It has taken me some years to come and see Perge. Not because it is far away, is cumbersome, uninteresting or something. Almost the opposite. But sometimes it’s just because…. And doesn’t it say something about how much there is to see in Antalya and surroundings ??
And Perge is a place that would be a real shame to miss. Well, if you are not at all into ruins, history and something like that … It might be a bit trivial. But anyway … I’m sure, you can’t help but be just a little impressed with how big the city is and how structured it is. At least I was very impressed (and I really don’t think anyone ever has been hurt by learning a little culture and history).
For Perge, one of the oldest cities in Pamphylia (an area of present-day Turkey), was an important center of art and culture in ancient times. Unfortunately, I want to say, you can’t really see statues out there (other than you clearly have a feeling, that there must have been many). The vast majority are at one of the world’s best archaeological museums – that is, right inside Antalya city. And there you would like to – believe me. You can read more about this here. But architecture, art and sculptures were highly developed in Perge.
The founding of Perge:
It might be a bit hardcore to start writing about statues. But it is interesting to know, that Perge is so old, that the first settlements started with the hitites in the year 1500 BC. The buildings, you can see now, are about 500 years younger. From about year 1000 BC and onwards, the city was constantly expanded, modified and rebuilt for the next 1800 years, depending on whether it was the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines or Selcukes who ruled. In the 12th century, Perge was finally abandoned and destroyed by the Selds and the Arabs.
So Perge is a bit composed of the different times, rulers and their style of construction. But still equally impressive. Perge was built 20 km inland, as the coast was badly plagued by pirates about 1000 BC. The pirates are one of the reasons why the beautiful city of Phaselis were destroyed.
If you just need a quick overview, then you can roughly say, that there are 3 important periods in Perges history:
- 1: The Hellenistic era from the 3-2 century BC. Here were the magnificent walls and towers built (only some of it stands today)
- The era with the Roman Empire, starting in the 2nd century AD. And this period can really be seen still. Incredibly many monuments and buildings are still standing. You can still see the theater, the big stage, the streets with the pillars, the bath houses, the fountains, the high school, the shopping center, etc.
- The Christian period 5-6 years old, where the city was again a Metropolis. That is, a place that was the center of the learned and educated, an economic and administrative hub for the area. During this period, several churches were built, just as the city walls were repaired and extended. Partly because the mountain tribes threatened from one side and the Arabs from the other.
The breath of history:
And in fact you can almost feel the breath of history, when you are there. It was here, that Alexander the Great came after leaving Antalya and Phaselis during the war against the Persians in 333 BC. And as if it wasn’t enough, Skt. Paul (the disciple and the evangelist) also stayed in Perge for two occasions. However, it was a short visit to the first mission trip in the year 46 AD together with Skt. Barbabas, before they were to sail from Attaleia (presently Antalya to Antioch). The second time was a little longer and in the 1st year AD. Can you sense those istoric breaths now? 😉
And that brings us back to the statues. In Antiquity, statues had an important function. In addition to being highly decorative, they should first and foremost express the city’s heroic past and pay tribute to the city’s intellectual elite and sporting achievements. That is, the scholars and the gymnasts, the heroes, the lawyers, the various rulers and their foremost supporters.
And it was precisely here, that Perge was something quite special. The place has not yet been fully excavated, even though it started in 1946. So there are regularly new finds. At the archaeological museum in Antalya city, a whole room dedicated only to statues, sarcophagi, etc. from Perge. In 1985, for example, a 3-meter statue of Alexander the Great was found, the wine god Dionysos came into existence in 1987. A 65-meter long frieze of precisely Dionyso’s birth was found in the theater, so did the 4 m high statue of Hermes and more than 300 other statues can be seen at the museum.
Do you know Perges “son”?
The statue of Heracles first came to the assembly, when the Boston Museum was convinced, that Turkey should have it back. As you probably know, there have been many of these cases around the world over the years. The Americans were first convinced to hand over the head of the statue, when the body was found during the excavations in Perge.
