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Tuesday, 24 June 2014


Aphrodisias Archaeology Aphrodisiac

Afrodisias Aphrodisiac
Afrodisias Aphrodisiac
Aphrodisias should not be missed as it is probably the best archaeology site in Turkey – even better than Ephesus and without the crowds. You will be amazed by the complete monumental gate, stadium, Roman bath, agora and theatre. It is truly a must-see UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS).  This city was dedicated to the Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, but today it is a tourist aphrodisiac. 
Day 11: We did not arrive at Aphrodisias until noon after driving about 2:15 hours (124 km) east from Selçuk. Aphrodisias is a compact area that can be done in a couple of hours. Best of all, a few minutes after getting off the free mini-bus from the parking lot to the entrance, the last tour group left the stadium. From this point on we were practically all alone. It was totally silent except for the birds. Very few people and very few groups come here. That alone is worth the price of admission (TRY 15), which is a fraction of the cost of Ephesus. The problem is that it is hard to get here without having a rental car or going on a tour. 


Afrodisias Aphrodisiac
Tetrapylon Towers - Look Way Up
From the entrance square and museum, we took the road to the right (NW direction). We would recommend you do the same as you get to see the most important sight right away – a monumental gate and I mean very high. This cannot be still standing since 200 CE? No, it isn't. But it was reconstructed from the actual materials; i.e. it’s a real, complete monument. What a surprise that Turkey actually repaired and re-erected it in 1990. Wow, that's not what they do in Rome.  
We had never seen or heard of a tetrapylon when we lived in Italy. Tetrapylon means four (tetra) gates (pylon) in Greek, and is modelled after a triumphal arch. It is built when there is a major crossroad.  One set of Corinthian columns has unusual spiral fluting.

Tetrapylon Lintel Erotes
Lintel of Love
Use your zoom lens or binoculars to view the amazing bas relief sculptures. The columns are topped by a lintel with relief figures of Nike and Erotes amid acanthus leaves or in the process of hunting.  Erotes, the plural of Eros ("Love, Desire"), are a set of winged gods associated with love and sex in Greek mythology. They are part of the retinue of the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite.


Afrodisias Stadium
Stadium for One
We took the path continuing NW and then turned sharply to the right and came to an amazing sight – a complete, intact 270 m stadium. Most of the seats are still there, enough seats for around 30,000 spectators.  It is one of the largest and best preserved stadiums in the Ancient Mediterranean. Oh well, there is only one spectator today. 

Afrodisias Stadium
Stadium for 30,000
Leaving the stadium on the same side (left) as we entered but taking the right path, we headed due south toward the Temple of Aphrodite. 

Why is Such a Beautiful City Here?

The question is why was this magnificent place built this far inland? Most major cities in ancient times were built along the coast or major rivers because boats were the main and fastest means of transportation in ancient times. 
Aphrodisias was constructed here because of the quarries of beautiful white and blue-gray marble. The marble sculptures made in Aphrodisias became famous and were exported as far as North Africa and Rome. It became a cultural and artistic hub as well as a centre for medicine and philosophy. The city was laid out following urban planning concepts begun by Hippodamus of Miletus.

Temple of Aphrodite


Aphrodisias Temple of Aphrodite
Temple of Aphrodite
The site of Aphrodisias has been sacred since as early as 5800 BC, when Neolithic farmers came here to worship the Mother Goddess of fertility and crops. Notice the preoccupation with reproduction. It followed that the Greeks named Aphrodisias after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, and origin of our word aphrodisiac. During Persian rule, this site was dedicated to their equivalent goddess, Ishtar. A part of the Ishtar processional tiles from Babylon can be seen in the Istanbul Archaeological Museums.

