Ancient ruins bordered by the tall mountains of coastal Turkey, Sagalassos reflects a cavalcade of historical influences from Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods.
Where We Work
Many empires once took their seats in the highlands surrounding Sagalassos. Though the Greek historian Arrian called it “not a small city” in his accounts, it was little more than a collection of small farms when Alexander the Great captured it on his march through coastal Anatolia. When the great conqueror died, it fell under the jurisdiction of successive members of his ruling clique and their progeny: Antigonus the One-Eyed, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and finally the Attalids of the city-state of Pergamon. In 129 BC, it was incorporated into the Roman Empire, first as a part of provincial Asia, and later under the new province of Galatia.
These ancient ruins seem out of place. Located 60 miles from the coast, built in the shadow of limestone mountains which, like fangs, jut 5,000 feet into the heavens, they shine forth like searchlights in search of the sea. Under the hot sun of the Anatolian summer, the bone-white stone of Sagalassos comes alive, electrifying this cloud-born city with reminders of a past made bright through uncountable historical deeds: here stood the Roman thermae, the site of communal life in the Roman Imperial city; here stands a temple, its long-departed divinities having been outlived by the crudities of stone, mortar, and wild grass. And here is an agora, the place of meeting, a place of trading and laughter, fighting and drinking and eating, all combining into a single overwhelming buzz that now, with the passage of time, has fallen silent. The entire site is pregnant with mysteries.
Hellenistic culture continued to flourish through the first century AD, as the arrival of Roman imperium brought about a change of rule but not immediately of custom. Absorbed into the imperial province of Galatia, Sagalassos continued its arc of material prosperity, even attaining the favor of the third “Good Emperor,” Hadrian, who declared it the “first city” of the province and the regional center of his cult.
Sagalassos permanently departed from the unfolding pageant of history in the 13th century, after years of calamities led the remaining residents to abandon their mountain city and join their fellow citizens further down the slopes in what is now the Turkish town of Aglasun. Rediscovered in the 18th century, the mountain ruins of Sagalassos enjoyed a slow trickle of European travelers which exploded into a torrential outpouring of interest following archaeological work that began in 1985. Spearheaded by the University of Leuven in Belgium, the excavation of Sagalassos has revealed a cavalcade of treasures: a massive city center, a well-preserved theater, several agorai, three nymphaeum, and a series of finely detailed, colossal statues including the emperors Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius.
The dramatic, natural landscape defines the beauty of Sagalassos, but it is also the eminent city’s greatest enemy. Hundreds of years of abandonment have left most of the structures in ruins, and those that still stand have been slowly damaged over time by natural patterns of weathering. In partnership with the Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project of the University of Leuven in Belgium, Global Heritage Fund is working to conserve what remains intact and restore or repair the ruined segments of the city.
What We Do
Sagalassos is an archaeological site ruined by years of abandonment, but it is slowly returning from the depths of history. Since work began in 1985, archaeologists have discovered a treasure trove of archaeological finds and a wealth of information about the people who lived there. Joining the effort in 2015, Global Heritage Fund is working to restore some of the monumental glories of the site.
Global Heritage Fund and our partners at the University of Leuven are working to create a comprehensive Site Conservation Plan centering on repairing the Roman thermae, or baths, and restoring the Upper Agora. To ensure the site remains preserved for many years to come, we are working to create a Site Management Plan to define the legal status of the site, refine the existing development vision and plans, and help craft urban plans for the nearby town of Aglasun, the descendant of the ancient city.
Site Management Plan
An important basis for the Sagalassos site management plan was accomplished in 2016 when the team upgraded the outdated site plan of the ancient city. At the end of that year’s campaign, an updated map of Sagalassos was produced, including an appropriate graphic design in different languages. Future attempts at visualization will greatly profit from this state-of-the-art georeferenced planning tool.
Furthermore, the conservation specialist architects conducted a site conservation planning assessment on the site, as was done in 2015 for the Roman Baths. They targeted the area of the Upper city, paying attention to the conservation requirements of the architectural remains around the NW Heroon, the Doric Temple, the Bouleuterion, and the west portico of the Upper Agora. The presumed Prytaneion and the Macellum were defined and quantified. The results of this field work are currently kept in hard copy as more time and budget are required for digitizing and analyzing the collected data.
