The travellers who take the road from the Mediterranean coast to Pamukkale are usually not aware that they are missing some fascinating ruins near this route. However, in recent years huge billboards have appeared, to advertise ancient Kibyra. Unfortunately, a car is strongly recommended if you want to reach this place as there are no organised tours, and public transport is virtually nonexistent. The lovers of antiquity who get there, lured by the signposts, will have the place practically to themselves.
Kibyra, also known as Cibyra Magna, was the principal city of the Cibyratis region. This confederation of towns and villages from the area of Pisidia was created in the 2nd century BCE. Its core was formed by four cities - Kibyra, Bubon, Balubura, and Oenoanda, known collectively as Tetrapolis. In this political entity, Kibyra had two votes, and the remaining cities - one vote each. As the most influential member of the federation, Kibyra could muster 30,000 infantry and 2,000 horse riders. The federation had a constitution and was governed by tyrants who demonstrated moderate political views. Moagetes, the son of Pancrates, was the last tyrant of Kibyra. Roman general, Lucius Licinius Murena, put an end to the federation in 83 BCE, during the Second Mithridatic War. The territory of the federation was then divided, and the city Kibyra was attached to Phrygia.
Strabo, the Greek geographer, claimed that the residents of Kibyra were the descendants of the Lydians, the indigenous people of this part of Asia Minor. It is known that four languages were used in the federation as its members spoke Lydian, Greek, Pisidian, and Solymi. Kibyra was the last place in Anatolia, where the traces of Lydian culture, long forgotten in other parts of the region, could be found. An important source of income for the residents of Kibyra was metallurgy. The city minted its coins from the mid-first century BCE until the reign of Emperor Gallienus i.e. the middle of the third century CE.
After the Roman conquest, Kibyra was still a major town in the region. Its importance was strengthened by the location at the crossroads of important routes, on the border between Karia, Lydia, Phrygia, and Pisidia. Most of the buildings preserved in the ancient city were erected in the Roman times, and more precisely - after 23 CE when the city was destroyed by an earthquake.
Successive Roman emperors provided the assistance with the reconstruction of the city. Emperor Tiberius exempted Kibyra from taxes for three years. The reconstruction was also encouraged by Emperor Claudius, and the grateful people of the city added Caesarea to its name. They also initiated the organisation of the games and started dating a new era from the year of 25 CE. Emperor Hadrian, while travelling through the eastern provinces of the Empire, arrived in 129 CE to Kibyra and granted many privileges to its inhabitants.
Another earthquake hit Kibyra in 417. This time, because of unfavourable economic conditions, the city could not be entirely rebuilt. The territory of Kibyra gradually shrank until the last residents left the city in the eighth century. They moved to the settlement of Horzum, that is now known as Gölhisar.
The first surveys in Kibyra were performed in 1842 by Thomas Abel Brimage Spratt and Edward Forbes. The identification of the hilltop ruins as the remnants of Kibyra was enabled by the inscriptions found on the site. However, Kibyra had to wait for systematic archaeological research for more than 140 years.
The first excavations in Kibyra were conducted in the years 1988-1989, in the area of the odeon and the tombs carved on the southern slope of the hill. The studies were directed by the Museum of Burdur.The same management held the second round of archaeological work in the years 2001 - 2002. This time the focus was on the necropolis and the main street of the ancient city.
Systematic archaeological work aimed at the thorough study of Kibyra has been conducted continuously since 2006. Initially, it was managed by the Museum in Burdur. Since 2010, the work is coordinated by the Archaeology Faculty of Mehmet Akif Ersoy University in Burdur. ŞükrüÖzüdoğru is the current director of excavations at Kibyra. Since the site is located in a challenging and vast place regarding excavation technique, the primary objective of the current work is to reveal the monumental buildings from the period of the Roman Empire. So far, the team managed to uncover a stadium, an odeon, an agora, a complex of Roman baths, and a necropolis.
The first traces of the old city, which are visible when climbing a hill where Kibyra once proudly stood, are the tombs, located on both sides of the access road. These are the remains of the city necropolis, where magnificent friezes depicting gladiatorial combat were discovered. They are now on display in the Archaeological Museum in Burdur.
