The city was founded as “Attaleia”, named after its founder Attalos II, king of Pergamon. This name, still in use in Greek, later mutated in Turkish as Adalia and then Antalya. Attaleia was also the name of a festival at Delphi and Attalis was the name of an old Greek tribe at Athens.
It is uncertain when the site of the current city was first inhabited. Attalos II, king of Pergamon, is believed to have founded the city around 150 BC, during the Hellenistic period, naming it Attalia and selecting it as a naval base for his powerful fleet. However, excavations in 2008 in the Doğu Garajı district have uncovered remains dating to the 3rd century BC, suggesting that the city was founded earlier than previously supposed. Antalya became part of the Roman Republic in 133 BC when King Attalos III of Pergamon bequeathed his kingdom to Rome at his death. The city grew and prospered during the Ancient Roman period.
Christianity started to spread in the region after 2nd century. Antalya was visited by Paul of Tarsus, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles:
“From Perga, Paul and Barnabas went down to Attalia and sailed from there to Antioch after preaching in Pisidia and Pamphylia” (Acts 14:25-26).
The ruins of the 13th-century Selcuk mosque at Attalia was previously a Christian Byzantine basilica from the 7th century. The Great Mosque had also been a Christian basilica and the Kesik Minare Mosque had been the 5th century Christian Church of the Panaghia or Virgin and was decorated with finely carved marble. The archaeological museum at Attalia houses some sarcophagi and mosaics from nearby Perga and a casket of bones reputed to be those of St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, further down the Turquoise coast.
Antalya was a major city in the Byzantine Empire. It was the capital of the Byzantine Theme of Carabisiani (Θέμα Kαραβησιάνων, Thema Karavēsianōn), which occupied the southern coasts of Anatolia and the Aegean Islands. At the time of the accession of John II Comnenus in 1118 it was an isolated outpost surrounded by Turkish beyliks, accessible only by sea.
The city and the surrounding region were conquered by the Seljuk Turks in the early 13th century. Antalya was the capital of the Turkish beylik of Teke (1321–1423) until its conquest by the Ottomans except Cypriot rule between 1361 and 1373.
The Arabic traveler Ibn Battuta, who visited the city in 1335-1340, noted:
“From Alanya I went to Antaliya [Adalia], a most beautiful city. It covers an immense area, and though of vast bulk is one of the most attractive towns to be seen anywhere, besides being exceedingly populous and well laid out. Each section of the inhabitants lives in a separate quarter. The Christian merchants live in a quarter of the town known as the Mina [the Port], and are surrounded by a wall, the gates of which are shut upon them from without at night and during the Friday service. The Greeks, who were its former inhabitants, live by themselves in another quarter, the Jews in another, and the king and his court and Mamluks in another, each of these quarters being walled off likewise. The rest of the Muslims live in the main city. Round the whole town and all the quarters mentioned there is another great wall. The town contains orchards and produces fine fruits, including an admirable kind of apricot, called by them Qamar ad-Din, which has a sweet almond in its kernel. This fruit is dried and exported to Egypt, where it is regarded as a great luxury.”
In the second half of the 17th century Evliya Çelebi wrote of a city of narrow streets containing 3,000 houses in 20 Turkish and four Greek neighborhoods. The town had grown beyond the city walls and the port was reported to hold up to 200 boats.
In the 19th century, in common with most of Anatolia, its sovereign was a “dere bey” (land lord or landowner). The family of Tekke Oğlu, domiciled near Perge had been reduced to submission in 1812 by Mahmud II, but continued to be a rival power to the Ottoman governor until within the present generation, surviving by many years the fall of the other great beys of Anatolia. The records of the Levant (Turkey) Company, which maintained an agency in Antalya until 1825, documented the local dere beys.
In the 20th century the population of Antalya increased as Turks from the Caucasus and the Balkans moved into Anatolia. The economy was centered on its port that served the inland areas, particularly Konya. Antalya (then Adalia) was picturesque rather than modern. The chief attraction for visitors was the city wall, and outside a promenade, a portion of which survives. The government offices and the houses of the higher classes were outside the walls.
As of 1920, Antalya was reported as having a population of approximately 30,000. The harbor was described as small, and unsafe for vessels to visit in the winter. Antalya was exporting wheat, flour, sesame seeds, live stock, timber and charcoal. The latter two were often exported to Egypt and other goods to Italy or other Greek islands, who received mainly flour. In 1920, the city had seven flour mills. Wheat was imported, and then processed in town before exportation. Antalya imported manufactured items, mainly from the United Kingdom and United States.
The city was occupied by the Italians from the end of the First World War until the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Large-scale development beginning in the 1970s transformed Antalya from a pastoral town into one of Turkey’s largest metropolitan areas. Much of this has been due to tourism, which expanded in the 21st century.
In the early 20th century, the Antalya had two factories spinning and weaving cotton. As of 1920, the factories had 15,000 spindles and over 200 looms. A German-owned mill baled cotton. There were gin mills.
The area is shielded from the northerly winds by the Taurus Mountains. Antalya has a hot-summer Mediterranean climate (Köppen: Csa) with hot and dry summers and mild and rainy winters. Around 300 days of the year are sunny, with nearly 3,000 hours of sunlight per year. The mean sea temperature ranges between 16 °C (61 °F) in winter and 27 °C (81 °F) in summer. The highest record air temperature reached 45 °C (113 °F) in July which normally averages as high as 34.4 °C (93.9 °F) and the lowest record dropped to −4 °C (25 °F) in February, when the low average is as low as 6.1 °C (43 °F).