Southeast Gate of the Upper Agora
Global Heritage Fund’s work at Sagalassos began with the anastylosis project of the Southeast Gate of the Upper Agora. We sponsored an investigation grant focusing on the archaeological excavation, documentation, and stone conservation of this monumental structure, as well as an architectural study based on the collected data.
The Southeast Gate is a Roman Imperial arch dating from the 1st century AD and marks one the southern entrances of its main public square. Its arch spans 3.16meters, carried by two robust pillars and a heavy entablature that crowns the monument. The frieze blocks are decorated with weaponry motifs on the east façade and an inscription on the west façade, facing the agora.
Beautifully crafted from cut limestone, the monument was found collapsed except for its two pillar bases, which still stood partially intact. During the anastylosis project, the team documented the collapsed blocks individually from the Southeast Gate and further captured them in 3D using photogrammetric techniques. They then carried out preliminary cleaning and specific conservation interventions on each piece. After intensively studying each of the elements and their relation to each other, the team was able to determine a preliminary restitution of the monument, double-checked with field mock-ups to verify the estimations.
A trial construction of the Southeast Gate was documented and dismantled in 2016, and in 2017, it was carefully re-erected, this time with permanent vertical and horizontal connections. For horizontal connections, ropes made of woven fiberglass embedded in epoxy mortar were used. For the vertical connections, carbon-fiber dowels fixed in holes filled with expoy mortar, instead of the ancient iron-lead dowelling system. Layers of neoprene were used at specific places as earthquake isolators. The first layer of neoprene was placed beneath the two pillars, separating the pillars from the foundation block and allowing for separate movement of the arch in case of an earthquake. A second layer of neoprene was used to separate the heavy entablature from the rest of the arch; it was placed beneath the row of architrave blocks.
Except for two supplemental blocks supporting the pillars, no new blocks were required to re-erect the Southwest Gate of the Upper Agora; the anastylosis of this monument was completed mainly with its original building materials. Finally, an overall cleaning only using water under appropriate pressure was done, and all joins of reassembled pieces and cracks were sealed with lime mortar to prevent water penetration into the limestone blocks.
Southeast Honorific Column of the Upper Agora
The four identical honorific columns of about 12m high were constructed at the four corners of the agora in order to honour noble family members who presumably financed the arrangement of the limestone pavement of the agora, which is dated to after the reign of Augustus and before that of Claudius. The Southeast Honorific Column is situated at the southeast corner, standing just to the northwest of the Southeast Gate, which was built afterwards in 46 AD. The colossal column was first erected in mid to late Augustan times, rebuilt around the middle of the first century AD, and finally collapsed during to seventh century earthquake.
The blocks of this approximately 12-m high column were mostly found in 2014 during the excavations conducted at the southeast corner of the agora. Some other pieces, such as the capital and the upper-most drum of the column, were discovered in 2013 during the excavations of the Macellum located to the south. All ashlars, column drums and the entablature pieces were identified and documented during the 2014-2015 campaigns. Despite showing surface erosion, all architectural blocks of the honorific column were found and their location was determined with trials, except for the missing part of an orthostat that belonged to the pedestal and needed to be supplemented.
The displaced retaining wall to the south, the stylobate blocks, and the surrounding pavement slabs were dismantled, repaired and reinstated in 2015 and the column was re-built temporarily in 2015 to verify the location of the blocks and their stability. In 2016, the trial mock-up was documented and dismantled down to the stylobate level. The pedestal and the column was permanently reinstated in 2016 using structural connections. A layer of earthquake isolator was used between the pedestal and the socle of the column.
The Roman Baths
Excavations at the Roman Imperial Baths at Sagalassos started in 1994, but currently, the remains of the complex are not open to visit due to their fragile floors and/or unstable areas, such as vaulted superstructures and elevated floors of the hypocaustum system.
Starting in 2015, the Roman Baths complex became a major focus of the collaboration between GHF and the Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project with the end goal of establishing a complete restoration and management project. The preliminary aims laid out in 2015 were to improve and complete the architectural documentation at the Roman Baths and to make an overall analysis of the complex in order to prepare a conservation plan for the monument.
In order to acquire a complete and accurate architectural documentation of the Roman Baths, one of the partners of the project, the IBAM (Istituto per i Beni Archeologici e Monumentali) started with the laser scanning at the west wing and the central parts of the complex in 2015. IBAM scanned further structures in 2016, and for the campaign in 2017, IBAM intends to proceed with the 3D scanning of the remaining parts of the monument. The same sequence of working will be followed in 2017: namely, the post processing of the 3D point cloud, preparation of the necessary sections and plans, and the production of subsequent vectoral architectural drawings.
