Muğla’s center is situated inland at an altitude of 660 m and lies at a distance of about 30 km (19 mi) from the nearest seacoast in the Gulf of Gökova to its southwest.
Muğla (Menteşe) district area neighbors the district areas of Milas, Yatağan, and Kavaklıdere to its north by north-west and those of Ula and Köyceğiz, all of whom are dependent districts.
Muğla is the administrative capital of a province that incorporates internationally well-known and popular tourist resorts such as Bodrum, Marmaris, Datça, Dalyan, Fethiye, Ölüdeniz, and also the smaller resort of Sarigerme.
A relatively small city of 74,371 (2019 census) and often overlooked by visitors to nearby coastal resorts, Muğla received a new boost with the foundation of Muğla University in the 1990s.
There are currently thousands of students enrolled at the university, and together with its faculty and staff, it played a key role in bringing movement to the city and in opening it to the outside world.
The district area’s physical features are determined by several pot-shaped high plains, delimited by mountains, of which the largest is the one where the city of Muğla is located and which is called under the same name (Muğla Plain).
It is surrounded by steep slopes denuded of soil, paved with calcareous geology, and a scrub cover which gives the immediate vicinity of Muğla a barren appearance uncharacteristic of its region.
There is only arable land on valley floors.
Its former profile as a predominantly rural, difficult to access, isolated, and underpopulated region enclosed by a rugged mountainous complex is now coming to an end.
Also in recent years, a major program of restoration of the city’s architectural heritage has enhanced local tourism.
The city remains an orderly, compact, and provincial agricultural center.
The city which retains its old neighborhoods, not having succumbed to the mid-20th century boom in concrete reconstruction, but displays a progressive mind as exemplified by the pride still expressed at having had Turkey’s first female provincial governor in the 1990s, Lale Aytaman.
Nevertheless, Muğla still lacks sizeable manufacturing and processing centers, and its economy relies on trade, crafts, services, tourism, and agriculture.
Tourism in Mugla offers great opportunities for local jobs, and the fertile soil and moderate climate provide a variety of products for the agricultural sector.
In ancient times, Muğla was a minor settlement: A halfway point along the passage between the Carian cities of Idrias (later Stratonicea) to the north and Idyma (modern Akyaka) to the southwest on the coast.
The indigenous name Mobolla, over time, corrupted into “Mogolla” and then further into the modern “Muğla”, appears for the first time at the beginning of the 2nd century BCE at the time of its region’s passage from what was an eastern Carian federation linked with Taba (modern Tavas) and other cities to Rhodian domination.
Mobolla was part of the Rhodian Peraea on a firm basis as of 167 BCE until at least the 2nd century CE.
The Rhodian territory started here and while the region was subject to Rhodes, it was not incorporated in the Rhodian state.
There are almost no ruins to reveal the history of the settlement of Mobolla.
On the high hill to the north of the city, a few ancient remains indicate that it was the site of an acropolis.
A handful of inscriptions were unearthed within the city itself and they date back to the 2nd century BC.
In 2018, archaeologists unearthed a 2,300-year-old rock sepulcher of an ancient Greek boxer named Diagoras of Rhodes, on a hill in the Turgut village, Muğla province, Marmaris.
According to the locals, this unusual pyramid tomb belonged to a holy person.
The shrine, used as a pilgrimage by locals until the 1970s, also has the potential to be the only pyramid grave in Turkey.
The excavation team also discovered an inscription with these words:
“I will be vigilant at the very top to ensure that no coward can come and destroy this grave.”
In 2018, archaeological ruins and mosaics discovered in the city have been confirmed to belong to the villa of the Greek fisherman Phainos, who lived in the 2nd century CE.
Phainos was the richest and most famous fisherman of his time.
Turkish-era Muğla also remained a minor site in the beginning despite having been captured relatively early for western Anatolia in the 13th century.
The local ruling dynasty of Menteşe had their capital in Milas.
Ottoman and Republican periods
Muğla acquired regional importance after it replaced Milas as the seat of the subprovince (sanjak) under the Ottoman Empire in 1420.
The sanjak kept the name Menteşe until the Republican Era when it was renamed Muğla after its seat of government.
Places of interest
Although it is close to major resorts, Muğla has only recently begun to attract visitors.
There are several points of interest in the city, including:
• Great Mosque of Muğla (Ulu Cami) – large mosque built-in 1344 by the Beys of Menteşe
• Konakaltı Han and Yağcılar Han – restored 18th-century caravanserais, the first used as an art gallery and facing Muğla Museum, and the second used for more commercial purposes
• Kurşunlu Cami – large mosque built in 1495
• Muğla City Museum has a good collection of archaeological and ethnographical artifacts, and 9 million-year-old animal and plant fossils, recently discovered in nearby Kaklıcatepe
• the Ottoman Empire-era bazaar (Arasta) – marked by a clock tower built by a Greek craftsman named Filivari Usta in 1895
• Vakıflar Hamam – a still operating Turkish bath which dates back to 1258
The old quarter of Muğla – on the slopes and around Saburhane Square (Meydanı), consisting of about four hundred registered old houses dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, many of which are restored.
These houses are mainly in the Turkish / Ottoman style, characterized by Hayat (“courtyard”) sections accessed through double-shuttered doors called kuzulu kapı (“lamb doors”) and dotted with chimneys typical of Muğla.
But there are also several “Greek” houses.
The differences between the two types of houses may have as much to do with the extent to which wood or stone was used in their architecture, and whether they were arranged in introverted or extraverted styles, as with who inhabited them previously.
Local students tend to hang out in open-air cafés along the İzmir highway or in the caravanserai, or Sanat Evi (“Art House”) – an Ottoman-style residence that has been turned into a café / art gallery exhibiting principally wood carvings.