St. Paul Trail, Turkey EXPERIENCE S T. PAUL T R A I L
The best time to walk here is in the spring or autumn.
One of the longest footpaths in Europe winds its way some 500 kilometres from Antalya to Lake Egirdir. This is said to be the route which St. Paul the Apostle took when he came to Anatolia as a Christian missionary in the 1st century AD; it shadows Roman roads and ancient trading routes much of the way.
The St. Paul Trail has been developed by the Culture Routes Society, and it is designed to be completed in 27 days, although many walkers decide to undertake a shorter section of the route. Starting at sea level, you climb steadily to 2,200 metres through shady forests and open farmlands. In places, it seems as though the landscapes are unchanged since the time of St. Paul, although the villages are undoubtedly now more developed, and the influx of hikers, and the income they bring, is certainly spearheading change.
Southern Turkey bakes in the summer months, so we began our hike in late spring, when the countryside was still green. Our starting point was Perga, historically the capital of Pamphylia Secunda, though its acropolis dates back to the Bronze Age. The city was the home of the celebrated Greek mathematician Apollonius, and as you wander amongst the well-preserved ruins, it’s easy to see that this was a rich and cultured place with theatres, baths, temples, mighty city gates, and striking monuments, all constructed from creamy white stone. St. Paul wasn’t preaching to villagers; he was spreading his message to cosmopolitan populations, many of whom would have had sophisticated theological and political ideas of their own.
All along the way, you’ll see similar vestiges of the past: aqueducts and bridges, some of which still function; long abandoned cave dwellings; and beautifully carved stones by the side of the path, whose details betray their original positioning in temple walls, as way markers, or as memorial stones.
Today, these cities have long since vanished, and only the stones remain. The route feels ancient, and it is remote and quiet: for long stretches you, unlike Paul, will have no fellow travellers. Unlike the more famous Lycian Way, St. Paul Trail is still largely under developed. You will need to carry your own food, and the accommodation is in village houses and small pensions. When those are in short supply, it is necessary to camp out beneath the stars.
But that, really, is part of the appeal. When you walk the St. Paul Trail, you become a pilgrim, following in the footsteps of a man who changed the religious history of Europe. The simplicity of the journey, and the ample opportunities for reflection, are a large part of its charm. AGP