You will also be able to find statues of Pergé’s “son” Apollonius, who was a geometric and astronomer. He was a quite famous gentleman in the city (and the surrounding area) and was a student of the renowned Archimedes. I am not interested in mathematics, but I have read that Apollonius worked and named works on conic sections, ellipses, parabola and hyperbola.
Perge – and all the many buildings:
It’s hard to imagine, how big the city is, before you get out there. At least I have never seen anything like this (even though I have seen a lot soon).
The first thing that meets you, is the great theater, made in Greek style and changed a bit along the way, as the Romans took over the city. The theater is complete with horseshoe-shaped orchestra, a large stage building added by the Romans and with total seating for 14,000 people.
Unfortunately, one cannot come in and see the theater, as it has been closed for years due to excavations and poor condition. In fact, large parts of the scene have collapsed, as the road from Aksu to the northern villages goes through Perge, right between the Theater and the stadium. The heavy trucks with sand create vibrations, that the old buildings cannot sustain. A real sin (and unfortunately quite typically Turkish – at least in the past. Now they are more aware of preserving the story and finding a solution).
Water Art in Antiquity:
As if all the other buildings do not impress by themselves, some of the most impressive are the 20 m wide column street, once covered with marble and with shops on both sides. The street was covered and on the meter-high columns there were statues of prominent citizens. As something special, a long channel runs in the middle of the street. One would think, that it was to collect waste water, but no … It was made to delight the senses, so that one could enjoy the reflections in the water, hear the gurgling sounds and cool down on the hottest days. It’s something that was very unusual and not found so many other places.
I like when you can really see relics, from when the city was in use. So therefore, it annoys me all the more, that I did not just see the sign from the butcher’s with a hook and a knife (you find it in the northeast corner of the agora / trading place). I first read that, when I got home. So herewith the tip is passed on.
But fortunately, it is easy to see the wheel tracks of the heavy wagons, that drove around in and out of town. They are several places in the city, so here should be a chance to spot them.
As you enter the city, it is through the Roman gate. And next are the Roman baths, then covered with marble and with cold and hot water, steam, etc. The large stadium is also close by and is quite fun to step into. Absolutely unbelievable, though it is in ruins. And huge. At the time of the seating there were covered shops, but today it is a natural storage space for the archaeologists and all the many finds.
You can also find the remains of the fine Artemis temple, as well as the many beautiful burial grounds located just outside the western city gate. And so infinitely more. It’s just about exploring – there are plenty of opportunities.
Why should you go out there?
Well, if you’re not already convinced, then we’ll take it right again. You have to go to Perge, because you really want to be impressed. And get a little bit of awe about how you lived at that time, how well organized it was, how magnificent the city was with its many long marble-clad streets with water art and impressive meter-high columns along the streets. And have you ever seen such a real old stadium (and no, it’s not the local, worn 70’s gymnasium with accompanying race track, I’m talking about). This is the real thing with stone seating for 12,000 people, arches, columns and statues.
And then it is not far from Antalya or difficult to get out there (and if you come from Alanya it is almost on the road to Antalya). You can even take the metro out there (the one towards Aksu) and then either take a taxi or walk the last 2 km towards Perge. A real Turk will cross (maybe not just !!) to go so far. But it is not so bad – unless of course you go in the middle of summer and in the worst heat. So let it go.
Getting started is easy:
In fact, I would recommend coming either very early in the morning in the high season or coming there in the spring / autumn, where there is not so hot. For Perge is a huge area – and is completely open to the sun. So have plenty of water with you and some good shoes. Because you’re going to walk a lot.
Calculate about 2-3 hours for a visit, unless you have a lot of geeks with you. We spent 2 ½ hours and it was not enough at all (probably also influenced by grandfather who stood and tripped a little in the background). If you also want to climb the hill and see the burial grounds and ruins there, then you need even more time.
It is not even very expensive to enter – around 30 lira. And it’s even cheaper if you have a museum passport or are a senior citizen.
They have built a lot on the site and made it more “tourist-friendly” ie a little more commercial. So there is both a kiosk, toilets, souvenir shops and a small bazar with… hmm .. well more or less useful things….