Walking the Lycian Aqueducts

One of the most amazing features of the Lycian civilisation still remaining today is the series of aqueducts that bring fresh spring water from the foothills of the Taurus mountains to the ancient cities of Xanthos, Letoon and Patara.  These aqueducts were built by the Romans who knew a bit about clean water for drinking and the value of baths both for cleansing and social gatherings.

The most complete structures that you can walk today are the on the route from Akbel to Patara and from the Inpınara spring to Xanthos.  For the purposes of this blog, the term ‘aqueduct’ refers to the basic water channel which may be at ground level, or in places, being carried over a dip by a bridge.

For the first walk, starting from Kalkan, the most direct way is up the main road (the D400) from the petrol station in the direction of Fethiye/Dalaman.  On your left there are stunning views over Kalkan Bay, out to the islands and the Mediterranean Sea.  When you reach the highest point on the road turn to your left onto the Lycian Way (Likya Yolu) in the direction of Patara and Delikkemer.   As you proceed along the path you will notice that the route often follows a shallow grove some 20 to 30 cm deep and about 30 cm wide.   This is the line of the Roman watercourse which started in the high valley of Islamlar now famous for its fish farms and fish restaurants.  The route goes gently downhill as you would expect for a gravity fed water system.

However after about 2 kilometers or so you will notice that there is a bit of a drop ahead followed by rising ground and Patara, the destination for the water,  is behind a hill.  The Romans tackled this problem using the siphonic principle whereby water, in an enclosed pipe, will flow freely between two points of similar height even though the pipe is not horizontal.  Strictly speaking the Delikkemer siphon is an inverted siphon as it carries water across a dip.  A conventional siphon carries water across a hill.  Does that remind you of experiments in science lessons back in schooldays?

The Delikkemer Siphon is a most spectacular sight.   The above groud level aqueduct today is about 250 metres long and spans a gully about 20 metres deep.  When built it was more like 500 metres in length and spanned a greater depth of gully.  The pipe to carry the water was constructed from a series of interlocking stone blocks with a hollow pipe carved through them.  Once in place the joints between the blocks would have been  seled with some type of mortar to form a contiuous, watertight pipe.  Whole sections of this pipe are still in place whilst other sections have fallen to the ground allowing the walker to examine them in detail.  You can still see inspection holes in the stones that made up the pipe.  These were there to extract air blocks and to remove silt and other blockages.

Whilst not recommended for the faint-hearted or the safety consious, it is possible to walk along the top of the elevated aqueduct.  This has only been observed by your blogger!!  The main path goes down one side of the gully, through one of the supporting arches of the aqueduct and up the other side.  Definitely the safer route.

Once you have soaked in the atmosphere and marvelled at the engineering feat, a walk of a couple of hundred metres takes you up to a gravel road.  Here you have three choices :–

  • Turn around and retrace your steps back to Kalkan
  • Turn right along the road and follow it down to the main road, turn left until you reach a road on your right going into the village of Yesilkoy and wait for a dolmus or bus going towards Kalkan (in the summer there will probaly be one every 15 – 30 mins)
  • Turn right and after a short distance take the continuation of the Lycian Way heading towards Patara.  This is an excellent walk.  It is just a little longer than the distance you have walked from Kalkan to Delikkemer.  Initially the route follows the line of the watercourse then it joins a series of forestry roads down to the village of Gelemis.  Here you can catch the regular dolmus from Patara to Kalkan.

The whole walk can be comfortably achieved in a longish half-day but better to take things at a more leisurely pace and enjoy the scenery.

The second aqueduct walk is from Xanthos to Inpınara, the water spring in the mountains.  The whole walk, as described in the guide to The Lycian Way, is some 17 km and finishes at Akbel, the village above Kalkan on the North side.  The aqueduct system is between the villages of Çavdir and Űzümlü.  This covers a distance of about 11 km of fairly easy walking and for the most part follows the watercourse to its source at the spring where the water flows out of a small cave.

