"From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perge in Pamphylia..." (Acts 13:13).
Perge in Pamphylia
Perge (Greek "earthy") was the capital of the province of
Pamphylia Secunda, a beautiful area between the Taurus
Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, and between the
provinces of Lycia and Cilicia. Perge, also spelled "Perga,"
was situated 11 miles northeast of Mediterranean port of
Attalia (modern Antalya). It was sited inland as a defensive
measure against pirate bands that terrorized this stretch of
The nearby Kestros River was navigable in ancient times but, like most Greek colonies in Asia Minor, Perge was deprived of its harbor when it gradually silted up leading to its decline in later times. According to a clay tablet discovered in the Hittite capital of Bogazköy, Perge was once known as "Parha." Greek colonists came here after the Trojan War, and probably displaced the earlier inhabitants. Alexander the Great passed through Perge during his campaigns and used guides from there. Second only to Ephesus in wealth and beauty, a temple to Artemis was one of its prominent buildings.
Walking in Paul's footsteps — Perge
Today, Perge is a major archeological excavation and it remains, even in ruins, a majestic site. Most of the remains belong to the Roman period, 2nd-3rd centuries AD.. Excavations began in 1946 and are continuing today.
Below, overall view of Perge: left, 2nd century AD theater with seating for 15,000 spectators and the scene of gladiator fights in the late Roman Period; the mesa-like acropolis is seen beyond.
Below, interior of the stadium, located near the theater.
Below, gate in the southern city wall. Paul and Barnabas would have passed through this gate, already 300 years old.
Below, two round towers belonging to to the city's southern gate during the Hellenistic period. It was beautified between 120 and 122 AD by Plancia Magna, daughter of Plancius Varus, the Roman governor of Bithynia.
Below, Perge's square agora (marketplace), a column-enclosed area with shops and rooms around the perimeter, built in the 2nd century AD. Left side of photo are the remains of a round temple, situated In the center of the agora, thought to have been dedicated to the goddess Tyche (Fortune). Shops were inspected by officials called Agoranomas, who checked for cleanliness, prices and weight and measuring standards.
Below, Perge's main north-south street with remains of a water channel which ran down the center in a series of small waterfalls to a fountain at the base of the acropolis.
Below, another view of the water channel down the center of the city's main north-south street.
Below, Nymphaeum (fountain dedicated to the water nymphs in Greek mythology) at the north end of the main road, at the base of the acropolis.
Below, back of the Nymphaeum from the acropolis, with the north end of the city's main street.
Below, excavations on top of the low acropolis revealed the platform of a large structure with fragments of several granite columns, probably representing the temple of the goddess Leto, identified with Artemis of Ephesus; others regard it as the ruin of an early church.
In the footsteps of Paul — Perge
Acts indicates that Paul, Barnabas and John Mark sailed directly from Paphos to Perge. At that time Perge must have had access to the sea by way of the Cestius River. Otherwise, the missionaries would have landed at the nearby port city of Attalia and walked the remaining seven miles to Perge.
At Perge, Acts says, John Mark left Paul and Barnabas to return to Jerusalem. No reason is given, but several theories have been suggested: that he was no longer able to handle the hardships of missionary travel, that he was unwilling to take the gospel to Gentiles, or, as suggested by Paul Maier in his book "First Christians," he resented Paul taking over leadership of the mission from his cousin Barnabas.
Whatever the cause of the defection, John Mark's decision was resented by Paul, who would later hold the action against him causing him and Barnabas to go their separate ways at the start of the second missionary journey (Acts 15:37-39).
Without stopping to preach in Perge, the Paul and Barnabas embarked on a difficult trek across the formidable Taurus Mountains into Phrygia, the same route used by Alexander the Great for his invasion of the interior almost 300 years earlier.
Why did Paul and Barnabas avoid preaching in Perge at this time? It has been suggested that Paul may have fallen ill with malaria carried by mosquitoes from the many coastal marshes in the surrounding countryside, necessitating a change in plans. Paul mentions illness as the reason he first preached to the Galatians:
"As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself." (Galatians 4:14).
To recuperate, he needed to get to a drier, high-altitude climate, like that of Pisidian Antioch in the Roman province of Galatia, on the edge of the 3,000-foot-high Anatolian Plateau. (Paul and Barnabas would, however, preach the gospel in Perge on their way back to Attalia near the end of this journey, but no details are given — see Acts 14:25.)