Herodotus Third Age Academy tour to Sagalassos and Laodicea by Helena Arkun

Day one: Thursday 20 October 2011

Finally the tour day came.  The sun was shining, the weather forecast showed sunny and warm weather for a couple of days ahead.  We left Bodrum with 18 active members and headed for Laodicea and Sagalassos; we had a long journey ahead, about 500 km of driving to Burdur, where we would overnight.  For the first time, two years ago, I had seen a television programme of Sagalassos’ ancient city by National Geographic, showing the fantastic excavation work executed by Belgian Lieuwen University archaeological team.  Ever since I have been following the development of the ongoing works and now finally we were going there.

First we visited Laodicea ancient city, one of the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation and in the letters of St Paul to Colossians.  The site is situated near Denizli, the nearest town to Pamukkale, the cotton castle, with its white rock formations.  Our local guide Cağri Elmas was waiting for us.  The Turkish archaeological team is in charge of the excavation and restoration works there.  We could see and walk on the superb marble main road with some entrance buildings, but unfortunately we had to imagine the many marble statues that used to embellish both sides of the road.  The works continue, but the following buildings are already partly restored: a large stadium, nympheum fountain, parts of the aqueduct, ruins of the temples and two large antique theatres.



The map shows that Laodicea is situated near Hierapolis, which is next to Pamukkale; the city of Denizli is 10 km from there.

After the visit to the ruins we continued to a nearby lokanta for lunch.  And from there we drove on to Burdur, situated on the plateau of the Tauros mountains on the shores of Lake Burdur.  We arrived at Burdur just as the sun set, around six o’clock, but I had agreed previously with the director Ali Ekinçi, to visit the fantastic Burdur archaeological museum which was chosen as one of the best museums in Europe in 2008.  Mr Ekinçi was waiting for us and the museum was kept open for our visit.  All the statues and objects found in Sagalassos are shown in the very well organized Burdur museum.  There are many superb large marble statues and friezes including a beautiful frieze with dancing girls from the upper agora.  There are as well very finely worked objects from Neolithic and other periods.  More information in the following link: http://www.burdurmuzesi.gov.tr/burdur_museum.htm

 After the satisfying visit to the museum we were accommodated at the good standard centrally located Grand Özeren hotel and had a friendly dinner together in the hotel restaurant on the top floor.  It was nice to get to know fellow travelers better and have the opportunity to discuss the events and the marvellous sights of the day.  After the dinner I even had a game of Tavla (Backgammon) with Selçuk and Linda.  Linda was sovereign in the game and beat both of us resoundingly.  Well, I do understand that she has had years of practice in Bitez.


Day two Friday 21 October 2011

After a hearty breakfast at the hotel we continued to Ağlasun (Sagalassos in modern Turkish), a town now of 4000 inhabitants, and met our guide, archaeologist Ipek Hanım, at the town fair.  We discovered that she has been working at the excavations for 12 years, and is for the moment living in the town.

We had reserved three hours for visiting the site to avoid hurrying and to have time and peace to enjoy the view and the restored buildings.  The magnificent Sagalassos is situated at a height of 1500 – 1700 metres above sea level in the shelter of the Tauros mountains.  Behind the ancient city on the northern side is a high mountain range, protecting the city from the northern winds, and overpowering the valley below.  The height made the location excellent for defence and, most important of all, there are in the mountains three natural water wells, still functioning today.  All this led to the supremacy of Sagalassos, the second largest city in the region of Pisidia, where it is estimated that there were 35,000 inhabitants.

At the moment the site has been thoroughly checked, and maybe only a tenth of the city has been excavated, so there is work to be done for a hundred more years.  Ipek told us that the excavations are made only during the summer months of July and August under the direction of the Belgian archaeological team of Leuwen university by about ninety professionals which include archaeologists, architects, engineers and biologists plus about fifty local workers.

First Ipek guided us past the bishop’s house to the fountain (nympheum), where the spring water was running through the same ancient pipes, which had needed very little restoration.  They were under the earth so not much damage had occurred.  The spring water was as fresh as ever and of course we had to taste it to find out it was excellent.  The same water is led down to the town through a modern pipeline and the people of Ağlasun have the privilege of drinking water coming to their houses. Wow!

After the fountain we visited the library where there is a fabulous floor mosaic.  The statues have been partly destroyed, but they have been able to reshape them from the bits and pieces left.  After that some of us climbed to the big theatre at the highest part of the city.  Then we walked to the upper agora, where we were stunned by a magnificent restored marble fountain by Antonini, all in marble, plus statues showing the entertainment of the time – dancing girls and servants pouring wine from amphoras – and spring water running down from the same tubes as in ancient times.  In front of the fountain is a big square, which was once the main square and had shops and offices all around it.

Below the main square is the slaughterhouse next to the market, below that the lower agora and the next big fountain – the city was built on terraces.  Finally there is a huge building complex, still waiting to be restored, that contains the Roman baths.

Within this breathtaking splendour we had time to sit down on the ruins here and there and just look at everything, admiring the wonderful view of the mountain ranges in front of us. We stopped then at the guardian’s house for tea before descending to the mortals down in the market.  For our pleasant surprise the new harvest of walnuts had arrived and everybody was buying nuts with the help of our lovely Ipek.  It was a first time for me to taste a fresh walnut, still soft and creamy inside before drying up and hardening – fantastic.

We had a well deserved lunch in a small lokanta in the centre of Ağlasun, where we persuaded the owner to serve us beer, although they normally serve soft drinks only. The absolute beauty takes its toll, you get hungry and thirsty.

Then it was time to say goodbye to our lovely guide Ipek.  I do admire her expertise and knowledge and the way she conveys all this to people is a gift.  It was a wonderful experience, a perfect day.  We invited Ipek to spend Christmas with us.  I hope she will accept.

On my personal ruin list Sagalassos is now the number one before Ephesus.

Official web sites:


The marble fountain of Antonini in Sagalassos



On the way back at the request of Gülcin Hanım we stopped once more to stare at the empty holes on a field, a little reminder of the mortality.  We were at Hacilar, the place of one of the oldest Neolithic human settlements in Turkey about 7000 years ago. The skilled artifacts from the finds are safe at the Burdur museum, where we had seen them the day before.


During the rest of our journey back to Bodrum, about 500 km, we had plenty of time to digest all the happenings, sights and historical knowledge.  Well, quite a numbing return trip, but it was great!

Helena Arkun


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