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antioch in psidia a site out of sight; Antioch in Psidia

Yalvac, a town of Isparta city,
is offering a beautiful ancient site to the history lovers today.

It is no doubt that archaeologist Mehmet Taslialan has played a great role in bringing the city to the daylight. He has been carrying out excavations for nearly 20 years as the director of Yalvac museum. Today, one can find him at the site in Yalvac while supervising excavations, or at the museum in his humble office doing the paperwork, with a saturated enthusiasm and an ever-welcoming smile on his face, as if he is in the first days of his career. For a first timer ( for you may always wish to go there again, having seen it once ) it would be a great joy to listen to the stories of the ancient city from him or at least to read from his book (*).

The ruins of Antioch are quite spread out and require at least a two hour visit for a proper touring. First time visitor is always surprised to find the remains so much intact and well preserved. Especially the highlights of the city; the theatre, the temples of the God Men, and of Augustus and St.Paul's church strike him most.

There had actually been some seventeen cities in ancient Anatolia with the same title of Antioch, for it was a commonly used personal name by the Seleucids who established many colonies in Anatolia such as this one which they named after their own rulers. One should not mix the Antioch on the Orontes with the Antioch in Psidia though, the former being far down on the Syrian border and called Antakya or Hatay now.

In his book Taslialan mentions the archaeologists W. Ramsay and D. M. Robinson to excavate the site in the years of 1913-14 and 1924 for the first time. " The first excavations were carried out here by 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 sq km, 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." (*)

The heydays of the city began with the announcement of Antioch to be the military colony of Rome in 25. It was the second Roman capital in Anatolia by the Emperor Augustus, and three thousand veterans from Rome were brought to settle here. Interestingly enough, the testament of the Emperor Augustus written by himself shortly before his death was discovered here among the fragments of the propylon in which the Emperor told about his achievements during his lifetime.

The temple of Augustus is partially unearthed today and one can easily see the beautiful rocky foundations under it. The remains of the frieze with bull head motifs all made in different styles are worth noticing. Formerly, there is believed to be a temple of the Anatolian moon God Men here.

As once Taslialan had explained when he kindly accompanied one of my groups, the theatre was another interesting structure in the site; the only of its kind so far known, and maybe the first one ever made in the history, in that there was constructed a 200 feet long tunnel under the audience seats of the theatre, the cavea, which was made in the Roman times out of necessity to enlarge the theatre without cutting the main avenue.

The theatre is also associated with an event important in the development of Christianity in Anatolia. Thecla, one of the earliest believers of Christianity, follows him here to Antioch from Iconium ( Konya ) after she was converted by St. Paul there and was thrown to wild beasts here.. A lion, as apocrypha has it, defends her against them and her life is saved. This is believed to have taken place in this theatre.

What moves all Christians coming here is, of course, St. Paul's church. St. Paul is known to have come to Antioch with Barnabas in the 1st century AD and chose it as a centre for his missionary activities. His first sermon to the congregation of a synagogue was given here. Later, the first and largest church in Anatolia dedicated to St. Paul was constructed on this site. This church and the remains of the synagogue beneath it can still be seen today. It was here for the first time that St. Paul thought of going back to the gentiles, after he was unwelcomingly treated and sent away by the jews.

Every year the number of visitors with biblical tour programmes is increasing and a big anniversary meeting here for the year 2000 is being planned.

Thanks to all who contributes to the development of this forgotten ancient city. It seems Antioch is going to gain a new title pretty soon she was longing for, for long: " A site out of sight but not out of mind ". It is also my hope that more and more people will devote time to take the turn to Yalvac while driving between the Egridir lake and Konya. A very untouristy, low-profile town is awaiting you!

From " A tourguide's diary "

 

* Antioch in Psidia, Dr. Mehmet Taslialan
* Photos from THY; Skylife journal


 

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