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Tuesday, 30 September 2008 00:00

Perge - Ancient City

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Around 1500 B.C. the Hittites settled down in a place we know as Perge. However some people believe that Perge was founded by Mopsus and Calchas in the 13th century B.C.

Invaded by Alexander the Great, much of Perge`s architectural splendor is a living proof of the Hellenistic period. It was soon followed by a prosperous Roman Imperial period for the first three centuries A.D. With the arrival and spread of Christianity, Perge played an important and active role in its expansion. 

A slow disintegration of the Roman rule soon followed and the Byzantines occupied Perge. With the end of the Seljuk rule, which followed soon after, Perge was completely ruined and was soon abandoned.


In the twelfth century BC, there was a large wave of Greek migration from northern Anatolia (in modern day Turkey) to the Mediterranean coast. Many settled in the area immediately east of the area of modern-day Antalya, which came to be known as Pamphylia, meaning "land of the tribes". Four great cities eventually rose to promincence in Pamphylia: Perga, Sillyon, Aspendos and Side.

Perga itself was founded in around 1000 BC and is nearly 20km inland. It was sited inland as a defensive measure in order to avoid the pirate bands that terrorized this stretch of the Mediterranean.

In 546 BC, the Achaemenid Persians defeated the local powers and gained control of the region. Two hundred years later, in 333 BC, the armies of Alexander the Great arrived in Perga during his war of conquest against the Persians. The citizens of Perga sent out guides to lead his army into the city.

Alexander's was followed by the diadoch empire of the Seleucids, under whom Perga's most celebrated ancient inhabitant, the mathematician Apollonius (c.262 BC – c.190 BC), lived and worked. Apollonius was a pupil of Archimedes and wrote a series of eight books describing a family of curves known as conic sections, comprising the circle, ellipse, parabola and hyperbola.

Roman rule began in 188 BC, and most of the surviving ruins today date from this period. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Perga remained inhabited until Seljuk times, before being gradually abandoned.

Perge did not really appear in history until the 4C BC. Because the city was not fortified at the time of Alexander the Great, Perge willingly opened its doors to him. In the Hellenistic period Perge enjoyed rights of minting and considerable freedom under the Pergamene kings. The dominant motif used in art and on coins was Artemis of Perge. Artemis was associated with the Virgin Mary in the Christian period and worshipping her continued. Perge flourished and expanded in the Roman Imperial period during the first three centuries AD.


Perga is today an archaeological site and a major tourist attraction. Ancient Perge, one of the chief cities of Pamphylia, was situated between the Rivers Catarrhactes (Duden sou) and Cestrus (Ak sou), 60 stadia from the mouth of the latter; the site is in the modern Turkish village of Murtana on the Suridjik sou, a tributary of the Cestrus, formerly in the Ottoman vilayet of Koniah. Its ruins include a theatre, a palæstra, a temple of Artemis and two churches. The very famous temple of Artemis was located outside the town.

Tour guides tell the story that Perga is the birthplace of Beer, allegedly discovered by accident; but recent finds of Pharaonic beer predate the city by far.

The Site

The Theater was originally a Hellenistic style theater with a horseshoe-shaped orchestra, but later, especially with the construction of the stage building in the 2C AD, the style was modified to Roman. The seating capacity was 14,000. At the base of the building, running around the stage area, there were many reliefs showing scenes from the life of Dionysus or river-god, Cestrus. By the outer facade of the stage building there was a 12-meter-high (40 ft) nymphaeum whose five fountain niches have survived. The theater was probably combined with the nymphaeum.

The Stadium was built in the 2C AD, and is one of the best preserved in Anatolia. Others are in Aphrodisias and Laodicea. The 30 diagonally placed barrel-vaulted rooms under the rows of seats were used partly for access and partly as shops. The stadium seated approximately 12,000 spectators.

