Why did St. Paul sail to Perga on his first missionary journey?
The Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament says that St. Paul, St. Barnabas, John and Mark set sail from the city of Paphos on the island of Cyprus to the city of Perga (or Perge) in southern Turkey (or ancient Asia Minor) in A.D. 46. Perga was a stepping stone to other cities in central Turkey that St. Paul wanted to visit and preach the gospel.
Perga was purposely a little inland from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, so it would be more protected from pirates and invaders. To reach Perga from the Mediterranean Sea, you would sail up the Cestrus river, navigable in St. Paulâ€™s time, and there on a rise you would see the utterly magnificent city of Perga. St. Paul also could have chosen to land at one of the nearby seaports of Attalia (now Antalya) or Side, but the Bible does not specify his exact route to Perga. When St. Paul eventually left Turkey on his first missionary journey, the Bible does say he left from Attalia.
Perga is a beautiful and well-preserved archaeological site. Its main streets were over 21 meters wide. The main entrance into the city is huge, allowing many chariots with their horses to parade in side by side celebrating their victories in war.
E. Blake mentions the main streets of Perga were lined with colonnades and a water channel ran down their center in a series of small waterfalls. Behind the colonnades stood the shops. The stadium and theater at Perga still survive. The stadium, seating 14,000 people, is one of the best preserved in Turkey. The theater held 15,000 people. There was a large and beautiful Temple of Artemis, in the time of St. Paul, but it has not yet been located.
D. Darke mentions at Perga you see the Roman baths, the agora or marketplace, and granite columns. There are the ruins of a basilica where St. Paul is said to have delivered his first sermons on the Asia Minor mainland and won his first converts here.
There is the nymphaeum, from which the water channel down the center of the main street was fed. There is also a palaestra or open courtyard by the gymnasium where exercises were done. The tombs at Perga are laid out in the normal way, beside the roads leading to the city gates. Then there are the ruins of the tomb of Plankia Magna, the second century A.D. priestess of Artemis who held the highest office in Perga, that of demiurge or magistrate.
A. Edmonds mentions another famous resident of Perga, namely Apollonius, a third century B.C. astronomer and mathematician who believed that the moon went around the earth as the earth went around the sun. His ideas were rediscovered during the Renaissance.
M. Grant says the Christian martyr Nestor died at Perga during the persecution of the Roman emperor Decius in A.D. 251. The line of Pergaâ€™s bishops known by name goes back to the fourth century A.D. In the seventh century A.D. Arabs conquered Perga and most of the population left for the seaport of Antalya.Â
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