Two of Antalya’s Classical Sites

By Anastasia Mills Healy

Situated in one of the many picturesque inlets of Turkey’s Turquoise Coast is Antalya, gateway to the important cities from antiquity, Aspendos and Perge.

Antalya harbor

The main draw of Aspendos, approximately 30 miles east of Antalya, is its impressive 20,000-seat theater, which has presented everything from gladiator battles to recent opera and ballet performances. Built in the latter half of the first century C.E., it is exceptionally well preserved, beautifully proportioned and boasts excellent acoustics.  In the 13th century, the theater was converted into a palace by the Seljuk Turks, an act that in some ways preserved the structure by covering it with bricks.  In addition to the theater, seek out the remains of structures including a 50-foot-tall aqueduct and the nymphaeum (sanctuary to water nymphs).

Sarcophagus in Perge

Closer to Antalya is Perge, which was founded in 1,000 B.C.E. and is name-checked in none other than the Bible. According to the book of Acts, St. Paul visited Perge twice in 46 A.D., once giving a sermon there. After the Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity, Perge became an important ecclesiastical city. But the vestiges of buildings here are mostly not related to religion. Instead, visitors can see a theater with wonderful marble reliefs detailing the life of Dionysus and a stadium with shops identifying their proprietors and wares with inscriptions. The Pergeans enjoyed their shopping: In addition to an agora (marketplace), Perge also had the precursor to an outdoor mall. A covered walkway once housed shops on both sides of a long reflecting pool that acted as air-conditioning.

Back in the city, don’t miss the Antalya Museum, which has a sizeable and excellent collection of statuary from Perge in addition to ancient coins, icons, mosaics and much more.

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