Friday, April 10, 2020

Magnesia: On the Maeander Pt.1

Photos by Jack A. Waldron

When heading out of Ephesus toward ancient Magnesia, the first obstacle one comes to is a long hard slog up hill hill.  However, we cyclists take them as they come, and I personally do not use any form of digital navigation, mainly because, I do not wish to focus on the road ahead.  
After tackling the long climb, the road winds through some cooler elevated forests and then down onto a flat plain that brings you directly to walls and gates of ancient Magnesia (pictured above).
The main road from Selcuk (pictured below) cuts across the northwest corner of the Temple of Artemis Leucophryene sanctuary.  
Unfortunately, I arrived around 1:00pm, which meant I would need to hurry with my explorations, because Magnesia is spread over a huge area, and many of the monuments are not easily located.  
Pictured above and below, the western section of the Internal Defensive Wall with the Ceremonial Gate/Market Gate/Propylon Gate in the center of the photos, that connects the Agora (right side of the photo), with the Sanctuary of Artemis Leucophryene (inside the gate on the other side of the wall).
Pictured above, a closer look at the Propylon Gate and its Colonnade, and the steps descending to the courtyard of the Agora.  
As you can see in the photo above, some portions of the surface pavement over the drainage system that runs along the Agora Colonnade have collapsed, leaving it exposed.  The high level of the water table makes the site extremely challenging for excavation crews.
The Agora, which is located to the right (or, north) in the photo below, is covered with about 2 meters of soil.  The Temple of Zeus Sosipolis is buried at the right edge of the photo.  From this pavement right and extending directly out to the foot of the mountain in the distance, is the largest section of the urban area of the city.  At the foot of the mountain is where the Stadium is located (see the grid plan below).

Buried beneath the alluvial deposits covering the Agora are the remains of the Temple of Zeus Sosipolis, or, 'Saviour of the City'.  Excavations of the site were first carried out by a German team under the direction of Carl Humann in 1891 and 1893.
After the Temple of Zeus Sosipolis had been excavated, the well preserved remains of the temple were destroyed in lime furnaces, or, stolen by the locals.  This small tetra style or amphriprostyle temple is of the Ionic tradition, and was erected in the middle of the 2C BC.  Pictured below is one of the anta capitals from the Temple of Zeus Sosipolis that I took at the Istanbul Archeological Museum.  There is hope that more remains of the temple can be recovered from the agora, though there two difficulties facing archeologists, one being the amount of sediment covering the site, and two, the high water table level.
Originally located where the Maeander and Lethaeus rivers meet, Magnesia on the Maeander, as the ancient city is known, was moved to its present location on a slope of ancient Mount Thorax (pictured in the background of the photos above and below) around 400 BC.  This was probably due to the occasional flooding of the rivers, which even at the new location appears to still be vulnerable.
The Propylon Gate is a very good state of preservation.  Its four tall partially fluted inner and outer row of Ionic columns are flanked by square columns, which are themselves flanked by the lower Doric columns of the gate portico.  
The center row colonnade has only two fluted Ionic columns, which are flanked by square columns (illustrated above).
The Propylon Gate gives access between the Agora and the Sanctuary of Artemis Leucophryene as stated above, and I first intended to write one long blog that would cover the whole of the city, including the Temple of Artemis Leucophryene.  However, after reviewing my numerous photos of the temple frieze, I decided to split the project into Parts 1 & 2.
Following their participation in the Trojan War, colonists from the Magnetes tribe in Thessaly established two cities in Asia Minor, both named Magnesia, Magnesia (current day Manisa), and Magnesia On The Maeander.  Since Magnesia (Manisa) was Aeolian, and Magnesia On The Maeander was in Ionia, it is because of this relation that the later would never became a member of the Ionian League.
Pictured above, a decorative lion claw can be seen adorning the ends of an exedra that is located just inside the Propylon Gate.  Behind the exedra can be seen dedicatory bases and other monuments donated by some of the wealthy families of the city.  
Pictured above, we see more dedicatory monuments, as well as the finely sculptured remains of now missing elements of the sanctuary.  Below, an inscription in the wall of one of the dedicatory monuments pays homage to a hero, of which one can see a more modern version of in the Vietnam War memorial to fallen soldiers in Washington D.C.  
One of the residents of the city before it was moved to its new location was the hero (to some) Themistocles, the Greek general who had defeated the Persians at Salamis, and who in 464 BC was exiled to Magnesia, which was still under Persian rule.  Surprisingly, he was received with honors, and even given the revenues of three cities by the Persian ruler Artaxerxes; Lampsacus, to pay for his wine, Myus, to pay for his flavorful dishes, and Magnesia, to pay for his bread.
According to historians, the daughter of Themistocles served as a priestess in the Temple of Cybele, though Strabo suggests that it was his wife.  We do not know where the original Temple of Cybele was/is located, as the old city site has yet to found.  We also do not know if the Temple of Cybele was relocated along with the city, and if so, was it erected on the same site as the Temple of Artemis Leucophryene, which was built some two-hundred and fifty years later, around 130 BC.  Pictured below, the governor of Magnesia, Themistocles, depicted on a coin dated 465-459 BC, while on the reverse side, his initials 'ΘΕ'.
Themistocles would not live out his old age in peaceful exile.  In 462 BC, the Great Persian King ordered the once honored general to lead forces against the armies of his homeland, Greece.  The great historian Plutarch relates the story as follows:
'Having, therefore, sacrificed to the gods, assembled his friends, and taken his leave, he drank bull's blood or, as some relate it, he took a quick poison, and ended his days at Magnesia, having lived sixty-five years, most of which he spent in civil or military employment.'
The Magnesians did honor to the great warrior by erecting a monument to him, which they erected in the in the Agora.  As we have seen in the photos above, the new Agora sits under two meters of silt, and hopefully, somewhere under that soil we will find the monument dedicated to Themistocles, again, assuming it was relocated to the new city site.
Pictured above, an opening in the inner defensive wall near the Market Basilica.  Here I will continue on with a walk through the 2C AD Market Basilica, and to view the full post on the Temple of Artemis Leucophryene, please go to Magnesia: Sanctuary of Artemis Leucophryene Pt.2!
Located near the southeast corner of the Agora, its size and extraordinary ornamentation and refined decorative style hint that this was no ordinary shopping bazaar.
The Market Basilica dates to the Roman period, and is thought to have been used as a church during the Byzantine period, though there is no evidence that that was the case.  This was a two-storied roofed structure that served as a market.
Excavations of the Market Basilica were carried out during the between 1989 and 2010.  As mentioned above, the extraordinary decorative features of the basilica hint at the what might have sold or traded at the market.

