The first time my travels brought me to Isparta it was May. and like most Sağrak villagers museum week took me to Adada to enjoy the festival.
In Turkish 'ada' means island, so the name of this city makes you think of waves and the sea, but as one of the 12 cities of Psidia it is up in the mountains and thus has been protected from the ravages of time. As I watched young girls dancing out in front of the Temple of Emperors like the 'poppy' trees of these mountains they were decked in purple and pink the old men of Sağrak village sitting in the rows ahead of me in their thick glasses and prayer
caps kept murmuring the same word like an incantation: "Yalvaç, yalvaç, yalvaç..."
Yalvaç is the largest county of Isparta province and contains the ancient city
of Antiocheia. The root meaning of 'yalvaç' was supplicant, but over time the word took on new
meanings to signify abettor, messenger of god, herald, and prophet.
THE HISTORY OF THE BELIEVERS
Ever since, whenever I go to Isparta I have answered a secret invitation and made my way to Yalvaç. It is a place where believers made history. Alexander on his great expedition, who passed through Psidia on his way to Phrygia to link up with the other half of his army; the Crusaders, pouring down to Antakya (Antioch) from Iznik (Nicaea)
in the firm conviction that they could take Jerusalem: the Arabs, pressing up from Antiocheia to the walls of Istanbul; St. Paul, patiently waiting for the day to come as he spent days in Antiocheia with a weaver in the quest to spread the word of his secret religion to all mankind; Battal Gazi. kicking up the dust as his horse galloped into Yalvaç: the two armies clashing in the battle of
Myriokephalon; all of them contributed to writing this history. Everyone had a reason for coming to, or passing through, Yalvaç. As a meeting point for civilizations, and because the roads around it had military and commercial importance while its soil was fertile, Yalvaç was highly strategical. Thus Antiocheia was a major Roman colony that rose to be capital of Psidia, and in the Christian era was the seat of a metropolitan.
On a cold but sunny winter's day I pass a coffeehouse under the branches of an eight-hundred-year-old plane tree, continue on through streets lined by Yalvaç houses decorated with ancient artifacts, and enter Antiocheia one kilometer northeast of the city. From the spot where the portal should be I look back at Yalvaç, and at the rich soil stretching away behind the township. Wasn't it this soil that led the emperor Augustus to settle retired Roman soldiers and landless Italian villagers
here to start a colony? By mixing soldiers with the people he not only served the cause of Romanization but at the same time was able to control the lands in the east. My eyes seek out the Via Sebaste, a road with Antiocheia at its heart which the governor of Galatia built in order to inflict a decisive defeat on the Homanads. This road eventually became Rome's most famous commercial and military artery in Asia Minor, and its traces may be followed today thanks to the milestones discovered by archeologists. This region has been inhabited since Paleolithic times, and passed from the Hellenistic
kings to the Kingdom of Pergamon, from Rome to the Kingdom of Cappadocia,
thence to the pirate kindoms, and finally, for a rather long spell, back to
Rome. Various armies took turns camping here until the 12th century, but then
the fate of the region was decided permanently by the battle of Myriokephalon--the era of the Turks and Islamization had begun.
THE ARAB INCURSIONS
pass between ancient stones bearing the reliefs of helmets,
soldiers, shields, hawks, bulls' heads and the like, where the fragments of the
portal strewn about make up 65 percent of the building's total. The city is
built on seven hills, with a plan resembling that of Rome, and I commence
Votive stele entreating the
god Men for succor, health and protection
twenty tumuluses in the vicinity of Yalvaç have yielded Early Bronze Age settlements
dating to the 4th
millennium B.C. Among the
found is this statuette of
on its Decumanus Maximus (east-west avenue), which
will lead me to the center. How I would have loved to say I had seen the
ancient city intact, and to start relating my impressions of it. But this is
impossible due to earthquakes, the Arab incursions, and particularly the razing
of the city in the 8th century by Abbas, son of the Caliph Velid.
THE PLAN OF THE CITY
The state of most buildings you see in the
ancient city is just like that of the portal. Apart from the theater, bath,
certain walls, and the columns left standing on the Decumanus Maximus,
everything is either on the ground or below it. The mounds of earth you see on
the way to the Acropolis and
you wonder what they conceal prove
that there is still much to be said about this ancient city.
The avenue that passes by the theater intersects a bit further on with the city's other main avenue, the Cardo Maximus (running north and south), and from here you attain the Tiberia Platea. The inscriptions that have been unearthed, the altars, glass goblets, oil lamps, tableware and coins from almost every period show that this was the heart of city life. The structure that begins where the Platea ends and has 12 steps belongs to the Propylon which provided passage to the emperor's sacred precinct on the flat ground to the rear. It was built to honor Octavius, who defeating Marcus Antonius in the naval Battle of Actium became sole lord of the Roman world and received the title of Augustus. The famous 'Res Gestae' inscription unearthed here recounts the lifelong exploits of Augustus, who brought universal peace to his empire. Climbing the stairs you reach the highest point of the city, Antiocheia's most impressive site, the sacred precinct of Augustus carved in the rocks. Turning back takes you to the central church directly opposite the Platea, and from there a northward route brings you to the nympheum or fountain. From here you can see the aqueduct, which has virtually become the symbol of Yalvaç and brought water 800 meters from the Sultan mountains to this fountain, from where it was distributed to the city. As for the building in the northwest corner of the city, which for the time being is called the bath, circular holes may have collapsed in its roof, but it is still the best-preserved structure in the city, made of large, regular blocks of stone.
THE LONELINESS OF THE PROPHET (YALVAÇ)
Our last stop in the ancient city is the Church of St. Paul. Here he delivered his first official sermon, and he spread the word of Christianity from Antiocheia to the entire world. For hours I have been wandering through the ancient city without seeing anybody but a few local tourists, or hearing anything but the sound of the wind and pigeons' wings. But suddenly the silence was broken, as I saw
some 50 Japanese tourists come and enter the church single file, find places
for themselves and begin to pray. Their heartfelt "Amens" resounded
even outside, and without visiting a single other place they left the city, once
again in single file.
Now I leave the ancient city to go to the temple
of Men in the Gemen grove at 1,600 meters. I reflect on the loneliness of
Antiocheia, and it seems like the loneliness of a prophet, one word for which
in Turkish, you must remember, is 'yalvaç'