Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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City in the Sky Volume 57 Number 5, September/October 2004
by Marc Waelkens

Excavating a classical metropolis in the mountains of southern Turkey

[image] View from atop the snow-covered theater at Sagalassos looking toward the flat-topped hill where the city's forces were defeated by Alexander the Great in 333 B.C. (Courtesy The Sagalassos Project) [LARGER IMAGE]

For more exclusive images, see the September/October 2004 issue of ARCHAEOLOGY or our InteractiveDig.

As I looked out over the ruins of Sagalassos in the early hours one morning this past July, my thoughts went back to that summer morning in 1984, when I first came to this ancient city. Then, a jeep could only reach the site after a rough ride on a mountain track. The vegetation, dry and brown, was interspersed with enormous stone blocks, some of them white, others gray and covered with lichen. Remains of a temple with Doric columns covered the highest point to the left, and an enormous theater occupied the highest hill to the right. Below me were huge stone piers from a bath building. A depression suggested the presence of a public square from which a road, with pavement slabs still visible, led south toward a promontory with the ruins of another large temple. After a quarter century of fieldwork in Turkey, Syria, and Greece, I had never seen such a wonderful combination of natural beauty and a pristine site, untouched after its abandonment.

Twenty years later, busloads of tourists come to Sagalassos on an asphalt road, while the cranes and other heavy equipment we use ride on earthen roads meandering through the site. Below the theater, the white stones of a rebuilt fountain reflect the sunshine. Behind it is the library with its restored mosaics. Farther down the green slope, our excavation of a huge villa has already exposed 43 rooms. And where I am standing, at a hero shrine erected in the early first century A.D., copies of 14 female dancers carved in marble re-create the original frieze. Just in front of me, the Doric temple has been completely excavated.

Marc Waelkens, a professor of archaeology at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, is director of the Sagalassos excavations.

* For the city's history, see "Rise and Fall of Sagalassos," May/June 1995.
* For current work at the site, see

© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America