I walked through the main gates of Perge, one of the greatest cities of Greek, and eventually Roman culture. The first things I saw were huge stone walls surrounding the city, with a gap that served as the main entrance, where they grabbed the horses of visitors to be held waiting for their masters till the visit is over, which was needless for me since I didn’t have a horse or anything in kind.
Surprisingly enough, they didn’t check me unlike they did for the others. Neither did they care while I entered the city grounds. At once, I saw people milling around in their customary one piece clothes. Men in their white garbs, some with quality looking sashes around their belts, and some other with ropes instead of sashes; women with their earthen jewelries and accessories around their necks and on their arms; and kids running around in groups, laughing and playing together.
Then along a colonnaded main street, there were shops with their goods for sale, and people trading, or checking the items in them. Soldiers walking around in their watch, standing before important buildings, especially in front of a keep closer to the entrance, which I suspected to be some kind of governmental one. I noticed a waterway running through the entire city with its sparkling water coming from the hill which the city nestled on, and running toward the main entrance. It was easy to realize that it was the main life source of that city, which eventually I proved to be right, because when the water dried, the people of this magnificent city would move along, and leave the place to rot and die.
When this thought came to life in my mind, all the illusion disappeared and I saw the city as it is now, after seven millennia of its birth: Rubbles, stones, and remnants of the colonnaded main street, shops, mosaic tiles of the public baths, and the most impressively, the underground watering system that surrounds the entire city, all built between 7,000 BC and 600 BC!
Well, yes, it’s all in ruins now, of course. But when you start walking along the main street and alleys of the ancient city Perge, which is now within the city limits of Antalya, Turkey, you almost see all the life went on and went away in the place. Trust me, it creates an impression almost like you would have while standing in ancient Jerusalem.
This is the second time I visit this fascinating city, but frankly, I hadn’t recognized the depth of cultural sophistication you can see here in this city, due to my young age I guess.
In the twelfth century BC, there was a large wave of Greek migration from northern Anatolia to the Mediterranean coast. Many settled in the area immediately east of the area of modern-day Antalya, which came to be known as Pamphylia, meaning “land of all tribes”. Four great cities eventually rose to prominence in the area including Perga.
Perga was founded around 1000 BC and is nearly 20 kilometres (12 mi) inland. It was sited inland as a defensive measure in order to avoid the pirate bands that terrorized this stretch of the Mediterranean. However the nearby Kestros (Aksu) River enabled the town to benefit from the advantages of the sea as if it were a coastal city.
In 546 BC, the Achaemenid Persians defeated the local powers and gained control of the region. In 333 BC, the armies of Alexander the Great arrived in Perga during his war of conquest against the Persians. The citizens of Perga sent out guides to lead his army into the city.
Alexander’s was followed by the Diadochi empire of the Seleucids. Perga’s most celebrated ancient inhabitant, the mathematician Apollonius (c.262 BC – c.190 BC), lived and worked there. Apollonius wrote a series of eight books describing a family of curves known as conic sections, comprising the circle, ellipse, parabola, and hyperbola.
Roman rule began in 188 BC, and most of the surviving ruins today date from this period.
In 46 A.D., according to the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul journeyed to Perga, from there continued on to Antiocheia in Pisidia, then returned to Perga where he delivered a sermon. Then he left the city and went to Attaleia.
From the beginning of the Imperial era, work projects were carried out in Perga, and in the second and third centuries A.D. it grew into one of the most beautiful cities, not just in Pamphylia, but in all of Anatolia.
In the first half of the fourth century, during the reign of Constantine the Great (324-337), Perga became an important centre of Christianity after it had become the official religion of the Roman Empire. The city retained its status as a Christian centre in the fifth and sixth centuries.
Due to frequent rebellions and raids, the citizens retreated inside the city walls, able to defend themselves only from within the acropolis. Perga lost its remaining power in the wake of the mid-seventh century Arab raids. Then some residents of the city migrated to Antalya.
After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Perga remained inhabited until Seljuk times, before being gradually abandoned.
St. Paul the Apostle and his companion St. Barnabas, twice visited Perga as recorded in the biblical book, the Acts of the Apostles, during their first missionary journey, where they “preached the word” before heading for and sailing from Attalia (modern-day Antalya city), 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) to the southwest, to Antioch.
Perge remained a Roman Catholic titular metropolitan see in the former Roman province of Pamphylia Secunda. Paul and Barnabas came to Perge during their first missionary journey, but probably stayed there only a short time, and do not seem to have preached there; it was there that John Mark left Paul to return to Jerusalem. On his return from Pisidia Paul preached at Perge.
The Greek Notitiae episcopatuum mentions the city as metropolis of Pamphylia Secunda until the thirteenth century. Le Quien gives 11 bishops: Epidaurus, present at the Council of Ancyra (modern Ankara) in 312; Callicles at the First Council of Nicæa in 325; Berenianus, at Constantinople (426); Epiphanius at the Second Council of Ephesus (449), at the First Council of Chalcedon (451), and a signatory on the letter from the bishops of the province to Emperor Leo (458); Hilarianus, at the First Council of Constantinople in 536; Eulogius, at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553; Apergius, condemned as a Monothelite at the Third Council of Constantinople in 680; John, at the Trullan council in 692; Sisinnius Pastillas about 754, Constans, at the Council of Nicæa (787); John, at the Fourth Council of Constantinople in 869–70.
Perga is today an archaeological site and a major tourist attraction. Ancient Perge, one of the chief cities of Pamphylia, was situated between the Rivers Catarrhactes (Duden sou) and Cestrus (Ak sou), 60 stadia (about 11.1 kilometres (6.9 mi)) from the mouth of the latter; the site is in the modern Turkish village of Murtana on the Suridjik sou, a tributary of the Cestrus, formerly in the Ottoman vilayet of Koniah. Its ruins include a theatre, a palæstra, a temple of Artemis and two churches. The very famous temple of Artemis was located outside the town.
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