Photos by Jack A. Waldron
Ancient Pessinus, once the sanctuary of Cybele, the Great Mother of the Gods, a metropolis of marble temples and theaters, birthplace of the Attis myth, a name meaning "fallen down", or, "castle where the fall has taken place", can still be seen today on the high Anatolian plateau. It was here that Cybele fell from the sky, arriving from the realm of the gods, a sacred stone, a meteorite, which was placed on an altar in the cites temple in her honor, only to be removed and taken to Rome so that Hannibal might be subdued.
Situated on a seasonal tributary of the Sakarya approximately 13 kilometers south of Sivrihisar on the high arid Anatolian plateau, the ancient city was the principle cult center of Cybele, and was a major trading hub on the Royal Road, which ran from Persepolis in Persia, to Sardes in Asia Minor. The geographical landscape of the plateau (950 meters above sea level) is spectacularly beautiful, yet, for the ancient traveller, Pessinus would have been a welcomed relief from the harsh environment.
While coasting down into the deep valley, where the village of Ballihisar spreads out amongst the ruins of the ancient city, I noticed the remnants of one of the ancient Necropolises (pictured above). Since I approached from the north, it would seem apparent that I was passing through the Northern Necropolis, which would have lined the ancient road, and still today greets those traveling along the same route. Below is an illustration of the ancient city.
At the center of the village there is a curious rectangular shaped structure that I suspect to be the remains of an ancient Nymphaeum (pictured below), and considering that just below and running parallel to it there is an animal trough being filled with spring water, it may possibly be the same spring that may have supplied water to the basin in ancient times.
Explorer Charles Texier visited Pessinus in 1834 and drew the city plan pictured below; and, while the large Theater, Stadium and northeastern most Temple complex (which is most likely the Temple of the Imperial Cult, that of Augustus) are accurately placed, there is sparse evidence remaining above ground that supports the location and type of the monuments represented next to and northeast of the stadium, as the village has expanded over the past 180 years (pictured below). The monuments situated on the surrounding hills to the south remain to be investigated by myself, and I hope to do that in the near future.
Pessinus is another one of the countless ancient cities in Turkey that has everything to offer to the wonderment of those interested in antiquities. That being said, it is very rarely visited by tourists. Other than the main Temple Complex, nothing is signposted, and so, it is up to the diligence of the visitor to uncover the gems that are hidden everywhere around the village. Surprisingly, Ballihisar does have an antiquities depot, which seems a bit like a museum (pictured below). I headed there first to see if I could get some information with regard to the hidden gems.
The gate to the depot was shut and latched, so, I called out, but there was no answer. The sun was really beating down on this day, and I had just cycled 13 km from Sivrihisar, where I would need to return, as I was using it as my base. Not willing to wait, I let myself in and began snapping photos. As I worked my way around the main building or depot, I noticed a smaller building with a toilet in the back, well, ok, I took advantage of the opportunity and carried on, until I noticed an open door on the opposite side of the toilet building. There was a guy sprawled out on a couch inside just snoring away as loud as could be! I tip-toed past and kept snapping photos.
The depot has plenty of Byzantine period tomb building members, as well as some late and early Roman pieces, and a few antiquities representing the Hellenistic period. I am not sure how many Necropolises there are around Pessinus, but the sculptures pictured above and below could have come from the Northeast Necropolis. Many of these sculpted pieces are representations temples, with mock doors to the inner chamber.
There are also plenty of sculpted stele lined up against the surrounding walls of the depot, including the one pictured below, which may be from the late Roman period. On it we can see a comb and mirror on either side of a wreath.
There are also some large freestanding stele, such as the one pictured below with a large lion sitting atop, and an inscription and door just below.
The leg of a lion sculpture is cast amongst the heaps of odd pieces that have lost their purpose, function and original location of duty. I find these depots a bit sad, neglected and often overgrown, and though this particular one was well maintained, I wonder, where are the tourists that these antiquities deserve?
Though some ancient texts claim that Pessinus has an early Phrygian past, and it most likely does, and that the mythical King Midas ruled greater Phrygia from this city, there is no archeological evidence to support those claims. We do know however, that the Graeco-Phrygian cult of Cybele has its roots in the 2nd millennium, which then spread over most of Anatolia, with its center being based in Pessinus.
