Side, ancient Pamphylia’s largest port, is situated on a small peninsula extending north-south into the sea.
Side was settled from Kyme, city in Aeolia, a region of western Anatolia in the seventh century B.C. According to Arrianos, when settlers from Kyme came to Side, they could not understand the dialect. After a short while, the influence of this indigenous tongue was so great that the newcomers forgot their native Greek and started using the language of Side. Excavations have revealed several inscriptions in this language. Dating from the third and second centuries B.C., they remain undeciphere. Also found in Side excavations is a basalt column base from the seventh century B.C. and attributable to the Neo Hittites. The word "side" is Anatolian in origin and means pomegranate.
Side minted its own coins during the fifth century B.C. while under Persian dominion, indicating that it possessed a great measure of independence at that time. In 333 A.D., despite its strong land and sea walls, Side surrendered to Alexander the Great without a fight.
After the death of Alexander Side came under the dominion of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Empires, and in 190 B.C. witnessed a great naval battle. This encounter took place between the fleet of Rhodes, acting with the support of Rome and Pergamum, and the fleet of Antiochos III, the king of Syria, under the command of the Carthaginian Hannibal. Side took the side of Hannibal, and lost to the Rhodian forces.
In the second century B.C. Side was able to stave off the forces of the Attaleids of Pergamum and preserve its independence, becoming a wealthy commercial, intellectual, and entertainment centre.
In the first century B.C. Cilician pirates seized the city and turned it into a naval base and slave market. The people of Side seem to have tolerated the pirates because of the profitable nature of this commerce, which gave the city a bad name in the region. Stratonicus answered the question, "Who are the worst, most treacherous people?" by saying, "In Pamphylia the people of Phaselis, but in the whole world the people of Side". The Roman general Pompei ended the reign of the pirates in 67 b.c. and Side tried to restore its reputation by erecting monuments and statues in his honour.
Under Roman rule, Side prospered in the second and third centuries when it became a metropolis. Due to its large harbour, Side in this era enjoyed commercial relations throughout the Mediterranean particularly with Egypt. Imported goods left Side for central Anatolia by road. Side’s importance as a commercial centre can be ascertained by the hundreds of shops occupying not only the main streets, but also the narrowest of side streets and alleys.
At the same time it continued as a slave trading centre. Side had a large commercial fleet. Maritime commerce created the wealth of many merchants. These wealthy citizens provided benefits to the city, donating large sums to organize competitions and games, as well as to beautify the city and for creation of social and religious organizations. One inscription reports that two people had a soup kitchen created for the use of government employees and the council of elders. A husband and wife pair of philanthropists provided for the repairs of Side’s water system.
Side’s last years of plenty occurred in the fifth and sixth centuries A:D. when it served as the seat of the Bishopric of Eastern Pamphylia. At this time there was much consturction, and the city expanded beyond the extant city walls. Starting in the middle of the seventh century, destructive raids by Arab fleets on the southern coast transformed it into a war zone, and the city was destroyed.
After being sacked, Side was abandoned by its inhabitants, who moved to Antalya, two days’ journey away. As a result, Side became known as Old Antalya.
To protect itself, Side was surrounded by high walls. The Sea walls have collapsed in several places. But the land walls and their towers are almost whole, because of their conglomerate stone structure.
The city is entered through two gates in the eastern fortification wall. The large main gate was built during the Hellenistic period. It is flanked by two towers and gives onto a horseshoe-shaped courtyard. The gate and courtyard were ornamented with stories of columns in the second century. The second largest city gate, also belonging to the Hellenisitic period, lies on the north-east of the city.
The main street starts from this north-eastern gate and stretches to the peninsula’s western tip. Along this street lay the city’s principal official buildings and its squares. Excavations have revealed a perfectly planned sewer system.
Outside the city wall opposite the main gate lies the nymphaeum, a fountain with an ornamented facade with three niches. Piped-in water used to flow from spouts in the middle of these niches.
The agora lay along an arcaded street. It can be entered today from opposite the museum. This square space was surrounded on all four sides by porticoes. Rows of stores can still be seen behind the north-east and north-west porticoes. A vaulted building lies in the agora’s south-west corner adjacent to the theatre. This served as the city’s latrium, or public toilets, and is the most highly ornamented and best preserved example in Anatolia. Sewers carried away the waste from this 24-toilet complex, while in front of the building ran a channel carrying purified water.
