An important city of ancient Pamphylian, Perge was originally settled by the Hittites around 1500 B.C. St. Paul preached some of his first sermons here.
Perge is the best example of a complete Roman city in the Pamphylian plain. It developed from a Hellenistic hilltop settlement to a proper Roman city.
Apollonius of Perge (3C-2C BC)
Anatolian mathematician of the 3C and 2C BC, was known as the Great Geometer. In his Conics, an investigation of the mathematical properties of Conic Sections, Apollonius introduced the terms Ellipse, Hyperbola and Parabola. He was also an important founder of ancient mathematical astronomy, which applied geometric models to planetary theory.
According to ancient tradition the city, like Aspendus, was founded by Mopsus and Calchas in the 13C BC. Nevertheless, Perge did not appear in history until the 4C BC. Because the city was not fortified at the time of Alexander the Great, Perge willingly opened its doors to him. In the Hellenistic period Perge enjoyed rights of minting and considerable freedom under the Pergamene kings. The dominant motif used in art and on coins was Artemis of Perge. Artemis was associated with the Virgin Mary in the Christian period and worshipping her continued. Perge flourished and expanded in the Roman Imperial period during the first three centuries AD.
St. Paul and Barnabas visited Perge on their first journey on the way to and from Antioch. By looking at the existence of basilicas in Perge it could easily be concluded that Perge might have played an important role in the spreading of Christianity.
After the Roman period Perge remained inhabited by the Byzantines until the Seljuks when it was gradually abandoned.
The Theater was originally a Hellenistic style theater with a horseshoe-shaped orchestra, but later, especially with the construction of the stage building in the 2C AD, the style was modified to Roman. The seating capacity was 14,000. At the base of the building, running around the stage area, there were many reliefs showing scenes from the life of Dionysus or river-god, Cestrus. By the outer facade of the stage building there was a 12-meter-high (40 ft) nymphaeum whose five fountain niches have survived. The theater was probably combined with the nymphaeum.
The Stadium was built in the 2C AD, and is one of the best preserved in Anatolia. Others are in Aphrodisias and Laodicea. The 30 diagonally placed barrel-vaulted rooms under the rows of seats were used partly for access and partly as shops. The stadium seated approximately 12,000 spectators.
Access to the city was through the Roman gate which was located on the 4C AD outer wall. The Baths Complex, located to the west of the courtyard before the Hellenistic gateway, is preceded by a propylon. The typical succession of three rooms is notable, frigidarium, tepidarium and caldarium. Their basins, floors and walls were covered with marble. Statues which decorated the rooms are exhibited in the archeological museum in Antalya. Perge did not have marble quarries, all the marble was brought by sea mostly from Marmara Island in the Marmara Sea.
The Hellenistic gateway and walls are the only pre-Roman structures, 3C BC. The gateway consists of two round towers, which are a characteristic of the town and a horseshoe-shaped courtyard. These imposing twin towers were "updated" by Plancia Magna (the daughter of the Governor of Bithynia, chief priestess of Artemis and a benefactress of the city) in the beginning of the 2C AD. She also commissioned a gateway with three doorways behind the courtyard in the direction of the colonnaded street. She was by no means the first to decoratively enhance the main gate of a city and its environs. What she accomplished there may have stood as a fine example of improvement to all the aristocrats and officials of the later Empire. To enter the city the visitor would pass from the large courtyard into the horseshoe shape of the smaller one, decorated with statues of gods and of founders or legendary heroes of Perge. It is important to realize that such statues were not simply decorative, but were used to express the heroic past of a city and to proudly salute its intellectual and physical achievements - scholars, gymnasts, heroes, lawyers, emperors and benefactors.
The Colonnaded Street was a 20-meter-wide (65 ft) street lined on both sides with shops fronted by a wide, roofed colonnade. It was flanked by statues of prominent citizens. An unusual feature of this city was the water canal lying in the middle of the street. It was not for drinking nor draining but to provide a delight to the senses by cooling the atmosphere during hot summers, giving a relaxing sound and reflecting sunlight on its moving water.
Its marble paving still shows the ruts of wagon-wheels. To the east of the street there are a few columns decorated with some reliefs on their tops. These reliefs are Apollo, Artemis with her bow and arrows, and a male figure in his toga pouring a libation. The colonnaded street stretches from the Hellenistic gate to the Nymphaeum and intersects with the other main street. The Agora of Perge is a small symmetrical rectangle surrounded by colonnades of shops. It was built when the city was enlarged in the 4C AD. There is a round structure in the middle of the agora either dedicated to Hermes, god of merchants or Tyche, goddess of fortune. There are still some signs of shops. Note a butcher’s sign with a hook and a knife at the northeast corner of the agora.
© Wendy Blann