We often forget about Turkey when discussing scuba diving in the Mediterranean Sea. Yet, the south coast of the country, near Antalya, offers crystal clear warm waters even end of October while giving scuba divers the unique opportunity to dive into history with many remains, amphorae mainly, of ship trade routes which exist since the Antiquity. For 2 weeks, I went on a discovery trip to Turkey which took me from Istanbul to Kas, via Goreme in Cappadocia. The country and its millenary culture and history dazzled me and became one of my best travel surprises.
Istanbul, a gateway between 2 continents
A simple look at the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus from the rooftop of my hotel in Karaköy in Istanbul gave me in a second the feeling that the boat traffic has been here for thousands of years. The geographical location of Istanbul and Turkey shaped strongly its history, culture and transportation routes. Being a bridge between Europe and Asia brought to the country all the wealth and culture from both Worlds since Antiquity: olive oil, wine, nuts, metals, glass and jewellery. Even today, a walk in Istanbul markets (bazaars) and Caravanserai (han) shows you as much it has always been a centre of international trade.
The centre of Istanbul is full of the traces of all the civilisations (Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, etc.) that marked the history of the country and its landmarks. To be honest, but this is a personal feeling, I was amazed at everything I’ve seen here compared to other places I’ve been around the Mediterranean Sea. Everything was so enriched by a mix of all cultures gathering in Turkey.
My trip took me also to Cappadocia, and once more in a more remote location, traces of different civilisations were everywhere in the middle of this geological wonderland. I was not expecting to have the same cultural and historical discoveries once underwater… but travelling is also about learning and I love surprises!
Kas, a hidden gem of the southwest coast of Turkey
It took me a while before spotting the perfect place to dive in Turkey, quick research on the Web won’t tell you everything in a second, but the quest was worthy! Hidden in the middle of the Lycian coast, between Bodrum and Antalya in southwest Turkey, you need at least 4 hours from Antalya (180km away) to reach Kas by a beautiful twisted sea view road.
The village of Kas feels almost unspoilt: mountains falling in the Sea, charming port, cobblestone streets, Lycian monuments and Bougainvillaea flowers everywhere. Still, tourists are definitely here, but so much less!
Kas beautiful turquoise waters offer one of the best visibility in the Mediterranean sea. Even non-divers will enjoy visiting Kas. I recommend taking a day cruise to Kekova island and its sunken city. The swimming stop will show you that the colour of the sea here has nothing to be ashamed compared to more tropical locations.
Diving in Kas, an ancient underwater wonderland
Kas dive sites offer crystal clear water with visibility up to 40 meters and beautiful underwater rocky landscapes. In September/October, the water temperature is ideally between 27 and 30°C. There are about 30 dive sites, reachable within 20/30 minutes from the port of Kas. The variety is quite impressive, you can go wreck diving, cave diving and you can swim through canyons and tunnels. Kas is definitely one of the most underrated diving spots of the Mediterranean Sea and one of the top dive destinations of the Middle East.
If you are lucky, you might see dolphins, a Mediterranean monk seal, octopus or maybe even a seahorse. The interesting fact about marine fauna here is that you can meet migrant species normally indigenous to the Red Sea such as loggerhead turtles, eagle rays, moray eels, groupers, and trumpet fish! It seems they have found their way from the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean Sea! But unlike tropical areas where fish are everywhere, in Turkey you have to be in the right place at the right time. The only thing you won’t find here is coral.
The most extraordinary point about diving in Kas (which I was not aware of before going) is not about marine life: there are very old amphorae and other ancient relics ( many of them are more than 2000 years old ) waiting for us to discover underwater. In some areas, there are so many of them that we can talk about “amphorae fields”. One question was bugging me on the dive “where do they come from exactly?”
The waters of Kas are full of classical sites with Lycian rock tombs (in the waters of Kekova island sunken city), amphorae, anchor stones and more. Amphorae beneath the surface of the Turkish waters are the remains of ancient civilisations. On almost every dive you can see pieces of broken amphora. An amphora is a type of container that was used in vast numbers for the transport and storage of various products(grapes, olive oil, wine, oil, olives, grain, fish) until about the 7th century AD.
However, Kas is also a special place from an archaeological wreck point of view… In Turkey, underwater archaeologists have mapped over 125 sites. But the most famous shipwreck can be found East of Kas and it was found by The Turkish sponge diver Mehmet Çakır in 1982: The wreck of Uluburun from Bronze age.
He discovered strange shapes on the sands, for him they looked like “Metal biscuits with ears” or “dog biscuits”. These »biscuits« were copper ingots from the cargo of the Uluburn ship – with amphorae, stone anchors and other objects. The cedar wood ship dates from the late Bronze Age in the 14th Century BC and is one of the oldest shipwrecks which have been fund. It could have been a merchant ship from the Middle East and gives valuable information about ancient trade relations.
The cargo of the ship contained items from nine different cultures. The discovery included ten tonnes of raw copper items, food storage jars, glass ingots, Egyptian jewellery, ivory, pottery and oil lamps as well as weapon arrowhead and spearheads. The excavation of the wreck began in 1984 and continued until 1994, nearly 22.5000 dives were made – in a depth down to 60 meters (which allowed only a short basic time for diving work). The finds are now at the National Museum and the INA archives in Bodrum.
There was an exact replica built and sunk in the spot where the ship was discovered. Replicas of the stone anchors and amphora were placed where the originals were found. You can now dive the spot. This area is now an underwater archaeology park known as the “Arkeopark“. It is also used for scientific training in underwater archaeology such as given by the Nautical Archeology Society (NAS, a UK-based charity).
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