Ruin Road Trip: Sagalassos, Burdur, Karain, Termessos, and Perge – whewww!

Road trip! Tracey and I boarded our small silver bomb early yesterday morning and were off on our ruin road trip by 7. The traffic through Antalya was still quite busy even though it was fairly early Sunday morning and I had to keep alert to navigate us through the city, onto the city centre bypass route and up north towards Burdur. We made one false move in turning off north too soon but caught it quickly and were back on the right track within 10 minutes. Unfortunately, our driving map did not go up high enough and I was navigating according to written instructions obtained from the internet and my memory of the map we’d had in the car the other day. We stopped three times at three different gas stations to see if they sold maps but none of them did. At our second stop five guys debated in Turkish over how to get to Aglasun, the town nearest to the Sagalassos ruin site, our first destination. However, even without the map, and instructions scrawled on the back of a cookie box, we managed to find our way to the correct turnoff some 1.75 hours north of Antalya. We drove through Aglasun following the old weathered Sagalassos signs up 7 kilometers of windy hairpin turn one lane road to the ruin site.

The site occupies a mountain top position and it was slightly overcast and windy when we arrived, cool enough to wear a sweater and scarf. Only one other car and a small midi bus were in the parking lot; a Belgian tour also pulled up just as we disembarked, disgorging a small crowd of visitors, some of whom were using walkers and canes. We were not sure what part of “hill top ruin site” led them to think that they would be able to climb up to the ancient city. At the top of the site, far up the mountain, was the Hellenistic theatre, quite well preserved. We enjoyed the view from the top in almost complete seclusion and the cool breeze whistling through the grass and our hair. Making our way down again, we examined the Neon library and the fountain house, the latter providing a home for lizards, butterflies and crickets, as well as a solitary large worm in a pool of water.

The site has two agorae, the upper with a beautiful Nymphaeum (ornamental fountain), a Heroon (small temple dedicated to a deified human, likely Alexander the Great), and a Doric temple. The heroon has a beautiful frieze of 15 dancing women around the base, the originals of which we later saw in the Burdur museum. The lower agora is where the archeological team is currently working and thus we weren’t able to walk around inside it. It is here, in the bath complex, that the colossal heads of Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius and Faustina were found last year and the year before. The large crane in the middle of the agora, used by the archeological excavation team, seems oddly out of place in the midst of white stone monuments. When we’d completed our tour of the site, I sampled my favorite beverage, Nescafe, in a tulip shaped cup in the small outdoor café at the entrance.

Read more about the site here and here.

The setting of the ruins is beautiful and we were interested in seeing some of the artifacts excavated so we decided to drive to Burdur, where the museum housing these is located. Rather than retrace our steps, we drove along a 27 kilometer gravel road up hill and down dale through villages to reach Burdur, a medium sized town about 150 km north of Antalya. The museum is small but contains several beautiful sculptures, especially the ones taken from the upper agora’s nymphaeum. The two sculptures of Bacchus and Satyr are standouts here, as is the original frieze of the 15 dancing women from the Heroon. We also saw finds from Kremna, Kibyra, and Karacaoren, all ancient sites in the immediate area. The wealth of ancient ruins in this area is astonishing and we marveled at how the ancients were able to construct their cities in such imposing locations. After an hour or so in the small museum, we hopped back in the car and headed back down towards Antalya and the Karain Cave, the next stop on our agenda, a Paleolithic archaeological site located at Yağca village 27 km northwest of Antalya.

Karain is a prehistoric cave, situated at a height of about 370 m from the sea and about 80 m up the slope, where the Western Taurus calcareous zone borders on the travertine plain. Evidence of human habitation dating back to the early Paleolithic age (150,000-200,000) years has been discovered in this cave. We entered the site through a minimalist museum with four or five small glass cases of artifacts such as stone arrow heads and two rather dusty sets of antlers on the wall. 800 meters up the cliff along a narrow rocky path lies the entrance to the cave itself. The cavern entrance bears vestiges of the archeologists’ excavations. Beyond the entrance are several large rooms with strangely-shaped walls and ceilings, luridly lit by high-powered electric lights. Tracey and I enjoyed the coolness of the interior after the steep, hot climb, both of us having made the mistake of wearing flip-flops rather than our shoes. As we made our way down the slope again, the clouds that had been gathering as we were inside became darker and darker and just as we reached the car, the heavens opened and it began to pour rain and hail. Earlier I had called Suleiman at the Yesil Vadi pension where we were spending the night to let him know we were on our way and he came to pick us up and guide us along the shortcut to the pension through the village of Yağca.

The pension, located 9 km from Termessos on the side of a dry river bed, has 9 rooms and is run by two brothers from the local village. The two of us and a German family of three camping were the only guests. While somewhat Spartan in terms of décor, Yesil Vadi served its purpose of being very convenient for our next stop, the mountain top site of Termessos in the Gulluk Milli Park. Suleiman was also very pleasant and spoke good English. Tracey and I sampled the restaurant’s specialties of meatballs, cigar boregi, macaroni and tomato salad and were in bed by 9, exhausted.

