Our road trip in Turkey started in Antalya and on our way to Cappadocia we stopped to visit the antique cities of Perge and Aspendos.
If you like antique ruins, these sites should be on your list to visit, although you will see that Aspendos isn’t just ruins….
Need to brush up on your antiquity time line? Read this first
In the Mediterranean region, Classical Antiquity is commonly considered to have begun in the 8th century BC and ended in the 6th century AD.
Thousands of years of incredible changes and advancements in art and what matters more tu us here, architecture.
Let’s dive into a quick timeline:
800BC to 500BC is considered as the Greek archaic Period and is a period of great expansion around the Mediterranean see and huge economic development in Greece.
500BC to 323BC is considered as the Greek Classical period and a period of remarkable achievements in classical Art, philosophy, literature and science. Many wars were fought during this time, including the ones against Persia and the ones by Alexander the great which expanded the empire from Greece to Northwestern India.
Meanwhile, Rome was becoming a powerful Republic by creating alliances with surrounding independent city-states.
323BC to 146BC is considered as the Hellenistic period. The preceding period had transformed Greece into an open, cosmopolitan age and a huge territory. Greek culture expanded significantly by being mixed with Egyptian, Persian, and Asian cultures. Many more wars were fought, some against the Gauls who tried to invade Greece, others against smaller tribes at the vast and impossible to secure borders, as well as internal conflicts. These lead the Greek World domination to an end.
At the time of Hellenistic Era, The city of Rome had risen to a formidable power and by 200 BC it had extended to most of Italy.
By the 2nd century BC, many small Greek kingdoms sought Rome’s protection and after a few wars, Greece came under Roman rule as Rome wanted to ensure peace in the Mediterranean Sea.
146BC to 324AD is all about the Roman Empire. Rome was ruling over all the territories around the Mediterranean sea and so much more. In Greece and former regions under Greek influence, life actually continued much the same because Romans deeply admired and respected Greek culture.
The architectural style that emerged is sometimes called the Greco-Roman architecture and refers to the architecture of the Roman world that followed the principles and style established in ancient Greece.
Meanwhile many things changed in Rome.
The Roman Republic was transformed into a Roman Empire in 49BC by Julius Caesar. Thanks to his numerous victories, Caesar was proclaimed ‘dictator’ of the Roman Empire (does not have the same meaning as today!) and was able to pass numerous important reforms before being assassinated a few years later. Many more leaders/emperors were to follow him.
The imperial period of Rome, over the whole Mediterranean sea, lasted approximately 1,500 years. A bit too long for this post but we can talk about this another time!
Just one more precision: The Roman Empire was later split into to. The Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empires, which is also called the Byzantine Empire, with its capital being Constantinople or modern-day Istanbul.
The antique city of Perge
To some, Perge might seem to be just a tourist attraction. Some will probably only see a pile of rubbles and if, a bit more inclined, some, will recognize an archaeological site.
But cities like Perge are much more than that, they are windows to the past. A fantastic opportunity to see, feel, and not just imagine, the life of thousands of people who occupied such cities.
When you think about it, it is a bit mind-blowing to see such a large city built centuries ago. Clearly the urban planning was very specific and well thought and the result very sophisticated. Every aspect of life was considered:
- Protection from invaders with a huge city wall. Perge’s wall was apparently 13 meters hight, the equivalent of something like a 4 stories building. Impressive on its own!
- Paved streets and well thought circulation. The 2 main streets were extremely wide, as one of them was to lead to the stadium and theater, which had a seating capacity of 70,000 people!
- Water management: we all know Romans were big on baths but there are a few things we rarely realize: Greeks had public baths too, which Romans perfected ; baths were equally accessible to the rich and the poor ; Water management was an art which required excellent engineering skills as water was accessible in private houses, not just public spaces.
- Entertainment: Cities like Perge had, amongst other things, a theater, a gymnasium and a stadium.
- Public spaces: The agora was the center of all life, political, commercial, artistic and spiritual.
- Temples and later, churches: Perge was renown for the worship of Artemis, goddess of the wilderness, virginity and protector of young girls.
All of that can be admired at Perge.
The Roman Gate of Perge
The Stadium of Perge providing seating for 27.000 people
The rooms under the arches of the stadium were used for tying horses before performances.
The agora and in the back the remains of the city walls
The Hellenistic city gate in Perge (much much bigger than it seems!)
Want to know more? This site is super interesting: http://antalyacentral.com/historical-sites/perge-ancient-city. It includes a video where you will get to see the city of Perge from the sky. This really gives you a better understanding of the size and urban planning of the city. Better than any picture can.
The antique city of Aspendos
Aspendos is the other amazing city that should be on your radar when visiting the South of Turkey.
The highlight will undoubtedly be the Roman theater that was built in the 2nd Century A.C. For most, it is the most well preserved Roman Theater outside of Italy and for some the best preserved in the World.
Aspendos theater is huge. With a diameter of 96 metres (315 ft), the theatre provided seating for 12,000 to 20,000 people. Today, you can visit it but you can also attend the Aspendos Opera and Ballet festival. The acoustic of the theater is known worldwide!
It is easy to stop your visit of Aspendos at its theater. But if you are feeling a bit more adventurous, do visit the rest of the city. Contrary to Perge, it’s a wild ride!
The Basilica (Aspendos reached its epoch during the 2nd & 3rd centuries AC so a Christian basilica is not a surprise)
To the Agora
The remains of the Nymphaeum above and the Basilica below
View of and from the Aspendos Acropolis
The bonus of visiting the Acropolis is that you get to see the theater from above! And that’s pretty cool!!
Hey don’t miss the Aspendos aqueduct, like we did!!
The ancient cities of Perge and Aspendos are easy to visit and extremely interesting when you try to understand what you see.
The Technical Bits
I have found a few website you might find interesting if you want to learn more:
http://turkisharchaeonews.net/site/perge because you really want to see the Hadrian’s nymphaeum!!
http://www.aspendosfestival.gov.tr/en/ for information on the operas you can see at the theater
And if you are interested in water management:
- For Perge: http://www.romanaqueducts.info/aquasite/perge/index.html
- For Aspendos: http://www.romanaqueducts.info/aquasite/aspendos/
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