Aphrodisias Temple of Aphrodite
Love Flower
This similarity between goddesses is not accidental. What is interesting is that Hinduism, Ancient Greek, Ancient Roman and Viking religions all share a similar pantheon of gods and goddesses. That is because these deities are related to the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) people (formerly called Aryans) who migrated from the Caspian Sea area east to India, west to Turkey, and north to Slavic Europe and Scandinavia. BTW, this is now backed by DNA research with a particular genetic pattern (R1a1a).
It is also demonstrated by the fact that European and Indian languages belong to the Indo-European language group, which is related to and descended from Sanskrit. So the English word deity, Latin deus, Greek dios and god Zeus, and the Hindi word deva are derived from Sanskrit deva.  So it follows that the Greek Aphrodite was similar to Anatolian cult images. While the name was different, a deity often had the same set of powers associated with the Hindu deity.

Hadrianic Baths

Hadrianic Baths
Lone Statue, Dry Baths
On the right, just south of the Temple of Aphrodite were remnants of a Roman bath. Most of floor, now exposed to the outside, is still paved with black and white tiles. A lone statue gives an idea of what Afrodisias looked like with classical sculpture decorating all the public places. It must have been delightful. This statue decorated a pool.  

Agora with Water Park

Wow, the archaeological wonders continue.  Turning east after the baths, the path parallels alongside the large South Agora (Greek for market place and origin of our word agoraphobia, fear of open spaces), colonnaded pools included. 
Afrodisias Agora
Agora Aphrodisiac
The agora was enclosed by colonnaded stoa. This would give any of our present day shopping centres a run for their money. 
The path then climbs a steep hill, the acropolis. Along the way, there are more great views of the "water park". They continue to work on this area. In fact, the gate was left open. So I went inside for a closer view of some columns sitting beside the water-filled pool.


Afrodisias Theatre
Your Own Private Theatre
On the side of the acropolis hill is a complete theatre with a stage from 1st century BC. There is no skene building (Greek skene, Latin scaenae,  origin of English word scene) behind it. The scaenae was damaged in the 7th century earthquake. There would have been architectural ornament and statues of senators and benefactors. It was a great place to have lunch with a view (if you planned ahead). 

Fall of Afrodisias

Afrodisias Sebasteion
Afrodisias Sebasteion
Aphrodisias never fully recovered from Arab raids and from the 7th century earthquake, and fell into disrepair. On the way out we saw the Sebasteion building covered in bas relief then went into the museum. This building was dedicated to the goddess and the imperial family of Julius Caesar.  That is because Gens Julia claimed divine descent from Venus (Aphrodite).

Afrodisias Museum
Sculpture Serpentinata
Unfortunately, the museum is totally under-lit making photography difficult. But there are some interesting sculptures. You can almost feel the delicate folds of the dress in this sculpture. The photo shows one of the most important art concepts, serpentinata or spiral "S"-shaped form.  It was the rediscovery of serpentinata and perspective in the 1400s that led to more realistic art and sculpture of the Renaissance. A supreme example of serpentinata is the Laocoön statue – original made in Pergamon and discovered in Rome in 1506  was one of the biggest influences. 


Afrodisias Museum
Sculpture Aphrodisiac
We were the last ones to leave the site along with an American who asked for a ride. He came much later than us and had to rush through the site. At the end of the day, it was empty so there were no cars or dolmuş (shared mini-buses) departing. He asked if we were going to Denizli so he could get the bus to Antalya, where he would later fly out to Istanbul. He got to Afrodisias late in the afternoon because it took him half a day to go from Denizli by dolmuş (shared mini-bus). Good for him that he came here; but not so good arranging his itinerary.
So driving him to the bus station was our good deed for the day as there were no local dolmuş to be seen. There were some nice mountains on our way to Denizli, if the weather had been clearer. Afrodisias to Pamukkale takes about two hours (98 km) going east to Tavas then north on the D330.  

We arrived at Pamukkale but the road was closed and there was a clear sign to veer left but after a while it seemed we were leaving the small town. We doubled back and eventually found our delightful hotel, Melrose House.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Didyma and the God Apollo


Temple of Apollo, Didyma
Temple of Apollo, Didyma
Didyma is important for the Temple of Apollo, one of the most famous oracles in the ancient world and equal in importance to the oracle at Delphi in Greece.  This was also one of the first Ionic temples to be built (mid-sixth century BC) in the world.