This agora was linked to a second, state agora by a street running along its southern edge. This agora, too, was square in plan and was enclosed by porticoes of lonic columns. The high platform in the middle of the agora was used for the sale of slaves. Behind the eastern portico lay a large ornamented three-chambered building which is thought to have been either an imperial palace or a library. The building was originally two storiess and richly adorned with statues. Aside from a statue of Nemesis, all the statues found during excavation have been removed to the Side Museum.
The agora bathhouse, today a museum, is a five-room Byzantine structure dating to the fifth century A.D. The first room, with a small cold water pool, was the frigidarium. From here one passed to a stone-domed sweating room or lokonicum. The third and largest of the structure’s rooms is the hot room or caldarium. From the caldarium one enters the two-room tepidarium, or washing area, through a narrow door. In front of the bath was a palaestra with a porticoed courtyard where men could excercise before bathing.
Next to the triumphal arch lies a partially restored monument consisting of a niche between two aedicules. It was built in 74 A.D. in memory of the Emperor Vespasion and his son Titus. During the construction of the late period city wall in the fourth century A.D., this monument was brought here and turned into a fountain.
The theatre is the only extant example of its type to be fount in Anatolia. It was erected in the second century on Hellenistic foundations. Because Side is virtually flat, the theatre’s upper banks had to be built into the only natural rise available, while the lower banks of seats overlay an arched substructure. Twenty nine seating levels can be counted below the 3.30 metre-wide diazoma, which divides the cavea in two. This was Pamphylia’s largest theatre and had a seating capacity of 16-17.000 people.
The orchestra was surrounded by a high wall which rendered inoperative the lowest banks of seats. This wall was covered with waterproof pink plaster which allowed the orchestra to be filled with water for reenactments of naval battles and other sports; it no doubt also served as a pit for displays of wild animal combat.
The stage consisted of a two-story facade 63 metres in length. On the podium, five narrow doors linked the orchestra ornamented with coloumns, niches and statues, and its lower story contained five openings for the actors. Between these openings were marble friezes in Dionysiac themes.
During the fourth century A.D., a new fortification wall was built,taking advantage of the high back wall of the stage building. During the fifth and sixth centuries A.D., the theatre was used as an open-air church, and the parados sections were decorated with floor mosaics and transformed into small chapels.
Two temples from the second century rose on the peninsula’s southern point, right next to each other, the sea and the harbour. Consisting entirely of marble, they are Corinthian columns of the peripteros type. The short sides have six columns each, the long sides eleven. In the fifth century a large basilica was built in front of these temples, incorporating them into its atrium. Despite being heavily damaged, the temples’ ancient configuration can be determined. Because Side’s patron goddess was Athena, one of the temples was probably dedicated to Athena. The other temple must have been dedicated to Apollo.
Further on, to the east of the last big square off the arcaded street, lies a semicircular temple dedicated to the god Men. This temple was entered from the west by a staircase up the high podium. At the top of the stairs are four Corinthian columns.
Between the arcaded street and the theatre lies the remains of an early Roman temple podium. The podium is ascended from the north by seven steps. In front of the cella rise four granite Corinthian columns. Because of its proximity to the theatre, this temple likely belonged to Dionysus.
Dating to the third century, the biggest of Side’s three public baths lies on the arcaded street. Its dimensions are 40×50 metres and it is well preserved. The courtyard in front was most likely used as a palaestra.
Water from the head of the Melas river reached Side after a 30 kilometre journey on two-storied arched aqueducts. It passed through channels carved out of cliffs, vaulted tunnels and valleys before it was collected in city cisterns, from which it was distributed in clay pipes.
The necropolis lies outside the city walls. Graves range from simple square holes, to plain or carved sarcophagi, to magnificent memorial temples. On a podium reached by stairs rises a building shaped like a temple with four columns. Inside this building marble sarcophagi are situated in arched niches. This building dates to the second century A.D., and together with its ornamented courtyard was the tomb of a wealthy family.
Side has been excavated by Turkish archaeologists since 1947, and excavations continue intermiltently.
Today Side is a thriving town with its sandy beaches and 5 star hotels. There are Boat Trips from the Harbour, the usual watersport activities on the beach and tours available to local places of interest.