terça-feira, 18 de fevereiro de 2014


The last but not least of our visits to a roman city in Anatolia was to be Sagalassus.
I´d never heard of Sagalassus until I opened the pages of the in-flight magazine of Turkish airlines where a glossy article described some of its beauty. I was mesmerized by this´ city of the clouds` and made a mental note to find it.
From bronze age beginnings Sagalassus had grown into an important trading nexus for the Pisidian peoples,standing atop the route to Antalya and the south.The Pisdian tribes were of the same culture as the Termessians and when Alexander went north after avoiding Termessus it was obvious that he wouldn´t allow a hostile Sagalassus to remain behind him.There is a hill to the south of the city which bears his name and where he defeated the defending pisidian army.
It lies high up perched against the rocky cliff about 7km from the small town of Aglasun.Less than 4 km in a straight line but we paid the mini-bus driver 30 euros to take us up and bring us back two hours later-- our time was short. Aglasun itself is a pretty town that´s slowly reaping the benefits of archeological tourism. It´s a 30 km winding drive through pine trees and clear streams from Isparta,the rose growing capital of Turkey.
The first visual sign of habitation are the rock graves,the pre roman necropolis which lies above the city cut into the northern rock face but it is the lower city where we begin our walk.Sagalassus like other mountain towns was constructed on levels. The southern approach road rising to the Tiberian gate must have been a very impressive entrance to this marble and white stone city. This 300 metre colonnaded road with poticoes starts from what was once a Hadrianic cult temple built probably just after the emperor´s death for he is inscribed as a god.
The old colonnaded road with Alexanders hill behind
As in most cities of Asia -Minor, Hadrian´s presence is strong here.Pisidians took easily to roman occupation. Though few romans are thought to have moved to the town, we know that 80,000 roman soldiers were given lands in this region during Augustus´s reign. A spate of building  and artistic production took place during Hadrian´s tenure and an inscription tells us that Sagalassus was made ´First city in Pisidia` probably the stimulus for the temple cult.

The Hadrianic Nymphaeum
Up steps,through the Tiberian gate and into a small Agora with covered shops and something really stunning happens, there rears up a double tiered structure whose centre was a large fountain.This is the Hadrianic Nymphaeum of which only the lower level survives and whose fountain has disappeared.
It is one of 4 nymphaeums in Sagalassus for this place was blessed by its abundant water supply. The calcareous rock filters the water to clay beds and the channelled run-off brings clear,cool water from the surrounding hills.
Since 1996 the site has been developed by the Catholic University of Lieven, Belgium under Marc Waelkens and they have already found spectacular artefacts and restored some of the buildings. Thus the central Antoninus Nymphaeum in the upper city, which has had its water supply reconnected is like seeing the blood supply restored to a lifeless body. Running water splashes into a wide basin, it is the centrepiece of the whole site and has taken 13 years to restore. With its 6 tabernacles and niches which allowed the leading aristocratic families to place statues of themselves alongside those of roman gods.The pillars and roofs are decorated with theatre masks, grapes and intoxicating plants [ Sex, drugs and rock´n roll ].Dionysus is big here. The deity along with a group of dancing nymphs are carved into the friezes of the Heroon, a tower-like structure above the Nymphaeum. A Heroon was built and dedicated to somebody of importance and this one was created for a young man who probably introduced the cult of Dionysus to the city. Marc Waelkens relates his discovery of a statue of Dionysus holding the hand of a satyr broken in two, upside down in the Nymphaeum´s basin. As he finally turned and lifted it from its bed of rubble,´ it seemed to smile at me seeing the light of day after 1,400 years of burial `.

The Heroon and its friezes

The Antoninus Nymphaeum
Dionysus and satyr, replica
This Antoninus Nymphaeum came crashing down in the earthquakes of the 6th century but the statutary,some of it ordered from the schools of Afrodisias,west of here, was deliberately broken up and thrown into the basin in which today courses the water again. Christians were not appreciative of Dionysus and his satyrs.
 Following the road up to the ampitheatre from the nymphaeum,we pass the plebian part of the town. Here were fabricated the characteristc red ceramics of Sagalassus, later found throughout the mediterranean. This road was widened in the 2nd century and leads directly to the library and the Old Hellenistic fountain. The library was built by the same benefactor as the Heroon and is a substantial building with carved niches in the back wall for statues of the Gods and local worthies.It also has a compelling mosaic floor. This building was rebuilt also in the 2nd cent and later suffered during the 5th cent earthquakes.Christian zealots destroyed part of the mosaic depicting Achilles at this time and filled in the building with rubble. It has now been restored and covered once more. On the other side of the road is the fountain. This is a tranquil space which like the Antonine Nymphaeum has been reconnected to the water supply.It is a peaceful three sided doric columned edifice which later distributed water to the lower city.
The library above the Hellenistic fountain.
We scrambled up to the theatre with its fantastic views over the surrounding countryside and met a small group of greek Australians who were thrilled at having been able to read the greek inscritions in the library. In our 2 hours of rambling over the site we had met only one solitary tourist!
The theatre is a large structure for a city of this size, too large for it was never finished. It had seating for 90,000 spectators and drew on people from the whole region.Sagalassus was a high point of our Roman odyssey in Anatolia. Marc Waelkens remarks that finding it undisturbed after a milennium and a half changed his life forever and its not difficult to see why.

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