Day 10C: By the way, the signs for the archeology sites on this minor road from Priene and Miletus were very good. The signs for our last destination always stated Didyma (the Greek name, though maps will state Didim, the Turkish name) until you get to the final turn off to the left where it states Temple of Apollo. This road leads to a parking lot where the city wants you to park (TRY 6). Meanwhile, there is another road that goes right beside the temple, where the locals park (free) for the site or the restaurants. So if you have a disability or injury do the same.

You can see the temple, which is below ground level, from the outside on the park-like sidewalk. But walking among the massive columns gives you a better sense of the immense size of this temple. There are also very good explanatory signs around the site.

Apollo the God

Why is the oracle at Delphi and Didyma a temple to Apollo? Apollo is the son of Zeus and Leto, and has a twin sister, the huntress Artemis. Interestingly, Didyma means "twin". Apollo is the god of oracles, truth, prophecy, plague, sun, light, art, music, poetry, and knowledge. Wow, what isn’t he the god of?  In art Apollo is often depicted as a handsome, clean shaven and perennially young man. Emperors were portrayed as the Sun God on coins. Sometimes, sculptures of emperors were rendered with the features of Apollo.  
Konarak Temple, India
Konarak Temple on Stone Wheels (below doorway)
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities. The gods of Classical Greek, Roman, and Viking religion are derived from a common heritage. That is because these deities are related to the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) people (formerly called Aryans) who migrated from the Caspian Sea area east to India and west to Turkey. For instance, Apollo is often depicted driving the chariot of the Sun. The Konarak Sun Temple, a WHS in India, was built in the form of a giant ornamented chariot of the Sun god, Surya.   
So how is Apollo significant to us today? It is said that the date 25th December was selected for Christmas to correspond to the primary Roman festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, or “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” at the winter solstice. While some historians challenge this, there is a definite pattern amongst early Christians to associate pagan festivals with Christian customs and to re-purpose and temples as churches for an equivalent Christian meaning. This was the best way to win pagans over to Christianity.  The same technique can be seen in Buddhism in Thailand and Burma.  The concept of giving gifts comes from the Roman festival Saturnalia, which ends on 25th December.

Apollo the Temple

The point of its size was to impress viewers. It was going to be 120 columns long but the temple was never completed! What can be more awe-inspiring than massive 65-foot tall columns that were composed of the drums like the ones lining the temple floor end to end as if they planned to re-erect them. How did they ever lift them?  
Temple of Athena Nike, Athens
Temple of Athena Nike, Athens
These are Ionic columns, one of the three orders of classical architecture. The columns have a little bulge (entasis) to make them appear straight when viewed from a distance. I always imagined that Ionia was somewhere in mainland Greece. But this area of Turkey from the Island of Chios to Didyma is Ionia. This area invented the Ionic order in the mid-6th century BC. 
dodecagonal bases with bas relief
Dodecagonal Bases with Bas Relief
The Ionic Order sees its supreme expression in the Erechtheion (known for its Porch of the Caryatids) and the Temple of Athena Nike on the Athens Acropolis. It is used throughout the classical world and even in modern architecture; such as, the U.S. Capitol and the Jefferson Memorial.  
There were a lot of decorative features that are not usually found on temples. This indicates that the Oracle received a lot of money both from emperors as well as pilgrims. In fact, the surrounding mounds (now covered by the modern streets) were still laden with offerings when they were excavated. The columns (2nd century CE) across the east façade have dodecagonal bases with bas relief panels depicting Nereids, sea creatures, foliage (laurel leaves), meanders, etc.  
The Oracle of Didyma
The Oracle of Didyma
In the middle of the temple platform, tread carefully down a mysterious, steep ramp. This leads to a peaceful, inner courtyard that was open to the outside and had grass and trees as well as the sacred spring that started it all. This was the actual Oracle. It also is the best place for photography in the afternoon because of the nice lighting on the remaining columns. Unfortunately the main entrance to the temple and even views from the sidewalk will be backlit.  
Shazie on Homeros Pension Rooftop
Shazie on Homeros Pension Rooftop


