Sagalassos City Where Water Gives Life

Mutlu Dursun Emel Ernalbant September 2013

ONE OF TURKEY’S BEST PRESERVED ANCIENT CITIES, SAGALASSOS HAS STOOD OUT SINCE THE ROMAN ERA FOR ITS RICH WATER RESOURCES.

Sagalassos Suyun Hayat Verdiği Kent
Sagalassos Suyun Hayat Verdiği Kent

 

You will literally stroll among different periods of history as you tour Sagalassos, one of Turkey’s best preserved ancient cities. On the upper agora you will enjoy the privilege of feeling you are at the center of a great civilization. In the theater, largely ruined now due to earthquakes, you will hear the voices of the people who once filled it and regret that you cannot talk with them. For this is a living history gallery. From the Hellenistic period to the Roman, from polytheism to monotheism, from the republic to the empire - it’s all embodied here in the architecture. Giving a brief account of such a rich and important city is next to impossible. Still, we’ll give it a try.

 

SAGALASSOS IN HISTORY
Although settlement at Sagalassos dates back a long way thanks to its agreeable climate, the area was first mentioned in history when Alexander the Great invaded it in 333 B.C. Changing hands a few times during the Hellenistic period, Sagalassos was finally absorbed into the Roman Empire in 25 B.C. Growing in importance by the day, it become the leading city of Pisidia (today’s Lake District) and was declared the imperial cult capital of the province in 120 A.D.. Monumental buildings were erected in keeping with the city’s role during this period, which saw major initiatives in commercial life as well.

 

But the importance of Sagalassos began to wane at the start of the 3rd century A.D. An earthquake in 518 and a plague epidemic in 548 put paid to any hopes of a return to the old days. Another earthquake in the 7th century A.D. destroyed the city’s infrastructure, after which a gradual decline is observed. Human bones dating to the 13th century show that in one way or another life continued in the region up to the arrival of the Seljuks, by which time the city had already long relinquished its former role and was left buried under the soil of Mount Akdağ.

 

LIFE-GIVING WATER
After coming under Roman rule, Sagalassos attracted attention for its rich natural water resources. The French traveler, Paul Lucas, who discovered Sagalassos in 1706, has this to say about its beauty and abundant water: “Never in my life have I seen a place with so many springs. The waters issuing from the springs immediately form streams, bringing fertility to every spot.” Sagalassos’s rich water resources soon made it the leading city of Pisidia. With a rapidly growing political influence, the city subsumed within its boundaries the region’s fertile plains such as that of Bursa. Overseeing such a productive region, Sagalassos was soon connected to the Roman road network as well. With transportation links both to Anatolia’s inland regions and to its Aegean and Mediterranean ports, the city developed rapidly. And water, the source of all this wealth, defined and dominated the region’s architecture. 

 

MONUMENTAL FOUNTAINS
Fountains, of course, figure most prominently among the ongoing excavations in the region. A Late Period Hellenistic Fountain, dated to 50-25 B.C. and built to meet the city’s growing need for water, was unearthed and again assumed its former function when its own water source was also located. Whoever wants to can drink from this 2,000-year-old fountain. How many can boast such a privilege? But there is another even more magnificent structure here: the Antonine Fountain, which has been reassembled from some 3,600 fragments large and small. Twenty-eight meters wide and nine meters tall, this monumental structure was erected north of the Upper Agora between 160 and 180 A.D. The water here issues from a 4.5-meter cascade. After you see this incredible monument you may decide that getting from Antalya to this site 110 kilometers inland wasn’t so hard after all. 

 

LEADER AND INNOVATOR
The architectural innovations observed in other parts of the empire were soon seen in Sagalassos as well. A bath, for example, the size of the one at Ephesus, and the Neon Library, built a few years after the Library of Celsus, again at Ephesus. Construction of the 9,000-capacity theater also commenced in the same period. One of the city’s most awesome structures is the 84-room Kent Konağı (City Mansion), which sprawls over nine different terraces. It’s 1250-square-meter living room is the largest in Anatolia.

 

But there’s a lot more at this site than we have described here. Unfortunately, but naturally, these are what have come to light for now. Who knows what more may emerge from these fertile lands as the excavations continue? But best of all is go to there and see these monuments in situ. It will be an experience beyond compare!

 

DISCOVERY OF THE CITY
The city was discovered by the French traveler Paul Lucas in 1706, but it was an English priest, F. V. J. Arundell, who identified it as Sagalassos in 1824. A delegation headed by the Polish Count Lanckoronski carried out the first comprehensive survey of the city from 1884 to 1886. After that date, not a single excavation was undertaken here until the 1980’s. Research mounted by a team of English archaeologists in 1982 and the excavations undertaken in 1990, following a first visit to the region by Marc Waelkens of Belgium’s Catholic University of Leuven in 1986, continue today with the support of his university. The extremely important sculptures unearthed in the dig area are on display at Burdur Museum.