Just what is it with us and the centre of Antalya? Whenever we’re in this city, there’s always a little travel (mis)adventure where something goes slightly array. All good fun, nothing serious…but all the same… every single visit? When we were there recently, we managed two such (mis)adventures in the space of our four night stay. One of them when we decided to go and explore the Perge ancient ruins.
The Road To Perge
On the day of the Perge visit, I even said I’d seen a dolmuş going by pretty regularly with ‘Perge’ listed as one of its destinations. I then said that, knowing our track record with Antalya, there would probably be more than one Perge and the dolmuş would take us to the wrong one.
Ahhh, and guess what happened next. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Perge is also a neighbourhood in Antalya city centre! That is where the dolmuş driver stopped, turned around and informed the three tourists on his bus that they were at their destination.
Errm, clearly, we weren’t! Fortunately, we’d done a bit of a circular tour of the suburbs and were only a few metres away from Meydan. This is the hub where many of the cities buses and dolmuş services arrive and leave.
En Route To Perge Ruins
So, bus number two and now we were safely on our way to the area of Aksu. Aksu is home to the ancient ruins of Perge and around 15km east of Antalya city centre.
Life might be easier for the independent traveller visiting Perge when there isn’t so much construction going on but our visit coincided with the extension of the metro line out as far as the new Expo site.
2018 update: It is now easy to reach the Perge ruins by taking this metro to Aksu.
When we got off the bus at the final stop, all landmarks to look out for, mentioned by people online, were nowhere in sight. Not even a road sign.
We literally clambered over the metro works going on there and then clambered over the extensive road works along this section of the D400 just so we could ask a waiter which direction we needed to aim for.
Not so Far, Really
We love Turkey for this. He smiled and did a little intake of breath. A breath that said, “Wow, are you on foot? You’re miles away.”
“Go up that road there,” he said, “and keep going, keep going, keep going. You’ll see Perge…eventually.”
A 15-20 minute walk up the road is ‘miles away’ for some Turkish people who don’t like to move too far unless there’s a set of wheels, preferably with a motor, involved.
And so, off we went, in remarkably good spirits. Well, you’ve gotta laugh. And at least it was springtime. A beautiful sunny day, wildflowers lining the road, snow capping the mountains in the distance. Had the Mediterranean summer heat been playing a part, patience levels could well have hit zero but our walk was pleasant.
Arrival At Perge, Antalya
Perge (or Perga, as it’s also known) was a significant city in ancient Pamphylia. You can see this by the impressive statues in the dedicated Perge room at Antalya Museum.
However, as with many ancient ruins around Turkey, there is no grand entrance that announces, “Hey, this is Perge ancient city.”
One minute you’re strolling along the lonely road looking at the hillside. The next, there’s a rather impressive theatre looking at you…with a sign that’s clearly been there for some time, stating, ‘Theatre closed for restoration.’ Oh joy! Well, this little Antalya outing was going well, wasn’t it, eh?
What about the rest of the Perge site? Was the whole ancient city going to be closed?
Open Or Closed?
Well, we were here, now. We made the most of it and spent a good few minutes around the perimeter fencing of the theatre photographing details and standing on tiptoes, trying to get a glimpse of what it might be like inside.
How frustrating not to be able to climb around the seating, right up to the top. Ah, well, an excuse to return again another time.
Across the road, a small ramshackle wooden ticket booth was closed up, but, beyond that – and not fenced off – are rows of numbered ancient Greek and Roman marble and stone blocks, patiently waiting their turn to be slotted into the jigsaw of this archaeological story.
And there’s also this fantastic stadium.
According to The Rough Guide to Turkey, this huge horseshoe-shaped stadium is the biggest in Asia Minor and could seat up to 12,000 people. It’s Turkey’s second most-intact stadium after Aphrodisias.
Scrambling around the stadium was fascinating. We wandered around the perimeter, on the back side, where archways, built to support the seating, are still intact.
Used as shops in Perge’s hey day, many of them now make perfect organised storage for archaeologists to store and organise their finds.
And as we walked around towards the top curve of the horseshoe, boulders and a more gentle grassy area gave us the opportunity to climb to the top row of seats for a better view.
Photos I’d seen in the past of the Perge ancient city had displayed rows of huge columns. Where were they, then? Hopefully, our little climb to the top would reveal more.
Ahh, it’s so lovely just to lose yourself in ancient ruins and it’s very easy to do that with our annual trips to Antalya. They’re always in March so it means there are never many people around.
As with our explorations of Myra’s ancient ruins, we had this vast area to ourselves. Just us, an ancient city and springtime wildflowers. Oh, and there was a very cute street dog, too, minding its own business at the bottom of the stadium.
Much of the stadium is intact so it’s easy to get a feel of what it must have been like to sit here as part of the crowd watching events taking place. And, from this top tier of the stadium, it’s also easier to get a peek at the inside of Perge’s theatre.
From what we’ve read since returning, the theatre has been off limits for some time so we’ll satisfy ourselves with this view for now.
One thing is for certain; if and when the theatre at Perge is at a stage where it is no longer out of bounds, it’s going to be a great place to explore. The views from up there, across the rest of the ancient city, must be pretty special.
Perge Is Open For Business
But let’s get back to the rest of the Perge ruins. Oh so pretty as we looked out across the wildflowers and beyond the perimeter fencing.
We could see a couple of diggers in action and then realised there were a few people at work constructing a huge, new entrance area. At this point, we were still assuming all was closed off but we took ourselves off to see, anyway.
