The first visit of my recent trip to Turkey was the archaeological site of Sagalassos in Pisidia. We had the place almost to ourselves, a real treat. Few people seem to have heard of Sagalassos, and the site is a bit off the beaten track. However, Sagalassos made the headlines in the international press in 2007 and 2008 due to some extraordinary finds, such as the heads of two Roman emperors, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius.
The ancient city is located in South-West Turkey, near the present town of Ağlasun (Burdur province), roughly 110 km or two-hour drive north of Antalya (ancient Attalia). Sagalassos is dramatically set among the clouds some 1,450-1,750m above sea level in the western part of the Taurus mountain range, making the tour of the site visually breathtaking. Under the Roman Empire, Sagalassos became an important urban centre, particularly favoured by Hadrian, who named it the “first city” of Pisidia.
According to ancient Hittite documents, Sagalassos was established around the 14th century, referring it to the mountain site of Salawassa. Its territory was further expanded after the city’s conquest by Alexander the Great in 333 BC. At this time, Sagalassos had a population of a few thousand, and like the other cities of Pisidia, the ancient city rapidly became Hellenised.
Yet, Sagalassos was destined to grow greater still. After its incorporation into the Roman Empire by Augustus, it tripled in size within a century. Most of the surviving ancient structures we see today are from the Roman period, particularly the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.
A team of the University of Leuven has been excavating the whole area since 1990. Archaeologists have completed a remarkable restoration of the nymphaeum, repleted with running water and statuary (replicas). Erected in the Middle Antonine period (ca. AD 160-180), the nymphaeum consisted of a single-storied pi-shaped façade composed of a straight central section framed by two lateral projecting aediculae. The overall length of the façade was ca. 27 m, for a maximal width of ca. 4 m. The height of the monument was estimated at around 7.80 m.
North West of the Nymphaeum stands the Heroon, a mid to late Augustan honorific monument, nearly 15 meters tall, dedicated to the memory of an unidentified prominent citizen of Sagalassos.
Other buildings on the Upper Agora include the Bouleterion, the Macellum and the honorific arch.
One of the highlights of our visit to Sagalassos was the theatre, built into the rocky hillside above the main ruins and one of the only theatres at this altitude. This theatre’s stage building, which could seat some 9000 spectators, was completed during the period AD 180-210. The building is turned towards the flat conical hill in the background, which is the hill upon which, in 333 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Sagalassians, a fact they were proud of later. Despite its construction date, the theatre continues the Hellenistic building tradition (mostly built on a natural slope, horseshoe-shaped auditorium, stage building and auditorium not connected).
Further photos from Sagalassos and the Lower Agora will be posted in another post (part 2).
Official website: https://www.arts.kuleuven.be/sagalassos/