Sagalassos Landscape

The deafening landscape of the archaeological site of Sagalassos and the community of Ağlasun. The old distinguished by the eternal mountains. The new caught in a valley. You learn to live with the mountains here, with what they offer and what they demand. For example, wonderfully fresh and healthy water from the mountains was consumed in antiquity in spectacular public fountains and majestic bathing facilities, but was enough water left over for the farmers’ needs? In recent years, decreasing amounts of winter snow cause frictions in the distribution of water between humans, animals, agriculture and nature. The limestone of the Taurus mountains is of excellent quality. The extant monuments of ancient Sagalassos bear witness to that. But how many irreparable scars of stone quarrying do you want in this landscape? The hills and slopes were often forested, but not always. Even when forested, as in antiquity, the energy availability was limited, implying a structural break on the sustainable development of ancient Sagalassos and its territory.
The promontory of the Temple dedicated to the Roman emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. This sanctuary for the imperial cult provided fame for Sagalassos in the region of Pisidia and a boost for the local economy. After the temple fell into ruins, a Byzantine Dark Age community organized a village around it. The bad weather conditions seem to symbolize the threat of changing historical circumstances.
It must have been cold. But this man, like his soldiers, was not to be outdone by the elements. So, it came to pass that in the early spring of 333 BCE, none other than Alexander the Great took Sagalassos by storm. Proceedings took place on the conical hill in front of Sagalassos, nowadays aptly called Alexander’s Hill. This event was but a footnote in Alexander’s illustrious conquest of the Persian Empire. Yet it represented a turning point for Sagalassos, stepping onto the stage of world history for the very first time. No doubt, Alexander’s interests transcended local issues. Nevertheless, he evaluated every potential pocket of resistance carefully, and if necessary, dealt with the threat. Often in warfare, certain ‘small’ symbolic victories can subdue an entire region in one fell swoop. The fate of mountainous Pisidia was sealed by the capture of Sagalassos, already an influential community alongside those of ancient Selge and Termessos. At that time, Pisidia was not particularly rich, nor renowned. However, the region occupied a strategic position between the southern coastlines of Asia Minor, a possible base of operations for the Persian naval fleet, and the Anatolian Plateau to the north, where the so-called Royal Road was integral to Persian control of the surrounding areas.
The inhabitants of the Roman world liked to see things big. They taught us that public monuments are best built for eternity. It was no different with their graves. These were oftentimes nice to look at, but also had to be looked at. The tomb’s location, layout and design was meant to draw attention. Preferably, final resting places could be seen from afar, as these were traditionally positioned along the main access routes into town. Within sight of friends, relatives and travelers, one stayed alive. A nice thought, really. In the foreground, a part of a Roman Imperial burial compound can be seen, which formed part of Sagalassos’ Eastern Necropolis. Well played by this family. Not only could their burial monument by seen from far and wide, but they also enjoyed the eternal views of mountains and valley themselves. Even the scholars engaged in the excavation and study of this funerary monument unwound at this location.
On this spot, the eastern access route into ancient Sagalassos arrives at its Eastern Suburbium, creating a typical vantage point for displaying funerary monuments, such as the disarrayed Roman Imperial sarcophagi. Geophysical analyses have indicated the presence of a sizeable anomaly in the subsoil of this area, which attracted the attention of the archaeologists. No major features were uncovered, but parts of other funerary monuments, as well as a backfilled clay quarry.
In addition to the organisation of political, religious and commercial activities, Sagalassos was also a place where people lived their daily lives. Unfortunately, evidence of houses is still limited. Intensive archaeological surveys suggested that the original Hellenistic residential areas were located predominantly in the western part of Sagalassos. It seems plausible that the original organisation of this quarter was adopted and expanded upon in later periods. The residents of Sagalassos built their houses perpendicularly on the city’s steep slopes. This had a significant impact upon the layout of the residential quarters. Comparable to other Pisidian cities situated on mountain slopes, like Ariassos, Melli and Pednelissos, the terraces were supported by terrace walls. The various levels were, in all likelihood, connected via narrow stepped streets. The walls of the most well-preserved houses were built with expertly worked rectangular or polygonal building blocks. Based upon the quality of the attested building materials, we can presume that well-to-do citizens inhabited these houses. In addition, natural rock formations were often modified to serve as exterior or interior walls, or as the floors of houses. Rock-cut residences were a common sight in the mountainous landscape of Pisidia.
The Taurus Mountains provide a unique scenic backdrop for the development of the community of Sagalassos between Late Persian and Middle Byzantine times. The sense of place must have been strong for the local inhabitants. Tectonically, the Ağlasun Dağları form part of an active and complex geological region. In geological terms, the Sagalassos area is situated in the frontal area of the Lycean Nappe Complex, on the western limb of the so-called Isparta Angle. This western limb is composed of Mesozoic platform carbonates, overlain by the Lycean Nappe Complex, composed of Mesozoic to Early Tertiary marine sediments, peridotite and ophiolite sheets, and Cenozoic flysch and molasse deposits. Mass movement and other slope processes dominate the recent landscape formation. Human interventions include stone quarrying, forestry management, terrace construction and roadbuilding.
In the course of the 13th century CE, occupation by an organized community came to an end at Sagalassos. The site, however, would never really be forgotten by the local community, which continued to reside below in the Ağlasun river valley. Presumably, shepherds at least continued to make use of the terrain of the former city for herding. Moreover, a late Ottoman farmstead(?) was excavated within the remains of the South Portico along the former Upper Agora. More (late) Ottoman material was found in these upper parts of the site. Considering the presumed continued local knowledge of the site of Sagalassos, it is perhaps less appropriate to talk about its ‘rediscovery’ even though the name of the town was lost in the mists of history. From the 18th century onwards, Europeans began visiting the Near East, including the Ottoman Empire. They did so as diplomats, military advisors and clergymen, oftentimes on their so-called Grand Tour. Some of these also published their travel accounts. In the case of Sagalassos, such visits are sporadic but notable by Paul Lucas (1706), on behalf of king Louis XIV, Francis V.J. Arundell (1828) in the footsteps of St. Paul, Karol Lanckorónski (1884-85) and a range of others. Unlike the present-day experience of first seeing Ağlasun and then the ruins of Sagalassos, these travellers departed from Isparta, followed a winding mountain road, experienced first the ruins of Sagalassos near the end of the mountain pass, and finally descended to Ağlasun. The mountain pass was a very difficult route and was often covered by snow until late April. The exhausted travellers usually only took a first glance at the ruins and went down to Ağlasun to spend the night. This Ottoman road did not actually pass through Sagalassos, but descended from the west and south flanks of Alexander’s Hill into the Ağlasun Valley.