Then we returned to Selçuk for supper. This was our last of three nights at Homeros Pension. It was a great choice as a base for visiting this region. We had really enjoyed our host Shazie with whom we had several long chats, especially once on the panoramic roof-top patio. We really liked the folksy, craft-laden rooms.  

Homeros Pension
Homeros Pension Sitting Room
But best of all, we liked meeting other avid travellers like ourselves. The dining room was ideal for meeting people, especially at meal times. Tonight was no exception as we remained in the dining room long after the end of the meal chatting with the Australian couple who are on an eight-month trip and then talked until 23:00 h with an Argentinian lawyer, who was leaving at that late time.  
Are you getting "templed out"? We hope not. The next blog will describe Afrodisias, one of our favourite archaeology sites in Turkey, before we start touring the scenic spots of Turkey.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Miletus & its Roman Theatre

Miletus – What is a Vomitorium?

As you drive south from Priene to Miletus, imagine that when they were thriving cities 2000 years ago, you would now have either been swimming or sinking. Instead of the lake of Bafa Golu, this would have been the bay of Bafa Golu in the Aegean Sea. Miletus would have been 22 km on the other side of this large bay.  Is it worth going here?  This site will help you understand the origin of urban planning we still use today. 
Theatre of Miletus
Theatre of Miletus

Miletus Theatre

The most dramatic feature of Miletus is the huge Hellenistic theatre, built in the 4th century BC. Enlarged under Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century CE, it could seat 25,000 spectators, about as large as the theatre in Ephesus (day 9) – which was one of the largest theatres in Ancient Rome.
Theatre Vomitorium
Is the Vomitorium for Throwing Up?
Day 10B: The Miletus theatre dominates your view as soon as you reach the park entrance. It is massive! But this is a frontal view with harsh lighting and no trees or other frames for photography. It is more interesting and better photography to walk up the road veering to the right, enter the theatre and walk a bit up the stairs. In the photo are four columns: this was the Imperial Box.
Also walk through the vomitorium, the passages situated inside the theatre behind each tier of seats. No, that is not the room where you throw up! The Latin word vomitorium is derived from the verb “to spew forth” from which comes the English word vomit. Now imagine the huge crowds exiting at the end of a performance. Not exactly the same image!
Delphinion Drowning


Another evocative place is the now drowned (at least when we were there) Delphinion, which we had all to ourselves. This main temple of Miletus is a shrine to Apollo Delphinios (Apollo of the Dolphins), protector of ships and harbours. With four ports this was a clear need for Miletus. The Delphinion leads onto the processional way to the Temple of Apollo at Didyma. The ancient road is below the water next to the remaining columns of a long corridor.


Miletus, Capital of the Ionian League

Miletus was the unofficial capital of the Ionian League as well as an important centre of learning, especially philosophy and science. In particular, it is the birthplace of two very important people to all travellers. Isidore of Miletus was the architect of Hagia Sophia (day 3).

Miletus Rebuilt by Hippodamus


What Blossoms are they?
Hippodamus is considered to be the father of urban planning. After the destruction of Miletus by the Persians in 494 BC, Hippodamus rebuilt the city on a gridiron plan, which became the Greek and Roman standard for urban planning. He was also responsible for Piraeus (port of Athens) and Rhodes.
His plan created separated spaces for public and private buildings. Even to this day, the centre of the city is the home to a city's most important civic spaces; such as, shopping centres (agora), government (bouleuterion), theatres, and religious buildings (temples).


