If you are a cultural traveller, and you love ancient ruins, then Turkey is a go-to country. Turkey has an immense amount of old ruins. And good food and the friendliest people.
On a short day trip from the Turkish Mediterranean coastal beach towns, you can visit the ruins of the ancient city of Perge or Perga. So… even if you somehow find yourself in the touristy Alanya or Antalya in a crappy hotel as part of a package deal, you can still settle your cultural craving and have a nice trip (especially if it’s your grandma’s 85 birthday and she’s paying for the trip…) But rent a car and leave the beach behind for some top notch ruins.
Perge was the capital of old Pamphylia – a region in Asia Minor. It’s not a UNESCO site, but it’s on the tentative list. I am lover of most ancient things, so obviously I keep an eye out for these things. This was not overly touristy, but really interesting. And a great way to mix beach pleasure with cultural pleasure.
THE RUINS OF PERGE
When walking down the colonnade street, you really get the sense of life 2000 years ago. Somebody wearing leather sandals walked on exactly the same marble stones talking about how politicians are not to be trusted and the youth nowadays…
Legend has it, that the city was founded by Greek immigrants shortly after the Trojan War (the one with the horse). The most important shrine was dedicated to Artemis. Artemis is the goddess of hunting, animals and the forests. She also deals with births and stuff like that. Good one to know.
Even though the city dates back to the Bronze Age, the well preserved ruins are primarily from Hellenic and Roman time 300 B.C – 300. The ruins doesn’t cover a huge area, but they are in an extremely good shape. You’ll find a city wall, city gates, a Roman theatre, a stadium and a colonnade street.
The city is an important example of city planning development. It has a grid system and a defense plan. Part of the defense is the Roman Gate above. In the background you can see one of the Hellenistic tower. Restoration on the towers began in 2017, so they might look different now. They will open in mid-2019!
As you pass the gates, you see some of the baths. It is the best preserved Roman baths in Turkey and that’s saying a lot. There is a caldarium like in Bath, England. To take a bath – you need water. This is not a given for a lot of people today, and it wasn’t thousands of years ago. The water supply is something to look out for around the city. There are channels for water not only by the baths, but also along the colonnade street and 2 fountains.
Perge boasts the second best-preserved ancient stadium in Turkey. The stadium was definitely my son’s favourite. This was in 2009, so he was only about 4 years old. You can easily image thousands of people watching some guy running or winning a laurel. The stadium was built in the 2nd century AD and could accommodate 12,000 spectators. It is 234 meters long and 34 meters wide, and these dimensions make it one of the largest of its kind.
The Agora is where the shops use to be, and people would meet and discuss the latest trading news and the price on marble and woll. Now the vendours are in the colonnade street selling bad souvenirs.
Close by is also the public latrine. I have only tried to use a toilet next to a stranger in China, but I like the idea of it being a natural human thing. But mainly the idea of it…
The theatre is located a few steps outside the other ruins. It could accommodate around 15.000 people and is a combination of Greek and Roman. I’ve always had a thing for Greek tragedies and I hope to one day see a play in one the old theaters.
There is also a wrestling school, a tomb, some residential houses, Hadrian’s fountain and acropolis and a necropolis. So make sure to bring a map showing what is what, so you don’t confuse the baths with the graveyard, because you could unless you have a sharp eye for stones.
Many of the excavated Roman statues and very beautiful mosaics can be seen in the fine Antalya Museum. Visit the ruins first and then the museum, so you can imagine where they were placed.
ALEXANDER THE GREAT, ST. PAUL & ME
Perge actually goes all the way back to Early Bronze Age, but I find the Hellenistic period way more interesting. From 133 the city was under Pergamon rule (you might know the big alter in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum). The city remained under the Easter Roman domain from the 5th AD.
Later on, it became a Pamphylian Greek city with different set of rulers – Persians, Athenians, and Persians again. Even Alexander the Great occupied Perge at one point with a part of his army (in Antalya museum I bought a small statue of him). St. Paul the Apostle also visited the town on his voyages (not that interested in him). This was a popular town, and just to keep on going: the Seljuks, Hamidogullari and the Ottomans. And then me!
HOW TO GET THERE
We visited Perge on a day trip from Alanya by car. It is about 15 km from Antalya. We had a some problems finding it, but it might help, if you make sure you have Turkey on your Tom-Tom before travelling. Besides visiting the Antalya Museum, also see Aspendos and Side nearby.
If you are into ancient ruins, I recommend travelling to Croatia and try to live like an emperor in a Roman palace in Split!
What’s your favourite place in Turkey?