Travels in Turkey: Romans in Antalya

Jesse and I spent two weeks in Antalya before traveling to Istanbul; as a lover of Roman history, there is a lot to see near the city of Antalya, which is also the name of the province in Turkey. There have been people in this city and area for at least 5,000 years; the present day city was founded around 200 BC by the Attalos II, king of Pergamon. Attalia was the original name of the city, and Attalos III, nephew of Attalos II, left the city to Rome when he died in 133 BC.

Attalos II Statue outside the Old Market

The city then became part of a larger Roman Provence, and the capital of that province was a city called Perge (which Jesse and I visited, but before we get to our Perge visit, we happened upon a second century Roman tower (named Hidirlik Tower) when walking from our hotel to the harbor. There was a bar (aptly named the “Terrace”) that faced the tower, so we had to have a drink and take in the view.

Hidirlik Tower

Before we look at our pictures from our Perge day, it is recommended to visit the Antalya Arkeoloji Müzesi (Antalya Archeology Museum) first. The museum costs a reasonable 70 Turkish Lira per person, and the day we went there were few other visitors. Once inside, we started with the oldest archeological finds, which predate the Romans by thousands of years; there are also Greek artifacts as well; they are housed in glass cases with explanations and descriptions in English, too. The detail on the pottery is especially impressive.

The lighting was low, and felt like being in an old school. But then we entered the statue section of the museum, which was, wow!

Many of the statues were found at Perge, and it was even cooler to see where these statues would have been placed when we visited Perge. But here, they are well taken care of, and presented quite well, and many in very good shape, considering they are almost 2,000 years old. After recently having seen the Renaissance statues (which were sculpted as a throwback to these statues) in Florence, it was very cool to see them.

There are statues of Roman Gods and Goddesses, as well as many statues of the Emperor Hadrian, who visited the area in 130 AD; the large gate in the city, named Hadrian’s Gate, is one we walked under many times.

Hadrian’s Gate in Antalya

There is also a statue of a woman named Plancia Magna, whose father was a senator and governor of the city of Perge, but she was also known as a Governor of the City and a Priestess of Artemis. There were inscriptions found in the city that said she “spent her money abundantly…and without her husband’s control.” A powerful woman in the city, no doubt.

Plancia Magna

After we examined the many rooms of statues, there is a room with a well preserved mosaic floor and many statue heads that did not have surviving bodies. After that, it was into the grand open room, which possessed many ancient Roman sarcophagi, which were remarkably well-preserved.

Upstairs, there were exhibits devoted to coinage of the Roman Empire (and earlier) as well as some Catholic artifacts (as the city was converted when the Emperor Constantine converted in the 4th century).

Outside the museum there is a long walkway lined with palm trees and statues of reclining animals that leads to a cafe on one side and the gift shop on the other.

The museum should not be missed and is a great way to beat the daytime heat of the city. Only 25 kilometers from the museum, to the east of Antalya, is the ancient remains of the city of Perge. We took a short taxi ride there (and you can work it out with the driver if he will wait for you while you explore). The entrance fee is just 75 Turkish Lira per person (as of this writing).

Archeologists have determined that Perge dates back to the 5th millennium BC; there is also evidence of the Hittities in the 13th century BC, and Alexander the Great occupied the city in the 4th century BC (it is said the city surrendered to Alexander immediately, as there were no city walls at the time). During Roman times, Perge flourished; as such, a stadium, agora, theater, baths, fountains, columned and stone streets ran through the city. We spent about two hours walking the city, which has been under excavation since the 1960s. Near the entrance there are the remains of a large tower; see Jesse standing near it for scale.

We walked through one of doorways and onto the main street which is lined with columns, as well as past some of the other remains.

We reached the end of the main street, and walked around the statue (you can see Jesse behind it above), and climbed wooden stairs to a lookout point of the whole site. There is a bench under shade near the top, and is a perfect resting point to take in the view.

Perge from high up

We made our way back down and headed back down main street, to see the remains of the ancient stadium, which could seat up to 12,000 people. There were many entrances, some caved in, but we could feel how grand it must have been 1,800 years before.

Behind the stadium, on higher ground, there appeared to be a theater, but we could not reach it as it was outside the gates and there were gates around it as well. As the site is still being excavated, we figured it was under excavation. So we met up with our taxi driver, and started the trip back home. Well, lo and behold, we drove by the theater, and saw it was open! So we showed our entry tickets, and walked into the theater, which was the highlight of the site.

We could imagine where the statues (that were in the museum) must have been placed; and to stand, facing up toward all the rows of seats, and imagined them filled with spectators, was something special.

There are other Roman sites in Antalya, and all over Turkey (we also visited Hieropolis, now known as Parmukkale, before we left Antalya) and more than 100 throughout the country. If you are interested in Roman history (and older) definitely visit the Museum and Perge when in Antalya, as you won’t be disappointed.

The Barringtons say hello from the Perge Theater

Published by Phil Barrington

Currently living in Spain, Accountant by Day, Writer by Night. Lover of baseball, travel ,and spreadsheets. Check out my blog:

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