The whole route can be best viewed from the village of Ova on the D400 in the area of a ‘million polytunnels’.  Looking towards the Taurus mountains to the North and North East, the route follows the lower slopes of the hills from left to right.  The end points are served by infrequent dolmus services so you will need some transport.  For a small party try negotiating a price with a taxi driver to take you there in the morning and to pick you up in the afternoon.  If you are part of a bigger party, ask one of the tour operators for a price.   Volume Travel certainly offer this type of service.  A group of Kalkan’s regular walkers use them every weekend.  If you have your own car, drive to Űzümlü, park the car by the central mosque and ask at one of the two teahouses for a taxi to take you to Çavdir.

The route starts in the centre of Çavdir on the road to Çaykoy.  It is signposted the whole way as part of the Lycian Way (Likya Yolu) and marked with red and white striped waymarks.

Within  a few hundred metres of the start you are obviously walking the line of the aqueduct.  The views to the right are across the extensive horticultural areas of Ova, Yesilkoy and Kinik.  It’s hard to believe that 20 years ago the polytunnels barely existed and most produce was grown in a few glass greenhouses.  Going back even further, some 2,ooo years, the whole area was under water and connected to the sea at Patara.  The Romans were instrumental in developing the region as a trading economy with access to markets via the sea.  Coming back nearer to the present time, there was a plan to exploit the flatness of the plain for an airport.  This would have been a great boon for tourism in the Kalkan area but, as is evident, horticulture won the day.

After about 3 km you come to a point where the aqueduct crosses a steep sided gorge by a bridge.  The bridge forms part of the route and is about 30 metres long, 2 metres wide and about 6 metres above ground at the highest point.  Care needs to be taken when walking across the bridge due to the erosion mostly caused by the thousands of walkers who cross over it every year.  If in doubt you can scramble down into the gorge and back up the other side.

It is really quite amazing when you realise that you are literally walking in a 2,000 year old man-made trench carved and dug out of the soil and rock.  As you get further along the aqueduct starts to flow with water.  It is still used by the local farmers for irrigation and drinking water.  Little did Romans know that their craftsmanship would be still in use in the 21st century.

The route now sticks faithfully to the line of the aqueduct.  If it has been raining expect to get your feet wet.  Even in a period of drought the water will still be to a depth of up to 5 cm.  The aqueduct enters a steep sided valley and the path starts to rise quite quickly.  Once across the natural watercourse of the valley, the path is quite steep for about 150 metres.  At the top you join a forestry road.  Turn left and follow it up hill for about 200 metres to the mouth of a small cave with the spring water gushing out.  You are now at Inpinar.

The amount of water coming out of the spring is estimated to be sufficient for a population of 300,000 people.  As the population in Lycian times was most likely around 30,000 people, you can imagine that there was plenty of water for the people, for agriculture and even ornamental fountains.

This is the end of the aqueduct part of the route.  You now retrace your steps a short way back down the forestry road watching out for the red and white waymarks indicating where the path leaves the road on the lefthand side.  The path is well defined although quite steep and zigzags through cool forests for about 0.7 km up to a sunny meadow overlooking the plain.  From here the path takes you straight down to a road, turn left and walk along the road gently uphill for about 1 km to the village of Űzümlü.  Űzümlü translates as ‘The Grape Place’.  If you need transport to get back to Kalkan ask at one of the teahouses, then sip a refreshing glass cup of Çay whilst waiting for the transport to arrive.  You are only about 7 km from Kalkan.

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About Clashgour

With my wife Margaret I am spending a happy retirement divided between our flat in Richmond, London, our villa in Kalkan on the Turkish Mediterranean coast and travelling mostly in the UK, Turkey and the US. When travelling we use public transport where possible, resorting to a car when it is the only viable option. This blog is an occasional diary of our travels.
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One Response to Walking the Lycian Aqueducts

  1. Pingback: Tuesday Walks – Vicariously | trains and boats and planes …..

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