While it may lack the scenery of mountaintop Termessos or seaside Phaselis, Perge is one of the best places to get a feel for the layout of a Greco-Roman city. Visits are often combined with a trip to nearby Aspendos Theater, which is arguably the best-preserved Roman theater in the world.
Perge and Aspendos were part of ancient Pamphylia, which bordered Lycia to the west and Pisidia to the north. They were situated along a major highway stretching from Pergamon on the Aegean coast all the way to Side, about 60 km east of Perge.
According to a cuneiform peace treaty found at Hatussa, the area was part of a Hittite vassal state during the Bronze Age. And later, according to legend, Perge was established by survivors of the Trojan War.
As with most of Anatolia, Perge was conquered by Alexander the Great. Prior to that, the city existed in such a state of peace that inhabitants never built any city walls!
Next came the Seleucid Empire. And later, when the Romans took over Anatolia, Perge was absorbed into their domain. This was a time of great prosperity for the city, with many of Perge’s renowned sculptures being produced in the 2nd century AD.
Later during the Byzantine era, Perge became a thriving Christian center, especially around the 5th and 6th centuries. But St. Paul was said to have preached here centuries prior.
If you’re walking over from the tram station, the first building you’ll likely encounter is the theater, situated to the west of central Perge. Inside, you’ll find a kiosk where you can get your ticket for the entire site.
Built alongside the Kocabelen Hill, the theater was first built by the Greeks and later adapted to a more Roman style. In addition to the well-preserved bleachers, notice the fine carvings along the stage doors. These are among the few original carvings you can still see at Perge.
With the capacity to seat as many as 12,000 people, it’s no doubt an impressive theater. But if you’re planning on visiting Aspendos Theater later in the day, you won’t need to spend much time here.
Next, walk a few minutes east to find the official entrance. There’s a large visitor center where you can buy water before your long walk around in the sun.
Perge was built oriented north-south. And you’ll enter the city proper facing north. On your right-hand side, you’ll see the remnants of an ancient tower. And up ahead is what’s left of the South Gate – one of three main gates in the city.
As mentioned above, Perge was totally defenseless when Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor. But the Romans later decided to fortify the city, surrounding it with walls and gates. As such, this gate is also called the Roman Gate.
On the opposite side sits the spacious Septimius Severus Square, which encompasses the agora and Nymphaeums. But more on those shortly.
Just east of the gate, you’ll find the ruins of the Southern Basilica. Built in the 6th century AD, it originally had three naves and a narthex. And as we’ll cover down below, there are several other basilicas to explore around town.
Just north of the basilica is the agora, easily recognizable due to the pillars surrounding it. Archaeologists consider it to have been among the finest agoras in all of Anatolia.
The agora consisted of three nested squares surrounded by columned galleries. Food items such as fish and meat were sold here, along with various luxury goods.
The innermost square is 51 x 51 meters, and note the circular structure in the very center. It may have been a temple, or perhaps a sacred spring. Scholars still aren’t really sure.
Back west toward the central square is a tower called Hadrian’s Arch. It was constructed, obviously, during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117–138 CE).
But the most interesting facet of the tower is its former benefactress: a woman called Plancia Magna.
Daughter of a Roman senator and granddaughter of Armenian King Tigranes VI, she used her family’s wealth and influence to revitalize Perge in the 2nd century.
She had many roles in Perge, including that of the high priestess of Artemis, the city’s patron deity. She was also the Demiourgo, or the highest-ranking civil servant in Perge – a title usually reserved for men.
Many significant statues of both gods and emperors were displayed at Hadrian’s tower, and Plancia Magna likely oversaw the cult of the dead kings.
Looking north, you can start heading down Perge’s main colonnaded street. There’s an entire section of ruins to the west of the here, but you can save them for the trip back.
The ancient cobblestones mostly remain intact, and you’ll see that archaeologists have done a great job at re-erecting the toppled-over columns. Though a little shabby today, it’s easy to picture what a bustling area this would’ve been in Greco-Roman times.
As you walk along, notice the water channel running through the center of the street. The original water source can be found at the end of the road, where a fountain was built in front of a two-story Nymphaeum, or monument consecrated to nymphs.
In this case, it’s the goddess of the nearby river Kestros. And you can still see the remnants of her statue – one of the few that hasn’t been moved to the Antalya Museum (more below). Originally, the statues of various Greek gods together with Emperor Hadrian once stood here as well.
The hill just behind the fountain was home to Perge’s acropolis, though it doesn’t seem accessible at the time of writing.
