Founded around 1000 BC, Perge ranked as one of the great Pamphylian trading cities, despite the fact that it’s nearly 20km inland. Its defensive siting was deliberate, 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.
Perge’s theatre, just outside the site entrance, has been closed for excavation for several years. Originally constructed by the Greeks, it was substantially altered by the Romans in the second century AD. Capable of accommodating fourteen thousand people on 42 levels, it was the venue for theatrical entertainment, poetry contests and musical concerts. To the northeast, Perge’s massive horseshoe-shaped stadium was at 234m by 34m the largest in Asia Minor, with a seating capacity of twelve thousand. It was used not only for chariot races, but also wild beast hunts, public executions and gladiator spectacles.
Beyond 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 stands the Tomb of Plancia Magna, a benefactress of the city. 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.
Southwest of the agora, in the excavated Roman baths, 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.
Perge’s Hellenistic Gate, at the northwest corner of the agora, is with its two mighty circular towers the only building to survive from the Hellenistic period. Behind, the horseshoe-shaped court and ornamental archway were both erected at the behest of Plancia Magna. The former was once adorned with statues – the bases of which were found during mid-1950s excavations. Beyond is the start of a 300m-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 reliefs near the tops of the columns, just beneath the capitals. One depicts Apollo, while another shows a man in a toga, offering a libation at an altar.
From the nymphaeum, an ornamental water outlet at the end of the street, 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.