The exploration of Kibyra is all the more pleasant, as it is currently free of charge. Moreover, this site is not popular among organised tours, and most probably, you will be the only visitors. At the beginning of the tour, the attention of visitors is attracted towards the great stadium. It is often compared with much more famous counterparts in Aphrodisias and Arykanda. It could accommodate up to 10,000 spectators, which testifies to the power of the ancient Kibyra. The stadium has a length of 197 meters. One of its long sides is supported on the hillside, and it used to have 21 rows of seats. The second long side had only five rows, and this solution allowed spectators to admire not only the athletes at the stadium but also a beautiful view stretching towards the plains below. Not only sports events, but also gladiatorial combat took place there. This fact is confirmed by the fight scenes depicted on lamps found in Kibyra. In the area of the necropolis, two monumental tombs of gladiators were identified, decorated with friezes depicting their lives, training, and fights.
Right next to the stadium, there are remains of a building, erected on the plan of a temple in antis. It consists of the main room which was accessible through a small vestibule. Two columns stood on both sides of the entrance. The researchers speculate that this building was a martyrium, that is a monumental tomb built an unknown martyr. The works carried out in its area discovered a burial chamber, beneath the main room. The building dates back to the early Byzantine period i.e. the 6th century CE.
First a narrow path and then a well-maintained road from ancient times take you from the stadium to the centre of the ancient city, situated on higher ground. Some parts of the road are still waiting to be excavated, but the visible sections give a good idea of its old shape. The drainage systems and pipes supplying drinking water to the city, dating back to the Roman period, ran under the road.
This road takes the visitors to the agora that is the main square of the ancient city. Stone slabs that paved the agora and a marble cistern have been preserved to our times. In the Byzantine period, around the 6th or the 7th century CE, the terrace that supported the agora was transformed into fortifications, to protect the city against the incursions of enemies.
If you go further up the hill, you will enjoy an unusual view of two beautifully preserved ancient buildings - a theatre and a bouleuterion. The theatre in Kibyra belongs to the most beautifully situated buildings of its kind in the area of modern Turkey. It is partially built into the mountainside, and the highest rows of seats offer panoramic views of the entire ancient city and its surroundings. The theatre represents the Greco-Roman style of its cavea is more than a half-circle in shape. In the heydey of Kibyra, 9,000 spectators could sit there, on more than 40 rows of seats. The upper ten rows have been added at a later date. The building of the stage has collapsed, but two entrances into the theatre have been preserved. On the platform near the theatre, there are the ruins of several large buildings, tentatively identified as temples. They were erected in the Doric and Corinthian orders.
About 90 meter to the south of the theatre, stands the building of a bouleuterion - the meeting place of the city council. Most likely, it also served as the court and the odeon that is a smaller theatre for poetry reading events and music concerts. On its premises, archaeologists discovered a well-preserved mosaic of Medusa. Unfortunately for the visitors, this mosaic has been temporarily recovered to protect it from the elements. Moreover, the bouleuterion can be seen only from the outside. The bouleuterion was erected on the plan of a segment of a circle with a diameter of 17 meters. A well-preserved front wall of the building has a row of windows and five arched doorways. Due to the presence of windows, the researchers speculate that the building was once covered with a roof and had a heating system. This theory has been confirmed by the fragments of tiles found nearby. Currently, there are 13 rows of seats visible above the surface of the earth. It is estimated that this bouleuterion could accommodate 3600 people. Right next to the bouleuterion, stand the ruins of the Roman baths with exposed fragments of the floor heating and terracotta tiles.
Because of archaeological excavations that are being conducted on Kibyra, the situation and conditions of visiting this place may change rapidly. New structures are regularly discovered, and some places may not be available due to ongoing excavations, etc. This site will most likely become one of the tourist hits of western Turkey. Therefore it is worth visiting it before the crowds arrive.
Until 2016, the entrance to Kibyra was free of charge. The official opening of Kibyra for travellers is planned for 2017. The management of the site promises a reception centre for tours, a parking lot, and small shopping structures at the entrance. Most likely, purchasing a ticket will be needed to visit the site soon.
The area of Kibyra is vast so wear sturdy boots and bring a supply of drinking water. The most spectacular ancient buildings have information boards in Turkish and English.
The photos of Kibyra finds from Burdur Archaeological Museum were taken by Michel Gybels - thank you for sharing them with the readers of Turkish Archaeological News portal!
With public transport: the coaches travelling between Fethiye and Burdur stop in Gölhisar. It is possible to walk or hire a taxi to negotiate the remaining distance to Kibyra (3 km ).
By car: Kibyra is situated near Gölhisar and the national road D585 to Denizli. From the direction of Antalya (155 km) take the road D350 to Korkuteli and then, the D585 in the direction of Denizli. Turn off this route to the west, following the signposts in Çavdır. You reach Kibyra 20 km after this turnoff.