Access to the city was through the Roman gate which was located on the 4C AD outer wall. The Baths Complex, located to the west of the courtyard before the Hellenistic gateway, is preceded by a propylon. The typical succession of three rooms is notable, frigidarium, tepidarium and caldarium. Their basins, floors and walls were covered with marble. Statues which decorated the rooms are exhibited in the archeological museum in Antalya. Perge did not have marble quarries, all the marble was brought by sea mostly from Marmara Island in the Marmara Sea.

The Hellenistic gateway and walls are the only pre-Roman structures, 3C BC. The gateway consists of two round towers, which are a characteristic of the town and a horseshoe-shaped courtyard. These imposing twin towers were "updated" by Plancia Magna (the daughter of the Governor of Bithynia, chief priestess of Artemis and a benefactress of the city) in the beginning of the 2C AD. She also commissioned a gateway with three doorways behind the courtyard in the direction of the colonnaded street. She was by no means the first to decoratively enhance the main gate of a city and its environs. What she accomplished there may have stood as a fine example of improvement to all the aristocrats and officials of the later Empire. To enter the city the visitor would pass from the large courtyard into the horseshoe shape of the smaller one, decorated with statues of gods and of founders or legendary heroes of Perge. It is important to realize that such statues were not simply decorative, but were used to express the heroic past of a city and to proudly salute its intellectual and physical achievements - scholars, gymnasts, heroes, lawyers, emperors and benefactors.

The Colonnaded Street was a 20-meter-wide (65 ft) street lined on both sides with shops fronted by a wide, roofed colonnade. It was flanked by statues of prominent citizens. An unusual feature of this city was the water canal lying in the middle of the street. It was not for drinking nor draining but to provide a delight to the senses by cooling the atmosphere during hot summers, giving a relaxing sound and reflecting sunlight on its moving water.

Its marble paving still shows the ruts of wagon-wheels. To the east of the street there are a few columns decorated with some reliefs on their tops. These reliefs are Apollo, Artemis with her bow and arrows, and a male figure in his toga pouring a libation. The colonnaded street stretches from the Hellenistic gate to the Nymphaeum and intersects with the other main street. The Agora of Perge is a small symmetrical rectangle surrounded by colonnades of shops. It was built when the city was enlarged in the 4C AD. There is a round structure in the middle of the agora either dedicated to Hermes, god of merchants or Tyche, goddess of fortune. There are still some signs of shops. Note a butcher’s sign with a hook and a knife at the northeast corner of the agora.

Ecclesiastical History:

Another notable historical figure who twice visited Perga was St. Paul the Apostle and his companion St. Barnabas, as recorded in the biblical book, the Acts of the Apostles, during their first missionary journey, where they "preached the word" (Acts 14:25) before heading for and sailing from Attalia (modern-day Antalya city), 15 km to the southwest, to Antioch.

Perge remains a Roman Catholic titular metropolitan see in the former Roman province of Pamphylia Secunda. Saints Paul and Barnabas came to Perge during their first missionary journey, but probably stayed there only a short time, and do not seem to have preached there; it was there that John Mark left St. Paul to return to Jerusalem. On his return from Pisidia St. Paul preached at Perge.

Apollonius of Perge (3C-2C BC)

Anatolian mathematician of the 3C and 2C BC, was known as the Great Geometer. In his Conics, an investigation of the mathematical properties of Conic Sections, Apollonius introduced the terms Ellipse, Hyperbola and Parabola. He was also an important founder of ancient mathematical astronomy, which applied geometric models to planetary theory.


I. Perge in History

Perge is one of the oldest cities of the Pamphylia Region, whose name means “Land of All Tribes”. The name of the city, which is not in Greek but rather, probably, in Hittite or Latin, and her first-goddess “Artemis Pergaia”, whose cult reaches far back into time in Anatolia, prove this (1).

It is not possible to put down an independent and uninterrupted history for the “City of Perge” from its establishment. For the fate of the city is linked with that of the Pamphylia Region, in which she is located. Pamphylia has always been a focus of attention for neighbouring countries for its strategic position in seafaring and in that respect has played an important role in Antique History. By virtue of its fertile soil and mild climate, this region has been the birthplace of many civilisations.

