Kekova Island Sunken Ruins – Kaleüçağız Köyü, Turkey - Atlas Obscura
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Kaleüçağız Köyü, Turkey

Kekova Island Sunken Ruins

Hidden just under the waters around this Turkish island are the ruins of a once great city. 

Before the Ottomans, the Byzantines, or the Romans, this remote corner of Turkey was home to the world’s first democratic federation, the remains of which are now sitting beneath the waves.

The Lycians were a peaceful federation of city-states, dating from around 2000 BCE, and included the sea-trading city of Simena. In the 2nd century CE, Simena was hit by a series of violent earthquakes and sank beneath the waves.

Today it is still possible to see the city ruins, clearly visible just a few meters below the clear waters of the Mediterranean. The ruins of Simena include a shipyard, foundations of public buildings,houses, and a couple of amphorae. Above the shoreline, further houses, a few Lycian tombs with their distinctive arched roofs, and the remains of an early church are visible. A stone staircase can also still be found descending into the calm waters.

Kekova Island, where the ruins are located, is now uninhabited, although a few goats can be spotted grazing among the ruins. Occasionally a villager rows across to harvest the wild thyme (“kekik”) that gives the island its name. In 1990 the Turkish government declared Kekova Island and the surrounding region to be a Specially Protected Area, preserving it from further development. UNESCO also lists it as a “tentative” candidate for World Heritage status.

Swimming, snorkeling, diving, and jet-skis are forbidden in the area around the sunken city; however, chartered boats are permitted to cruise above it at a slow pace, affording a good view of the ruins both above and below the waterline.

Know Before You Go

Two-hour trips around the bay are available on rather crowded tour boats from nearby Ucagiz. If you're staying at Kaş or Kalkan it's more comfortable to join a scheduled full-day cruise on a gulet from Kaş. Gulets can also be privately chartered for a few days or a week exploring the Lycian coast. Another option is to book a kayak trip from Kaş: you start with a bus ride to the seaside village where the kayaks are, from where you paddle across the strait to Kekova, then back to the mainland for lunch in another village. There's a support boat, so if you get tired or the wind and waves pick up, you can get a ride back to the bus if you need it.