An overall evaluation of the conservation requirements of the complex was analyzed and mapped in 2015. Additionally, several data loggers and a weather station have been set up to gather year-long data on weathering conditions. This dataset on changes in temperature (freeze-thaw cycles), relative humidity and other conditions are expected to help the archaeometry and material experts to understand the decay factors and processes on architectural materials, such as brick. In 2016, the gathered data was combined with the results of measurements taken earlier in 1999-2002.
Following the collection of data, conservation works were planned and implemented at the southwest part of the complex in 2016. The two-story brick and rubble stone masonry structure at the southwest corner of the baths was a later addition to the complex and provided the entrance to some vaulted spaces at the ground floor, while on the upper floor it contained a praefurnium. The ground floor had three arched openings on the west façade. All three arches showed serious structural problems due to loss of material. The northwest part of the façade, above the badly damaged arched opening was about to collapse.
That same year, the architectural conservation team, made up of two architects and two teams of experienced masons, conducted the necessary masonry repairs, as well as pointing and capping at the northern and central arched openings of this structure. A detailed analysis of the problems and all stages of interventions were carefully documented. For this purpose, the temporary timber supports were carefully removed. The soil covering the lower parts of the pillars were excavated. It was observed that the masonry of the pillars was in a bad state of preservation, with large parts missing especially at the bottom. Upon detailed documentation, the brick masonry was repaired with minimum intervention, using same size bricks and lime mortar. Synthetic netting was used to separate the newly added parts from the original masonry.
Theater Documentation and Conservation
Due to the political turmoil during the summer of 2016, the planned activities for the ancient Theatre could not be fully conducted.
The anastylosis project of the Southeast Gate gave training opportunities to students of architecture and master students of conservation at the Middle East Technical University, Mardin Artuklu University, and Koç University. Local craftsmen who have been working with the Sagalassos Project for many years were further trained for enhanced documentation and conservation techniques.
For the long term, Global Heritage Fund and our partners are exploring options for further community development in the nearby settlement of Aglasun. We plan to define and consult local and regional stakeholders, hold meetings with community leaders and organizations, and define preliminary plans.
- University of Leuven (KUL)
- Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project
- Sagalassos Vakif
Why It's Important
Sagalassos was a flourishing site of Persian, Hellenic, and Roman culture for thousands of years. Though it departed from the human story in the 12th century AD, Sagalassos retained many treasures it is only now beginning to reveal. Further excavation work is bound to turn up more priceless cultural treasures, and their restoration is a primary goal in returning the “City of Dreams” to its place of prominence on the world stage.
- Documented the constituent parts of the fallen Southeast Gate.
- Made field mock-ups of the Gate’s architectural design.
- Restored the Southeast Gate on its original model.
- Restored Southeast Honorific Column.
- Documented the Roman baths and conducted preliminary conservation and restoration works.
- Began Site Management Plan.
Conservation Planning for the Roman Thermae
This will include archival research about the excavation and conservation history of the baths, proper documentation and analysis of the current state of the architectural remains, and some non-destructive investigations and monitoring efforts.
Our focus will be on conserving the west wing of the complex in order to preserve the exposed walls on this part of the monument. For this purpose, we will collaborate with an architectural doctoral researcher on creating an analytical tool to document the current conservation requirements of the complex. We will conduct 3D laser scanning of the area, as well as conduct non-destructive investigations around the baths’ water-related problems. Full conservation work will commence in 2016, pending the completion of these preliminary documentation efforts. These works will also involve study of the building materials and their conservation properties/challenges, as well as structural engineering of the stability of parts of the building and the monument in general.
For the conservation work itself, we will employ a local conservation team comprising two master stone masons and six workmen, all under the supervision of conservation specialist architects.
Anastylosis of the Upper Agora
This will include architectural documentation, stone conservation and rebuilding activities centered on the Northeast Gate, the remainder of the Upper Agora’s significant monuments having been conserved in past campaigns. We will also sponsor repair of the agora’s pavement and continue prosecuting the development of comprehensive Site Management and Conservation Plans.
INTERESTED IN SAGALASSOS?
Learn more about our other projects like Sagalassos by getting actively involved, signing up for our newsletter, or joining our active community of online followers.