The most fascinating architectural members found during excavations were marble pillars with capitals depicting Scylla, the Homeric sea monster brought to life in the epic tale Odyssey.  One of the original Scylla capitals is on display at the Aydin Archeological Museum (pictured above).
The Scylla capital re-erected within the Market Basilica is a plaster copy, though it too seems equally detailed.  I now wish I had taken a few more photos of the original on display in the Aydin Archeological Museum.
Greek mythology tells of two sea monsters, Scylla (depicted in the capital pictured above), who lived within a large rock beneath the sea on one side of a narrow channel, and Charybdis, who lived under a smaller rock on the opposite side of the channel.  Charybdis had helped Poseidon, her father, capture land from her uncle, Zeus, which angered the god greatly.  Zeus captured Charybdis, chained her to the bottom of the channel, and cursed her by transforming her into a finned dragon monster with an insatiable thirst for sea water.  Thus, three times a day she drinks massive amounts of the sea creating giant whirlpools that swallow ships.
As sailor ply between the two monsters, trying to stay far enough away from one, they fall in danger of coming to close to the other.  In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus orders his men to row away from the dangerous Charybdis, but in doing so they brought the raft within the grasp of Scylla, which resulted in the death of six of his crew.  After a time, Odysseus was found himself stranded on the raft and drifting too close to Charybdis, who swallowed the raft, leaving Odysseus clinging to a fig tree above her pool. She expelled his raft and Odysseus was able to paddle away to safety.
It is generally accepted that the narrow strait of water between Messina, Sicily and Scilla, Calabria, is where the mythical story originates from.  Still today, sailors of small craft are well aware to take care of the currents within the Strait of Messina.  We have an English idiom that goes, "[To be] caught between a rock and a hard place", which is most likely a cousin to the ancient idiom "between Scylla and Charybdis", meaning, forced to choose between two dangerous situations.  In the photo below, we can see the bosomed Scylla with dragon tentacles throwing Odysseus' men off the raft to their deaths.  An interesting aspect of this relief is how well the acanthus leaves are worked into representations of sea waves.
What I might speculate from the Scylla themed basilica, is that the inventory of this market may have been imported from the Italian and/or Sicilian realms, or, perhaps sold good imitations of such items that may have their origin in that area of the world.  The Market Basilica today is a well stocked museum in its own right.  There are magnificently sculpted reliefs to be found throughout, such as the Corinthian capitals pictured below.

