Ayasofya: Looking for ruins in the Taurus Mountains

In the Antalya region, numerous ancient cities can be found. Some are well-known, well-maintained and touristic. However, there are also ruins that you can identify on a map and that’s about it! The information about these sites is usually very vague and you have to rely on a rough indication of where to find these treasures. Such was the case with the ancient city of Colybrassus (in Turkish “Ayasofya”) which we wanted to visit. But this lack of direction did not make the trip high into the Taurus Mountains, any less fun!

We’re probably all familiar with Ayasofya, the world famous cathedral/mosque in Istanbul which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. However, it surprises us to hear there is also an Ayasofya in Alanya! As far as our friend knows, it is on the way to Gündoğmüş, just outside the little village of Güzelbağ, about 30 kilometres northwest of Alanya. On further research, we realise that it is a famous ancient city, also known as Colybrassus. But there is very little documented about it. So, off we go on a lovely sunny Sunday morning to find this hidden treasure somewhere in the Taurus Mountains.

Have we gone too far? Yes, we have…

The first part of the trip is easy. From Alanya, we drive to Konaklı where we turn right at the centre, heading towards Gündoğmus. This winding road leads us up into the Taurus Mountains and, after about an hour’s drive, we reach the village of Güzelbağ. In Güzelbağ we turn right, following the signs for Gündoğmüş.

We continue on this picturesque road, surrounded by trees, for about three kilometres until we see a white, rusted and bent sign for Bayır Kozağcı Köyü that’s barely legible! We turn right here and the road brings us down through a mountain plateau with yayla houses dotted here and there. The place is deserted, with no-one in sight. We continue on our way, about five kilometres, until we arrive at the village. Have we gone too far? Indeed we have.

Fortunately for us, a friendly driver who happens to be going the same way, leads us three kilometres back on the same road. It turns out that –coming from Güzelbağ, after you take the turn at the rusted sign – there is a dirt road to the left. It has no sign and there is no indication that it is the way to Ayasofya.

At this stage, the sun is shining, the air is fresh and the view is fantastic. We are having fun whether we make it to Colybrassus or not…

A few hundred meters after we turn on the unpaved, rocky road, we see an old, dilapidated sarcophagus.

We have arrived!

Ruins in rough landscape

All we know is that Colybrassus was a city located adjacent to the western border of Cilicia and that it is approximately three thousand years old. It may have been a densely populated centre during the Roman Empire, which is hard to imagine now given the remoteness of the site. It probably also contained Temples devoted to the gods Zeus and Heracles. Many of the ruins are now run down and hardly distinguishable from the other rocks in the dry, rough landscape. As there are so many historic areas in this region, it is impossible to protect them all. Many valuable remains of Colybrassus have disappeared from the site over the centuries. There has never been an official archaeological excavation in Colybrassus, however, stone tablets with inscriptions were recovered, which have provided important historical information about the area. Unfortunately, many questions still remain unanswered.

The main attraction is the huge tomb carved into the rock. It is accessible via an eighteen-story stairwell. It is said that the entrance to the tomb was decorated with a Medusa head, however this is no longer visible. At the bottom of the stairs there are also several sarcophagi. It is suggested that at one point the city was destroyed by an earthquake or war, and was abandoned like many other ancient cities in this area.

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This article was published in Hello Alanya April 2014 and updated on 13 March 2017.

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