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. (this salvaged story originally posted on Archers of Okcular in March 2013)
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 7thcentury 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. (as I read this five years on with John Bolton now sitting at the right hand of ‘god’ I’m thinking that nothing much changes) 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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
Alan in Okçular
ps J and I have been back here often since this was originally posted. Reconstruction continues, safe walkways have been laid down and detailed information boards put in place. There is ever something new to be delighted at.