Excavations in Perge have revealed important monumental buildings and sculptures that had remained underground for about 800 years. About thirty partially embossed and written monumental graves were found on both sides of a graveyard road that leads to the western city gates in the excavations conducted by Prof. Dr. Arif Müfid Mansel in the city metropolis in the year 1946. Excavations held in the city Acropolis and in the yard of a church on the west sides of İyilik Tepe (Hill) to uncover the Artemis Pergaia Temple were unfruitful. In the years 1953-1957, the Hellenistic period gates for the city, the yard behind that, the arc with three passages and one-thirds of the road with columns were unearthed. Work was continued on the road with columns between the years 1967-1969, and the square between the Hellenistic gates and the late-antique period gates and the buildings surrounding it were completely uncovered.

In excavations led by Prof. Jale İnan, the 3-metre-long body of the Great Alexander statue (1985), the magnificent statue of the Wine God Dionysos (1987), and about 300 statues of gods and kings were found. In the theatre excavation, a 65-metre long embossing (frieze) that depicts the events following the birth of god Dionysos, a 4-metre high statue of the God Hermes and the statue of Emperor Heraclis. All these findings are indications that Perge was the most important centre of art and culture of her period after the first half of the second century, AD. Today, many works exhibited in the Antalya Museum come from the Perge excavations.

Architecture, sculpture and the art of decoration were well developed in Perge. For instance, the Italian Baroque style is dominant in the embossments in the theatre. This is an indication that this style was present and in use in Anatolia long before.

Since the year 1988, former excavations were continued in the downtown excavations led by Prof. Dr. Haluk Abbasoğlu, and formerly unexplored residences and shops are still being excavated.

Perge has gone through three significant periods:

1. The First Period is in the Hellenistic Era, in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. It is demonstrated by magnificent walls and towers, which are only partly standing today.

2. The Second Period belongs to the Era of the Roman Empire, 2nd and 3rd centuries AD; it is illustrated by many monuments (theatre, stadium, columned streets, bathhouses, monumental fountains, gymnasium and the agora) which are still standing

3. In fact, these show that Perge was an important town in the 3rd century, which was, in general, a period of chaos and decline in Anatolia, that she had been made the “metropolis”, that is, a state centre where Roman prefects and officers resided, in the time of Emperor Tacitus. Side was that centre prior to Perge.

4. The last period of plenty falls into the Christian period (5th and 6th centuries AD). In that period the town was once again a “metropolis”, but this time a “metropolitan” centre within the church establishment; along with repairing her walls and extending them southwards, she was decorated with many churches, their extensions and new districts forming around them. However, the raids by mountain tribes on one side and Arabs on the other, coupled with the development of Antalya (Attalia), neighbour and rival to Perge, and Antalya becoming the capital of a Byzantine Theme in the 8th century have caused Perge to decline.

Perge was ruined during the Selçuk and Arab raids that continued on from the 12th century and was deserted by her people. Some historians suggest that the people retired to the Acropolis and lived there for some time, mingling with the Turkish wains, and that the Acropolis corresponds to the Karahisarı Teke mentioned by Evliya Çelebi.

The Acropolis of Perge rises in the north; the main city is placed in the flatlands south of that hill. In the Hellenistic Period, the city was surrounded by walls, which were reinforced by towers. Since the Roman territories reached up to the Britannia Islands all the way from Mesopotamia, thus Anatolia was in total security brought about by “pax romana”, the walls had lost  their importance and some of those were destroyed to extent the city southwards. Large bathhouses, the Agora, the square between the two gates and its surrounding buildings were placed in this part . However, when the tribes living in northern mountainous regions started coming down to the plain and gradually started making more frequent raids, defensive structures were reconsidered, old walls were repaired, and new walls built in the south to defend the buildings in that region.

