Ancient City of Perge
/ By Josh
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Great for: Classical Architecture, Greek and Roman History, Stadiums and Theatres, Church History, Mathematicians
In the heart of Antalya, just a few kilometres from the city centre, lies the ruins of Perge, one of the most important and impressive Roman cities in the region. The sprawling ruins reveal broad colonnaded streets, ornate fountains, mighty walls, theatres, and stadiums.
According to inscriptions found in the city the people of Perge believed their city was founded by a pair of heroes from the Trojan War shortly after the fall of Troy, sometime before 1000BC. Perge first comes into historical account with the arrival of Alexander the Great, who was led into the city by the people of Perge from the city of Phaselis in 333 BC. A few centuries later, the Roman city Perge sees the arrival of the Apostle Paul with Barnabas and John-Mark as recorded in the Bible.
While the city of Perge reached two golden ages, one during the Hellenistic period and one as a Roman city, nearly all of the ruins seen today were built by the Romans. As the Roman capital of Pamphilia, Perge was made a grand and beautiful city as can still be seen today.
While Perge is home to ruined baths, churches, gymnasiums, and much more, here’s a breakdown of the main sights. There are plenty of signs explaining both the major and minor attractions so we’ll just stick to the main ones here.
One of the most striking sights is the city’s 12,000-person theatre built just outside the city. The theatre was originally Greek, then expanded in the Roman style with a beautiful skene (the wall behind the stage) depicting scenes of Dionysus, god of theatre.
Between the theatre and the city itself is the Roman Hippodrome, or stadium (Hippodrome comes from the Latin words for horse and track, and so a hippodrome is a race track stadium for horse and chariot racing). The stadium, like the theatre was also built with a 12,000-person capacity.
The Hellenistic Gate is the only structure to survive from the pre-roman era and is certainly the most interesting. It is designed in a roughly horseshoe shape with a pair of round towers on either side of the curve. The Romans added to the structure and built a monumental archway across the open end of the horseshoe, the foundation of which still remains.
To the right of the Hellenistic Gate is the Agora, or marketplace, consisting of a large open square surrounded by colonnade-fronted shops. In the centre of the square are the scant remains of a circular shrine.
One of the most striking sights in the ruined city are the beautiful streets with its thousand-year-old ruts still showing in the flagstones. The main thoroughfares were surrounded by shops and long rows of columns. Artificial streams ran throughout the city, bubbling out of an impressive network of nymphaea, or fountains dedicated to nymphs and river gods. Today the most impressive of these fountains is the fountain of Cestrus (the god connected to the local Cestrus River, now called the Aksu). The fountain sits at the foot of the acropolis and has a statue of Cestrus reclining while water pours out from beneath him.
Above the fountain of Cestrus is the acropolis (the hilltop settlement) which was likely the original site of the city of Perge. Today there are very few ruins left to be seen on the hilltop beyond a handful belonging to the Byzantine period. The best part about the acropolis is the view it gives over the ruins of Perge and the Antalya plain.
-Perge is said to have been founded by Calchas and Mopsus, legendary figures in the Trojan Wars.
-Perge’s most famous citizen is Apollonius of Perge (d. 262 BC) whose work and definitions on the branch of mathematics called conics (ellipsis, parabola, and hyperbola) remain in use today.
-Perge had two golden ages, one as a Hellenistic power then again as a Roman city.
–Alexander the Great used Perge as something of a headquarters after his arrival in 333BC.
-It was in Perge that the Apostle Paul and Barnabas split ways with John-Mark (Acts 13:3).
-City continued on after the fall of the Roman Empire as a Byzantine city and was finally abandoned around 1000AD as the Seljuk Turks gained control over the territory.
-Excavations began in the 1940’s and continue on today.
How To Get There
It is possible to use public transit to get to Perge. The ruins are a 1.5 km walk from the Aksu stop on the AntRay rail system.
Taxis in Antalya are a bit pricier than some other Turkish cities, the trip to Perge is about 18km from Kaleiçi, though the route may change due to traffic. You can agree on a price before setting out if you like. Make sure to arrange for a return trip either with the taxi driver or make sure there are taxis waiting outside the museum (as there often are, especially during the high season).
Where To Stay
With the attractive city of Antalya just a few kilometres away and hundreds of resorts in the area your options are pretty much endless. If you plan on staying at an all-inclusive then your best bet will be to talk to the hotel staff as they will often have transport options of their own. If you stay in the city of Antalya (the old city is full of gorgeous boutique hotels that we can’t recommend enough) you’re going to be able to use Antalya’s tram system to get very close to Perge as mentioned above.
Planning on visiting Perge? Make sure to check out the other great sights of Antalya!
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