

The Turkish barman seemed uneasy with my question. His eyes swivelled. It was mid-afternoon on a quiet Antalya harbour front. Were we being watched..?

This was the fag end of the tourist season, mid-October, 2015. It was a bare two weeks after the bombing outrage in  Ankara that had left 102 people dead and over 400 wounded. Turkey’s crucial election, in which the country’s hard man, Recep Erdoğan, was pitching to re-establish power-with-punch, was scheduled in a week’s time. (Erdoğan later swept the board, strengthening his position emphatically).

The previous evening the left wing party, Emek Partesi (EMEP) had staged a passionate demo in Antalya’s central square, Kale Kapisi. The demonstrators carried a large banner with photographs of political figures. Beneath the portraits the banner proclaimed ‘Fascism is the Death of Freedom’. An evening crowd looked on with little emotion.

My question to the barman had been innocent small talk;

‘Your country has many difficulties at the moment?

He glanced his glance to either side, then muttered in Bogartian sotto voce,

‘Do you know what we fear most of all in Turkey?’

This seemed a a good starting point.

It is,’ he said, with some intensity…‘The Police…’

The Left-wing Emek Partesi (EMEP) party demonstrating in Antalya's Kale Kapesi

The Left-wing Emek Partesi (EMEP) party demonstrating in Antalya’s Kale Kapesi 

 There may have been personal bias here, but I was not too surprised by his words. Turkey’s security forces have a bad rep all round. The Police are Erdogan’s Praetorian Guard and have a long history of brutality and alleged torture. I would think of the Antalya barman a few days later when my Bodrum-bound bus stopped at a police checkpoint in the dark of the night. There were only a handful of passengers left at this late stage of a seven-hour journey; all local, except for me. Did I look lethal?

Two young policeman lolled outside the small checkpoint building, assault rifles swagged at their waists. Their colleague, dressed all in black, came onto the bus, with aggression. He barely looked at driver or bus boy, or the couple of locals near the front, but strode straight to where I sat in benign  isolation, mid-bus.

Snarl’ is the only word to describe his tone. Twice; no quarter;

‘Passport..! Passport..! NOW!’

This was no time to discuss good manners, so I smiled – unavailingly. The bus boy hovered solicitously. The young policeman gave my passport a brief, almost contemptuous glance, grunted,   and then elbowed the bus boy aside and marched off. His attitude was perhaps understandable. These were jumpy young men trained to be defensive and aggressive. In the current climate of Turkish uncertainty, they would be even jumpier through anxiety, fear, suspicion. Unsurprising, in the wake of the Ankara bombings and with the current flood of migrants across the Syrian-Turkish border upping the  ante. My bus had come from the uncertain east.


Yet, in Antalya at the EMEP demo there were no uniformed police in evidence, which in the light of the waiter’s comments was no guarantee that there were no police present; as with Beijing’s Tienanmin Square, where people will tell you that it’s not the very visible uniformed police who are in the majority of security officials keeping a beady eye on things. It is the far more numerous men dressed just like you.

Antalya’s quaint old trams trundled along Cumhuriyet Caddesi, their warning bells clanging reassuringly. Where the line doubled up to allow the two-way trams to pass each other, horse-and-carriage drivers touted their trade, wheeling from one track to the other with practised ease when a tram clanked by. The backdrop to all of this was a frieze of ancient buildings; an octagonal clock tower, the Sat Kalesi, its ancient stonework mellowed by the low sun; beyond this, the dome and slender minaret of the 18th century mosque, the Tekeli Mehmet Paşa Camii. In Kale Kapesi square, the EMEP demo earned a fanciful glance of disdain from a handsome statue of Attalus II, King of Pergamum, who founded Antalya in the 2nd century BC. Behind the square lay the covered bazaar of Iki Kapilar Hani. It dates from the 15th century but is today little more than a vast emporium of clothing and tat stalls with a few traditional shops selling local goods, spices and occasional wisps of authenticity.


Antalya’s covered bazaar of Iki Kapilar Hani 

No signs of a country in turmoil, then; just the gentle evening pulse of a city at ease with itself. Passersby swelled the crowd in front of the demo. Their glances were of curiosity rather than intent. People lingered for only a moment or two before drifting off along Cumhuriyet’s boulevarde, west to the wider spaces of Konyaalt and the balcony views of Antalya’s harbour and the Gulf of Antalya and the Bey Mountains beyond, or east, to the traffic din and cafe culture of the broad and busy Ataturk Caddesi.

 According to the tourist brochures, ‘Antalya cannot be seen easily all together everywhere…’ There’s certainly much to see everywhere in Antalya. This is  the largest city on Turkey’s ‘Turquoise Coast’, once simply a commercial transit centre for the deluge of tourists heading for the big resort hotels along the Kemer coast where the only thin people are the waiters and there’s a growing takeover by Russian tourists. The wider Antalya region sees over six million visitors a year, 35% of Turkey’s annual tourist intake.

