Sagalassos

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.

History

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.

Threats

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.

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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.

Planning

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.

Conservation Science

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.

Community Development

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.

Partnerships

  • University of Leuven (KUL)
  • Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project
  • Sagalassos Vakif
  • IBAM
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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.

Accomplishments

  • 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.

Planned Work

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 re-building activities centered on the Southwest and Southeast Honorific Columns, as well as the Northeast Gate and the Southeast Claudius Gate. We will also sponsor repair of the agora’s pavement.

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