The 20th Century Renaissance: Re-Erection and Beautification

Our century, and especially post-World War II, has seen the development of mass tourism, as well as a host of new ideas about what archaeology is for. In an understandable effort to make Turkish sites enjoyable and indeed understandable to non-professionals, several prestigious monuments have recently been re-erected. This is a joy when the beauty of so many sites is nearly intact: as Fellows (1852, 251) remarked of Aphrodisias I never saw in one place so many perfect remains. Even archaeologists like to see the past in as complete a form as possible; and because Turkey is a country where many sites have not been seriously robbed, accurate reconstruction is not difficult, as I explain below. To travellers and tourists, of course, such reconstructions are invaluable, and much preferable to trying to build up a monument in the mind's eye, from a miscellaneous jumble of blocks lying on the ground. Thus Pergamum is now "arranged"; but when Kinross saw it between 1947 and 1954, he reported that Among the drums of columns lie the broken limbs of statues, a pile of hands and feet, a stout pair of buttocks, a single toe in a sandal, a hand holding the tassels of a robe (Kinross 1955, 120).

Nevertheless, when we are able to walk up and down ancient streets without tripping, or explore temples free of undergrowth or rubble, we should bear in mind not only how much clearance has been done on most sites, but also how much (perhaps inconspicuous) reconstruction or consolidation work will have been necessary to make them safe - not just the rebuilding of spectacular monuments such as the Library of Celsus at Ephesus, but even small-scale works such as securing walls and drains, relaying paving, or bringing back together blocks which have for some reason got separated (often for the building of later forts or dwellings). In this respect it is instructive to compare photographs of sites before and after excavation, or indeed with earlier drawings and prints - an exercise which can also help explain why our knowledge of sites has increased exponentially with careful sifting through the accumulated layers of occupation which sometimes lie above the classical level. At the same time, much information on the mediaeval periods of occupation of classical sites tends to get lost, as archaeologists dig down to the more "interesting", because classical, levels.

Three "before and after" examples will suffice. At Pergamum, an 1884 photograph of the theatre on the acropolis (Radt 1988, fig. 143) shows the uncovering in process. Only some 35 upper ranks of seats of the cavea have by then been revealed; the lower seats, the orchestra and the stage works are totally buried. The Hellenistic tower to the south is in almost a fretwork condition. Nowadays, this tower is completely repaired, the cavea rebuilt where need be (especially at the sides), and the whole area cleared. The study of earlier photographs or prints also indicates just how much has been lost, often within little over a hundred years. At Patara, an 1881 photograph shows the scene building of the theatre standing in parts to its full three storeys; when De Bernardi Ferrero studied the site in the 1960s (1969, 2, 128-31), much had fallen. Conversely, the triumphal arch at Patara has been dug out. But bulldozers have their uses: de Bernardi Ferrero (1974, 122) shows a contemporary photograph of the inside of the theatre at Perge, with the pile of detritus almost as high as the top of the scene building; this has now been cleared, and the freshest bas-reliefs and architectural members in Turkey have, as already remarked, been uncovered and placed in the adjacent stadium.

Reconstructing the past

How accurate are the reconstructions achieved in recent years? In those antique sites where the relics of centuries are jumbled together, and where buildings naturally went through many transformations under the pressure of everyday living, re-erection on the scale on which it has been employed in Turkey would be a hazardous procedure indeed, open perhaps to the same kinds of accusations that Viollet-le-Duc still attracts for "improving" Carcassonne - namely that the archaeologist, knowing better, is in reality climbing out on a very precarious limb. Viollet-le-Duc, who was an extremely knowledgeable architect and architectural historian imbued with the kind of staggering self-confidence that went out as this century came in, probably erected structures which had never actually existed, except in some mental state of ideal perfection. When a lady protested that she had never seen an actual sunset looking like any of his painted ones, Turner responsed No, Madam, but don't you wish you had?

If Viollet-le-Duc wished to recreate a Middle Ages as perfect as only the 19th century could make it, modern techniques of restoration are far different, and tend to lean toward consolidation rather than complete reconstruction. Unfortunately, it is rarely possible to leave the various changes wrought by the centuries to be read in the stones, as it were, because every building must be consolidated to a particular state (usually that of the time when it was first erected, or substantially transformed). Thus, to take Western examples, a Baroque church was sacrificed so that the Curia on the Forum Romanum might be restored as such; and a concert hall dismantled so that the Mausoleum of Augustus might reappear in all its original glory.

Decline & preservation

On most Turkish sites, abandoned in late Antiquity and inhabited sparsely or not at all thereafter, this problem of "multiple lives" does not exist to anything like the same degree as in overcrowded Europe. Sometimes, the very circumstances which had led to the decline of a city helped in its preservation: the acropolis at Pergamum was uninhabitable when the aqueducts were broken, so the people lived in the city below, and the high city survived except for the indignity of a few forts; at Ephesus and Miletus (as indeed at Paestum, in S. Italy), the swamps resulting from silting meant mosquitos and malaria, so everyone gave them a wide berth. On many Turkish sites, therefore, columns and entablatures stood or lay, after earthquakes, undisturbed for a thousand and more years: so what could be easier or more sensible than to re-erect them, conjuring up again such marvels as the Library of Celsus at Ephesus, or the colonnaded street at Pergamum?

We cannot expect the sensation of "time stood still" which we get at Herculaneum or Pompeii thanks to Vesuvius; but in return for a little less information about the impedimenta of everyday living we get a much higher standard of monumental architecture. Although Ephesus runs it close, the emerging "queen of reconstructed sites" is certainly Aphrodisias, where the list of wholly or partly rebuilt complexes includes the agora (SB3.1), the Bishop's Palace, the tetrapylon, the Sebasteion, the unroofed hall by the Theatre Baths (SB5.5, 20), a sumptuous house facing the museum, a monumental portico south-east off the theatre, the stage-building of the theatre itself, and the colonnaded street connecting the agora and the tetrapylon. Much more material has yet to be unearthed - so Afrodisias is a site to revisit as frequently as possible.


From here you may also go to The Preface, The Introduction, Building for Splendour, Town Planning, Roads, Water Supply, Aqueducts, Harbours, The Architecture of Work & Leisure, Religion: Temples & Special Sanctuaries, Funerary Art & Architecture, Decline & Renewal, The Conclusion, The Bibliography, or The Table of Contents

Greek & Roman Cities of Western Turkey