Still bodies the coloured of cooked lobster lined the beach. The wide bank of golden sand was covered with row after row of plastic sun beds. I weave through the maze of sun-worshippers, away from the beach and onto a walkway dotted with countless restaurants, bars and night-clubs. The footpath arcs into a far reaching semi-circle, following the beach ubiquitously surrounded by flashing neon signs and food menus displayed in multiple languages and priced in different currencies.
There were touting waiters attired in crisp, white shirts and black trousers. “Hello! Where are you from?”. “Free cocktails for you, girls!” “Come join me for dinner”. I walked with purpose; my sole aim was to visit Antik Side, an ancient city situated on a peninsula with a harbour that was once a bustling port during the Roman Era. Submerged in history, Side became a haven for both pirates and slave-traders in 2nd century BC. Occupied by Alexandra the Great in 333 BC and consequently falling under Egyptian occupation, I couldn’t wait to soak in the ruins and the deep-rooted history in the area.
The evening brought a gentle coolness to the air. Upon reaching the end of the boardwalk, the ruins of the Temple of Apollo bobbed into view. The magnificent white columns rose above Side with the Mediterranean Sea a mere stone throw away. Large chunks of engraved marble stones were scattered by the boardwalk.
The temple was surrounded by a large mental fence, protecting the historical site yet also detracting from the beauty of it. It came to light that the Turkish authority were now charging for entry as a means of preserving the site. We appreciated the beauty of the site from the outside and continued to make our way from the harbour into main centre of Antik Side. The high street was buzzing with activity; the restaurants filled up with evening trade with the beach crowds descending into town.
With every corner I turned, I felt like I was in an unchanging maze. The same flashing signs advertising day tours, Turkish hammans and cheap alcohol. The shop fronts lined with sunglasses, fridge magnets and t-shirts.
I pictured Antik Side as a charming harbour brimming with history. There was indeed the Monumental Gate, the City Walls, and the Theatre yet the unprecedented growth in tourism created a sprawl of shops and restaurants surrounding the area.
There was chart music booming from bars and I felt I couldn’t have a quiet stroll through the centre without being overwhelmed by constant badgering from touts advertising restaurants and souvenirs.
From an ancient city to a resort town, the boom of tourism has gradually chipped away at the historical character of Side. The previously free historical ruins have converted to a payable attraction and the harbour is now surrounded by florid hotels instead of landscape. The growth of tourism is a double edged sword, with economic prosperity comes the gradual loss of the local character of an area. I couldn’t help but wonder if I experienced ‘real Turkey’ during my holiday or a watered down version of it.