The Ancient City of Termessos

Güllük Dağı Termessos Milli Parkı, 07800 Bayatbademleri/Korkuteli/Antalya, Türkiye

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A visit to the ruins of the ancient city of Termessos is an unforgettable experience, completely different from visiting ancient cities located along the Mediterranean coast. First of all, to get to Termessos, you need to travel to the altitude of 1000 meters, deep into the Taurus mountain range.

Termessos was a Pisidian city built at a height of 1050 meters in the Taurus Mountains. Termesos is one of the best preserved of the ancient cities of Turkey. It lies 30 kilometres to the north-west of Antalya. Concealed by wild plants and dense pine forests, the site has a more distinct atmosphere than many other ancient cities. Because of its natural and historical significance, the city has been included in a National Park bearing its name.

Termessos is perhaps the most interesting ancient city in Antalya region. It is a Psidian city built at a height of 1050 meters in the Taurus Mountains. Termessos constitutes an unusual synthesis of a large number of rare plants and animal species, which are under protection in the Termessos National Park. When turning off the Antalya-Burdur highway (11 km.) in the direction of Korkuteli, the Termessos signpost will be seen 14 km. further on, and Termessos itself is a further 9 km. A visit to this site requires time and the stamina to walk uphill, because Termessos is built entirely on a mountainous area difficult to access.

History of Termessos

The history of Termessos begins principally when Alexander the Great surrounded the city in 333 BC but, because of its mountainous location, was unable to conquer it. Arrianos, an ancient historian, notes that even a small force could defend the near-insurmountable natural barriers protecting the city. Alexander did not even attempt a siege on the city, but instead went on to Sagalassos.

Termessos was not a port city, but its lands stretched south-east to the Gulf of Attaleia, the ancient name of Antalya. According to an inscription found in the Lycian city of Araxa, Termessos was at war for with the league of Lycian cities, and in 189 B.C. Was fighting its Pisidian neighbour Isinda. Contemporaneously the colony of Termessos Minor was founded near the city, and Termessos entered into friendly relations with Attalos II, king of Pergamum, the better to combat its ancient enemy Serge.

Termessos was an ally of Rome, and in 71 B.C. was granted independent status by the Roman Senate, guaranteein the rights and freedom of its citizens. This independence is documented also by the coins of Termessos, which bear the title “Autonomous”.

The end of Termessos came when its aquaduct was crushed in an earthquake, destroying the water supply aquaducts to the city. It was abandoned, and largely untouched until the present-day.

View from the theatre of TermessosAmong the ancient ruins are an agora, and to the east of the agora lies the magnificently situated theatre. With a stunning view of the mountains and the Pamphylian plain, it has the standard features of the Roman theatre, which preserved the Hellenistic theatre plan. The Hellenistic cavea, or semicircular seating area, is divided in two by a diazoma. There are twenty-four tiers of seats, creating a seating capacity of 4-5,000 spectators.

An arched entrance connects the cavea with the agora. The southern parados was vaulted at a later date; the northern remains its original open-air state. The stage shows features characteristic of the second century A.D. A long narrow room behind the stage is connected with the podium where the play took place.

In addition to the theater, there are the remains of six temples as well as a sprawling necropolis at Termessos. There are no restaurants or stores in the area, so bring plenty of water for hiking, and bring a picnic lunch to enjoy under the Temple of Athena.

THE SITE AS IT EXISTS TODAY

Approach

From the main road, a steep road leads up to the city. From this road one can see the famous Yenice pass, through which wound ancient road that the Termessians called “King Street” as well as Hellenistic period fortification walls, cisterns and many other remains. King Street, built in the 2nd century AD by contributions from the people of Termessos, passes through the city walls higher up and stretches in a straight line all the way to the centre of the city. In the walls to the east of the city gate are some extremely interesting inscriptions with augury by dice. Throughout the history of the Roman Empire, beliefs of this sort-in sorcery, magic, and superstition-were widespread. The Termessians were probably very interested in fortune telling. Inscriptions of this kind are usually four to five lines long and include numbers to be thrown with the dice, the name of the god wanted for soothsaying, and the nature of the prediction given in the counsels of that god.

The main square

The city Termessians where the principal official buildings are located lies on a flat area a little beyond the inner walls. The most striking of these structures is the agora, which has very special architectural characteristics. The ground floor of this open-air market place has been raised on stone blocks, and to its north-west five big cisterns have been hollowed out. The agora is surrounded on three sides by stoas. According to the inscription found on the two-storey stoa on the north-west, it was presented to Termessos by Attalos II, king of Pergamum (reigned 150-138 BC) as proof of his friendship. As for the north-eastern stoa, it was built by a wealthy Termessian named Osbaras, probably in imitation of the stoa of Attalos. The ruins lying to the north-east of the agora must belong to the gymnasium, but they are hard to make out among all the trees. The two-storey building consisted of an internal courtyard surrounded by vaulted rooms. The exterior is decorated with niches and other ornamentation of the Doric order. This structure dates from the 1st century AD.

Theatre

Immediately to the east of the agora lies the theatre. Commanding a view out over the Pamphylian plain, this building is no doubt the most eyecatching in all the Termessos plain. It displays most clearly the features of the Roman theatre, which preserved the Hellenistic period theatre plan. The Hellenistic cavea, or semicircular seating area, is divided in two by a diazoma. Above the diazoma rise eight tiers of seats, below it are sixteen, allowing for a seating capacity of some 4-5,000 spectators. A large arched entrance way connects the cavea with the agora. The southern parados was vaulted in Roman times, the northern has been left in its original open-air state. The stage building exhibits features characteristic of the 2nd century AD. A long narrow room is all that lies behind it. This is connected with the podium where the play took place, by five doors piercing the richly ornamented facade or scaenae frons. Under the stage lie five small rooms where wild animals were kept before being taken into the orchestra for combat.

