Sunken City Ruins of Simena in Kekova

Unnamed Road, 07570 Kaleüçağız/Demre/Antalya, Türkiye

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Kekova, also named Caravola (Lycian: Dolichiste), is a small Turkish island near Demre (Demre is the Lycian town of Myra) district of Antalya province which faces the villages of Kaleköy (ancient Simena) and Üçağız (ancient Teimioussa). Kekova has an area of 4.5 km2 (2 sq mi) and is uninhabited.

The ancient Lycian sunken city of Simena is often referred to as Kekova-Simena. The city is a charming mix of ancient, medieval and modern history making it interesting as well as beautiful. In ancient times Simena was a small fishing village and was later an outpost of the Knights of Rhodes (formerly of St. John).

The ancient city of Simena was once of two parts – an island and a coastal part of the mainland. On the mainland the charming fishing village of Kaleköy (“castle village”) stands today, its buildings mingling with ancient and medieval structures. The top of the village is dominated by a well-preserved castle built by the Knights of Rhodes partially upon ancient Lycian foundations. Inside the castle is the smallest amphitheatre of Lycia. At the eastern end of the village is a Lycian necropolis with a cluster of some very nice sarcophagi overlooking the sea and surrounded by ancient olive trees. Near the harbour of Kaleköy is another sarcophagus, popping up from the water. Across the bay, along the island are the half-submerged ruins of the residential part of Simena, caused by the downward shift of land by the terrible earthquakes of the 2nd century AD. Half of the houses are submerged and staircases descend into the water. Foundations of buildings and the ancient harbor are also seen below the sea.

After the Italian occupation of Kastelorizo, Kekova — which at that time was temporarily inhabited during summer because of wood harvest — was disputed between Italy and Turkey. The 1932 Convention between Italy and Turkey assigned it to Turkey.

On its northern side there are the partly sunken ruins of Dolchiste/Dolikisthe, an ancient town which was destroyed by an earthquake during the 2nd century. Rebuilt and still flourishing during the Byzantine Empire period, it was finally abandoned because of Arab incursions. Tersane (meaning “dockyard”, as its bay was the site of an ancient city Xera and dockyard, with the ruins of a Byzantine church) is at the northwest of the island.

The Kekova region was declared a specially protected area on 18 January 1990 by Turkish Ministry of Environment and Forest. All kinds of diving and swimming were prohibited and subject to special permits from governmental offices. In later years the prohibition has been lifted except for the part where the sunken city is.

The Kekova region is 260 km2 (100 sq mi) and encompasses the island of Kekova, the villages of Kaleköy and Üçağız and the four ancient towns of Simena, Aperlae, Dolchiste and Teimioussa.

Kaleköy (locally just “Kale”) (ancient Simena) is a Lycian site on the Turkish coast. It is a small village with the partly sunken ruins of Aperlae and a castle. Access to the village is possible only by sea.

Üçağız (ancient name, Teimioussa) is a village one km from Kaleköy, north of a small bay by the same name, with the ruins of Teimioussa to the east. The name “Üçağız” means “three mouths”, referring to the three exits to open sea.

The Sunken Ruins of Kekova

Visit the Mediterranean resorts of Kas and Kalkan and it will instantly be obvious that every local travel agent is selling boat trips to the sunken ruins of Kekova. Facing the historical village of Simena (Kalekoy), the sunken ruins receive little attention in mainstream travel guides, yet during the height of summer, I estimate that hundreds of people will daily sail past. As well as the daily boat trips, the area is a primespot for yachts to dock in, as they sail from Fethiye to Olympos on overnight gulet cruises.

About Kekova

It sites on a stretch of coastline that is famous for the Lycian way trek, a 560 kilometre route that encompasses famous ruins from the Lycian era. Historians say that throughout history, Kekova has been called by many names including Caravola, Dolichiste and Kakava.

Historical records are hard to verify but it seems that Kekova was most prominent in the Lycian and Byzantine eras. Then an earthquake destroyed it and most of the city was submerged under water. Any residents that stayed after this were subjected to the Arab invasions but final desertion did not happen until the 19th century.

Sunken Ruins of Kekova

In 1990, the Turkish government realised Kekova was a popular swimming and scuba diving spot. Concerns arose about artefacts from the ancient city being sold on the black market and a ban was placed on swimming in all areas that housed the ancient underwater city. Then in 2000, they submitted it to the tentative list for the UNESCO World Heritage site collection. It is still waiting for acceptance.

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