We know of Hippodamus from Aristotle’s important work, Politika. But the word politics in Aristotle’s time meant “things concerning the city". The words politics, policy and police all originate from the Greek word polis, or city. For the same reason, polis is found in many current places names; such as acropolis (upper city), metropolitan, Napoli (actual Italian name for Naples, which was founded by the Greeks who named it Neapolis or new city), Indianapolis, and Tripoli.  

Last but not least, Istanbul was originally simply called Istimbolin by the Greeks meaning “(in) The City”, which was in turn was derived from polis. 

Saturday, 7 June 2014


How is Priene connected to Architecture?

Athena Polias Temple, Priene
Temple of Athena holds up Mt. Mycale
Is Priene this worth visiting?  Well, it is if you want to learn about its connection to the Acropolis in Athens or indeed all classical architecture.  Priene also has a beautiful setting. 
Priene's Hidden Harbour
All the way to the mountains used to be the Aegean Sea
Day 10A: From Selçuk we did a day trip to the ancient ruins of Priene, Miletus and Didyma. Alternatively, you could visit a scenic lake, Bafa Golu.  

Click on one of the Priene photos once to see a larger view in a slide show.    
Priene has a beautiful setting on a hill overlooking the cotton fields.  All  those fields below the hill were once the Aegean Sea! 
The valley was filled in by the ever-shifting Menderes River from which our word meander is derived. The Romans had to abandon this site because the harbour had silted up.  The sea is now 6 km away and, as shown in this map, the bay became a lake – Bafa Golu!!! 

Theatre of Priene
Your own private theatre

Theatre of Priene

The small but well-preserved theatre was delightful. It has five armchair seats, with lion paws on each side. Originally built in the 4th century BC by the Greeks, the Priene theatre was expanded by the Romans in the 2nd century CE to hold 6,000 spectators.

Theatre of Priene: Lions Feet
Your own private chair
This is a good place to see the skênê of ancient Greek theatres, which is missing at the great theatre in Ephesus. The skênê was the building behind the stage used for scene and costume changing (skênê is the origin of the English word “scene”).  


Temple of Athena Polias

Priene’s main temple, Athena Polias, was dedicated in 334 BC by Alexander the Great, who stayed here during his lengthy siege of Miletus. It was designed by Pytheos, the architect of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and located in today’s city of Bodrum in Turkey. The statue inside was a copy of the famous Athena of Phidias in the Athenian Parthenon. No that’s not the connection I mentioned before.  
Temple of Athena Polias
Priene used to be Ionian Greece
Five columns (from the original 66) still stand against the backdrop of a huge cliff, Mount Mycale. These are Ionic columns, one of the three orders of classical architecture. The columns have a little bulge (entasis) to make them appear straight. I always imagined that Ionia was somewhere in Greece. But this area of Turkey from the Island of Chios to Miletus is Ionia.  In 479 BC, Mycale was the site of one of the two major battles that ended the Persian invasion of Greece.  Notice that the writing on the Priene monuments are in Greek. 

Ionic Order of Classical Architecture

Temple of Athena Nike on the Athens Acropolis
Temple of Athena Nike on the Athens Acropolis
This area invented the Ionic order in the mid-6th century BC.  This order sees its supreme expression in the Erechtheion (known for its Porch of the Caryatids) and Temple of Athena Nike on the Athens Acropolis.  It is used throughout the classical world and even in modern architecture; such as, the U.S. Capitol and the Jefferson Memorial.  Now an even more interesting connection is that Ionic order has an Asian origin: it is similar to columns found at Persepolis (Persia).  
The Ionic capital is characterized by the use of volutes (spiral scrolls) on top of a fluted shaft.  The cap is usually carved with the egg-and-dart pattern. Vitruvius – a very famous architect during the time of Augustus and author of the book De Architectura – describes the Ionic order as showing “more graceful” female body proportions.  Did I mention how important Vitruvius was?  He in turn influenced future architecture.  It was the re-discovery and application of his book by Brunelleschi (c. 1402) that led to the Renaissance of architecture and the Duomo of Florence