The next morning, although I had wanted to sleep in a bit, I was awake at 6 and we were in the dining room for breakfast by 7:30. The morning was beautiful, sunny with a few drifting clouds, and windy. We headed off down the road, into the park, and up the 7 kilometer windy one lane hairpin turn road to the parking lot halfway up the mountain. From here, we took the left hand path through the forest up towards the site.

Termesssos was a Psidian city built at an altitude of more than 1000 meters at the south-west side of the mountain Solymos (modern day Güllük Dagi) in the Taurus Mountains. Unlike Sagalassos, the wealthy first city of Pamphylia which was conquered by Alexander the Great in 333, Termessos was left alone by the Macedonian conqueror. Legend has it that Termessos’ location and fierce inhabitants repelled Alexander but other modern accounts say that he simply didn’t bother to take it, possibly because it was not worth his while. Termessos is an unrestored site, concealed by a multitude of wild plants and bounded by dense pine forests, and has many tumbled-down blocks of stone and parts of columns over which a visitor must climb to ascend. We reached the theatre, located right near the top of the mountain, and was it ever fabulous. What a location! The view from there over the valley and mountains beyond was gorgeous. From there we walked through the gymnasium, the agora, of which nothing much is left except piles of stones, the benefactor’s house – ditto – and along a path with five very deep cisterns. We spent some time walking in circles around here looking for the agora before we realized that there was nothing much of it to see. Very few people were at the site; the steepness of the terrain keeps most away but we saw a few, including one British couple, the woman wearing leather dress shoes, a white skirt and carrying a white parasol – unusual dress choices for this particular venue … We then made our way back down again to the baths and took the right hand path leading down to the parking lot, the steeper and more difficult way past rock-cut cliffside tombs and sarcophagi. Near the bottom we saw Hadrian’s Gate amidst another big pile of stony rubble. Upon asking one of the ticket takers where the lion’s tomb was, he proceeded to take us on a whirlwind tour of the north east necropolis – no “yavash, yavash (slowly, slowly)” for us. The guy sped us through that necropolis as if he were being chased by wild boars. We did see the lion tomb, with relief carvings of two lions on the side of the sarcophagus, the monumental tomb, and several others with quite well-preserved relief sculptures, some of angels. The two necropolis on the site contain in total about 1,200 sarcophagi. Many of the ones we saw were completely overgrown with moss, ferns and other plants, tumbled here and there, hither and thither in the forest. My old favorites the korek were also growing here; however, while the korek in Gumusluk had been fully grown and dying off, those here were just beginning to grow. Butterflies fluttered around our heads and crickets and grasshoppers skipped across the ground as we walked; one small beast attached himself to our car windshield and had to be brushed off into the weeds before we left.

Read more about Termessos here.

After having spent about 3 hours at this wonderful hilltop site, we headed back down the road to Antalya, through the big city and got stuck in terrible traffic about 2 kilometers before the turnoff to Perge, our next stop. A construction project has closed down half the highway here and we crawled along for what seemed like hours as cars and trucks and tractors and motorbikes tried to jockey for position on the crowded tarmac in the heat. Finally, we reached the Perge turnoff and 2 kilometers from the highway, the site itself. A notable historical figure who twice visited Perge was St. Paul the Apostle and his companion St. Barnabas, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 13:13-14 and 14:25), during their first missionary journey, where they “preached the word” (Acts 14:25) before heading for and sailing from Attalia (modern-day Antalya city), 15 km to the southwest, to Antioch.

Perge is enormous, a ruin from the Roman imperial period, and has several long colonnaded streets that are very impressive. But the most impressive part of these ruins for us was the bath complex, an enormous, opulently constructed series of buildings that must have been amazing back in the day. I was quite tired and hot and we did not have much water so our progress through the site was slow and we didn’t have the energy to see it all. We did make our way through an unmarked field and torn down fence out to see the theatre, only to find that it was “closed for restoration” – ha! It looked as though no-one had been in there for at least 25 years and did not at all look as though any restoration project was happening – it is just locked up behind a tall metal fence – damn. It would have been helpful if the ticket taker had told us that the theatre was closed. And also, after paying 15 lira, more than any other site, it was disappointing that we did not even get a brochure in English. Perge would be best visited early in the morning when one is fresh – it is definitely not a heat of the day endeavour …

Once back on the highway and in the ridiculous traffic, we crawled along for another painful 2 kilometers before being able to get some speed up on our return journey. Feeling hot and tired, we pulled over at one of the many roadside gozleme (Turkish crepe) stands and feasted on gozleme cooked by granny and tomatoes and cucumber picked fresh from the garden – yummm. We arrived back at the ranch by 5:30 or so, glad to put the silver crap car to rest.

See pictures here and here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.