Side, ancient Pamphylia's largest port, is situated on a small peninsula extending north-south into the sea.
Strabo and Arrianos both record that Side was settled from Kyme, city in Aeolia, a region of western Anatolia. Most probably, this colonization occurred 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 written in this language. The inscriptions, dating from the third and second centuries B.C., remain undeciphered, but testify that the local language was still use several centuries after colonization. Another object found in Side excavations, a basalt column base from the seventh century B.C. and attributable to the Neo Hittites, provides other evidence of the site's early history. The word "side" is Anatolian in origin and means pomegranate.
Next to no information exists concerning Side under Lydian and Persian sovereignty. Nevertheless, the fact that Side minted its own coins during the fifth century B.C. while under Persian dominion, shows that it still possessed a great measure of independence.
In 333 A.D., despite its strong land and sea walls, Side surrendered to Alexander the Great without a fight. For a long period following 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 famous Carthaginian Hannibal. Side took the side of Hannibal, but the Rhodian forces carried the day.
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. Side's importance in the Eastern Mediterranean as an educational and cultural centre can be gauged by the fact that Antiochos VII, who ascended the throne of Syria in 138 B.C., was sent to Side in his youth to receive its education. In the first century B.C. misfortune overtook Side in the form of Cilician pirates, who 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 highly profitable nature of this commerce, which, however, gave the city a bad name in the region. Stratonicus, a man famous for his retorts and witticisms, answered the question, "Who are the worst, most treacherous people?" saying, "In Pamphylia the people of Phaselis, but in the whole world the people of Side". The famous Roman general Pompey ended the reign of the pirates in 67 B.C. and Side, by erecting monuments and statues in his honour, tried to erase its bad name.
Under Roman rule, Side prospered during a second golden age, especially in the second and third centuries when it became a metropolis ,seat of the provincial governor and his administrative staff. 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 an important slave trading centre. Documents from the Imperial Roman period found in Egypt report that these slaves were sent to Side mainly from Africa. It is also known that Side possessed a large commercial fleet which did not pass up opportunities to commit piracy. Maritime commerce was the origin of the wealth of many merchants. These wealthy men did not work solely to increase their fortunes, but also provided for activities benefiting the people of the city, donating large sums to organize competitions and games, as well as to beautify the city and create social and religious organizations. One inscription found above a late period gate reports that two people, whose names cannot be made out, had a deipnisterion or soup kitchen erected for the use of government employees and the council of elders. A woman named Modesta organized gladiatorial events; Tuesianos, another inhabitant of Side, organized a feast to celebrate the return of the seamen to Side; and a husband and wife pair of philanthropists provided for the repairs of Side'' water system out of their own pockets. A great proportion of the buildings and monuments still standing at Side date to this magnificent epoch.
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 construction, 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 of Anatolia transformed it into a war zone. Side was naturally, affected, and excavations have uncovered ashy burnt layers showing that the city was entirely burnt by Arabs. According to the twelfth century Arab geographer Idrisi, Side was at one time a large and populous city, but after being sacked it was abandoned by its inhabitants, who moved to Antalya, two days' journey away; as a result, according to Idrisi, Side became known as Old Antalya.
In order to protect itself from threats coming by land or sea, Side was surrounded on all four sides by high walls. The sea walls have been much altered over the centuries due to repair and rebuilding and have most much of their original appearance; they have even collapsed in several places. By contrast, the land walls and their towers are almost whole, due to their having been carefully constructed of conglomerate stone. 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. After passing through the courtyard and a square room, one enters the city. As is the case in Perge, the gate and courtyard complex were ornamented with many storeys of columns in the second century A.D. and transformed into a ceremonial place of honour. The second largest city gate, also belonging to the Hellenisitic period, lies on the north-east of the city; behind its square towers lies a courtyard that is also square in form.
The main street starts from this north-eastern gate and stretches all the way to the peninsula's western tip in an almost completely straight line. Along this street lay the city's principal official buildings and its squares. Excavations have revealed a perfectly planned sewer system. This system, covered with vaults, lay under the main street as well as the smaller streets. Outside the city wall and opposite the main gate lies the nymphaeum, a monumental fountain consisting of a richly ornamented facade with three niches and with a fountain in front. Piped-in water used to flow from spouts in the middle of these niches.
The agora, the city's centre of commercial and cultural activity, lay along an arcaded street. It can be entered today from immediately opposite the museum. This square space was surrounded on all four sides by porticoes. Rows of stores can still be observed running behind the north-east and north-west porticoes. An interesting 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 establishment, which had a 24-toilet capacity, while in front of the building ran a channel carrying only purified water.
