The Gulf of Antalya is bound by Pamphylia to the east, Lycia to the west and Pisidia to the north, which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea over the slopes of the Taurus Mountains. The roads leading from the ports of Pamphylia traverse more than a hundred kilometers through the expanse of Pisidia. Pisidian cities, with a few exceptions, were established on or near these roads.
Lycia and Pamphylia both have access to the sea on the Gulf of Antalya. However, the mountainous region of Pisidia, stretching northward from the Taurus Mountains is separated from the coast. While some Pisidian cities such as Termessos are relatively close to the coast, the main bulk of the region lies in the Taurus Mountains and the Lakes Region further inward, which are landlocked.
The reason this area north of Antalya is known as the “Lakes Region” is that a large number of small lakes are scattered next to the major lakes of Beyşehir, Eğirdir, Burdur and Salda.
The journey of the first inhabitants of Anatolia started after they left their caves. Pisidia owes its rich historical heritage and wealth to the abundance of its lakes. It is not a coincidence that the major Neolithic site of Hacılar Höyük lies near Lake Burdur.
Instead of separating them, the Taurus Mountains actually serve to join Pisidia to the north with Lycia and Pamphylia to the south. This is primarily due to the common habitat and production area of the peoples in both regions.
The Turkmen tribes have resided in the region for nearly one thousand years. They still graze their flocks in the pastures, and rest near the coast during winter. Eventually some of the tribes established villages near their pastures, while others did so in the coastal areas. For this reason it is difficult to separate the landlocked districts of Isparta and Burdur from the coastal districts of Antalya. What is perhaps more interesting is that this has continued from the earliest ages of history to the present.
It should be noted that roads, beyond the means of transportation of goods and people, have other symbolic connotations. The roads did not just carry goods to be loaded and emptied at the ports of the Gulf. Winding through the mountains, they also served to transmit culture along with the carriage of people and goods. Roads not only brought the passage of goods, but also of sovereignity, hope, news and reunion. Roads mean culture, even connecting and familiarising cultures unrelated to each other.
The area around the Gulf of Antalya and the Lakes Region are two quite different habitats and production areas that complement each other. The Lakes Region, on the one hand, developed its own unique civilisation over the course of history, while the civilisations which originated around the Gulf of Antalya were the harbingers of a new manufacturing and cultural epoch.
There are three towns in the Lakes Region of Ancient Pisidia which act as a gateway to three distinct regions. Antiocheia (Yalvaç) opens to the Central and Western Anatolia in the north. Sagalassos (Ağlasun) is the gateway to Pamphylia in the south, while Kibyra (Gölhisar) is the gateway to the Lycian ports in the west. The common feature of these three cities is that they possess extensive and fertile agricultural land.
Lying at the crossroads which connected Western and Eastern Anatolia, Antiocheia had abundant agricultural lands. Sagalassos is situated on the main road to the north from the ports of Pamphylia. It is flanked by Mount Akdağ behind it and possessed fertile lands to the south leading towards Eğirdir. Kibyra was at the centre of Kibyratis, a major area of production stretching from today’s Gölhisar to Burdur.
Kibyra, a few kilometers from Gölhisar District, was situated at a crossroads in ancient days. The road from the eastern Pamphylian harbour town of Korakesion (Alanya) leading to Ephesus in the west passed directly through Kibyra. Then again the Lycian ports in the southwest such as Andriake near Myra (Demre) and Patara further west largely owed their wealth in shipping Kibyratis’ famed grain output to Rome.
The artefacts unearthed in Kibyratis are a testament to its exceptional prosperity. The Medusa Relief in the flooring of the Bouleuterion, the building of the city council of Kibyra, captivates visitors. The 200 meterlong “Mosaic Street”, stadium and theatre buildings promise that Kibyra will become one of the most visited sites of the region, if not the whole of Anatolia.
The wealth of a city is directly proportional to its production capacity. Ancient sources tell us that local lords and Roman dignities owned wide expanses of land in Kibyratis. It was these local and foreign inhabitants of Kibyra who created this wealth and which undergirded the region’s manufacturing prowess.