Next, backtrack south to the main intersection, originally home to multiple arches. Much of the eastern road is closed to visitors, but there’s plenty to see by heading west.
One of the rooms contains a well-preserved mosaic flooring depicting characters from the Iliad, like Achilles, Agamemnon, Odysseus and Ajax.
While this seems to be the only viewable mosaic at the moment, Perge has been likened to Zeugma in regards to its large collection of mosaic art.
Close to where the Western City Gate and the northern baths meet is yet another Nymphaeum. This one was dedicated to Emperor Caracalla in the early 3rd century.
Beyond this point was a large necropolis. While inaccessible to visitors, it’s where many of Perge’s ornately carved sarcophagi were uncovered. Along with most of the statues, they’re now on display at the Antalya Museum.
As Perge’s only exit is the same place through which you entered, you’ll have to backtrack south. And on the way, be sure to check out the ruins in the western portion of town.
Western Perge contains the ruins of a few elaborate basilicas in addition to the southern bathhouse.
As mentioned above, Christianity was introduced to Perge as early as the 1st century AD. But it really took off in the 5th and 6th centuries, bringing Perge to another era of prosperity. The city then met its ultimate demise at the hands of Arab invaders.
The bath complex is quite vast, consisting of multiple buildings and rooms. As it’s one of the most elaborate structures in the entire city, it would be safe to assume that Perge’s upper class lived a life of comfort and luxury. Amazingly, this is said to be one of the best-preserved Roman baths in all of Anatolia.
Continue heading further southwest, and outside the city center, you’ll encounter the massive stadium. This is also one of the best-preserved of its kind in Turkey and was once able to seat as many as 12,000 people.
The chambers under the bleachers, meanwhile, were used for shops and concession stands.
As impressive as this stadium is, the most remarkable ancient stadium in Turkey is located in the ancient city of Aphrodisias. It’s both larger and better preserved than Perge’s, and really must be seen to be believed.
Confusingly, while it would seem like you could just walk back toward the theater, you’ll likely find everything gated off. The only way to reach the main road, then, is to walk back to Perge’s southern gate and exit via the visitor center.
For those visiting Aspendos via public transport, check below for details on what to do next.
Perge would’ve been teeming with life-size sculptures in its heyday. Along with cities like Aphrodisias, Perge was renowned for its high-quality sculptures. Most, however, were merely replicas of much older Greek designs.
During your stay in the Antalya area, don’t miss a visit to the Antalya Museum. Perge’s sculptures are its main highlight, with dozens of them displayed across multiple rooms.
One of the most impressive sculptures, that of Heracles, is situated on the bottom floor near the sarcophagi. It’s a Roman-era copy of the original bronze statue by legendary sculptor Lysippos in the 4th century BC.
Around the second floor, meanwhile, you’ll find Zeus, the king of the gods, who ruled from Mt. Olympus. The piece is from the 2nd-century AD but based on a Greek Classical Period original (5th-4th centuries BC).
You’ll also find two different statues of Hermes, the divine messenger and helper of passengers. One sculpture shows him tying his sandal on a turtle, in reference to the myth where he used the animal to create a stringed instrument.
Other gods include Helios, the sun god, Dionysus, the god of wine and theater, and Harpocrates, the Greek adaptation of the Egyptian god Horus. In particular, he represents ‘Horus the Child,’ or the newborn sun.
There’s also a well-preserved statue of Apollo, one of the main gods worshipped in Perge. Yet again, it’s a 2nd century AD reproduction of a Classical Period original.
Apollo was the god of light, music and other fine arts. And he was also the twin brother of Artemis, the patron deity of Perge.
Accordingly, there are multiple Artemis sculptures on display at the museum. Artemis was a virgin goddess who represented the wild and cyclical aspects of nature. She represented the light of the moon and the stars, and was the protector of wild animals.
In one statue, she’s depicted as a huntress running through the forest with her hunting dogs. In another, she’s seen standing still but was likely holding an arrow and quiver.
Elsewhere at Perge, a unique zodiac disc was discovered. Made of marble, it features the twelve signs of the zodiac around the edge of the circle. And as Artemis presided over natural cycles, she was prominently placed in the center.
Nearby is her brother Apollo. And on the other side is Niobe, who’s trying to block the duo’s arrows. We also see Aktaion, a man who was dismembered by dogs upon trying to spy on Artemis as she bathed.
Notably, Artemis was also the patron deity of Ephesus, though her main sculpture took on a much more abstract appearance there.
Other goddesses on display include Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sexuality. Of the two statues, one depicts her with her son Eros. The original was created by sculptor Praxiteles in the 4th century BC.