Perge is divided into four parts or districts by two large columned streets, one lying in a north-south, the other in a east-west direction. These streets, which are formed by a pavement part and wide water channel in the middle and columned galleries and shops behind them alongside, are not perfectly straight lines but they curve at certain points

Thus, like in some other Pamphylia towns, a regular “Hippodamos” plan could not be constructed in Perge, either. The main temples and the famous “Artemis Pergaia Temple” were positioned out of town. The top of the main entrance was in the shape of a rectangular room covered by three separate arcs, round towers up to 15 m. in height were to the either side and behind it was an oval yard.

Since these “town gates with yards” are also present in Side and Sillyon, it might be said of them that they are characteristic of the Panphylian towns. In the Roman Empire period, this part has been transformed to an honour yard with a religious character. In that respect, it resembles the Hadrianus gates in Antalya and Athens closely. Right in front of the western round tower of the square, there are three cells containing a statue each and a monumental door (propylon) leading to the great bathhouse beyond, and slightly ahead is positioned a monumental fountain belonging to the time of Emperor Septimus Severus. The nymphaeum, another of which is placed on the outskirts of the Acropolis, contains a large rectangular pool, and two semicircular basins for facilitating the people getting water in front of a fasad wall decorated by a two-story column architecture.

II. The Byzantine Period and Afterwards

The Early Christian and Byzantine Period history of Perge between the 7th and the 10th centuries is dark, when the preceding periods are considered.  Although there exists a great body of knowledge for the pre-Byzantine period, especially the archaeological researches are insufficient on the subject of Byzantine works. Perge met Christianity in the 1st century AD. Paulos, of the Apostles of Jesus, passed through Perge in the first of his four journeys to spread this new faith. It is unthinkable that Christianity spread quickly in Perge, which had assimilated the Artemis culture for long centuries. Considering that the Christian buildings found until today date back to the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries AD, it can be assumed that this religion gathered power earliest in the 6th century. Attalia (Antalya), which had been gaining significance starting from 6th century AD, became the metropolis; along with that, Perge, joining her close neighbour Sillyon (Yarköy)  to the west, took the title “bishop metropolitan”. The western travellers and scientists who saw the region in the 19th century (Texier, Hirchfelt, Lancoronski and Rot) provided the first pieces of information about the Christian era buildings in Perge.

While the pre-Christian Era is being systemically researched in Perge archaeological excavations, a detailed study of Byzantine period works has not been done to date. Of the most important buildings that prove the Byzantine settlement in Perge are two basilicas which are located within the city walls and which are designated Church A and Church B (or bishop church) in publications. Apart from these two buildings, there is a church on the hill named Eyilik Belen to the south of the town, Byzantine vaults in the Acropolis, chapels carved into stone and wall remains whose identity remain indeterminate. Moreover, Byzantine ceramics were recovered, in however small amounts they may be, within the Acropolis; and this has given rise to the idea that the Acropolis might have been the main residential area in the late Byzantine period. It is stated that there are many vaults belonging to the Byzantine period around and within the Acropolis. Small chapels are carved into the rocks overlooking the Ağlar Brook behind the Acropolis.

Byzantine remains are also located on and around the hill known as İyilik Belen, which is placed southeast of the main settlement. Starting with a church found in Akşıdil Akarcabeli and pottery recovered on western and southern foothills, it can be maintained that this was an important district in the Byzantine period. The Byzantine works outside the city walls consist of the vaults within and around the Acropolis, of wall remains, of rock chapels, of a church on İyilik Belen and of Byzantine graves, and a satisfying investigation of those is yet to be conducted. There is insufficient data about the Turkish period in Perge. There is no data belonging to the Turkish period, save some Selçuklu and Ottoman porcelain tiles recovered in researches and excavations conducted in Perge.

Pamphylian towns, including Perge, were open to the Moslem raids coming from the southeast beginning in the 7th century AD; and their importance was lost with the Byzantine Empire waning in power in the eastern and southern borders. Perge was included in the Selçuklu land by I. Gıyaseddin Keyhüsrev (1027); she was put under the rule of Hamidoğulları Barony in 1299.