Termessos is the Pisidian city closest to the sea. The city was established thirty kilometers to the northwest of Antalya between two rock formations and is famous for holding out against the forces of Alexander the Great. The ruins of Termessos are testimony to the affluence of the city, and remain largely intact thanks to the inaccessibility of its location. It is clear that the city’s extraordinary wealth is largely based on the revenue generated by the ancient road linking the port cities of the gulf to Ephesus in Western Anatolia. Traces of this road still exist, even if they are limited to the valley north of the city, known as the Strait of Yenice.
The classical historian Arrianos tells of the city’s unusually steep location and its relationship with the road as follows: “The site is situated on a very high altitude and is surrounded by steep cliffs on all sides. The road leading from the narrow strait is also arduous, and descends the mountain from the city. There is another steep mountain opposite. Both of them form a strait, which is so narrow that even a handful soldiers could block it in case of defense.”
Termessos is also known for an event that rarely comes up in discussions of ancient history:“After Alexander’s death, an unrelenting battle began between Alexander’s generals to get their own share of the empire. The stepbrother of Alexander, Antigonos (One-eyed Antigonos) wanted to occupy Anatolia and started a war with the commander Alketas. Alketas was defeated and subsequently fled to Termessos. Antigonos laid siege to the city. The elders of the city asserted that Alketas should be surrendered to Antigonos, while the younger citizens opposed this by saying that someone who has taken refuge cannot be turned over. The elders made a secret arrangement with Antigonos and led the young people away from the city under false pretenses. Deprived of the support of the younger inhabitants of the city, Alketas committed suicide after which his body was turned over to Antigonos.”
Sources tell us that Antigonos left after mutilating the body of Alketas for days. The grave of the unfortunate Alketas is among the most visited places of Termessos. Termessos is a veritable open air museum with its city walls, agora, theatre, odeon, temples, cisterns, gymnasia and many remnants of sarcophagi. Today it is one of the most popular sightseeing destinations visited by tourists all over the world.
Kremna is one of the most easily accessible towns of Pisidia. North of Antalya, it lies 15 kilometers east of the Bucak district of Burdur province, within Çamlık Village. Kremna long resisted the onslaught by Alexander the Great, who turned to the north after Pamphylia, but was ultimately defeated. Kremna, meaning cliff in Greek, is surrounded by very steep cliffs on its northern, eastern and southern sides and by a wall on its western side. Alexander the Great ordered his soldiers to build a ramp on western walls of the city, whereby they could enter the city. According to sources, the king who conquered Kremna laid waste to the city.
Kremna was attacked several times in later centuries and nearly half a century after Alexander the Great’s conquest, the Isaurian bandit chief Lydius invaded the city. 250 years later Kremna would pass into the hands of the Galatian king Amyntas. Strangely enough, the city proved to be ill-omened for both rulers. Lydius was killed in Kremna and Amyntas was killed somewhere nearby. The city lies on an altitude of 1200 meters on a rock formation resembling that of a horseshoe. Kremna offers its visitors stunning views of the dam lakes lying on the Kestros River (Aksu) and mountains on the horizon.
Sagalassos (Ağlasun) is another important Pisidian town north of Antalya established on a road linking the Gulf to Central Anatolia to Isparta. Sagalassos, on the road to Gordion, was conquered by Alexander the Great after a longlasting siege and was largely destroyed. This tragic event was commemorated a few centuries later on minted coins. It can be said that this defeat left an indelible imprint on the city’s inhabitants.
Recent excavations in this Pisidian city and the artefacts that were discovered have aroused great interest. The ancient fountain, built by one of the leading families of the city, the Antonines, has been fully restorated. This and the ancient theatre never fail to impress visitors. The theatre, two agoras, the Temple of Dionysos and the newly uncovered main street of Sagalassos reveals the city’s glorious history.
