Perge was founded around 1000 BC and ranked as one of the great Pamphylian trading cities, despite the fact that it’s nearly 20km inland – a deliberate defensive siting so as to avoid the unwanted attentions of the pirate bands that terrorized this stretch of the Mediterranean. Later, when Alexander the Great arrived in 333 BC, the citizens of Perge sent out guides to lead his army into the city. Alexander was followed by the Seleucids, under whom Perge’s most celebrated ancient inhabitant, the mathematician Apollonius, lived and worked. Most of the city’s surviving buildings date from the period of Roman rule, which began in 188 BC. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Perge remained inhabited until Selçuk times, before being gradually abandoned.
Just before the site entrance, the theatre has been closed for repairs for some time. It was originally constructed by the Greeks, but substantially altered by the Romans in the second century AD. Built into the side of a hill, it could accommodate 14,000 people on 42 seating levels and was the venue for theatrical entertainment, poetry contests and musical concerts. To the northeast of the theatre is Perge’s massive horseshoe-shaped stadium, the largest in Asia Minor at 234m by 34m, with a seating capacity of 12,000. It was the venue not only for chariot races, but also wild beast hunts, public executions and gladiator spectacle.
Past the site entrance, stretches of the Seleucid walls have survived, giving some indication of the extent and ground plan of the original city. Just in front of the outer gates is the Tomb of Plancia Magna, a benefactress of the city, whose name appears later on a number of inscriptions. Passing through the first city gate, you’ll see a ruined Byzantine basilica on the right, beyond which lies the fourth-century AD agora, centred on a ruined temple. To the southwest of the agora are the excavated Roman baths, where a couple of the pools have been exposed. Across the cracked surface of the inlaid marble floor, the original layout of frigidarium, tepidarium and caldarium can – with the help of a few signs – still be discerned. Also visible in places are the brick piles that once supported the hypocaust floor of the baths, enabling warm air to circulate underneath.
At the northwest corner of the agora is Perge’s Hellenistic Gate, with its two mighty circular towers, the only building to have survived from the Hellenistic period. Behind, the horseshoe-shaped court and ornamental archway were both erected at the behest of Plancia Magna, the former once adorned with statues – the bases of a number of which were found during excavations carried out during the mid-1950s. Beyond is the start of a 300-metre-long colonnaded street, with a water channel running down the middle and the shells of shops to either side. Walking along it, you’ll be able to pick out the ruts made by carts and chariots in the stone slabs of the roadway. Also visible are a number of reliefs near the tops of the columns, just beneath the capitals, one of which depicts Apollo, while another shows a man in a toga, offering a libation at an altar. At the end of the street is the nymphaeum, an ornamental water outlet from where a stream splashes down into the water channel below. Above here is the acropolis – probably the site of the original defensive settlement, of which little has survived. To the west of a crossroads just before the nymphaeum is a palestra, dating from 50 AD, according to an inscription found on its south wall. West of here, archeologists have found a necropolis leading from one of the city gates, sarcophagi from which can now be seen in the Antalya archeological museum.