Although the geographer Strabo tells us that Side was founded by the inhabitants of Kyme, a city located near present-day Izmir, in what would be the 7th century B.C., the word side in the indigenous Anatolian language means “pomegranaten”, from which we may assume that the city’s origins are much older than that. Though Side became a Lydian . possession in the 6th century B.C., the Persians captured it in 546 and it remained in their hands until taken by Alexander the Great in 334. Following his death, it was ruled by the Ptolernies and then by the Seleucids. Although the kingdom of Pergamon founded . Antalya in the 2nd century B.C. after a naval battle that took place off Side in order to gain control of Pamphylia (southwestern Anatolia), Side never came under Pergamene rule. Side enjoyed its greatest period of prosperity in the 2nd century but by the end of that period, it fell under the control of pirates and was not delivered from their domination until the pirates were defeated in 72 B.C. Servilius Isauricus, a Roman consul, who also added Side to the Roman Empire.
As Roman authority in Asia Minor waned in the early part of the present millennium, Side became the target of raids and attacks by tribes coming from the mountainous region to the north around the middle of the 4th century and for this reason, a fortifying wall was built across the peninsula, dividing the city in two, and the northeastern half of the city was abandoned. Side suffered steady impoverishment and decline. It became the center of a diocese in the 5th and 6th centuries. Following the Arab attacks in the 10th century and the later influx of pirates to Side, most of the people moved to Antalya and the city was abandoned. The present village was founded on the site of its ruins in this century.
Excavations at Side were first undertaken by Professor Arif Mufit Mansel and they were later taken up by Professor Jale Inan after Mansel’s death. The work is still in progress.
After leaving the main road we enter Side through the main gate (2) of the 2nd century (B.C.) land walls (1) surrounding the city. This gate resembles a Hellenistic period gate in Perge. It is protected by towers set on either side forming a semicircular courtyard. Opposite the gate by the roadside is a big monumental fountain (3) with three large niches. This originally threee-story structure is from the 2nd cuntury A.D. and is magnificently decorated. Today only the first story remains. The fountain’s water was brought here by means of aqueducts from the Manavgat River.
One can drive up as far as the theater. Let us park there then and start our tour of the ruins.
On the right-hand side of the road are the 5th century Roman baths (12) that are now used as the local museum. On display here is an excellent collection of Roman-period statues, busts, and sarcophagi that were turned up in the course of excavation. The statuary is in very good condition and depicts such mythological figures as Hermes, Herakles, and Nike.
The broad area (10) before the museum and to the east of the theater is Side’s commercial agora. Built in the 2nd century AD., it measures 90.80 by 94.00 meters and is surrounded by a portico of columns that contained shops. In the the center was a temple dedicated to Tyche. A well-preserved public lavatory in the northwestern corner of the agora could seat twenty-four patrons. The state agora (25) of Side was located by the sea. The wall (29) that we see on our right as we approach it is the 4th century wall that reduced the size of the city. The state agora consisted of a courtyard surrounded by colonnades seven meters in breadth and three large rooms on the east. Measuring 69.20 by 88.50 meters, this structure was surrounded by columns in the Ionian order. As we may see from the eastern section, which remains standing, the hall was richly decorated with columns and statues. Originally a two-storied structure, the building appears to have been reserved for the emperor’s use on ceremonial occasions.
The main gate through which we entered leads to the city through two gates. These 2nd-century streets are lined with Corinthian columns. The street running south (5) is overgrown with weeds. On the left side of this street is a 5th century Byzantine basilica (28). Opposite it is a small Byzantine church (27) from the 8th century. This street leads to a small road that passes the state agora.
Retracing our steps to see the theater, we first come upon the fountain of Vespasian (now-restored) alongside the monumental gate (13). This structure originally stood somehere else in the city and was later brought here and converted into a fountain. The area also contains the remains of two more fountains.
The monumental arch was blocked up in the 4th century with a wall containing a smaller door. Passing through it we come to Side’s magnificent theater (11). This theater is from the 2nd century AD. The two-tiered structure measures twenty meters in width and is constructed on barrel-vaulted galleries. It could seat 15,000. The stage of the theater consisted of three tiers and was richly decorated with statues and mythological reliefs. The auditorium is divided into twelve sections by means of eleven sets of stairs. During late Roman times, the orchestra was surrounded by a wall to protect spectators when the theater was used for gladiatorial shows and fights with wild animals. In the 5th and 6th centuries AD., the theater was also used as an open-air church.
Alongside the road passing by the theater is a temple to Dionysus (14). This temple is set on a podium measuring 7.23 by 17.55 meters and is 65 centimeters high. It is from the early Roman period (1st century B.C.)
The colonnade street (15) leading past the theater in the direction of the village reached as far as the seashore. It is the continuation of the street (6) we saw entering Side but today it lies below the village Following the route of the street we come to a Byzantine basilica (16) on the right while on the left fare the ruins of baths (23) and the remains of a house from the Byzantine period (24). At the point where street ends there is a semicircular temple (21) in the Corinthian order between the: street and sea walls. Set on a podium that one ascended by steps, this temple is believed by some to have been dedicated to Men, the Anatolian moon god. The podium, which still survives , measures 2.20 meters in height. To the south of this temple is a Byzantine fountain (22). On the harbor side of the plaza there were two temples, one dedicated to Athena and the other to Apollo. Before the site of the temples is a Byzantine basilica (20), a 5th century structure that was built on the foundations of the earlier temples. In the 8th or 9th century , a small church was built in the nave of the ruined basilica.
The southernmost of the two temples (18) was dedicated to Apollo. It was in the Corinthian order, had 6 by 11 columns, and measured 16.37 by 29.50 meters. The 6 by 13 columned temple to Athena (19), measures 17.65 by 35.00 meters: From the temples one reached the harbor, which is now filled in by sand.Behind the main harbor are the remains ( 17) of 2nd century baths. Ancient Side also possessed an acropolis located outside the city ‘walls. The western part of the necropolis is where the modern-day motels are most heavily concentrated. The eastern necropolis contains a number of monumental tombs and is located behind the beach.