As in other classical cities, an odeon lies about 100 metres from the theatre. This building, which looks like a small theatre, can be dated to the 1st century BC. It is well preserved all the way to roof level and exhibits the finest quality ashlar masonry. The upper storey is ornamented in the Doric order and coursed with square-cut blocks of stone, while the lower storey is unornamented and pierced by two doors. It is certain that the building was originally roofed, since it received its light from eleven large windows in the east and west walls. Just how this roof, which spanned 25 metres, was housed, has not been determined yet. Because the interior is full of earth and rubble at present, it is not possible to gauge either the building’s seating arrangement or its capacity. Seating capacity was probably not larger than 600-700. Amid the rubble, pieces of coloured marble have been unearthed, giving rise to the possibility that the interior walls were decorated with mosaic. It is also possible that this elegant building served as the bouleuterion or council chamber.

Temples

Six temples of varying sizes and types have been accounted for at Termessos. Four of these are found near the odeon in an area that must have been sacred. The first of these temples is located directly at the back of the odeon and is constructed of truly splendid masonry. It has been proposed that this was temple of the city’s chief god, Zeus Solymeus. What a pity, then, that apart from its five-metre-high cella walls, very little remains of this temple.

The second temple lies near the south-west corner of the odeon. It possesses a 5.50 × 5.50 metre cella and is of the prostylos type. According to an inscription found on the still complete entrance, this temple was dedicated to Artemis, and both the building and the cult statue inside were paid for by a woman named Aurelia Armasta and her husband using their own funds. To the other side of this entrance, a statue of this woman’s uncle stands on an inscribed base. The temple can be dated on stylistic grounds to the end of the 2nd century AD.

To the east of the Artemis temple are the remains of a Doric temple. It is of the peripteral type, with six or eleven columns to a side; judging from the size of it, it must have been the largest temple in Termessos. From surviving reliefs and inscriptions, it too, is understood to have been dedicated to Artemis.

Further to the east, the ruins of another smaller temple lie on a rock-hewn terrace. The temple rose on a high podium, but to what god it was dedicated is not known at present. However, contrary to general rules of classical temple architecture, the entrance to this temple lies to the right, indicating that it may have belonged to a demi-god or hero. It can be dated to the beginning of the 3rd century AD.

As for the other two temples, they are located near the stoa of Attalos belong to the Corinthian order, and are of the prostylos type. Also dedicated to deities who are as yet unknown, these temples can be dated to the 2nd or 3rd century AD.

Other parts of the city

Of all the official and cult buildings to be found in this broad central area, one of the most interesting is in the form of a typical Roman period house. An inscription can be seen above the Doric order doorway along the west wall, which rises to a height of six metres. In this inscription the owner of the house is praised as the founder of the city. Doubtless, this house was not really that of the founder of Termessos. Maybe it was a little gift awarded the owner for extraordinary service rendered to the city. This type of house generally belonged to nobles and plutocrats. The main entrance gives onto a hall which leads through a second entrance to a central courtyard, or atrium. An impluvium or pool designed to catch rainwater lies in the middle of the courtyard. The atrium held an important place in the daily activities of houses such as this, and was also used as a reception room for guests. As such it was often ostentatiously decorated. The other rooms of the house were arranged around the atrium.

A street with wide, shop-lined porticoes ran north-south through the city. The space between the columns of the porticoes was often filled with statues of successful athletes, most of them wrestlers. The inscribed bases for these statues are still in place, and by reading them we can recreate the ancient splendour of this street.

Cemeteries

To the south, west and north of the city, mostly within the city walls, there are large cemeteries containing rock-cut tombs, one is supposed to have belonged to Alcetas himself. Unfortunately the tomb has been despoiled by treasure hunters. In the tomb itself a kind of lattice work was carved between the columns behind the kline; at the top there was probably an ornamental frieze. The left part of the tomb is decorated with the depiction of a mounted warrior dateable to the 4th century BC. it is known that the youth of Termessos, much affected by the death of General Alcetas, built a magnificent tomb for him, and the historian Diodoros records that Alcetas did battle with Antigonos while mounted on a horse. These coincidences suggest that this is indeed the tomb of Alcetas and that it is he who is depicted in the relief.

The sarcophagi, hidden for centuries among a dense growth of trees south-west of the city, transports one in an instant to the depths of history ceremony, the dead were placed in these sarcophagi along with their clothing, jewellery, and other rich accouterments. The bodies of the poor were buried in simple stone, clay, or wooden sarcophagi. Dateable to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, these sarcophagi generally rest on a high pedestal. In the family tombs of the wealthy on the other hand, the sarcophagi were placed inside a richly ornamented structure built in the shape of the deceased together with his lineage, or the names of those given permission to be buried alongside him. Thus the right of usage was officially guaranteed. In this manner the history of one specific tomb can be ascertained. In addition, one finds inscriptions calling on the fury of the gods to prevent the sarcophagi from being opened and to scare away grave robbers. The inscriptions also state the fines meted out to those who did not conform to these rules. These fines, ranging from 300 to 100,000 denarii and generally paid to the city treasury in the name of Zeus Solymeus, took the place of legal judgments.

Termessos, after a gradual decline, was finally abandoned in the 5th century. Some of the remains found there are the walls, the Hadrian’s triumphal arch, the cisterns, the theater, the gymnasium, the agora, the odeon and the heroon. Among the tombs which are scattered far and wide can be seen those of Alcates, Agatemeros and the Lion decorated sarcophagi, which are extraordinary.

No excavations have as yet been undertaken at Termessos.

december, 2018

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