The ancient theater at Perga to undergo complete restoration


Previously we have talked at length about the incredible ancient city of Perga (or Perge) that “boasts around 5,000 years of historical legacy and is rightly considered as one of the compelling examples of cross-cultural occupation and habitation.” And while archaeologists reckon that majority of the city ruins, located in what is now Turkey’s coastal Antalya province, are still hidden underground, the region’s Directorate of Surveying and Monuments is all set to embark on the ambitious project of restoring the ancient theater of the settlement. Judged to be as impressive as the ones in Ephesus and Aspendos, this fascinating architectural specimen had the capacity for 13,000 spectators.

Coming to the eminent historical scope of Perga, as we discussed in one of our earlier articles

The settlement leaving behind its Bronze Age legacy, possibly came into prominence as a vassal city of the Hittites, circa 1000 BC. After the eclipse of the Neo-Hittite kingdoms, the city was once again revived by the Pamphylian Greeks, and as such the settlement’s control passed back and forth between the Ionians, Athenians and Persians. And following the conquests of Alexander the Great, ancient Perga was ruled by his Seleucid successors until the emergence of the Romans (the territory came under their control during the Roman Republic phase, circa 2nd century BC).

During the Hellenistic period, Perga was renowned for its Temple of Artemis that held annual festivals – so much so that many of the coins struck in the city portrayed both the goddess and her sanctuary. And this deep-seated Greek legacy of the ancient city was incredibly perpetuated even during the Roman interlude, with various mosaics depicting features of Greek mythology. From the archaeological angle, these flurry of artworks is also accompanied by numerous sculptures, artifacts, a theater, and a necropolis in the vicinity of the settlement.


Overview of the ruins of ancient Perga. Credit: Saffron Blaze

As for the ancient theater in question here, the building in itself has been undergoing excavation since the 1980s. The almost four decades of unearthing and archaeological assessment has revealed much of its structural setup along with a plethora of artifacts and objects. For example, pertaining to the architectural scope, the theater comprises three main sections, the cavea (the seating arrangement), the orchestra and the stage. The shape of the composite area for the cavea and orchestra is actually wider than what may seem like a half circle. Furthermore, the structure has a total of 42 tiers, distributed in the upper and lower sections. And interestingly enough, the orchestra pit was found to be surrounded with ancient rails. This suggests that in addition to cultural festivities, the ancient theater also hosted its fair share of gladiatorial combats and animal fights.


The Hellenistic gate of the city. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

However, in spite of the flurry of excavations and revelation of artworks (including reliefs depicting the life of Dionysos, the ancient Greek god of wine and ritual madness), archaeologists have not attempted a renovation of the millennia-old structure. That is until now, with the Antalya Directorate focused on their restoration feat fueled by a 3 million Turkish Liras grant from the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry. Cemil Karabayram, the Antalya Director of Surveying and Monuments, said –

This is a very important development because the ancient Perge theater has never been considered for restoration. All original materials of the structure still remain. It will be restored with its original materials. The Perge theater was closed to tourism for some time due to security reasons. As a result of works, some fields were taken under protection with safety lines and the rest was open to visitors. Tourists can visit the theater at the moment.


The preserved mosaic depicting Medusa. Credit: Anadolu Agency.

Lastly, reverting to the current scenario, Perga, by virtue of its impressive ruins, still manages to draw over 200,000 visitors annually. And the good news for history enthusiasts is that the archaeologists, alongside their continuing excavations, are looking forth to not only restore the theater but also two towers and a stadium at the ancient site. This will be followed by the planned recreation of the water flow at the ancient fountains through the tunnels.

Source/ Featured Image: HurriyetDailyNews