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.
Telmessos was the most important city of Lycia, with a recorded history starting in the 5th century BC.
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 He disguises himself as a small dog and thus gains the love of the shy, withdrawn daughter.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 King 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.
The oracle of Telmessos, devoted to Apollo, had great impact on the course of ancient history.
Legend says that Alexander the Great, on a mission to invade Anatolia in the winter of 334–333 BC, entered Telmessos harbour with his fleet. The commander of the fleet, Nearchus, asks permission of King Antipatrides of Telmessos for his musicians and slaves to enter the city. On getting the permission, the warriors with weapons hidden in the flute boxes capture the acropolis during the feasts held at night.
By the 10th century, it came to be called Makri (< μακρή ‘distant’), after the name of the island at the entrance to the harbor.
Telmessos was ruled by the Anatolian beylik of Menteşe starting in 1284, under the name Megri. 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; it was known as Μάκρη (“Makri”) in Greek. 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.