The archaeological site of Sagalassos is located in southwest Turkey, near the present town of Ağlasun (Burdur province); roughly 110 km to the north of the well-known port and holiday resort of Antalya. The ancient city was founded on the south facing slopes of the Taurus mountain range and was the metropolis of the Roman province of Pisidia. Next to its mountainous landscape, a series of lakes form another typical feature of the regional geography. Today this region is known as the Lake District.
The first traces of hunter/gatherers in the territory of Sagalassos date back to some 12 000 years BP. During the eighth millennium BC, farmers settled along, the shores of Lake Burdur. During the Bronze Age, territorial "chiefdoms" developed in the region, whereas Sagalassos itself was most probably not yet occupied. This may have changed by the 14th century BC, when the mountain site of Salawassa was mentioned in Hittite documents, possibly to be identified with the later Sagalassos. Under Phrygian and Lydian domination the site gradually developed into an urban centre. During the Persian period, Pisidia became known for its warlike and rebellious factions; a reputation to which the region certainly lived up in 332 BC, when Alexander the Great experienced fierce resistance at Sagalassos while conquering the region as part of his conquest of the Persian kingdom.
Pisidia changed hands many times among the successors of Alexander, being incorporated into the kingdom Antigonos Monopthalmos (321-301 BC), perhaps regaining its autonomy under Lysimachos of Thrace (301-281 BC), and then being conquered again by the Seleucids of Syria (281-189 BC) and later given to Attalids of Pergamon (189-133 BC). The use of Greek, the development of Municipal institutions and material culture of Greek origin seem to testify to fairly quick Hellenisation, but the recent discovery at Tepe Düzen of an indigenous city, with a possible Hellenistic date makes clear that Hellenisation must have been a complex process. After the Attalids bequeathed their kingdom to Rome, Pisidia at first became part of the newly created Roman province of Asia, then, around 100 BC of the coastal province of Cilicia and once more of Asia around the middle of that century.
Sagalassos and its territory turned into dependable and very prospering Roman partners. In fact, the control of an extremely fertile territory with a surplus production of grain and olives, as well as the presence of excellent clay beds allowing an industrial production of high quality table ware ("Sagalassos red slip ware"), made the export of local products possible. Rapidly, under Roman Imperial rule, Sagalassos became the metropolis of Pisidia. Trouble only started around 400 AD, when the town had to fortify its civic centre against, among others, rebellious Isaurian tribes. Sagalassos seems to have remained rather prosperous even under these conditions. After the earthquake around 500 AD, it was restored with a great sense of monumentality.
As a result of recurring epidemics after the middle of the 6th century and related general decline of the economic system in Asia Minor, the city started to lose population. Large parts of the town were abandoned and the urban life was replaced by a more rural way of living.
In the 7th century AD, the situation had further aggravated due to continuous Arab raids and new epidemics when the city was struck once more with a heavy earthquake, most probably around 590 AD. Despite this disaster, recent research has proven that the city remained occupied until the 13th century in the form of isolated and well-defended hamlets, located on some promontories which maintained the name of the former ancient city. One of these hamlets found on the Alexander's Hill of Sagalassos was destroyed in mid 13th century, by which time Seljuk's had already build a bath and a caravanserai in the village in the valley (Ağlasun).
The abandoned ancient city was then rapidly covered under vegetation and erosion layers. As a result of its remote location, Sagalassos was not really looted in later periods and remained to be one of the best preserved ancient cities in the Mediterranean.
The site of Sagalassos remains almost completely preserved, with the monumental structures, where in some cases almost all the original building stones can be recovered. It is an exceptional and unique case to find a middle sized but highly flourished town in such a well preserved state. An interdisciplinary archaeological research conducted on the site for the last nineteen years has documented all layers and kinds of occupation, delivering a coherent set of archaeological and environmental results that contribute to the history of the region. All these remains document at least a thousand years of continuous occupation (3rd century BC-13th century AD).
The site, the current town and the region have the exemplary potential to be integrated into the "sustainable rural development strategy" of the Turkish State (State Planning Organization 2006) that covers universally excepted concepts. It can be opened, in a controlled manner, for sustainable alternative tourism options, such as hiking, mountaineering and eco-tourism, ensuring the preservation of unique values it bares. For this purpose, a site management project that takes the wider region into account is in the process of being developed, in collaboration with the scientists of the international archaeological research project.
The urban planning of the ancient city is remarkable considering the difficult terrain situation upon which the settlement was founded. These terrain conditions were adapted and used as an advantage to lay out a coherent and impressive monumental centre, technically sound in engineering terms and as regularly planned as possible. Natural terraces on the mountain slopes were used for the construction of large scale monuments and when necessary, for instance at the complex of Roman Baths, the hill-tops were enlarged by means of multiple subterranean vaulted chambers to create larger floor surfaces.
To create the Colonnaded Street as a monumental rectilinear backbone of the urban plan natural depressions in the landscape were filled up. In order to achieve a large terrace within the city, such as a public square, sometimes it was necessary to excavate a slope. In such cases, the retaining wall against the hill was not left as a plain terrace wall but was instead often adorned with magnificently elaborate monumental fountains, in compliance with the principles of Roman urbanism. The natural flood risks were taken into account in urban planning as well. It was proven by geomorphological studies that the large open areas such as Agora's were carefully situated within the urban fabric to collect and drain the natural floods flushing down the mountains, hence protecting the buildings from damage.
