Saturday, July 4, 2020

Miletus: City of Philosophers Pt.1

Photos by Jack A. Waldron

After leaving Priene in the late afternoon, it was time to find a camping spot and get settled.  Heading out toward the sea, instead of turning left on the road that takes you across the ancient bay to Miletus, I continued straight out to Dilak Yarimadasi National Park.  Following the national park road to the end of the peninsula will put you within sight of Samos and the Sanctuary of Heraion just across the Mycale Strait.  I found a perfect point to camp on, and it was a beautiful evening of wind and waves, until some local teenagers showed up, shouting out the few English words they knew and breaking bottles.  I ignored them.
The first indication that you are approaching ancient Miletus, is when you begin to discern between the mountains in the far off distance from the nearer mountain of stone, which is the monumental Hellenistic/Roman Theater structure (pictured above).
Archaeological evidence shows pre-second millennium habitation of the surrounding area, with substantial expansion following the arrival of the Myceneans during the second millennium.  Pictured above and below, 12C BCE pottery found at Miletus on display at the Miletus Archaeological Museum.
As mentioned in my post on nearby Priene, this is my second visit to the area, as well as my second visit to Miletus.  My first visit was as a backpacker, travelling by local transport, including hitchhiking, while this visit is obviously by bicycle, which I can honestly say the most gratifying of the two.  
In the topographical map below, you can see why Miletus, Priene and other cities in the region fell on harder and harder times as the bay of Miletus silted up over the millennia.  This was mostly caused by deforestation of the surrounding hills and mountains.
As you can clearly see by the blue in the aerial photo below, the ancient Bay of Miletus, the Bay of Lions, and the Theater Bay, still show themselves following heavy rains, as the water table is just below the surface.  
The water seen at the top of the photo is the North Agora, which is located at the head of the ancient Bay of Lions (Aslanli Limani), while just in front of the theater is the Theater Bay (Tiyatro Limani).
The Graeco-Roman Theater at Miletus today, which has a seating capacity of around 15,000, is an expansion of the original 4C BCE theater, that had a capacity of 5000.  
The sea, which wraps around the city, was the life-blood of Miletus, bringing it riches and making it possible to build grande structures, such as the Theater.  Originally founded by Myceneans around 1500 BCE, Greek colonists would arrive in troves during the 10C BCE.
Where as ancient Mysus, Priene and Magnesia were situated along the inland trade road that takes one to Ephesus, Miletus was dependent on sea trade, and was itself the founder of over 90 cities throughout the ancient world.  These colonies produced trade goods from around the Mediterranean that were transported under the management of the Miletian rulers and traders.  These worldly contacts also solidified Miletus as a center of the ancient world, accessible to the minions, including the thinkers from throughout the Mediterranean.  Miletus became a center of education and higher learning, and known as the city of philosophers.
A fine serpentine decorative relief that follows the base or footing of the Theater can be seen in the photo below.
Below, a lion sculpture that once greeted patrons upon their entering the building sits still, greeting us.
After entering the vaulted corridor at the front left wing of the Theater, there are several directions one can take, such as a stairwell to the upper levels, or directly ahead to middle corridors that take patrons to the lower level central seating.
The vaulted entrances and corridors of the Theater are in a fine state of preservation, including the decorative reliefs of the arched doorways (pictured above and below).
Entrances located on the sides of the theater building access the central vaulted corridors as well, such as the one pictured below.

These long corridors use the natural light very well to show the inner chamber soft-steps that are occasionally encountered, but I am sure that torches must have been necessary after sunset.

Looking out over the orchestra and beyond from the central cavea today offers virtually no glimpse of what would have been in view during ancient times.  That said, the Roman addition of a tall skene would have blocked much of the view from the lower seating.
The clump of trees seen in the top center of the photo above would have been a natural point on the opposite bank of the Theater Bay.  The Theater Bay continued around the outcrop to the upper left of the photo, where the Stadium, the West Agora, and the Temple of Athena are located.
The Roman addition of a high protection wall around the orchestra allowed for the exhibition of gladiatorial matches, and the introduction of wild beasts into the mix of so-called, entertainment.
The frieze of the Theater (pictured here) would have offed mythical and cultural representations that reinforced the values of society.
The frieze members pictured here are on display at the Miletus Archaeological Museum, which is located a short distance up the road from the Theater Bay.  Depicted below, Heracles is tasked with destroying the Nemean Lion, that could not be slain by mortal weapons because its golden fur could not be penetrated.
As one can see from these frieze members, hunting scenes dominated the Roman psyche, and perhaps we can partially deduce that a plethora of wild beasts were supplied to Miletus from its numerous overseas colonies.
The lion and ostrich captures pictured above and below are certainly scenes of a hunt that would have taken place North Africa, in particular, perhaps near the Miletian colony of Naucratis, in Egypt.
Pictured below, wild gazelles are chased into a waiting net snare.  To see the most magnificent depictions of Roman hunting scenes, one must travel to Armerina, Sicily, to the Villa Romana Del Casale!!
Poseidon/Neptune heralds a squall that smashes the ships of men, while a revered friend of the seamen rushed to their rescue (pictured below).
Cupids or Cherubs on the hunt!  This coming together of East and West, the chubby winged beings on the hunt are known in mythology as servants to the gods.
The mythology of these winged cherubim stretches from the earliest recorded history from the Near East in the form of winged lions, griffins and humans, to the guardians of Eden in the Hebrew texts, to the stinging arrows and the flight from irrational love purveyed by Eros and Cupid in Classical Mythology, to the Archangels of Christianity and, the seven cherubim of Islam.
Finally, the Calydonian Boar, and the hunt for the monster sent by Artemis to ravage the lands of Calydon and Aetolia because the king neglected to honor the goddess in his rites.  Thus, the assembly of Olympian age heroes tasked to hunt down the beast, that was first wounded by Atalanta, the heroines who was subsequently awarded the prize of the skin (pictured below).
Pictured below, heading down the grand staircase to the entrance of the east wing of the Theater, you can see the Miletus Archaeological Museum in the distance, and the Stadium, which sits just the other side.