Antalya thrives commercially also. Beyond the heart of the city, thickets of high rise flats, shops, offices and industrial units stretch through suburban neighbourhoods, all the way to the city’s modern and efficient bus station. The station is linked to the centre of town by yet more trams although the modern twin-tracked AntRay service that runs between lacks much of the old fashioned charm of the old ring-a-ding central tramvay.


Antalya’s old town, Kaleici, is at the heart of the city’s conspicuous tourism. This is the area ‘within the castle’, a network of narrow lanes and alleyways that rises in tiers from the restored Roman era harbour. For centuries the harbour was Antalya’s main link with the rest of the Mediterranean world until, in the 1980s, a modern port was built ten or so kilometres to the west. Now the old harbour is picture-postcard pretty, although its quayside is blanked off by a barrage of excursion boats moored stern-to. For some time now, the theme has been Pirates of the Caribbean. Most vessels are decked out with lifesize models of Cap’n Jack and cronies, while huge plastic replicas of Bill Nighy’s octopodial Davy Jones face are clamped onto the sterns. Nightmare for Nighy; the world reach of celluloid icons; authentic Ottoman pirates were far more terrifying.

A Bill NIghy nightmare

A Bill Nighy nightmare 

 The narrow lanes that wriggle steeply uphill from the harbour are hedged in by shops that overwhelm with their hanging gardens of naff clothing, shoes and souvenirs. |The world’s exploitative rag trade is alive and well here. But now, at the fag end of the season, the shopkeepers sit outside their emporiums dejectedly. They do not bother to connect with a solitary wanderer  like me. They make a brief assessment as I pass; they do not smell disposable income. How do they know that I’m a Scotsman..?  When a tour group straggles down towards the harbour the shopkeepers are galvanised. An old trick; they clock the language of the group leader as he or she passes them. Ahh…German mode. Then, they call out to the followers; ‘Guten morgen..!Are you from Berlin? Munich?’

Veer off to starboard from all of this and  some sense of Kaleiҫi’s old time randomness unfolds along the side alleys that stitch together the long main streets of Civelek, Kaledibi, Hesapci. Here, in interlocking lanes,  are the little pansiyons, the Art and ‘butik’ hotels, all vying with each other for ‘authentic’ Ottoman style. Hesapci is the most appealing. Handsome old buildings, now often upmarket hotels and restaurants, are interspersed with bars and cafes. There are occasional treats such as the Kesik Minare, the ‘Truncated Minaret’ This is a structure that is layered deeply with historic references, from its origins as a 2nd century Roman temple to its later role as a 6th century Byzantine church and then a 9th century mosque. It reverted to a church in the 14th century and was badly damaged by fire in the 19th. A Roman origin there may have been, but a polished marble block at ground level has  barely discernible Greek inscriptions on its polished face.  A few hundred metres  up Hesapci in an old Ottoman house is the Suna and Inan Kirac Kaleici Museum with its life-size depictions of Ottoman customs and rituals and its absorbing collection of ceramics in the adjoining restored Greek Orthodox church of Agios Georgios. Those Greeks…they got everywhere…


HADRIAN@S GATEHadriyanus Kapisi: Hadrian’s heavy Gate 

A hundred metres further on and it’s all Roman once more at the massive restored remnants of Hadriyanus Kapisi, Hadrian’s Gate, a heavy-handed triple archway that was built to welcome the visit of Hadrian in 130 AD. Always the big thinker was Hadrian even unto celebratory archways although his Antalya Kapisi is at least redeemed by its Corinthian motifs. Weave through the throng of fellow tourists waving their mobile phones in the air and you decant suddenly onto Attaturk Cad and  into modern Turkey. Traffic zips past relentlessly on the two-way lanes; the old tramvay adds some easing of pace; the sidewalks are thronged. Both sides of the street are lined with cafes and restaurants interspersed with a few shops and, of course, banks.

 Over lunch in a streetside eatery I chatted with a diner at the adjoining table. His name was Nasar Shaikh. I guessed that he was in his late sixties. He had lived in San Francisco for many years. Mr Shaikh had not lost any of the calm politeness of a precise Indian upbringing. He had retired some years ago, he told me – obviously in great financial fettle.

‘I rarely travelled during my working years,’ he said.

   Mr Shaikh had one son. There was no mention of a wife. His son had veered away from a tightly managed upbringing and education it seemed and was now travelling worldwide. At first, Mr Shaikh had great concerns about this.

 ‘I worried about him all the time. And then, suddenly, I thought, you know, that there really was no barrier to travelling, so I have travelled also.” he said. ‘There is risk in your own front yard.’

