Modern Fethiye is located on the site of the ancient city of Telmessos, the ruins of which can be seen in the city, e.g. the Hellenistic theatre by the main quay.
A Lycian legend explains the source of the name Telmessos as follows: The god Apollo falls in love with the youngest daughter of the King of Phoenicia, Agenor. He disguises himself as a small dog and thus gains the love of the shy, withdrawn daughter. After he reappears as a handsome man, they have a son, whom they name ‘Telmessos’ (the land of lights).
The city became part of the Persian Empire after the invasion of the Persian general Harpagos in 547 BC, along with other Lycian and Carian cities. Telmessos then joined the Attic-Delos Union established in mid-5th century BC. and, although it later left the union and became an independent city, continued its relations with the union until the 4th century BC.
Telmessos was ruled by the Anatolian beylik of Menteşe starting in 1284, under the name Beskaza. It became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1424.
The town grew considerably in the 19th century, and had a large Greek population at this time. Following the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, the Greeks of Makri were sent to Greece where they founded the town of Nea Makri (New Makri) in Greece. The town was resettled with Turks from Greece. At nearby Kayaköy, formerly Levissi, the abandoned Greek Orthodox church is still standing.
In 1934, the city was renamed ‘Fethiye’ in honor of Yüzbaşı Fethi Bey one of the first pilots of the Ottoman Air Force, killed in 1914 by Al-Samra.
Fethiye is now known as one of Turkey’s well-known tourist centres and is especially popular during the summer. The Fethiye Museum, which is very rich in ancient and more recent artifacts, displays and testifies to the successive chain of civilizations that existed in the area, starting with the ancient Lycians.
Fethiye is also home to the Tomb of Amyntas, a large tomb built in 350 BC by the Lycians.
Some of the other historical sites worth visiting are: Kadyanda (Cadyanda) Ancient City, Kayaköy- old Greek town, Afkule, Gemiler and Aya Nikola. Most popular touristic towns of Fethiye are: Ölüdeniz, Calis Beach area, Hisaronu and Ovacik.
The island Kızılada in the Gulf of Fethiye, which is 4 mi (6.4 km) off the city, is a popular stopover for boat tours. Alternatively, there are great diving sites Afkule being one of the most famous. The Kızılada Lighthouse on the island houses a seafood restaurant and a hostel with nine rooms.
Butterfly Valley is in the Fethiye district.