Sagalassos Turkey

Ancient Theatre. Sagalassos. Turkey.

Dramatically set amongst the clouds high on the Western Taurus mountain range in Turkey, ancient Sagalassos was Hellenised, Romanised, Christianised, destroyed, abandoned, buried and then lost for centuries.

According to ancient Hittite records, Sagalassos was established around the 14th century BC in the heart of ancient Pisidia, a mountainous geopolitical region. Various empires controlled and or influenced the city over the next 1000 years, including the Phrygians, Lydians, Persians and Greeks.

A pivotal development in the history of Sagalassos occurred in 333 BC when, Alexander the Great, on his way to conquer the Persians and the known world, sacked the city after encounter fierce resistance from the Pisidian’s who had a reputation of being bold, rebellious and warlike.

Hellenism came with Alexander’s conquest of the region, and Sagalassos embraced all facets of Greek civilization and formed part of the Greek cultural territories. This had a long-lasting prosperous effect on Sagalassos as it became the most progressive city of Pisidia and new trade opportunities and routes opened up.

The Romans arrived in the 1st century BC and Sagalassos became part of the expanding Roman Empire. The city’s prosperity continued to grow and became a vital trade hub and urban centre of the region. 

Sagalassos exported grain and olives and become famous for producing its signature ‘red slip ware’, which was tableware of high quality.

The city was embellished with new buildings and monuments particular during the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian who favoured the metropolis and named it the ‘first city of the region of Pisidia’. At its peak, Sagalassos had a population in the tens of thousands and was one of the more affluent cities in Asia Minor.

The decline of Sagalassos began from around 500 AD when the city was struck by plagues, water shortages, catastrophic earthquakes and the first Arabs raids.

Sagalassos was ultimately abandoned around the 7th century with most of the population moving to the valley below. It is believed that some of the city was re-occupied in parts by a minor settlement until the 13th century, and then fully abandoned and forgotten. Natural erosion and vegetation growth subsequently covered the buildings of the abandoned city and, as a result, Sagalassos was lost for centuries until it was rediscovered in the 18th century.

The extensive site (which includes an Upper and Lower City) has been undergoing large-scale excavations and restoration since 1990 and features many well-preserved remnants from its splendid past. Highlights include the monumental Nymphaeum, Roman Baths, Heroon, Bouleterion, rock tombs, Agoras, Colonnaded Street and the great Hellenistic style Roman theatre which seated 9000 spectators and is the highest (altitude) built theatre in the world.

The ruins of Sagalassos are situated high in the Western Toros (Taurus) mountains, at an altitude of 1450-1700 metres and are near the town of Aglasun in the Burdur Province in south-western Turkey. Sagalassos is a very enjoyable day trip from the well-known port and holiday resort of Antalya, which is approximately 110 km to the south of the ancient city.

Sagalassos was added to the tentative list of sites submitted to UNESCO for World Heritage Site status in 2009.

Click to view the complete Sagalaaos image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Author: Steven Sklifas

Freelance Writer and Photographer

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