Standing outside the entrance of the Theater give a good idea of the massive scale of this building.
As you can see in the photos below, both theater building and stage building members have been categorized, numbered, and now await the funds for reconstruction. 

Worn, weathered and caught in a bad light, my photo of the frieze scene above does not do justice to the depiction.  However, the museum photo below does give a better idea of what is happening in the scene.

Magnificent ornamentation from the Theater building can be scene everywhere around the site.  How long before these rare antiquities disappear into private collections?
One could easily spend more than a couple of hours exploring the environs of the Theater, including the Byzantine edition of a fortress constructed above the backside of the building, which I unfortunately did not have time to investigate (pictured below).
Pictured below, a ceiling panel from the stage building skene, which was elaborately scuplted and decorated, and rose at least three stories during the Roman period.

Now, leaving the Theater in the opposite direction pictured below, I am on route to the Stadium.  
Although I did cover most of the area, I did not have mt guide book with me at the time, so I failed to locate the Temple of Athena, which in hindsight, I could probably find blindfolded today.  
I do plan to walk the Sacred Way to Didyma in the future, and when I do, I will photograph the podium of the temple, and the Sacred Gate to the Sacred Way.
Here, I have included some information and photos with regard to the Temple of Athena, which are on display in the Miletus Archaeological Museum.
The temple is located just off the West Agora at the left-hand side of the city plan above, and is marked by the dark black L-shaped wall that remains today.  
Pictured above, an ornately carved section of the sima decorated with lion heads and vines from the Temple of Athena on display at the Miletus Archaeological Museum.
Pictured below, I am standing near the east end of the Stadium looking west, where to the left of the structures seen in the distance is the West Agora and the Temple of Athena.  The Hellenistic Stadium was financed by Eumenes II of Pergamon, and was built around 150 BCE  The structure was expanded during the 3C CE by the Romans.  The rising bank seen at the left of the photo below is the southern row of seating.
The Stadium in its final construction had a capacity of 15,000 spectators, and measured 191 meters in length and about 30 meters in width.  What is uniquely different about this Hellenistic design when compared with Roman stadiums, is that both ends of this stadium are open ended, forming parallel seating that face each other, with no rounded seating at one end.  Pictured below is a section of the seating from the Stadium, which to this date has only seen a small amount of excavation work done.
Pictured below is another section of seating, this one containing an inscription marking the patron who has reserved it for use.
The vaulted chambers at the east end of the Stadium (pictured above) support the southern side row of seating.  As you can see from the photo, the Stadium field is buried beneath 2-4 meters of of soil.
The monumental Propylon at the east end of the Stadium is a later Roman addition, and has been partially excavated (pictured below).  Water inundation is a constant problem for excavation in this area as the water table is quite high.  If you look closely at the photo below, you can see the Theater rising in the distance.
In these photos, the Stadium is located in the direction left from the gate as its pictured here.  
In the photo below, the Stadium is directly beyond the gate to the west.  Sadly, the road to the museum cut right through the middle of the Stadium, and the seating between the gate and the mid-sections has been mostly leveled.
The detailed ornamentation of the Stadium Gate can be clearly observed, allowing reconstruction in illustrations to be done.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to locate any of these illustrations as of this time.
I really hope to see the day when the Stadium has been fully excavated and the Stadium Gate restored!!  Oh, if I had the riches to support the thousands and thousands of excavation projects needed to bring these ancient structures back to us all.
That said, most tourists are satisfied to just see the ancient theaters as they fly through these beautiful ruins of our past.  I will continue exploring Miletus in Part 2 of this 4 Part expose' of the city, which is among the largest of the ancient world.

*All photos and content property of Jack A. Waldron (photos may not be used without written permission)

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