Elsewhere we see Tykhe, the goddess of fortune, and Hygeia, the health goddess from whom we derive the word ‘hygiene.’ Additional goddesses include the likes of Athena, Hera, and more.
The Perge sculptors were also competent when it came to original designs, as can be seen by the multiple statues of Roman emperors.
Emperors on display include Hadrian (both clothed and nude), Traian, Caracalla and Septimius Severus. And there’s also a Roman period throwback to the reign of Alexander the Great.
Aside from the traditional Greco-Roman pantheon, you’ll also find a sculpture of Isis. The Egyptian goddess was widely worshipped throughout the Roman Empire, but it’s strange to see her depicted so humanlike.
She’s seen with (a broken) baby Horus, a scene which the Egyptians often depicted in miniature form, and that would later inspire renditions of Mary with baby Jesus.
Additionally, as mentioned in our Antalya guide, there are plenty of impressive sarcophagi from Perge displayed on the bottom floor.
Elsewhere, you’ll also find a rare bronze statue from Perge depicting Attis.
About 33 km east of Perge lies Aspendos, another prominent city of ancient Pamphylia, and which shares a similar history to that of Perge.
Home to a population of around 20,000 people at its peak, it was especially known for its horses. In fact, thousands of Aspendian horses were demanded by Alexander the Great as tax payment each year.
Presently, while the overall city is in worse shape than Perge, most visitors come for one thing: Aspendos Theater. Not only is it the best-preserved structure in the city, but it’s arguably the best-preserved Roman theater on earth!
The theater originally had a capacity of 12,000 spectators (as many as Perge’s stadium) and it was known for its amazing acoustics. In fact, the theater is still in use today, which is obvious from the moment you walk in.
Aspendos Theater was constructed during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD). Its architect was a local man named Xenon, and its construction was funded by a pair of wealthy brothers.
In contrast to the Greeks, the Romans liked to build solid walls behind their stages. Originally, the niches here would’ve been entirely filled with statues, along with columns placed at the bottom.
Today, little decorations remain at Aspendos Theater other than a relief of Dionysus, the god of wine, watching over it.
One of the reasons the theater is so well-preserved is that the Seljuks used it as a summer palace. In the 13th century, the theater was renovated by Sultan Alaeddin Keykubtat, known for his association with Rumi’s family.
After taking your time inside, be sure to walk up the hill out back. In addition to the lush green farmlands of the surrounding area, you can get a great view of the theater from above.
If time allows, don’t miss the chance to explore the upper city, or acropolis, of Aspendos. Clearly, the Seljuks didn’t pay much attention to this area. And coming from Perge on the same day, there’s not much here that’s going to amaze you.
But, if you’re someone who likes to explore every bit of these archaeological sites, you’ll still have a good time.
This area was home to a bazaar, a Nymphaeum and some Christian basilicas. While the basilicas remain in rather good condition, the older monuments were once toppled over by a large earthquake.
Aside from Aspendos Theater, the most impressive highlight of the site is the ancient aqueduct. These huge marvels of Roman engineering were able to transport water from natural sources far away. But the builders had to get the angle just right.
Before its construction, Aspendians had to rely on wells and cisterns, so the aqueduct was surely hailed as a major upgrade. Notice the huge water tower over to the left which contains an intact stairway.
While it should be possible to walk all the way down the trail and see the aqueduct from up close, I had to make sure to get my bus back to Serik.
Visiting both Perge and Aspendos Theater makes for a full and tiring day. But along with Termessos, it’s an essential day trip during your time in the Antalya region.
While there are many day tours to both locations from central Antalya, they tend to cost tens of euros per person. But by taking public transport, you’ll spend no more than several euros in total.
Visiting both Perge and Aspendos on the same day is relatively straightforward if you know what to do. At the time of my trip, the only info I had to go with was a Tripadvisor comment from 8 years prior. But thankfully, it still worked out well in 2020.
Getting to Perge from central Antalya is easy. You simply hop on the main AntRay tramline and take it east toward Aksu, the second-last stop on the line.
The ruins of Perge are then about a 20-minute walk from the station. Local signs will point you in the right direction, while Perge Ancient City is clearly marked on most GPS apps.
Entry to Perge cost 50TL at the time of my visit (prices are always changing due to inflation). As mentioned above, the site is quite spread out and will take a couple hours to explore. You can follow the Maps.me app to make sure you don’t miss any landmarks. But if you’re heading onward to Aspendos Theater, be sure to mind the time.
Leaving Perge, the next step is to take a public bus to the city of Serik, from where you can then take a bus to Aspendos (about 8TL).