In the middle of the agora lay a circular temple dedicated to Tyche (Fortune). All that is left today is the podium of this structure, but originally twelve columns ran around its exterior and the temple was topped by a pyramidal roof. 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. It is believed that the high platform in the middle of the agora was used for the display and sale of slaves. Behind the eastern portico lay a large ornamented three-chambered building which, due to its architectural peculiarities, is thought to have been either an imperial palace or a library. From extant remains it can be ascertained that the building was originally two storeys and richly adorned with statues. Aside from a statue of Nemesis, which has been left in place to recall the original decorative style, all the statues found during excavation have been removed to the Side Museum.
The agora bathhouse, today used as the museum, is a five-room Byzantine structure dating to the fifth century A.D. It is entered through two arched doorways. The first room, possessing a small cold water pool, was the frigidarium. From here one passes to a stone-domed sweating room or lokonicum. The third and largest of the structure's rooms is the hot room or caldarium. The bath's heating system ran beneath the marble flooring. From the caldarium one can enter 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, which at a late date was used a city gate, lies a beautiful monument, partially restored in recent years. This monument consists of a niche between two aedicules and, according to an inscription found in the architrave, 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 from elsewhere in the city and turned into a fountain.
The theatre is the only extant example of its plan and construction type to be fount in Anatolia. It was erected in the second century A.D. on Hellenistic foundations. Because Side is virtually flat, the theatre's upper banks had to be built into the only natural rise available, which is not very steep, 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. In the upper section only twenty two of the original twenty nine rows survive. Thus, this was Pamphylia's largest theatre and had a seating capacity of 16-17.000 people. In the outside gallery of the lower section, staircases rose to the diazoma. From interior galleries, staircases ascended to the theatre's upper section. The galleries' two ends probably contained paradoses, enabling them to be used as entrances for theatre staff and actors.
The orchestra was slightly larger than a semicircle, and at a late date it was surrounded by a nigh thick wall that rendered inoperative the lowest banks of seats. This wall was covered with waterproof pink plaster which allowed the orchestra to be filled from time to time with water for reenactments of naval battles and other sports; it no doubt also served as a pit for displays of wild animal combat. These displays usually pitted predatory animals against one another or against gladiators. Sometimes even unarmed people-criminals, slaves, and prisoners-were set against wild animals, and their helpless struggle was followed with rude glee.
A stage building rose off a wide podium behind the orchestra. It consisted of a two-storey facade 63 metres in length. On the podium, five narrow doors linked the orchestra ornamented with coloumns, niches and statues, and its lower storey contained five alrge openings allowing for the actors, and its entrance. Between these openings, just as in the theatre at Perge, were marble friezes illustrating Dionysiac themes. The stage building's reliefs have been transported to the agora for the duration of the restoration work which has newly begun is this area.
During the troubles of the fourth century A.D., a new fortification wall was built, and this wall took 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. The most varied and beautiful temples in all of Pamphylia are to be found in Side. Two stupendous temples rose on the peninsula's southern point, right next to each other, the sea and the harbour. These temples were built in the second half of the second century A.D.. Consisting entirely of marble, they are of the peripteros type and employ the Corinthian order. The short sides have six columns each, the long sides eleven. In the fifth century A.D. 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, it is highly probable that one of the temples was dedicated to Athena, who in consequence, would have been featured extremely prominently as a protectress of the harbour and of sailors. As for the other temple, it must have been dedicated to Apollo. Restoration of the Temple of Apollo is ongoing.
Further on, to the east of the last big square off the arcaded street, lies a semicircular temple dedicated to the god Men. The cella of this temple was entered from the west by a staircase up the high podium. At the top of the stairs are four Corinthian columns. This temple dates to the end of the second century A.D. Between the arcaded street and the theatre lie the remains of an early Roman temple. Of this temple, which is of the pseudo-peripteral type, only the podium remains. The podium remains 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, it is thought that this temple belonged to Dionysos.
Dating to the third century A.D., the biggest of Side's three public baths lies on the arcaded street. Its dimensions are 40x50 metres and it is a beautiful building in a fine state preservation. Its various rooms are vaulted. The broad courtyard in front of this building was most likely used as a palaestra. In order to satisfy their for a plentiful water supply, the people of Side went to almost superhuman lengths. Water from the head of the Melas river (today's Manavgat Çayı) reached Side after an adventuresome 30 kilometre journey on two-storeyed arched aqueducts, passing through channels carved out of cliffs, and vaulted tunnels and across valleys before it was collected in city cisterns, from which it was distributed in clay pipes.
Large cemeteries lie outside the city walls. In these cemeteries one can still see many types of graves, be they simple square holes, plain or carved sarcophagi, or magnificent memorials in the form of temples. These areas were called necropoli, cities of the dead. The most beautiful of these can be found in the western cemetery near the sea. 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 must have served as the tomb of a wealthy family. Side has been excavated by Turkish archaeologists since 1947, and excavations continue intermiltently.