Pisidian Antioch Archaeological Site
The ancient city of Antioch of Pisidia is rich with both Biblical and Classical history. The ruins feature several prominent unique elements which are not found commonly in other archaeological sites. Pisidian Antioch is notable as the city where the apostle Paul delivered his first recorded sermon on his first missionary journey (Acts 13). You are able to visit the Great Basilica St. Paulus Church, which claims to be built over the synagogue Paul preached in —archaeologists and historians now believe this to be unlikely. Multiple churches can be explored throughout the site.
The city was originally colonized during the Hellenistic period by the Seleucid ruler Antiochus I around the mid-3rd century BC. It has been known as “Pisidian” Antioch to distinguish it from the other 16 similar cities Antiochus founded. In 129 BC it came under Roman possession and became the capital of other Roman cities in the region. The city held a significant military position and Augustus Caesar had it colonized by ex-legionaries during the late 1st century BC. The stamp of August is notable as one of the most notable features of the site is the massive Temple of Augustus carved into the rock of the hill.
Important features of the ancient city also include an arched gateway, colonnaded streets, nymphaeum, defensive walls, a theater, as well as Roman baths. I would recommend around 2 hours to fully explore the site.
There is unfortunately no audio guide and signage is barely adequate. If you want more detailed information about different elements of the site you can always check out Mark Wilson’s Guide to Biblical Turkey. You can check the museum’s official website for updated information, including entrance fees.
In addition to the main archaeological site, there are two additional free features you may want to check out. The first are the aqueducts located north of the ancient city and are still remarkably intact. These are free to visit and you just need to drive along the dirt road for a ways to find them. Second is the Yalvaç Musuem which contains many of the artifacts found at Pisidian Antioch and the surrounding area. This museum is also free!
The ancient city is located in the modern town of Yalvaç which is about 1.5 hours from the major city of Isparta (111 km/ 69 miles) and about an hour’s drive from the beautiful lake town of Eğirdir (75 km/ 46.5 miles). You can get to Yalvaç fairly easily from their by taking a bus from the otogar in either Isparta or Eğirdir. It is also possible to hire a taxi for the trip but that may be expensive. Renting a car is also a great option if you want to explore the region and possibly hike some Roman roads along the way. If you are traveling from Antalya you may want to spend a few nights in Eğirdir to camp or stay at a hotel on the lake peninsula before continuing up to Yalvaç.
After paying your admission fee, walk along the path and you will see the South Defensive Walls to your right and straight ahead is the remnants of the entrance gate dedicated to the Emperor Hadrian in 129 AD. Along the right side of the path you can see beautifully carved sections of this gate which contain imagery from significant Roman victories.
Continue down the colonnaded street along which you can see the remnants of several shops which would have lined the busy thorough way. You will then come to one of the main roads, the Decumanus Maximus, leading to heart of the city to your right. If you want to see St. Paul’s Church and the baths then continue straight and swing back around to the rest of the city later.
St. Paul’s Church or the Great Basilica of Antioch. The remnants of the great basilica plan and three apses are still visible and there is still a beautiful little chapel area. The first phase of construction likely took place in the 4th century AD. While it is one of the largest early churches in Anatolia, it is unlikely that it was originally dedicated to Paul or built over the remnants of the original synagogue. Further excavations may reveal more insight into where the original synagogue was located.
Past St. Paul’s Church is a bath complex in the northwestern section of the site. While you can view the exterior, in June of 2022 it was gated off and closed to the public.
Continue up the path to the right (east) of the bath complex and you will see the Northern Church (one of three major churches visible at the site). It was likely built no early than the 6th century AD and featured multiple mosaics. From there you can enter the main part of the city where a massive nymphaeum marked the start of the Cardo Maximus running north to south through the city.
To your left will be the entrance to the Tiberius field and the massive Temple of Augustus. Opposite this entrance is the Central Church structure.
Carved into the bedrock of the highest point in the city, the Temple of Augustus is perhaps the most unique feature of Pisidian Antioch. The entire complex was surrounded by a stoa which was two stories behind the central temple. You are still able to see the square holes where support for this stoa would have been inserted. As you walk up the steps to the Temple, you should also imagine the large triple-arched propylon which would have granted entrance to the complex. Now conserved in the Yalvaç Museum, it read “For the emperor Caesar Augustus, son of a god, pontifex maximus, consul for the 13th time, with tribunician power for the 22nd time, imperator for the 14th time, father of the country.” As you explore the temple complex you are also able to see carved friezes of bulls which would have crowned the stoa’s columns.
Once you finish exploring the heart of the city, continue down the Cardo Maximus and turn right down the Decumanus Maximus where you will see the city’s theater on your right (north). It is quite a small theater and would have held around 5,000 people.
There are multiple other features of the site so take your time exploring! Make sure you do not miss the Sanctuary of Men complex which is in the southeast corner of the city and accessible by dirt road which runs along the back of the hill from the nymphaeum. You should also drive further down the road past the entrance to the main site and visit the incredible remnants of the aqueducts. Much of this aqueduct structure is still intact and its ancient arches still beautifully frame the distant mountains.
Once you finish exploring the ancient city head over to the Yalvaç Museum (only a short drive away) to see all the incredible finds from the site. If you’re interested in exploring more Biblical sights, consider booking a tour that retraces the steps of St. Paul.
—By Caleb Bowman
For more information:
Wilson, Mark. Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor. Istanbul: Yayinlari, 2020.