Go back to the main highway where the tram stop is and walk to the other side of the road. You’ll want to catch a bus headed east. You should be able to find a bus stop, but as long as you wave down a Serik-bound bus, the driver will stop for you regardless.
Be careful as you approach Serik. The otogar (bus terminal) is not one of the normal stops on the route and the driver will drive right past it if no passengers declare they’re getting off.
Walk toward the bus terminal and head to the large parking lot behind the main building where many local buses are waiting.
From Serik, the bus to Aspendos is the #10 bus. The confusing part is that you won’t see the bus waiting around, as is the case with most other buses. It will only show up just minutes before departure, and buses only leave once per hour.
Even some people working at the bus station don’t know about this bus. One person even told me no such buses to Aspendos exist!
But the bus did indeed appear minutes before departure time (14:00 in my case). The driver happened to speak fluent English, as he’d worked in the tourism industry for decades. One-way tickets only cost 3.25 TL, while entry to Aspendos Theater cost 50 TL.
While buses from Serik to Aspendos leave on the hour, the return buses leave half past the hour. I finished my explorations of Aspendos Theater in time for the 16:30 bus, and then returned to the Serik otogar.
From Serik, there are many buses headed straight for Antalya. But if your hotel is based near a tram stop, you might want to tell the driver to drop you off at the nearest tram stop instead.
This bus takes quite awhile because the driver will head down all sorts of side roads to pick up locals. By the time we returned to the highway, there was a terrible traffic jam. Therefore, it’s best to get dropped off at the final and easternmost tram stop, EXPO.
Given its size and popularity among tourists, Antalya is one of Turkey’s easiest places to reach.
Antalya Airport is serviced by not just most other airports in Turkey, but plenty throughout Europe as well.
You will also easily find direct buses to Antalya from all over the country. Both long-distance coach buses in addition to smaller buses from nearby coastal cities are abundant.
The otogar (bus terminal) is quite a distance from the city center, but you can take a tram back and forth. Antalya has lots of machines situated throughout the city where you can easily charge your transport card.
The most popular place to stay is right within the Kaleiçi, or Old Town district. As mentioned above, this a pleasant district lined with historical buildings and is completely pedestrian friendly. It almost acts as a city within a city.
It does, however, feel very touristy. The restaurants and shops are mostly oriented toward international tourists rather than locals, and the prices reflect that.
I’m a budget traveler who prefers a private room with an attached bathroom. I chose a hotel called Ay Otel 2, located in central Antalya and just outside Kaleiçi. This gave me the best of both worlds. I had easy access to affordable, local-oriented restaurants and shops, while also being able to walk to Kaleiçi in a few minutes.
Best of all, it’s located within short walking distance of the tram stop which connects with the otogar (bus terminal). You can even take the tram all the way to Perge.
If you have more money to spend, there’s no shortage of high-end accommodation throughout the city. Aside from staying in or near Kaleiçi, you might want to consider staying close to the Antalya Museum/Konyaaltı Beach, or perhaps by the Düden Waterfall/Lara Beach.
Another good option would be staying near the otogar. The city of Antalya is a great base for day trips around Antalya Province. But by the end of my several-day stay, I’d grown tired of taking the tram over to the bus terminal and back almost daily. Were I to do it over again on the same budget, I’d choose somewhere within walking distance of the otogar.
All of the locations in or around the Kaleiçi district can easily be accessed on foot.
As mentioned above, there is a special vintage tram line connecting the Old Town area with the Antalya Museum / Konyaaltı Beach (not to be confused with the main AntRay tram line). But if you have the energy, it’s a good idea to walk one way to enjoy the scenery.
Getting to Düden Waterfall from the city center requires a local bus. You can easily find out which bus you need by using Google Maps. Of course, you can also enjoy a more scenic (but considerably more expensive) boat ride to see the waterfall from below.
While the Turkish government isn’t quite as extreme as China when it comes to online censorship, you’ll probably want a decent VPN before your visit.
I’ve tried out a couple of different companies and have found ExpressVPN to be the most reliable.
Booking.com is currently banned in the country (at least when you search for domestic accommodation). However, there are actually quite a few Turkish hotels listed on there anyway. And many them don’t even appear on Hotels.com, which hasn’t been banned.
Over the course of my trip, I ended up making quite a few reservations with Booking.com and was really glad I had a VPN to do so.
Another major site that’s banned is PayPal. If you want to access your account at all during your travels, a VPN is a must.
While those are the only two major sites that I noticed were banned during my trip, Turkey has even gone as far as banning Wikipedia and Twitter in the past.