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SAGALASSOS (AĞLASUN)

                                                                       Population: 4,000

Sagalassos1Sagalassos, set on the steep slopes of the Akdağı (White Mountain) in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains between Burdur and Isparta, is one of Turkey's most magnificent archaeological sites where, uniquely, flowing water has been returned to the fountains to dramatic effect. 

To visit it you need to hear for Ağlasun, a small, unexceptional town at the foot of the winding 7km road that leads up to the ruins.

Here there are several places to eat before or after your visit. Relics of Sagalassos can aso be seen in the Park Çay Bahçesi and the grounds of the Kaymakamlık (local authority).

The back streets harbour a few crumbling old brick houses, some of them almost worth calling long houses, but really all the action is up amid the ruins in their spectacular location. 

Despite being within relatively easy reach of Antalya, the ruins of the Psidian city of Sagalassos still get relatively few visitors, probably because the tour operators find Side, Perge and Aspendos easier to package. Sagalassos is even more readily accessible from the Lake District towns of Eğirdir, Isparta and Burdur but most travelers barely linger in the area long enough to find that out.

Scraps of Sagalassos turn up for miles around - in otherwise unremarkable Yeşilbaşköy, for example, which you pass through on the way from Burdur one of the fountains has been made out of pieces of carved marble from the ruins.

Many of the finds from Sagalassos are on display in Burdur museum.

Backstory

Sagalassos was a gift to tourists from the doughty Psidians who picked out the location way back in the mists of time.

You won’t find much that’s Psidian at today’s Sagalassos, especially since Alexander the Great sacked the city on his way through in 333 BC, but there is plentiful evidence of settlement dating back to Hellenistic times. Most of what you’ll see at the site, however, can be laid at the door of those endlessly enthusiastic city builders, the Romans.

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Around the site

The lie of the land means that much of the city had to be built on terraces cut into the slope.

Today the remains stretch over such a wide area that you’ll need at least two or three hours to do justice to them.

The site is extremely exposed so be sure to arrive with a hat and plenty of water. You might also want to pack a picnic to eat on the hillside with only the sound of the birds to disturb you.

Heading into the site from the ticket office, you have two choices.

The first is to cut straight uphill, past the remains of a huge mansion built to house a member of the nouveau riche, in search of the theatre, the most dramatic structure still standing at Sagalassos. In its heyday this could have coped with a capacity crowd of 9,000 people and most of the seating is still intact despite the disruption caused by earthquakes in the sixth and seventh centuries.

Nearby stand two other structures which have been painstakingly reconstructed by Belgian archaeologists. One is a sizeable Hellenistic fountain-house still supplied with water, the other a library whose mosaic floor the site custodian may be prepared to show you.

The discovery of large quantities of broken pottery to the east of the theatre suggested that for several centuries Sagalassos was producing ceramics on an industrial scale.

If you’d prefer a gentler introduction to the site walk straight ahead from the ticket office, a route which will take you past the remains of a vast bathhouse, complete with a 40-seater toilet block, and down to the lower agora, or market-place.

Overlooking the agora stand the slight remains of temples to Apollo Klarius and to the emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius, as well as of a church built centuries later reusing some of the stones from the temple. In 2015 the bathhouse was still fenced off as restoration work was carried out.

sagalassos3On the terraces climbing up above the lower agora stand the remains of the bouleterion (council meeting house) and the odeon (concert hall).

But most impressive of all is the huge reconstructed Roman fountain originally erected in the reign of Marcus Aurelius (r.161-180) and lavishly adorned with carvings and statues (crude replicas have replaced the originals in Burdur Museum).

What makes this such a stand-out attraction though is that the water is now flowing again making it possible to imagine what some of the other monumental fountains around the country (eg at Side) might have looked like in their heydays. The fountain completely dominates the upper agora which is dotted with other monuments and inscriptions. 

The most impressive structure still standing above the fountain is the Heroon, a temple to one of Rome’s great heroes (or possibly to Alexander the Great), which, in its prime, was decorated with carvings of dancing girls. These are now being painstakingly copied and replaced. Some of the originals can be seen in Burdur Museum.sagalassos4Dancing girls from Heroon, Burdur Museum

Nearby are the remains of a Doric temple, possibly dedicated to Zeus and predating most of what survives at the site. Later the temple was incorporated into the city walls, which explains why so much of the stonework has survived.

At the far western end of the site cut into the rocks you'll see the niched burial sites of Sagalassos' necropolis, some of them adorned with carved bulls' heads. 

Beyond the necropolis part of the outer wall of the stadium survives with traces of its shape also visible in the grass.

Sleeping

There is one small pension in Ağlasun (the Gezmez; tel: 0248-731 3303). On the road up towards the site the Sagalassos Lodge and Spa (tel: 0248-731 3232) offers much greater standards of comfort although it's likely to be full at times with tour groups. 

Otherwise the best bases for visiting Sagalassos are the Lakeland towns of Isparta, Eğirdir and Burdur. For my money the best of them is Burdur which has regular minibuses to Ağlasun as well as being home to the museum housing the main finds from the site. 

Transport info

There are regular dolmuşes to Sagalassos from Burdur and from Isparta’s local bus station, the Köy Garaj. From Ağlasun you could either walk the 7km uphill to the site (tough). Alternatively negotiate with the minibus driver or another local to drive you up there - they will have the whiphand when it comes to deciding the charge. 

On the way to or from Sagalassos from Burdur you can pause to visit the showcave at İnsuyu.AureliusHead of Marcus Aurelius, found 2008, now in Burdur Museum

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