III. Perge Today, Preservation Problems and Suggestions

Perge is 18 km. away from Antalya and 2 km. north of the Aksu settlement. It was suggested that Perge be included in the municipality area borders of the town and be preserved and utilised as an “Archaeological Park” in the Antalya 2015 Master Plan. Visitors to Aspendos, Sillyon and Perge mostly stay in Antalya and the tourism centres around (Belek, Side, Kumköy, Bingeţik, Manavgat, Alanya etc.) and in the Southern Antalya Tourism Centre, and they come to Perge for daily tours. According to 1992 data, Southern Antalya has beds for about 35000. This capacity will increase up to 180 000 until the year 2010. Therefore, forecasts exceeding 100% are possible for the number of visitors to Perge.

Aksu has gone through almost no development towards tourism. There are no tourism-inclined establishments save for a few restaurants lying on the Alanya-Antalya road. Perge being 2 km away, the tours from outside make almost no contribution to the economy of Aksu (and that of Çalkaya). However, it is foreseen that hotels, pensions, restaurants and units for the sale of tourism-gift shops would choose locations around the Municipality and around the entrance gate to Perge.

The road connecting Aksu with the villages in the north go through Perge; a dense traffic right in front of the antique theatre and the stadium, especially the heavy sand-truck traffic, cause great security problems. The stage of the Theatre has collapsed due to the damage done by vibrations in time. To prevent further damage to the Theatre and to the stadium, this road has to be removed urgently, as was suggested in the Perge Preservation Plan (5).

The entrance to the Antique Town is in the part which is now in front of the Hellenistic Late Period entrance. With the parking lot, ticket booths, gift shop unit and open-air café built in the years 1989-1990, this part was arranged and the aim was to meet the demand. This entrance is problematic in terms of security and tour routes; when the historical development of the city is examined and the monumental buildings (theatre, hippodrome) was considered, it can be understood that this area is almost in the middle of the City, in the town centre for the antique city. Therefore, the main entrance establishments for the Antique City should be moved to the part where there is a possibility that the colonnaded road will continue, near the I. Degree Archaeological Site Border in the south. Today, there is absolutely no control in the Perge ruins and its proximity. Control should be provided by, at least, a metal-net fence; the free movements of sheep and cattle within the Antique City should be restricted. Unregistered and unlawful buildings are becoming denser, especially  on the fertile agricultural land in the III. Degree Archaeological Site. An unlawful district has formed, complete with its school and mosque, to the east of the Acropolis and to the north of the Moslem graveyard. These unlawful buildings should be prevented; they should be frozen and evacuated in time. In these regions, healthy scientific investigations in the future require minimal, if possible no, building activities.

Seasonal agriculture could be carried out in this area. However, hothousing should be avoided on account of security and visual pollution. Irrigated agriculture should be forbidden to protect possible works underground; dry agriculture could be allowed on condition that the works that might be unearthed during tilling be turned in to the nearest Administrative Unit (District Managers and Museum Managers).

The greatest silhouette and visual pollution problems for the Perge Antique City are created by the Aksu Antbirlik Strand Factory, with its water reservoir, transformer and energy transfer lines (the posts and the cables) (Figure 9).

Therefore, firstly the water reservoir should be carried to another, visually ineffective area and be rebuilt buried underground. The removal/transfer of the transformer and the energy lines are also needful for the preservation of the quality of Perge (6).

This part (Koca Belen Hill) has been designated III. Degree Archaeological Site during the preservation plan studies. Visitors should be enabled to watch this extraordinary sight by the creation of panoramic sight-watch terraces, seating places and observation points, especially in the yard of the Teachers’ School and the parts of the  Strand Factory yards that face Perge. The İyilik Belen Hill also provides a panoramic scene of Perge and the Acropolis. This part has also been designated a I. Degree Archaeological Site because of the existence of a possible Byzantine settlement.

A great part of Perge lies underground, unexplored .

Especially, data and documents related to the Byzantine Period are scant to the point of nonexistence. Therefore, first priority archaeological excavations and researches should be conducted in the Acropolis and its foothills,  and in the eastern and western necropolices.

