Hike Turkey’s Carian Trail, Ponder the History of Western Civilization

Turkey’s 528-mile Carian Trail is part of a growing network of ruin-laced treks running throughout the country.

Hike Turkey’s Carian Trail, Ponder the History of Western Civilization

In Knidos—a city that belonged to Greece in the 5th century and beyond—travelers can explore an ancient amphitheater.

Photo by Rena Effendi

In spring 2021, I moved from Istanbul to a 200-year-old stone house on the Turquoise Coast—and found myself on the Carian Trail. Unbeknownst to me, the 528-mile route, part of Turkey’s growing network of ruin-laced treks, runs directly through my village.

While I can access the path from my front door, the official trailhead begins in the seaside town of İçmeler in southwestern Turkey. From there, the trail slinks around the Bozburun and Datça Peninsulas and past Hellenistic temples and old stone monasteries. It winds by the Gulf of Gökova—there, trekkers can swim in the turquoise water where, according to legend, Cleopatra once bathed—and though there are many offshoots, the trail technically ends in the town of Karpuzlu.

The Carian Trail unfolds like an outdoor museum: Ancient artifacts, pristine coves, and stone villages are linked by mule paths and old caravan routes dotted with campsites and inns. I decided to take on one new section every month, focusing on stretches I could hike in a day.

On my first outing, I walked from my home until the stone path turned to dirt and the houses gave way to coastal shrubs. I reached the first bend and looked back, considering turning around. What if I lost my way?

Instead, I followed the red-and-white way markers tattooed on boulders. I passed beekeepers tending apiaries and wild mountain goats hoofing over loose rocks. I stayed mindful of the thistles and boar tracks, marching down switchbacks lined with wild thyme and sage.

With each hike, I found myself increasingly drawn to the ruins along the route. The trail is named after the Carians, a civilization indigenous to this coastline as far back as 6000 B.C.E. I passed tombs, mausoleums, crumbling walls, and altars. I passed relics of the Persians, Byzantines, Romans, and Ottomans, all of whom left their marks.

The Carians had their own language, traditions, and way of life. It’s believed that Hecate, the Greek goddess of pathways and crossroads, originated from Carian culture. The vast perspective of the highlands and the reflective depths of the shoreline feel designed for roaming and ruminating, and the ruins punctuate it like fossilized epiphanies from those who were here long ago. While hiking the Gulf of Gökova section one day, I could see Bodrum across the water, where I imagined people drinking at trendy beach clubs, and thought: That coast is for vacationing. This one is for philosophizing.

The landscapes converge on the Datça Peninsula, where the Aegean collides with the Mediterranean. The peninsula is the site of the ancient Hellenistic acropolis of Knidos, where one afternoon I stopped at the Temple of the Muses and looked out over Greece’s Dodecanese Islands. As I sat, civilizations, borders, and time lines dissolved: What was left was the realization that sometimes the world changes, and there’s no going back to the way things were. Not even Hecate could navigate the moment our world is in right now. The only possibility is to make room for it, get to know it, walk the path, soak in the present, and maybe try to leave a message for those who come next.

>>Next: As Copenhagen Expands Rapidly, Its Future Is in Its Suburbs

Jenna Scatena is an award-winning writer based in Istanbul and San Francisco.
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