Sagalassos Turkey, Ancient city in the Clouds

by Steven Sklifas
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 which thankfully helped it avoid looting and become one of the best preserved ancient urban sites in the Mediterranean.

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

A momentous 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 meeting fierce resistance from the Pisidian’s who had reputation of being bold, rebellious and warlike.

The full force of Hellenism came with Alexander’s conquest of the region and Sagalassos embraced all facets of Greek society and formed part of the Greek cultural territories. This had a long-lasting prosperous effect on Sagalassos as it became the most advanced 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 table ware of high quality.

The city was embellished with new buildings and monuments particular during the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian who favoured the city 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.

Most of the surviving ancient structures seen today are from the Roman period, in particular the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.

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

Sagalassos was eventually abandoned around the 7th century with most of the population relocating to the valley below. It is believed that some of the city was re-occupied in parts by a minor settlement up until the 13th century, and then totally 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 vast site (which includes an Upper and Lower City) has been undergoing large-scale excavations and restoration since 1990 ( and features numerous well-preserved vestiges from its splendid past.

Highlights include the monumental Nymphaeum, Roman Baths, Heroon, Bouleterion, rock tombs, Agora’s, 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 located 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.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

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