Besides these, the extraordinary views of Sagalassos also serve to make it a must-see place. One can sit under the shadow of the old oak tree in the main square of the city of Ağlasun, crossed by the road leading to the ancient city, and sip tea made from local herbs. Another pleasurable experience is to dine in rural restaurants where local dishes and trout raised in local fish farms are served.
Selge (Zerk) This mountainous town on the northwest of Side at the westen slopes of the Eurymedon River (Köprüçay) is not situated on one of the main roads, unlike other Pisidian cities. This feature has kept the city from experiencing significant damage from invasions. Sources reveal that the inhabitants of Selge acted as scouts for Alexander the Great on his incursion to the region and earned his friendship. However, Selge was defeated by the forces of the Hellenistic Seleucid Kingdom in the ongoing conflict with the neighbouring town of Pednelissos (Kozan) in the 3rd century BC and had to pay a heavy indemnity.
Two Roman bridges link Selge to the port city of Side on the eastern shore of the Eurymedon River; the Oluk Bridge and the Büğrüm Bridge on the deep Gökçesu Canyon west of the river. The ancient road, built with extraordinarily large stone blocks accompanies the modern highway.
Ruins show that the city built on three hills was surrounded by a wall with many towers. Among the places to visit is a theatre where most of the seats were hewn into the rock. Other sights of interest are the stadium, agora, cisterns, the stoa (porticos) and the necropolis, which is situated between the three hills where most of the ruins are found.
Rising from the heights where Selge was founded is the Eurymedon River. Tourists can participate in whitewater rafting tours, or trek through the unspoiled natural environment where they can also witness traditional village life in the Taurus Mountains. Restaurants on both sides of the river serve local dishes. The trout raised in local fish farms delight visitors to this region.
Antiocheia (Yalvaç) is one of the most prominent cities in the region of Pisidia, ranking high in importance. The city is said to have been founded during the period of the Hellenistic Seleucid Kingdom in the 3rd century BC following the era after Alexander the Great. The city gained its unique characteristics, for which it is so greatly renowned, during the Roman era.
The city became a Roman colony in the 1st century BC, which continued for another two centuries. It is written that it became one of the most Romanised cities in Pisidia and that besides the official language of Latin, Greek was also spoken. Antiocheia was at the crossroads of the trade routes of Anatolia extending from north to south and from east to west. This vital location allowed it to interact with many cultures near and far. The Via Sebaste road was built during the reign of Augustus to control the people living in the Taurus Mountains. Antocheia was at the vertex of this road network. The roads extended to the ports south of the bay, thus connecting them to overseas locations.
Antiocheia has an indisputable place in the history of Christianity. Saint Paul embarked upon his first mission from Cyprus to this city. It is written in the Bible that: “From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perge in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. From Perge they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down.”
The church built and dedicated to St. Paul in the following centuries during the spread of Christianity was excavated in recent years. The sacred status of the city, which started with the visit of St. Paul and gained in importance in early Christianity, continued in the Byzantine era.
The theatre, ancient road network of the city, baths, monumental fountain, the Temple of Emperor Augustus, imposing aqueducts, basilica and city walls unearthed in the ongoing excavations in Antiocheia are of exceptional architectural value.
A few kilometers southwest of Antiocheia is the Gemen Korusu Hill. This is the location of a sacred place dedicated to the mystic powers of Men, the deity of the Moon in Anatolia and the protector of the poor and the vulnerable. The Gemen Korusu Hill allows the visitor to see one of the most important temples dedicated to moon worship, the Temple of Men. It also offers the privilege of viewing the two of the largest Anatolian lakes, the lakes of Eğirdir and Beyşehir from the same vantage point. This is especially spectacular at sunset.
Temple of Men
Yalvaç or Antiocheia in ancient times is one of the most important destinations of the tourism basin of Antalya. Its importance in the history of Christianity cannot be stressed enough and its natural and historical setting makes Yalvaç and neighbouring areas a destination that cannot be overlooked. It possesses an outstanding museum that houses artefacts found in excavations made in the ancient city. The cities in the region of Pisidia, especially the cities mentioned above, are an inseparable feature of the larger province of Antalya.