Magnesia is such an enormous site, that this project could have easily been split into three parts, and if I someday return to the site, I will add a Part 3.  Monuments I did not have time to investigate include, the Odeon and Hypocaust Building, east of the Artemis sanctuary, the large Theater, which is located on a large hill further east of the Odeon, on top of which there is a Tumulus and Tholos, both dating from the Hellenistic period, but all are extremely overgrown, and the Stadium Gymnasium, as well as the Lethaios Gymnasium.  Further, there is the city Necropolis, which is located south of the ancient city walls, and, there are the remains of ancient bridges over the Maeander and Lethaios.  Part 3, I think so!
Another area I did not have time to investigate was the city wall and tower located at the top of the mountain above the Stadium (pictured below).  The Stadium at Magnesia On The Maeander is probably the best preserved of any ancient stadium, including the stadiums of Aphrodisias and Kibyra.
The horseshoe-shaped Stadium with its semicircular end once held up to thirty-thousand spectators.  The 189 meters long structure was built during the Roman period, and is aligned on a north-south axis.
The fifty-two stairs of the Stadium climb to a colonnade that encircles the entire building, and also has a higher level colonnade above that at its circular end.  At its open end, there is a six pillar monumental Gate with five arches.
During ancient times, the ends of the Stadium extended all the way to the Monumental Gate, gradually leaving the foothills they were buttressed against and supported by six-story substructure.  Pictured below, what remains of the left end-point of that substructure, including the steps leading into the stands.
Pictured below, the Stadium Monumental Gate as viewed from entrance steps pictured above looking northwest.  Beyond the hills in the distance is where ancient Ephesus is located.
Pictured below, a view of the gate looking directly north, with the Stadium at my back.  Beyond the gate is a set of stairs that lead down into the grid of the city.
Turning around, the Stadium opens up into a monumental structure that would rival or surpass many of the modern sports arenas around the world today (pictured below).
Upon entering the Stadium, the visitor is greeted with reliefs that have been sculpted into the base blocks of the seating at the area level.  The one-hundred and twenty-nine Tropaion Reliefs found most likely symbolize the victories of the city, either in battle or gladiatorial triumphs. 
Pictured above, what appears to be a battle between two gladiatorial fighters, of a combat struggle during war.  Below, a shield representing victory, probably taken from a defeated enemy.
Pictured below, either a warrior of battle or a gladiatorial fighter with a spear in hand.  Unfortunately, the complete collection of reliefs are not available for viewing; most of the reliefs that can be seen on site are protected by a metal cage.
Pictured below, an honorary monument to a war hero with his shield on display, and his quiver leaning against the dedicatory base.
A rider is commemorated for his victory in the arena.
I am not sure what the relief below is depicting, perhaps the stamina of a past victor who is being honored with a stele?
Pictured below, a display of armor, including helmet, shield and quiver, to celebrate the victors triumph over their enemies.
Again, an honorary monument to a war hero with his shield on display, and his quiver leaning against the dedicatory base (pictured below).
Pictured below, a helmeted warrior of battle or a gladiatorial fighter with a sword and spear.
An honorary monument to a war hero with his shield and sword on display atop of a dedicatory base (pictured below).
Pictured below, a display of armor, including helmet and shield, most likely to celebrate the victors triumph over their enemies.
Pictured below, probably the feathers of a golden eagle, which was the messenger of the Roman sky-god, Jupiter.
Finally, a charioteer rides to victory around the circus of the stadium, obtaining triumph and glory in the face of death.
In the lower left-hand corner of the photo below, you can see the white cage that protects the Tropaion Reliefs.

It truly is unfortunate that the site of ancient Magnesia is not closer to a populated city, as this Stadium in particular is in a very restorable condition to host major events, such as concerts or sport.
The rows of seating have a large quantity of inscriptions (pictured below).  These were used to designate certain seats or areas that were reserved for individuals or groups.
I met this very nice family who were very curious about my cycle gear, and asked about my tour and why I wrote about ancient cities, and so on.
How this great structure has remained in such a fine state of preservation, I do not know.  Often, the stone blocks are the first to be taken for the construction of new buildings, either in accent times, or in more modern times.
My guess is that the structure was buried rather quickly by soil traveling down the hill sides that rise above it (pictured in the left of the photo above).  In the photo below, terrace support walls at the top of the stadium hold the hill at bay.
The Stadium is actually built within the recess of two high hills that formed a quite natural horse-shoe valley, and which was perfectly suited to the building of the stadium.
Pictured below, a victory wreath adorns the colonnade base wall.
The Stadium is recorded to have been used until at least the 3C AD.  This is one muniment that I would really like to see fully restored, though please, no over muddling of the structure.
Often times, restorers go too far, to the point that the an ancient structure loses its aesthetic of age and beauty.
Upon leaving, I took a quick snap of what I think is the Stadium Baths, though I cannot be sure (pictured below).  The sun was setting very fast, the site would close soon, and I still had the Theatron to visit.
It took me a good ten minutes to walk from the Stadium to the Theatron, so if you visit ancient Magnesia, be sure to start early in the day!  As you can see from the two illustrations presented above and the one below, there are competing ideas when it comes to reconstructing the original design of the Theatron.  This may be due to the supporting evidence that the building was never fully completed, which may be the result of a landslide that either covered or destroyed portions of the Theatron.
There is strong evidence however, that this building was intended to serve a specific purpose, mostly due to the special niches for seats recessed within the support wall/barrier around the orchestra, known as prohedrie (pictured below).
Some of these niches look like they could have also served the purpose of displaying statues of gods, Magnesian governors or perhaps members of the Roman imperial family.
At the time of construction, Magnesia already had an Odeon and a very large Theater, so, why build such an opulent white marble finished middle-sized theater?
Besides the rich white marble finishing, I find the sculptured seating to be more exquisite than any I have previously seen in a theater of this size.
First, notice how the large strong lion leg seat ends with their ornately carved lion claws climb the full height of the kerkides/cunel, all done in high quality marble.  Second, look at the fine lipped edge across the front of the seats, that top an extravagant curve down and under the seats.
All around, the craftsmanship of the marble work is excellent.  This must have been a specially designed theater where little expense was spared in an aim to impress.

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