The Museum Management of Antalya and The Council of Preservation of Cultural and Natural Values of Antalya should form a “Perge Preservation-Development Unit” to direct the applications in Perge and to be able to support the Municipality of Aksu. The Aksu Municipality should also form a “Department of Preservation and Development of the Perge Archaeological Site”, which would especially be related to controlling and directing the applications in the III. Degree Site, and to the arrangement and maintenance of the entrance and resting points of the Antique City.

Towards the goal of preserving Perge, which is a World Architectural Heritage, and of the healthy application of planning decisions, the applications by the Aksu Municipality should be provided with financial resources, project support and advising services by the Department of Preservation of Cultural and Natural Valuables of the Ministry of Culture. An active “Perge Preservation and Development Unit” should be formed within the Department itself.

These units would strive for material and technical aid in the form of aids, loans, donations and the like from domestic and international establishments and organisations related to environment arrangements, maintenance, excavations and preservation for scientific researches (UNESCO, ICCROM, the World Bank, TAÇ Foundation, Turing Organisation etc.). Moreover, civilian society organisations such as  banks, private sector establishments, companies, groups and the like should be encouraged to support the work on the preservation-aimed environmental arrangements by means of campaigns; a fund should be formed to obtain the involvement and contributions of the people.

Incomes from museums and ruins are gathered by the Rotating-Capital Management of the Ministry of Culture, and 40% of museum incomes are given to the municipalities (7). The law requires that the Municipality should be given a share in “museum entrance fees”; the entrances to ruins are excluded from the mentioned law coverage. The entrance fees to the Perge Antique City should be given in part to the Aksu Municipality for the sole aims of utilisation in the maintenance, repair and environmental arrangements. Moreover, in the parts which are within the I. Degree Archaeological Site, which is to be publicised, the III. Degree Archaeological Site, and the parts to be arranged into the Antique City gates should be publicised according to the “Exchange Directives” and the application should thus be hastened (8).

Some funds should be set aside primarily from the budget of the Ministry of Culture for the arrangement of the new entrance gates to the Perge Antique City. The Aksu Municipality would financially and technically participate in this arrangement; an effective application would be obtained with tool and personnel support during the work.

The Antalya Province Culture Department is planning educational efforts in districts and villages on the subject of “The Prevention of Smuggling and Damaging of Old Works.” The efforts to awareness are being held in the villages and towns close to ruins and their surroundings. The subject is being announced to the people of the region by village leaders, elementary school students and teachers, and mosque imams; and meetings are being held.

The awareness of preserving the historical environment of the people of the settlements around the Perge Antique Town should be nurtured, especially by the Aksu Municipality, by supporting the efforts mentioned above by activities such as exhibitions, contests, seminars, panels etc.




1. PEKMAN, A., 1989,  “History of Perge In the Light of Recent Excavations and Researches”, Premium Council of Atatürk Culture, Language and History, Turkish History Council Publications, VII.

2. İDİL, V., 1992, “History of Antique City of Perge”, Perge Conservation Plan Research Report, Akman Project Co., s. 27-39.

3. PEKAK, S., 1992, “Christianity (Byzantine) Period Monuments In Perge”, Perge Conservation Plan Research Report, Akman Project Co., s. 40-51.

4. Antalya Master Plan Research Report (1/25000-1/5000 Scales), April 1996, UTTA Planning and Project and Consulting Co., Ank.

5. Council of Antalya Preservation of Historical and Natural Assets, A.K.T.K.K.K. Numbered and 18.05.1992 Dated Official Paper.

6. TUNÇER, M., 1992, “Perge Conservation Plan Report”, Perge Conservation Plan Research Report, Akman Project Co.

7. Ministry of Culture, 2252 Numbered Law.

8. 08.02.1990 Dated and 20427 Numbered Governmental Paper, “Kesin İnşaat Yasağı Getirilen Korunması Gerekli Taşınmaz Kültür ve Tabiat Varlıklarının Bulunduğu Sit Alanlarındaki Taşınmaz Malların Hazineye Ait Taşınmaz Mallar İle Değiştirilmesi Hakkındaki Yönetmelik”

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