A good sign; tables and chairs outside a little cafe, a few stalls selling souvenirs, a huge (empty) coach park, brand new toilet blocks (very posh, too, we might add), the obligatory museum shop (open) and a row of brand new turnstiles, all of them open.
All of this and just me, Barry and Jennifer to make use of it. And make use of it, we did.
A Brief History Of Perge, Turkey
Most of what still stands at Perge is from the Roman period but from the 12th Century BC, Perge and the other places which came to make up the area of Pamphylia – Sillyon, Aspendos and Side – were inhabited by Greek peoples who had migrated from northern Anatolia.
The city of Perge dates from around 1000 BC and was apparently built slightly inland as a protection from the pirates we’ve mentioned in other articles; those who terrorised the Mediterranean coast, including the cities of Phaselis and nearby Olympos.
Heracles & Apollonius
Perge is well known because of the head of a statue of Heracles that was housed in Boston, Massachusetts. When the body of the statue was found at Perge, Turkey managed to bring his head ‘home’ and the two pieces were reunited.
Heracles (Hercules, to the Romans) was the mortal son of Zeus and apparently a bit of a drinker and womaniser who often got himself into trouble.
But Perge also has a famous son; someone who actually resided and worked in the city. Apollonius of Perga was a pupil of Archimedes and became a famous astronomer and geometer in his own right after he produced the book, Conics.
For all those non-mathematicians amongst us, Apollonius of Perga is basically responsible for vocabulary and knowledge of the circle, parabola, ellipse and hyperbola.
St. Paul And Barnabas
For people interested in Bible history, Turkey is an absolute treasure trove. Many of the archaeological sites in the country feature in the Bible and hold some significance. Ancient Perge is no exception.
In the case of Perge, its missionary visitor was St. Paul. This visit occurred in 46 AD when he arrived from Syria and preached the word of God (Acts 14:25).
Paul wandered extensively in what is now Turkey. He later preached the virtues of Christianity to the Ephesians in the great theatre at Ephesus – not entirely welcomed by some sections of the population.
But, after his stay in Perge, he journeyed northwards with Barnabas to Antioch of Pisidia above the northwest shores of Eğirdir Lake in today’s Isparta Province.
This is now the modern day long distance 500 kilometre footpath, St. Paul’s Trail which, along with forest tracks and mountain climbs, takes in the stunning Eğirdir.
It’s easy to visit individual archaeological sites in Turkey and appreciate them for what they are. But, a bit of further research and it’s fascinating to be able to start to knit them together and work out their connections and significance in the history of the world.
Perge certainly had its fair share of importance and very much deserves more visitors than it currently receives.
Exploring Perge, Antalya
Wandering around Perge was really memorable because it’s such an intact city within the Roman walls. You can spend a good few hours here – we did – photographing and exploring. Wow, I took so many photos!
There’s a lot to see. The two rounded towers you can see above are huge and are the only survivors from the Hellenistic period. (The theatre was also built in the Hellenistic period but is now a mixture of Hellenistic and Roman construction).
Walk through the gates, beyond a horseshoe-shaped courtyard and eventually, you stumble upon the Roman baths.
By now, Barry had ambled off in his own world in a completely opposite direction and Jennifer was off taking photos of her own. We were all just lost in our own little spaces.
So Many Columns
We gathered back together at the impressively long colonnaded street that runs through the centre of the ancient city of Perge. Some of the stones have ruts in them made by the chariots of Roman times. A similar scene to the columns at the Izmir Agora.
The actual ruins are obviously not as impressive as those of Ephesus on the Aegean coast but the streets and the columns and the size of the city make the Perge ruins really memorable for us.
Sometimes, when visiting ancient ruins, it can be difficult to get a feel of how city life must have worked.
Modern developments have divided areas up, there are ruins from different eras all in one place, significant structures have been removed in the past (Charles Fellows and Xanthos come to mind) or some constructions simply haven’t survived the centuries.
But Perge still has its city layout and you can really picture people living their daily life. People going to the theatre and the stadium. Shopping around the archways under the stadium. Walking or riding up and down the colonnaded street, shopping in the agora (pictured above).
Time to Leave Perge
It’s a place that is definitely worth a visit. As excavations are still being carried out, there will no doubt be more discoveries at ancient Perge that will make a revisit necessary at some point. Eventually, though, the time came to leave. Perfect timing, too, as we had just been joined by a small group of tourists.
And, as we purchased an ice cream and a souvenir postcard, a coach rolled up. Lovely that we had been blessed with having Perge all to ourselves but great for the staff there that they now had something to do.
We trundled off back down the road towards the bus stop. But first, it was food time…and we knew exactly what we were going to eat! Aksu is famous for köfte piyaz!
Perge Ruins, Antalya – Useful Info
- Perge ruins are in Aksu, east of Antalya city centre
- You can take a bus or dolmuş from Meydan in Antalya city centre to Aksu. Get off at the last stop and Perge is around 2 km from the stop. The metro line now also goes along this route.
- Entrance to Perge is 50 TL per person (January 2020) or free if you have a Müzekart or 7-day Mediterranean Pass.
- Give yourself around 3 hours to explore the Perge ruins.
- The ruins are open daily. If you go in summer, there is little shade so prepare for that.
- There is a museum shop and small market serving hot and cold drinks, snacks and souvenirs.
- Don’t head off back to Antalya (or elsewhere) without eating Aksu’s famous köfte piyaz.