November 10, 2011

Report from DC: American Friends of Turkey hosted lecture on the Sixty-Five Years of Perge Excavations

Ballroom of the Turkish Residence, Washington DC
 (Photo by Julia Brennan)
By Julia M. Brennan
ARCA Blog Washington Correspondent

The American Friends of Turkey hosted a fascinating lecture and exhibit about the excavations in Perge, Turkey last week in the elegant circa 1909 Turkish Residence in Washington DC.  The Embassy hosted a reception with delicious Turkish food, followed by the lecture. Incidentally, the ballroom of the Residence is famous for it’s post Ottoman embroidered and appliqué silk wall coverings. From 2003-2008, I cleaned, restored and then reinstalled these elegant turn of the century red and gold textiles. They create a spectacular backdrop for any function.

Celebrating 65 continuous years of archeological research, Istanbul University is touring a lecture series and photographic exhibit celebrating the fabled city of Perge, A UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also a celebration of an important recent repatriation. Dr. Inci Delemen, a long time archeologist on the project, gave a sweeping and colorful history of the sixty five years of discoveries and history of this ancient site. Using both aerial views and close ups of specific structures, we were drawn into the once vast and robust Roman city.

Perge, located close to the Mediterranean coast, near the city of Antalya, was the capital of ancient Pamphylia. It grew from the prehistoric era into a thriving Roman city. For centuries, Perge was a thriving walled metropolis; with extravagant water canal system, roads, agora, mosaic encrusted baths, gymnasium, theatre and the best preserved stadium in Asia Minor. It is a remarkable case study for Hellenistic, Imperial Roman and Late Roman history. Perge had eight significant benefactors who kept expanding the city, and developing a sophisticated urban plan. One of these benevolent priestesses was Plancia Magna, hailed as the daughter of the city. Her statue is simply beautiful.

Istanbul University has embarked on a project to resurrect the columns within the city. Each column is ‘adopted’ by a patron, contributing the funds to revive the colonnaded streets. The Theatre, which is in excellent condition, contains life size colossi statues and mythological reliefs of Dionysus making offerings to Tyche of Perge. Throughout Perge, Istanbul University has unearthed and preserved a vast number of imperial portraits and marble statues. One of the most realistic was a bearded curly haired youth, Lucius Verus.

Post of Herakles (Photo by Julia Brennan)
Another find from Perge is the Heracles Farnese or ‘Weary Heracles”. Known to many who study and follow ‘orphaned’ antiquities, the bottom half of Heracles lives in the Antalya Museum. His top half, had migrated to the USA, owned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In the 1990’s the Turkish authorities set out to prove that the upper body in Boston belonged to the Perge statue. The negotiations for repatriation took over ten years. In September 2011, the Boston half of Heracles returned to meet his other half, and be reunited in the Antalya Museum. This recent repatriation is a focal part of the lecture and exhibit tour of the Perge project.

Next chapter will highlight the restoration project of the Ottoman style wall textiles at the Turkish Residence.

Dr. Delemen will tour and lecture in Boston, Connecticut, Philadelphia, and Charlottsville, Va. For more information contact American Friends of Turkey or email them at

Ms. Brennan graduated in 2009 from ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in International Art Crime Studies.

1 comment:

  1. The Weary Herakles needs some clarification. The upper part of the statue was acquired by Shelby White and Leon Levy - and then partially co-owned by Boston's MFA. The bottom half of the statue was in fact excavated at Perge in 1980. Other objects from the Shelby White collection have been returned to Italy and to Greece, and other items are due to be returned to the United Kingdom in due course.