There are more than just ancient ruins to be seen as you explore the environs of Ballihisar (pictured above and below). Turkey is quickly losing its charm of the not too distant past through the destruction of its 19th and 20th century architecture. As a foreigner, if you are interested in saving some of these buildings, say, for a retirement home, or for what not, if the property deed has buildings drawn on it, you are allowed to rebuild those building in situ, whether they are actually there today or not. Further, it is currently so cheap to purchase land, though almost nobody is buying in places like this, land along the Mediterranean is ripe for the picking!
I slowly made my way through what seemed to be a deserted town, and though it wasn't, it was just simply too hot to be out there. I will say however, that it is a dry sort of heat, and if you have applied 50+ sunscreen, you hardly even feel it 😅! I did manage to flag down a passing car, and I was pointed in the direction of the Temple Complex (pictured below).
Though the remains of the Temple of the Imperial Cult (Augustus) are sparse, with only the supporting base structure still in place, there are enough of the ornamental marble members scattered around the area and in the archeological depot (pictured below) to allow for an illustration of the original monument to be constructed.
The 3D reconstruction of the temple pictured below was done by Angelo Verlinde, and is believed to be the Temple of the Imperial Cult of Augustus, and perhaps, was built over the site of the Temple of Cybele, though this remains unsubstantiated.
Pictured below, looking to the north, is the back of the Temple of Temple of the Imperial Cult of Augustus. The temple sits at the top of a temple complex that forms the shrine of the sacred god Augustus, and perhaps the goddess Cybele.
In the photo below, we are looking to the southeast. The hill rising over the temple in the distance may have the remains of another temple complex, which is also a candidate as the shrine of Cybele (see the city plan drawn by Texier in 1834).
The cella of the temple measures 8 meters by 8 meters. The sacred meteorite Cybele would have been safely guarded in the original temple.
There is also what appears to be a bath in the temple, that may have been used for sacred rites and ceremony.
Weathered over the centuries, the fluted columns of the temple stand like grave stones marking the resting place of a goddess once revered over the whole of the ancient world.
Pictured below is a view of the cavea at the bottom of the 24 steps/seats as seen from analemma, with the Agora and Baths out of view to the left of the photo.
The 24 steps/seats set into the slope below the temple lead to the Agora and Baths.
This whole complex may have been purposed for the visitation of pilgrims and traders from near and far; arriving at the baths to cleanse themselves, purchasing votives to sacrifice to the god Augustus and/or the goddess Cybele, for a return of favor for their prayers and wishes.
The Greek goddess Cybele is one and the same with the Roman goddess Bona Dea, and the Anatolian Mother Goddess Kubaba, or Kubile, or Agdistis, meaning in the ancient Phrygian language 'She of the Rock'. This was the black meteor, the Baetyl, which was the honor of Pessinus to hold, protect, and worship.
In the top of the picture above, the front wall of the base of the Temple of the Imperial Cult of Augustus can seen just beyond the steps/seats. These steps/seats were most likely used by pilgrims who had come to take part in or view the ritual ceremonies that took place in honor of Augustus and/or Cybele. The complex is remarkably preserved, and though it offers a spectacular insight into the mind of the ancients, this is a sight that has few visitors today.
There would appear to be two prosceniums here, the first located at the bottom of the step/seats, where a square courtyard may have been used for the temple ceremony (pictured above), and a second just below, with a rounded seating arrangement featuring stairs between Kerkides or cunel, which more resembles a theater (pictured below).
Investigation shows that the complex was expanded over time, perhaps to accommodate increasing commerce and pilgrimage.
The Temple of the Imperial Cult of Augustus itself is of a later construction believed to have replaced an older temple/s, perhaps dedicated to Cybele.
Ruled by a eunuch clerical oligarchy, Pessinus continued to worship Cybele under a temple state governing system until the arrival of the Celts sometime during the early 3C BC.
According to Livy (10.4-11.18), after consulting the Sibylline Books to seek fortune during the Second Punic War, and driven by fear of the numerous meteor showers during this time, the Roman leadership decided to introduce the cult of Cybele to Rome.
The large black stone that had fallen from the sky, considered to be a sacred image of the Magna Mater Idaea, or Cybele, was removed from her temple in Pessinus in 205-204 BC, and taken to Rome to be honored there in a temple in her honor.
Pictured above is a Roman Elagabal Baetyl coin featuring the goddess Cybele stone/meteorite that was moved from Pessinus to Rome during the invasion of Hannibal, or the Second Punic War. The representation on the coin is of the stone/meteorite of the mother goddess Cybele on her alter within the temple in Rome dedicated to her.
