Ancient Sagalassos Archaeological Site
The ancient city of Sagalassos, situated on the slopes of the Western Taurus mountain range, is one of the most stunning archaeological sites in Southwestern Turkey. The remaining ruins are wonderfully preserved and easily accessible due to recent, extensive archaeological projects. Prominent structures include a massive Roman Bath, an Urban Mansion, a massive theater, a Colonnaded Street, and multiple temples and churches. Most impressive is the functioning Roman fountain known as the Antonine Nymphaeum which sits at one end of the Upper Agora and is one of the most unique preserved Roman fountains. In 2009, the site was added to the UNESCO World Heritage’s Tentative List.
Once the site of a bustling Hellenistic and Roman city, Sagalassos was notable throughout the ancient world and reached its height in the 2nd century A.D. In 333 B.C., Alexander the Great conquered the city, and the hill his Macedonian troops trudged up to quench the Sagalassian’s last stand is a prominent feature of the site. The site is rich with history as it was likely settled by Hittites in the 5th century BC and continued to be inhabited through the 13th century AD as part of various empires. Even if you are not a history buff, the site is well worth a visit as an excuse to take in the gorgeous Turkish mountains and landscape as well as enjoy some incredible food.
If you enjoy mountains, hiking, history, and archaeology, this is an incredible day trip from Antalya and you can even pair it with exploring the İnsuyu Mağarası cave network which is only a 20 minute drive away.
For updated entrance price information, check the official museum website. There is no audio guide, but information plaques are readily available and present detailed information at each location throughout the site. The map is fairly self-explanatory and presents a few possible routes. There is a small cafe just before the entrance which sells some drinks and beverages. To fully explore this site, I would recommend at least 2-3 hours. You are able to leave and re-enter but first, check with the security guard before you do so. My colleague and I explored for a few hours and then enjoyed a tasty lunch with gözleme at a local restaurant before returning to finish out taking in the ruins.
The Sagalassos Archaeological Site is located about 111 km (69 miles) north of Antalya near the modern city of Ağlasun and is about a two-hour drive from Antalya city center. There is no public transport by bus as it is located way up in the mountains. We rented a car from the airport and drove up through the stunning Taurus mountains. If you do not want to brave the hairpin turns, you can also hire a taxi but this may be quite expensive due to the distance. Additionally, there are some tourist travel agencies which can bus you up to Sagalassos and offer tours.
Roman Bath – Gymnasium
Once you walk through the entrance gate, you will immediately see the Roman baths on your left. Originally built in the 1st century AD, the earlier baths were expanded in 120 AD and featured stunning mosaics and extensive statuary. Parts of statues of Emperors Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius were recovered during archaeological excavations. The mosaics are now covered for their protection, but the remains of baths with arched doorways are still visible. As you walk through it you can imagine the bustling atmosphere of business, leisure, and recreation.
As you drive up the mountains and approach the site, you can observe the conical hill where the ancient Sagalassians made their final stand against the invading army of Alexander the Great in 333 BC. During that period, Sagalassos was not a prominent city but was key to controlling the Pisidian region. Alexander’s conquest brought Sagalassos into the Hellenistic World. You are not able to climb the hill but can appreciate it from the edge of the city which it once defended. You can also picture the heavy Macedonian hoplites battling up the hill against the lightly armored barbarian defenders and appreciate the tenacity of Alexander’s notorious force.
As you follow the path down the hill to the left and past the Roman Baths, you will come to the Lower Agora. Originally built during the reign of Emperor Caesar Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD), the Agora was the site of bustling commerce with offices and shops lining the square. You are able to walk over the ancient square and observe the bases of honorific statues and two monumental nymphaeums. Continue on through the Agora down the steps to the colonnaded street and then follow the pathways to fully observe Alexander’s Hill and see the ruins of the Sanctuary for Roman Emperors.
As with many Greco-Roman cities, Sagalassos possessed a beautiful theater carved into the side of the mountain. Continue up the pathways to the right of the Antonine Nymphaeum and a quick hike will enable you to appreciate the theater in all its glory. It is well worth climbing the steps and rest of the hill to take in the whole of Sagalassos with the Taurus Mountains providing a stunning backdrop. The theater itself was left ruinous by archaeologists so take care as you climb around it. Likely constructed by 190 AD, the theater would have served multiple entertainment, religious, and political functions. Perhaps take a seat and imagine the riveting gladiatorial fights which would have taken place beneath you. Further up the hill is a Pottery Workshop and a Burial Compound with a Monumental Tomb.
The Sagalassos Fountain - Antonine Nymphaeum (Upper Agora)
The most stunning and remarkable remains of the ancient city is the fully functioning monumental fountain located in the Upper Agora. This unique and incredibly preserved monument was painstakingly reconstructed by archaeologists from when it collapsed in an earthquake in the 700s AD. As you walk up the paths to the right of the entrance and walk through the monumental arch, you are greeted by the roar of water gushing from the fountain. Spend time appreciating the ingenuity of the Romans who built the fountain some 1,800 years ago! The fountain was built during the Antonine Dynasty likely between 160 - 180 AD during one of the heights of the Roman Empire. In the Upper Agora are multiple monumental Corinthian-style columns and arched gateways. To the right of the fountain is a fascinating tunnel you are able to explore which delves deep underneath the Terrace Building.
Make sure you don’t miss!
- Urban Mansion: Located on your right just as you enter, this building was likely constructed during the High Roman Imperial Period. You can walk through most of the ruins and observe the incredible architecture.
- Apollo Sanctuary: Located just above and to the West of the Lower Agora is the temple of Apollo (and Augustus). The site is rich with history as it was later converted into a church, then a funerary chapel and cemetery during the Byzantine period.
- Doric Temple to Zeus: Topping one of the highest points in Sagalassos is a Doric temple likely built in the 1st century AD. Archaeologists have suggested it was likely dedicated to Zeus. Later converted into a military watchtower during the 6th century, the massive stone blocks of the structure tower over the rest of Sagalassos.
- Christian Basilica: Possibly the first church constructed in Sagalassos around 400 AD and is located to the left of the Antonine Nymphaeum and is attached to the Upper Agora. The Basilica was severely damaged by multiple earthquakes and was never fully completed, but is worth stopping by to observe as you explore the Upper Agora. The Basilica may have been dedicated to the Archangel Michael and was built on the remains of the old Roman council house.
- Stadium and Church to a Martyr: The Stadium and remains of an ancient church are easy to miss as they are located far West furthest from the entrance and down the hill from the Doric Temple. Like many Greco-Roman cities, Sagalassos also featured a Stadium. During the persecution of Christians, several were reported martyred for entertainment in this stadium. Later Christians constructed a church to commemorate this from the ruins of the Stadium. Not much is left, but it is worth a walk to appreciate the history it contains. You can also see burial niches of the Western Necropolis carved into the side of the mountain.
Sagalassos is an impressive city and the site contains over 37 different notable features! Be sure to take your time as you weave through these remarkable ruins.
For more information:
Waelkens, Marc. “Sagalassos, Archaeology Of.” Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, 2019.
UNESCO. “Archaeological Site of Sagalassos.” 2009. https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5409/
KU Leuven. “Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project.” 2022. https://www.arts.kuleuven.be/sagalassos