   Mr Shaikh was meeting his son in Istanbul the following week. I would have liked to have witnessed that.


One  reason for my coming to Antalya was to visit the city’s archaeological museum, one of the finest in the Mediterranean and of international significance – I may hear you groan. My working life has involved much time spent in museums and art galleries. Enervating work, I promise; but absorbing. The Antalya Archaeological Museum is a flagship repository of stunning classical statutory, the best from the archaeological excavations at Perge, 17km east of Antalya, and a worthwhile place to visit in its own right. Perge flourished particularly during the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC  and again during the Roman era of the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Most of the sculptures in the Antalya museum are from Perge’s Roman period. They are all superb.

IMG_2014The Ulusul Yukselis Aniti, ‘The Monument of National Rise’ 

 The museum lies 2km east along Konyaalt Cad, the eastern extension of Cumhuriyet.  The south side of  the streets is a delight, a series of spacious promenades and balconies overlooking the harbour and the gulf.  The wide expanse of the Cumhuriyet Medani is dominated by a triumphal statue of Kemel Ataturk, the creator of Modern Turkey’s secular identity.  This is the Ulusul Yukselis Aniti, ‘The Monument of National Rise’ (Huseyin Gezir, 1964). The grouping is emphatically statuesque. It is six metres high and stands on a plinth of about the same height. Twelve tons of bronze went into its making. It depicts a triumphant Ataturk on a rearing horse, surrounded by bare-chested  young men and women supporting the central feature.  A placard proclaims the monument to be ‘a continuity of Ataturk’s Principles and Republican Revolutions and the Republic of Turkey’s ideal of modernity that moves towards infinity…’ An increasingly threatened ideal in the current febrile climate in the Middle East; the Islamic State of Iraq and The Levant beating at Turkey’s borders and Vladimir Putin’s ill-judged and heavy handed tactics in support of Assad on those very borders. Never mind the Kurdish dilemma and Erdogan’s leaning to Islamisation which some may allege is chiefly aimed at securing his rural electorate.

    Small moments, fleeting glances, can define attitudes, when least expected. The monument is a constant focus of mobile cameras and curious tourists.  Youngsters raced around the broad space surrounding it. One young boy, in bright T-shirt and shorts, skip-capped, noisy, was clambering all over the monument, posing at its base for his family to take photographs of him below Ataturk’s rearing horse and the monumental biceps and breasts of the supporting figures. Another family group drifted by; in sober clothing, the women in standard Islamic dress.  A young boy with them stared  at the bare breasts, open-mouthed. His father caught his arm abruptly, pulled him away and shielded his view as they hurried on. I wondered if they would even think of visiting the museum where half draped, larger than life statues are the norm.


Where Cumhuriyet Cad merges with Konyaalt Cad, I hopped on a passing tram that terminated at the eastern end of Ataturk Parki, the final flourish of Antalya’s pleasant walkways and open spaces that overlook the Gulf. On the other side of the road the museum lay within its leafy enclave. The building is unexceptional, utilatarian. It was built in 1972 to rationalise the collection which had been kept in the Yivle Minare mosque for years. The museum was refurbished during the 1980s and there is talk of a completely new building being planned.

Heracles C2nd AD 

There are thirteen exhibition halls featuring over 5,000 items, a fraction of the stored collection. Natural History, Numismatics, Ethnography and icons pertaining to the wider Antalya region are well represented, but the red meat of the collections lies in the several sculpture halls, where mainly Roman era statues overwhelm with their astonishing presence. Exhibits from the Paleolithic era to the Bronze Age are the tasters, and then come the the Mycenean and Hellenistic periods, followed by a trio of large galleries filled with fabulous Roman period statuary; Zeus, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Hermes, Dionysus, Hercules, the emperors, Hadrian and Severus – all the gang is here; some missing limbs and noses, but awe-inspiring throughout. A third gallery exhibits splendid sarcophogi; the visual feast, the implications of such a collection outside of Athens, of Rome, is exhilarating.

The Three Graces C2nd AD
The Three Graces 

  I wandered back onto Konyaalt and the old tram back to the centre of town as dusk settled over the Gulf.  They were closing the museum behind me; all those monumental figures frozen in time and night? I wouldn’t dare fantasize…but…just imagine them all slowly coming to life for a nightshift of real life. The city was brimming with real life enough and with real people strolling everywhere in the warmth of evening. The bars and cafes on Ataturk Cad were rocking, the trendy eateries in Hesapci were beginning to draw custom,  the old trams sighed along the tracks their bells injecting harmony as much as warning into the night air. And still no police in evidence.

Antalya’s Yivle Minare minaret with the Bey Mountains beyond 



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