Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Drangiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Perge welcomed Alexander with open arms

When Alexander the Great arrived in Perge in 333 BC, he was received with open arms basically because the city wanted to be in his favor and counted on his support in settling their differences with Aspendos and Side. I'm not sure whether the plan was successful, but the fact remains that Alexander used Perge as his basis from where he organized his campaigns to the neighboring cities. Then as now, daily life must have been easy going.


What we see today appears nearly exclusively Roman, i.e. from the 2nd century AD. Perge lies only two kilometers from the coastal main road connecting Antalya to Alanya. Immediately at the turn-off, one is confronted with the back wall of the large theater while on the right-hand side one sees the many vaults belonging to the 235 meters long Stadium. An impressive welcome, to say the least. The road runs around this Stadium to the parking lot that is free of charge. I feel at home right away.

This Stadium is known as being the best preserved in Asia Minor and is definitely worth a visit. It is built in the typical U-shape and like the opposite theater seated as many as 15,000 spectators. In the underground vaults that supported the rows of seats, the shops offered everything the theater and Stadium aficionados needed or wanted. A picture that looks very modern, I would say.

I deeply regret that the Theater is not open to the visitors as the construction is very unstable. I climb as far as I can through the thickets along the high fence, hoping to find a spot offering a worthwhile view of the inside. But my efforts are not rewarded and I soon am being closely watched by a guard, afraid that I might force an entry through the fence. He is right, of course, for the temptation is there. The theater is clearly Greek and at a later date the outer face of the stage building was converted into a Nymphaeum, 40 feet high. This façade counted five large water basins serving as public fountains. Meanwhile, the many statues from this incredible theater have been moved to the Archeological Museum of Antalya but it would be wonderful to mentally put them back into their original spots, wouldn't it 

In Alexander’s days, the city was not walled and it were his successors who built the first city wall in the 3rd century BC. Later on with the expansion of Perge, the Romans tore down part of this wall and added a wider one of their own. That is the reason why today we enter antique Perge through two consecutive city gates, first the dull square Roman gate and right behind it the two round Hellenistic towers. These towers are very special simply because they look exactly like Macedonian siege towers inside of which spiral shaped stairs run to the top. They were being restored at the time of my visit but according to the latest news, the work has now ended (I hope the visitor will be allowed inside also?). I find this corner of Perge extremely exciting as I discover the horseshoe-shaped space behind these towers once showing off with the statues of the founders of the city, including that of Plancia Magna who held the highest civic office of demiurges and was also priestess of Artemis and of the Mother of Gods (now in the Antalya Museum); only the base with the founders' names remain in situ.

This space leads automatically to the more than one-kilometre long main street. As far as I’m concerned this is the only one that has a water channel running in the middle, very much like what we still may encounter in Turkey today (Antalya, Finike or Burdur, for instance). The water comes from a lovely Nympheum situated at the far end of the street and beyond that channeled down from a cistern higher up the hill. The water spout is a mere slit at the feet of a reclining goddess and the water flows through the centre of the city, over low intermediate walls that control the water-flow and re-oxygenate it. The so created mini waterfalls constitute a refreshing element on hot summer days. At some places, small pedestrian bridges run across the channel, sometimes decorated with a little sanctuary. 

Behind the Nymphaeum, a trail runs to the top of the hill where the Acropolis was located. From here the view is like that of bird and the full layout of the city can be discerned.

Standing here, I realize how little has been excavated while walking through Perge’s streets suggest the opposite. I see the main road and the city gates, the Roman Baths near the entrance, the Agora with surrounding buildings, and that  about sums it up. The Stadium lies outside the walls with across from it the famous theater. The city wall, on the other hand clearly cuts through the lush green trees and shrubs where remains of other sturdy buildings appear, like the Gymnasium, the Palaestra and the Byzantine Basilica - all pending excavation.

I retrace my steps to the wonderful city gates and turn right to the remains of the Roman Baths from the 2nd century AD, which is one of the best-preserved buildings of Perge. Lovely to recognize the hypocaust with its floor heating avant la lettre. If you pay attention, you’ll notice parts of the original flooring with bits of marble (opus sectile), a marble plinth, a threshold or a gutter. The Solarium is another of those striking elements. It proves once again how skilled Roman builders were!

To the left of the city gates lies the Large Agora, trimmed with slender Ionic columns while the columns of the Stoa are crowned with Corinthian capitals. In the center, are the remains of a round building the purpose or use of which is unknown. As always, I try very hard to imagine the whole picture but it is not easy, even with the help of a relief indicating that this shop was the butcher’s – a hint to many other shops in the area.

I venture further behind the Agora, in search of the vaults I had seen from my viewpoint near the Acropolis. I wonder if this could be part of an aqueduct or otherwise a Basilica? I reach a local dirt road and lose my bearings. What I do find is a wide underground sewage system, Roman of course, with at regular distance apart big square pits covered with a lid where the maintenance workers could access the underground. My road ends at a high wall and battlements, the remains of the eastern city walls.

Time is always timeless when I stroll through an antique city, and it is no surprise that I spent more than four hours browsing around. Even if I have not found much of Alexander here, there are these well-preserved round gate towers which have helped me in recognizing similar constructions elsewhere, like for instance in Side (Turkey) and in Apamea (Syria) – true legacies of Alexander of course!

[Click here to see all the pictures of Perge]

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