Antalya was founded as Attaleia by Attalus II, King of Pergamum, around 150 BC, with the aim of establishing a naval base. It is possible that the town was an expansion of an older settlement or was built on top of a pre-existing one, as 2008 excavations suggest.
In 133 BC, Attalus III, the last king of Pergamum, bequeathed all his possessions, including Attaleia, to the Romans. It is known that the city reached the peak of its prosperity as an important trade centre in the 2nd century AD and that it was enhanced with new monuments commemorating the visit of Hadrian in AD 130.
Of the wall’s entry gates, only one has survived to the present. The gate, erected to commemorate Hadrian’s visit to Attaleia, has the typical appearance of a Roman triumphal arch with two colonnaded facades and three entry arches rising above four pylons.
The three passages are decorated with floral and rosette reliefs.
For hundreds of years, Hadrian’s Gate was encased in the Seljuk city walls, which might explain why it had remained undamaged. It was only uncovered in the 1950s when the walls collapsed. In the course of a successful restoration project carried out in 1959, certain architectural elements have come to light which indicate that the monument consisted of two levels. Two towers of different constructions were found, one on either side of the gate. The tower on the left front of the arch belongs to the Roman era, while that on the right, as indicated by its inscription, dates to Seljuk times.
The gate once had an honorary inscription in gold-plated bronze letters saluting the emperor. A dozen such gilded bronze letters were discovered at the foot of the gate. The upper inscription on the second storey of Hadrian’s gate (which is today totally missing) ran beneath the pedestal or plinth that originally supported a long-vanished bronze statue of Emperor Hadrian or a statue of a bronze chariot, typical of Roman Triumphal arches.
As important as the missing upper inscription letters and the bronze statue is the surviving lower series of bronze gilded letters, forming a second dedicatory inscription to the emperor Hadrian, naming the Emperor’s adopted father.
These gilded bronze letters are to be found in private collections and museum depots; in Vienna where there are 9 letters, in Berlin where there are 2 letters, in London at the British Museum and at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford where the letters spelling “Trajan”, the name of Hadrian’s adopted father, are stored today. These bronze letters were taken by various European visitors from the mound of rubble beside Hadrian’s Gate at the end of the 19th century.
Here are the letters currently exhibited at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
The letters spell “Traiano” in Greek, the language of the eastern Roman empire. This was part of Hadrian’s name, marking him out as the adopted son and heir of the preceding emperor Trajan.
Antique Cities Guide, written by Archaeologist Kayhan Dörtlük