A different history of Olympos

It’s been almost 20 years the first time I was in Olympos. No, not the one in Greece, the one in Turkey, near to Antalya. Olympos was a Lycian city, dating back 4th century BC, located in a beautiful river valley between the Beydaglari mountain group along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey.

Till the end of the 90s, Olympos was a hidden gem, even for Turkish tourists who was not from the region. There was no bus or anything similar driving down to the valley of Olympos. The only way to get there was to catch a bus from Antalya till somewhere near to Cirali / Kumluca, get off in the middle of the main road, then either walk 12 km. down the valley or wait and hitchhike (maybe for hours) till someone drives by and takes you to Olympos.

The moment I arrived I fell in love with the magical atmosphere of Olympos. There were only a dozen of tree houses and backpackers from Australia and New Zealand and only a few Turkish students. It was not like just going to a regular vacation destination. It was like joining a community of campers, nature lovers, backpackers, hikers, adventurers… It was something different, something which I had been looking for in my early twenties.

Summer vacation in Olympos - View from Hill - Mediterranean Sea - Antalya - Turkey
Photo by Ingmar Sörgens

Imagine a place, there are no hotels, no cars, no souvenirs shops, no tourist traps, no expensive meals or drinks. Imagine a place there are shaky tree houses which you can’t (don’t need to) lock up, imagine locals preparing breakfast and dinner with vegetables from their own garden, imagine people sitting under the pergola the whole evening eating, drinking and chatting… There were no wild parties going on. It was all chillaxed. Imagine a place where you can spend days and hours laying under a pergola listening to the noise of the  crickets. Here I found the peace I was looking for.

The 1,5 km. dusty path along the ruins of the ancient Lycian city ended at the beach where the crystal clear waters were shimmering like the eyes of the Goddess of Olympus. At the beach, at night, there was no single light distracting from the darkness of the sky so that I could count hundreds of falling stars within an hour. Even the sea turtles chose this beach to lay their eggs. Then the huge blood orange coloured moon raised in the horizon to break through the night. I am not able to find the right words to describe its beauty, its majesty, its pureness. I was here and now and never wanted to keep that moment for ever.

Summer vacation in Olympos Beach - Mediterranean Sea - Antalya - Turkey

The legendary beauty of this place spread out and each year I observed a new place offering new tree houses, this time with locks. With every new tree house more people came to stay. The nature lover adventurous backpacker community was shrinking every year more and more while another type of people started occupying the pergolas.

Women were not wearing comfy shorts and sandals anymore, but make up, fancy dresses and high hills for dinner. Men were not saving a lizard’s life by putting it back to the tree, but killing the grasshoppers which unwillingly surprised them while eating at the table.

I didn’t like the new visitors. I stopped going to Olympos.

Summer vacation in Olympos - The Ruins of the Lycian City - Mediterranean Sea - Antalya - Turkey

After a long pause, I went to Olympos again in the summer of 2007, with my partner, to share my joy I had in this place back then. Instead, I had to face the truth that this place had lost its magic. Or was it me, who changed?

The shaky tree houses and outdoor showers were disappeared. Huts with en suite shower and WC were built instead. From the main road there was a shuttle bus now driving down the valley. The bumpy empty road with no cars was not empty anymore. Every 2 minutes a van drove by to deliver supplies. After dinner people went to a “club” which was build inside the rock of the mountain. There were souvenirs shops… It was all institutionalised.

I felt sad. Really sad. Because I lost something, a place where I could have returned everytime I needed a little bit of peace. Luckily it is not allowed to build anything here, as it is part of the Beydaglari National Park. If it wasn’t, I imagine the outcome would have been even worse.

Summer vacation in Olympos - Sitting under Pergola - Mediterranean Sea - Antalya - Turkey

Before Olympos, it was the Butterfly Valley near Fethiye, again off the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, which was gentrified and spoilt till the magical butterflies left the valley. I haven’t been to Thailand yet but I imagine a similar “development”. The spirit of the full moon parties back in the 70s must have been totally different than the full moon parties today, which leave behind only trash and lost souls of hang-overs, as far as the photos and videos tell.

So what is actually my summary out of this story? I believe it is us ourselves creating something magical in a specific place, and again us destroying it, by sharing the joy with other people and exposing the secret to the masses. There is nothing wrong with sharing something beautiful with others. It is one of the most natural behaviours, I guess. Well, for me it is. Obviously… Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this blog.

But what then?

The magic was created by people whose paths crossed at that very place for unknown reasons, call it the universe or the spirits… That magic paused in that place for a while only to move somewhere else to meet its new creators.

Be that creator. Create your own magic!

Summer vacation in Olympos - Mediterranean Sea - Antalya - Turkey

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