ancient Lycian city of Tlos, founded on the western
slopes of the Akdağlar Mountain, occupies a
strategic defensive point overlooking the Eşen
Valley. The territory of the city starts from the
steep slopes of the mountain and extends towards the
alluvial plain to the west. The famous Saklıkent
canyon represents the southern boundary of the
territory of Tlos, while the northern territory
extends up to the small town of Kemer. The
neighboring cities of Tlos in the antiquity are
Araxa to the north, Oenoanda to the northeast,
Cadyanda to the northwest, Arsada to the south,
Pınara to the southwest, and Telmessos to the west.
According to the ancient Greek mythology the founder of the city is Tloos, who was one of the four sons of Tremilus and Praksidike. It is also believed that the name of Tlos was originally derived from this mythological founder named ‘Tloos’. Nevertheless, the appearance of the city's name in the form of ‘Tlawa’ in local Lycian inscriptions and its equation with ‘Dalawa’ of Hittite texts seem both to indicate that the initial settlement at the reaches back as early as the 15th century BC in the Late Bronze Age. The archaeological evidence suggests an even earlier date for the first occupation at Tlos; recent archaeological investigations carried out at Tlos and its vicinity indicate that this area was settled long before the Late Bronze Age. The prehistoric finds dating from the Early Neolithic period and onwards detected at Tlos and its vicinity represent the earliest archaeological evidence so far identified in Lycia.
Tlos evidently lost its independence following the invasion of Lycia by the Persian army led by Harpagus in 540 BC. Lycia and Tlos fell into the political control of the Persian Empire until the end of the Lycian Dynastic period. During this period of Persian dominion, from the 5th to the late 4th centuries BC, Tlos witnessed a prosperous life. The importance of Tlos in the Hellenistic period can be proven by the fact that the city was numbered among the six principal cities of Lycian Federation possessing three votes during this period. The Roman Emperor Claudius transformed Lycia into a Roman Province in 43 A.D. Tlos continued to keep its importance within the Lycian Federation and maintained its metropolis status in the Roman period when the city bore the title of 'very brilliant metropolis of the Lycian nation'. Tlos was also located at the junction of numerous road networks. The intersection of seven different land-based trade roads at Tlos clearly points to the commercial importance of the city. Among these roads reaching to Tlos, the southern came from Xanthus, the southwestern from Pınara, the western from Telmessus, the northwestern from Cadyanda, the northern from Araxa, the northeast from Oenoanda, and the eastern from Choma. Tlos became a Bishoprics center during the Christianity. The importance of Tlos in the region evidently continued in the Ottoman period. The best known Ottoman vestige associated with the ancient city of Tlos is the mansion constructed on the summit of the acropolis hill by a notorious feudal Ottoman landlord Ali Ağa. This mansion constructed in the 19th century from the re-used architectural remains of several ancient monuments already existing on the acropolis hill.
Tlos first appeared in the accounts of western travelers in the 19th century. The first scientific survey investigations at the ancient city was conducted in 1992 by the Akdeniz University under the auspices of the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The archaeological excavations at Tlos began in 2005 after these surveys. Following these surveys, archaeological excavation has begun at Tlos in 2005. On February 6th 2009, Tlos was added to the UNESCO Temporary List of World Heritage. In order to represent Tlos in this World Heritage List, archaeological excavations conducted at Tlos pay special emphasis on the recovery of the major monuments of the city, including the monuments on the acropolis hill, the rock-cut tombs, the stadium, the agora, the baths, the Cronus temple, the city basilica, and the theater. In addition to the archaeological excavations, surface surveys are also being undertaken at the site and its vicinity to detect the archaeological remains hidden under the rich vegetational cover on the hills and in the valleys surrounding the city.