“Its not the same as it used to be,” the woman tells me as she sucks on a cigarette. She takes a sip of her raki, the traditional Turkish spirit, and continues. “I’ve been here for 25 years now and Fethiye has changed,” she pauses, “…a lot”.
A middle-aged Brit, she’d invited me to join her and her friend after spotting me eating alone. It turns out she knows a lot about this town.
It’s always been popular with tourists – no great surprise when you consider its position on the water in southern Turkey. Daily boat tours take visitors cruising around the nearby islands, a ferry provides a direct connection to some of the Greek islands, and it’s an easy base for day trips to some of the natural and cultural beauties of the region.
“But the all-inclusive resorts are killing the town,” I’m told. “There are less people coming in and spending their money and the community is suffering.”
I’m not sure what to make of the woman’s statement. She’s got a tough exterior and I imagine it’s more than just an act. The way she looks at me shows she doesn’t suffer fools – harsh but fair might be the best description if she was a headmistress. But she runs a local bar so I think she’s more used to disciplining unruly drunks than misbehaving schoolgirls.
Any claims that the town is suffering from a lack of business is hard to believe. Perhaps numbers are down – I’m not really in a position to judge – but there certainly seem to be plenty of people around the harbour area of Fethiye. Still, it’s always hard to escape the sense of death here. I’ll explain why…
The Lycian tombs in Fethiye
It’s the tombs – the enormous resting places of the Lycians. Carved into the side of the cliff overlooking the city, they never let you forget about the history of Fethiye. During the day, the sun burns down on them and they glow orange above your head. In the evenings, floodlights give them a bright luminosity that draws your eye whenever in sight.
The tombs were built in about 350 BC by the Lycians, a group of people who lived in this region of Turkey thousands of years ago. We don’t know much about them because there aren’t extensive records of their era. What is clear, though, is that they liked to give their dead a lovely view in the afterlife.
Climbing to the top of the cliffs to see the tombs is worthwhile, not just to get up close to the ancient crypts, but because of the opportunity to see across Fethiye and the water. The city would be obviously be unrecognisable to the Lycians who once buried their dead here. And even for the woman at the restaurant, the vista would’ve changed in the 25 years since she first arrived from across the waters.
But the beauty of this location on the Turkish coast is eternal. The same views and natural splendor the ancient people saw is still here today. Yes, Fethiye may be changing in the eyes of some of the locals. But for someone who has no available comparison, it’s a wonderful place to spend a few days.
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