Sagalassos Rising

It’s at least twelve years since J and I were last in Sagalassos – I remember it well, I was cold and wet and miserable! 1600 metres above sea level up Akdağ in the Toros range it is a city of the clouds.

At least it was until bubonic plague, a couple of earthquakes, problems with water supplies and economic decline led to its demise. It was finally abandoned in the mid 7th century CE. When you consider that the place must have baked in summer and drowned in winter its a wonder it lasted as long as it did. Mind you, when its not cloudy, the views are fantastic!

Sagalassos was built by Pisidians who were, to put it mildly, anti-social war mongers and all round bad neighbours. It was the second city of Pisidia after Antioch ad Pisidia which lies near the north end of Lake Eğidir in the town of Yalvaç. Known as the ‘People of the Sea’, Pisidians were about as unruly a bunch as could be imagined – troublesome and rebellious. Many came and many tried to incorporate them into this or that empire or kingdom, however they generally left feeling deflated and defeated. Alexander had a bit more luck than most when he captured Sagalassos but Termessos never lowered its ensign and he had to wander off and conquer the rest of the known world by way of a sop to his ego! Eventually they did incorporate into the Roman Empire.

Anyway, again I digress from my storyline – where was I? Yes, twelve years ago we arrived at the site on a miserable, rainy day – the place was awash and deserted apart from the ever-present guardian who collected our entrance fees.

I have no photo from that time here’s one a couple of years later from  MyTravels2.blogspot.com

In 1990 a Belgian led inter-disciplinary team had taken on the task of excavating the site – there didn’t seem to be very much to show for a decade’s worth of summer holidays spent with trowel and paint brush kneeling in a pool of sweat! In truth, the onset of the sequel to Noah’s flood may have washed away our enthusiasm for much wandering about.

Twelve years on the transformation at this on-going project is amazing!

Roman baths from processional way – you can clearly see what was above ground

Where once all we saw were a couple of grey old blocks of weathered stone now stands exposed the Roman bath house, uncovered from centuries of debris washed down from the mountains. The Nymphaeum is a triumph of excavation and restoration – even the fountain has been returned to working order!

superb restoration of Nymphaeum – Antonin’s Fountain

Working on the principle that if at least 80% of the original structure can be pieced together from the bits lying around then a restoration, using some of the most advanced techniques known to science and engineering, will be undertaken, this team is working a minor miracle.

Emperor Hadrian

and J with Emperor Marcus for scale

Original sculptures of figures and panels are on display at the award-winning museum in Burdur. Here you will see colossal statues, heads and even sandaled feet of such fine workmanship it will take your breath away.

The detail is staggering! Where appropriate, exact copies using laser-guided techniques are carved from solid blocks of fibreglass and placed in their original positions at the site. It might seem intrusive, but it works! The mosaics at the Neon Library were closed to us solitary visitors and the amphitheatre remains as is, a pile of blocks waiting for its day.

Neon Library (best I could do through the grill and no discount on the ticket price!)

Because of its location, Sagalassos was never plundered for building materials – most of the pieces of the jig-saw are still there, scattered by earthquakes and buried by landslip, waiting to be given back their place as the city comes back to life. It represents, perhaps, the finest chance ever for scholars as well as we plebs and peons to gain a real insight into how a Roman era city looked and functioned. I’m really looking forward to 2025 when we make our next visit! Sagalassos – rising indeed!

detail from Nymphaeum

‘Dancing Maidens’ Letoon

digital reconstruction of the city in its prime

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

18 thoughts on “Sagalassos Rising

  1. We really loved Sagalassos when we were there in September. Have they got any further with the thing that looked like it was going to be a cable car to bring tourists up to the restored city?

  2. What a wonderful place! Your photos really give the feeling of being up in the clouds – a perfect place for anti-social grumps to build their city. The sandaled foot with the lion’s head ankle cuffs was unbelievable. Why wait until 2025 for another visit?

  3. Hey Alan — After a month of being buried under work at the Vatican, I am back and eager to read some of your blog posts which I have missed. This one is fabulous. I love it. I want to go to Sagalasso — from your photos it is amazing. But here is a little train of thought on reading your post. First I think my 17 (nearly 18-year-old) son must be a direct descendant of the Pisidians. He is troublesome and rebellious and makes me feel deflated and defeated. And at the end of every battle I retreat and he leaves his ensign flying. Oh well, this too will pass. Moving on, the Roman baths and the Nymphaeum are fantastic, the work they are doing is extraordinary. Who are the restorers? It is a Turkish government project? Who is funding it? The Italians have trouble getting enough money to restore everything. Pompeii is crumbling to pieces for example (of course there is always the problem of government corruption, Camorra (the neapolitan Mafia) etc.
    Then looking at those incredible Statues (busts?) of Emperor Hadrian and Emperor Marcus I couldn’t help but be reminded of a story I did once years ago on the restoration of Michelangelo’s David. I got taken up on the scaffolding and found myself staring the the curls in David’s hair. And they are just like Emperor Hadrian’s curls! Michelangelo did an excellent job of copying (learning from) his Roman predecessors. And, speaking of Romans….those Romans were pretty amazing people. Wonder what’s going on with them now?
    And finally on that lovely Roman foot statue. Next time you and J are in Rome, you must come visit me at my office and I will take you around the corner to Via Pie’ di Marmo, which means Marble Foot Street where there is a great big statue of a sandaled roman foot. Not nearly as beautifully detailed as the one in your photo, but interesting nonethelss.
    Ciao, Trisha

    1. Hi Trisha . . just remember even the Pisidians incorporated in the end! Nothing happens here without Turkey is standing in the front row! This a project under the direction of the Catholic University at Leuven in Belgium; they have a great website http://sagalassos.be/en Where the funding is coming from exactly I don’t know but they have a huge array of sponsors inside and outside the country (website). Restorations and reproductions are carried out by craftsmen and specialised firms here in Turkey. When in Rome – it will be our pleasure to meet up – thank you for the invite.

    1. . . we were astonished after just a few years – I think it will blow you away! A bonus is that all of the amazing stuff that has been and will be recovered is being housed in the Burdur museum. I’ll do a follow up shortly and cover some of the museum exhibits and a few more around and about shots. Plus the site and museum are open every day – another bonus!

  4. We’ve been itching to get to Sagalassos for so long – since they discovered the huge statues. Just amazing! The setting of these sites is always so spectacular, too, isn’t it?

    1. . . it really is a splendid setting – very fitting for such a fine city. They are working hard to make the place visitor friendly without being intrusive – my guess is that it will be a premier global site over the next few years.

    1. . . this country is littered with sites great and small and the associated history – Sagalassos will, I predict, be at the pinnacle one day.

  5. It really is a beautiful place. I was there last September with a group of friends and the weather was beautiful and the views were spectacular. If you ever get the chance Arykander, near Fineke. We were there last week and was wonderful. Although not as advanced in reconstruction as Sagalassos. Wonderful blog by the way. If I may would like to put a link on my blog to yours.

    1. Hi Michael, welcome to Archers. I’m a bit ambivalent about ‘restoration’ but Sagalassos is an example of it working well in a sensitive way. Thank you for the kind words and endorsement – of course you can link – you’ll find that you already are 🙂 enjoyed your thoughtful approach.

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