Moreover, excavations showed that also the architectural form and placement of buildings took into account the local hydrological conditions. A full fledged subterranean drainage system assisted in managing the effects of the hardening of surfaces resulting from the urban development of the town. The use of natural water resources was also carefully planned. In fact only few towns in the region show such an abundant water display in Roman times as Sagalassos. Water was collected, distributed, displayed and recycled within a complex network which is being further documented and studied at the moment.
Recycling of natural resources could also be followed in the use of wood, where Sagalassians must have established and followed a forest recovery regime, to be able to sustain the pottery production and other industry their economy was dependent upon. Considering the fact that the site is barren today, this information bares further importance for today's and future generations.
At the monumental scale, it should be stressed that architectural decoration was of top quality in the city. Some monuments such as the Northwest Heroon are especially important examples of architectural decoration as they testify to the Romanization of the region bearing important West Roman influences in style.
The high altitude, at which the site is located, has made Sagalassos a unique example of a well preserved provincial town of the Roman Imperial period. In the case of ashlar monuments up to 90 % of the original building elements can be recovered during excavations and this provides unique possibilities to represent a classical city to the public.
Not only building blocks but entire statues, some at colossal scale, have been recovered during recent archaeological excavations, in very good state of preservation. Besides the ones found in the two most important monumental fountains of the city, the piered hall of the large Roman Baths complex has delivered a set of colossal imperial statuary in the last couple of years. These include, the best preserved head, leg and feet of Emperor Hadrian uncovered until now, executed in highest workmanship and the head and the legs of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Only the southern half of the monumental hall has been unearthed until today. More statues of the Imperial family are expected to be found preserved in the central and northern part of the space. This statuary of unique artistic quality not only testifies to the importance, the wealth and the power of the city in antiquity but also provides answers to macro questions concerning the Roman political system, the governing of a provincial town, the mechanisms of art as a craftsmanship etc, which are being widely studied by the archaeological research project.
The current excavations in the monumental centre uncover essentially an early to late Byzantine town. Sagalassos is now almost the only excavation area, where, all evidence from the transition from late antiquity to the early Byzantine period has been kept. Besides, the newly discovered settlement at Tepe Duzen to the southwest of the monumental centre, has a complete different nature of archaeological remains and seems to bare undisturbed evidence for Hellenistic and earlier periods of Pisidian culture.
With its at least thousand years of continuous pottery production, Sagalassos has become the longest non-stop producing potters' centre of classical antiquity. The geophysical mapping of this site during 2004 season has identified already over 50 kilns and workshops documented a thousand years of pottery production, first serving a regional market, but eventually becoming a real "industry" for export throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. Sagalassos is one of the five major production centres of eastern sigillata (Roman pottery), but the only one which is localized and can still be studied. The exceptional importance of local craft industries at Sagalassos should also be stressed, with a very original range of products attesting to human creativity. Extensive research conducted on different aspects of craft production helped initiate a debate on the so far not so much acknowledged role of artisanal activities to the economy of a town or region.
Under the Turkish Legislation for Preservation of Cultural and Natural Property, Law No.: 2863 amended Sagalassos was registered as a protected site in 1985. The protected site was enlarged according to the excavations. The site is being excavated, surveyed and widely published since 1990 by an international and interdisciplinary team of scientists. Research not only focuses on excavations but involves paleo-environmental, bio-archaeological and anthropological studies. Site conservation applications are run parallel to the excavations since the beginning of the excavations. This extensive research has yielded reliable scientific results that produced further added value to the heritage in question, as more could be interpreted out of the preserved data.
Yet, the site has not been over-intervened by archaeology o conservation and not been exposed to heavy tourism, which should be seen as a valuable opportunity. Together with the impressive landscape it is embedded in, it still comes across as "untouched" and offers an amazing feeling of discovery to the visitor, a value that certainly needs to be preserved within the framework of a site management plan.
Except perhaps for Pompeii and the other sites in Bay of Naples destroyed by the Vesuvius eruption, there are no other similarly well preserved middle sized ancient cities. The difference with Pompeii and other sites, however, is the fact that Sagalassos does not present a city frozen at a specific moment in its occupation history, but that it offers all remains for at least thousand years of occupation.
There were only five major production centres of Eastern Sigilata in the Mediterranean, only two of which have been localized: Sagalassos and Pergamon. However, the workshop area in Pergamon, Kestel Valley has been completely flooded as the result of the construction of a dam. Therefore, Sagalassos, for the moment is the only pottery production centre, active throughout at least a thousand years, in which still can be researched in a completely preserved and pristine state.
All of these make Sagalassos as a unique place in terms of the quality and quantity of buildings, artefacts and all other material remains. In addition, the site has also become a real training ground for dozens of Turkish and foreign scholars in various disciplines, and the site is now considered to be a model project for classical archaeology of the 21st century.