New Discoveries at Sagalassos

Back in the late 1980s there was a wonderful archaeology series on TV’s Arts and Entertainment Network called Footsteps.

In each episode, presenter David Drew followed in the footsteps of a bold traveler or great archaeologist of the past, such as Alfred P. Maudslay, who investigated the Mayan site of Tikal in Guatemala in the 1880s, and Johann-Ludwig Burckhardt, the Swiss traveler who disguised himself as an Arab and is credited with the rediscovery in 1812 of Jordan’s famous Petra, the “rose red city half as old as time.”

But my favorite episode of Footsteps retraced the journeys of the Englishman Sir Charles Fellows, the first European in hundreds of years to set foot in the Xanthus Valley of Ancient Lycia (located in present-day Southwestern Turkey) when he first went there in 1838.

I was immediately struck by the beautiful physical settings of the cities of the mysterious Lycians, nestled as they were amongst mountains and gorges, and especially by their tombs or sepulchres, which are distinctive for their house-like shapes — some perched on rock pedestals high in the air, others cut into seemingly inaccessible cliffs.

On a forthcoming trip to the British Museum, I look forward to seeing two of these extraordinary sepulchral monuments:  the tomb of Payava as well as the Nereid Monument — both of which were brought by Fellows and his “marble hunters” back to England.

Anyway, as Drew and his Footsteps crew traveled through Turkey en route to Lycia, and just as Fellows did during his journey in 1838, they passed through Sagalassos, an ancient Roman city once of considerable importance, but which had been devastated by repeated earthquakes and eventually abandoned.   Located high in the Western Toros range of mountains, the shattered remains of the city’s temples and buildings seemed to litter the site everywhere, which at the time of filming was covered by a dusting of snow.

When this episode of Footsteps was made, Sagalassos was still largely unexcavated, but over the last twenty years or so the Belgian Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project, directed by Professor Marc Waelkens from the University of Leuven, has managed to unearth and reconstruct a great deal of the city.      

Recent finds have included the remains of enormous statues of the Roman emperors Hadrian (76-138) and Marcus Aurelius (121-180), and the excavation team has also recently completed a reconstruction of the Antonine Nymphaeum (i.e., a fountain).

You can read about these and other discoveries at Sagalassos here, here, and here.

If you’re like me and have a general interest in archaeology, you may be curious about Greensboro Public Library’s latest acquisitions on this subject, which include:  Finders Keepers:  A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession by Craig Childs; Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist by Donald P. Ryan; The Letter and the Scroll:  What Archaeology Tells Us About the Bible by Robin Currie and Stephen Hyslop; Knossos & the Prophets of Modernism by Cathy Gere; To Wake the Dead:  A Renaissance Merchant and the Birth of Archaeology by Marina Belozerskaya; Cahokia:  Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi by Timothy R. Pauketat; and In the Valley of the Kings:  Howard Carter and the Mystery of King Tutankhamun’s Tomb by Daniel Meyerson.

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