As the powers of the priests slowly eroded under the rule of Pergamum and the numerous rulers that followed under the Attalids, and due to the political and economic instability caused by the 1C BC Mithridatic Wars, the sacred principality of Pessinus was slowly lost.
Under the Emperor Augustus, Pessinus was transformed into the Graeco-Roman capital city of Galatia, and thus began a new era of construction, namely the sanctuary pictured above and below, including the Temple of the Imperial Cult of Augustus, which remains in situ at the top of the grande staircase pictured above and below.
Pictured above, with the staircase/theater seats in the distance, a building member displays the early presence of christianity in Pessinus, which began to take root as early as the 3rd century. Pictured below, the rooftop of the same building member that is pictured above, possibly an entrance gate to the Agora from the Baths.
The Temple of the Imperial Cult of Augustus was decommissioned at the end of the 4C, and by this time had fallen into disrepair. In an angry letter written by Emperor Julian the Apostate around the same period, he lamented the disrespect being shown to the sanctuary of Cybele.
Pessinus and neighboring Orkistos were destroyed in an Arab raid in 715 AD, but both remained under Byzantine control until the 11C AD, when Seljuk Turks took the area by force. From then on, the great sanctuary of Cybele, and capital city of Galatia under both the Romans and the Byzantines, slowly declined into the sparse village that it is today.
Pictured above and below, the remains of the large Theater, which dominates the valley south of the modern day village of Ballihisar.
Again, the city plan drawn by Charles Texier in 1834 shows the location of the Theater and Stadium in the central left of the map, while the Cardo Maximus (the Colonnaded Canal of the ancient Sakarya tributary or modern Gallos River) and Temple of the Imperial Cult of Augustus can be seen in the upper right portion of the map.
Pictured above, a view of the full Theater as seen from the long flat area in front that was the ancient Stadium. Pictured below, a view of the modern village of Ballihisar over the cavea of the theater from the analemma. The Stadium is pictured in front of the Theater in the center of the photo.
When I had finished exploring the Theater and Stadium, I headed back to the center of the village, and here I made a surprising discovery. I say 'discovery', because almost none of the ancient ruins are signposted, so it's left up to the visitor to find the remains of the ancient monuments. Pictured below is a section of the steps of the Cardo Maximus, or Colonnaded Canal system, that has carried away the waters of the seasonal river for millennia. Known in ancient times as a tributary of the ancient Sakarya River, it flows through the heart of the city, and along the route of the main ancient thoroughfare.
Begun during the reign of Augustus, and expanded on through the 3C AD, the length of the Cardo Maximus would eventually stretch 500 meters, with a width ranging from 11 to 13 meters.
The Colonnaded Canal of Pessinus is a monument that was built on a truly grandeos scale, and that was/is quite unique among ancient Greek and Roman cities.
Prior to my visit to ancient Pessinus, I had no knowledge of the Colonnaded Canal system, and only stumbled upon it as I rode the length of the river in search of other remnants of the ancient city.
At the southeastern end of the Colonnaded Canal, I found a massive base or footing, which must have supported a bridge structure (pictured below).
The marble of the Bridge and Colonnaded Canal system is of an exquisite quality, is as white as snow, and was most likely quarried at Istiklalbagi, which is located approximately 6 km north of Ballihisar.
Pictured below, in the top of the photo is a section of where the Bridge met the Colonnade. This may have been the southeastern end of the structure.
This Bridge and its connecting ramparts were sculpted in the classical style, and with enough of is members remaining, would probably be valued by both visitors and villagers if restored to use.
As can be seen in the photos, the Bridge rampart on the northeast side of the canal continues under a recently built stone wall and beneath a field next to a house and barn. I have not been able to find any illustrations reconstructing the Bridge or this section of the Colonnaded Canal.
Pictured below, a view of the extent of the Colonnaded Canal looking north over the southeast rampart of the Bridge. The minaret of the central mosque, that located next to the Imperial Temple complex can be seen in the distance.
Pictured below, the Theater rises above the village in the top left of the photo, while in the top right the central mosque minaret can be seen, and finally, the south rampart of the Bridge looks over my bicycle, which marks the location of the base or footing of the structure that once spanned the now dry river bed of this tributary of the ancient Sakarya River.
*All photos and content property of Jack A. Waldron (photos may not be used without written permission)
**If you'd like to help with future postings, please feel free to support them through PATREON: