Pisidian Antioch


Seventeen ancient cities in Turkey were named Antioch, but only two are remembered by any but scholars today. One is Antakya (the ancient Antioch in Syria) and the other is Antioch in Pisidia, Asia Minor. Both figure largely in ancient and early Christian history, and the latter in particular is celebrated for its architecture. Pisidian Antioch is located 1 kilometer north of Yalvac in the province of Isparta in southern Turkey. The first excavations were carried out here in 1913-14 and 1924 by the archaeologists W. Ramsay and D. M. Robinson, revealing that there had been a settlement here since the Neolithic age.

According to written sources and archaeological finds, the city was founded by Antioch I in 280 BC. The city proper, or polis, covers an area of 14 square kilometers (5,4 square miles), but the lands which belonged to it stretched from Sultan Dagi to the southern shore of Lake Egirdir, and southwest as far as Gelendost. It stood at a junction of two main roads stretching from west to east and from north to south, and this strategic importance combined with its fertile lands meant that it was an important settlement in the region for many centuries.

In 25 BC Antiocheia became a Roman military colony known as Colonia Caesareia Antiocheia. Of all the other colonies cities such as Olbasa, Komama, Kremna, Parlais, and Lystra, Pisidian Antioch was the oldest, largest and most Romanised. It was appointed the second Roman capital in Anatolia by the Emperor Augustus, and three thousand veterans from Rome were brought to settle here. Its districts were named after those of Rome, and the discovery of the important Latin inscription known as the Res Gestae on the site illustrates the importance attached to Pisidian Antioch as a sister city of Rome.

Antioch became one of the first Anatolian cities to accept Christianity. Saint Paul came to Antioch in the 1st century AD and chose it as a center for his missionary activities. Having proclaimed the Christian religion in the city, St. Paul gave his first sermon to the congregation of a synagogue, on the site of which the first and largest church dedicated to St. Paul was later constructed.

Antioch was founded in the 3rd century BC as the metropolis of the province of Pisidia, and from coins minted around that time and contemporary buildings it is evident that the city rose to a pinnacle of economic prosperity. The population of the city at that time has been put at over one hundred thousand.

The city was razed by the Arabs in the year 713, and although attempts were made to rebuild it, its former splendor was gone. Its walls were rebuilt to surround a smaller area, and the deterioration in quality of the building materials is further evidence of decline. The city can be traced up to the end of the 12th century AD, but was finally abandoned entirely when the settlement of Yalvac was established in the second half of the 13th century.

In those last years of its existence two important events put Pisidian Antioch on the map of history once more. The first was the arrival of the crusader army, which took refuse here after its defeat by the Seljuks at Eskisehir in 1097. The second was the battle of Miryakefalon between the Byzantines and Turkish Seljuks, which took place just outside the city in 1176.

Excavations at Pisidian Antioch were resumed in 1979 and revealed the remains of many important buildings dating from the Roman and subsequent eras of this important Christian and commercial center. One of these finds was the foundations of the city portal built as a monument commemorating the victory of the Roman emperor Septimus Severus over the Parthians. This was a triple gate with four pylons, one at either side and two in the center.

On a rocky outcrop at the highest point of the city Emperor Augustus built the Augustus Temple which was dedicated to the mother goddess Cybele (Kybele). This remarkable building with unique architectural features was used as an open air church around 400 AD.

The church dedicated to Saint Paul stands on the west side of the city and was its largest church. Most of the walls have disappeared, but the superb mosaics and inscriptions which entirely cover the floor are worth seeing.

Other buildings include a theater seating fifteen thousand, a Roman bath, monumental fountain, well built aqueducts, a horseshoe shaped stadium seating thirty thousand, and the Men sanctuary. On the nearby Limenia Island in Lake Egirdir there is a temple of Artemis, rock tombs and St. Mary's Monastery.

Pisidian Antioch, which is mentioned in the bible, is one of the places sought out by Christians interested in the early history of their faith in Anatolia. Although only ten percent of the city has so far been revealed, this once magnificent ancient capital city is a fascinating place to visit.