Chapter 6

The Architecture of Work & Leisure


For many societies, the heading to this chanpter would have seemed doubly strange, in that leisure is not only a scarce commodity, but one for which it would be inconceivable to plan buildings. In the classical world, however, the concept is commonplace - at least, that is, if we remember that physical wellbeing was generally linked to mental alertness and learning, and that what we would call simple sport was often a necessary preparation for warfare. In this sense, the architecture of leisure was, like that of government, in the service of the state - and both were usually funded, one way or another, by commercial prosperity.

Structures for City Government

By comparison with modern arrangements, the buildings needed for government were small affairs, and the only ones of interest those where councils met. In some places there was no official council chamber; instead, the meetings were held in a convenient theatre or odeion. But most cities had their own bouleuterion, which was the city council house. This was usually square on the outside although the seating might be in the form of an arc or horseshoe. It was rarely more than 30x30 metres and usually situated looking onto the agora, the public meeting-place of the city. At Iasos, much of the seating is in place, and some of the mosaic floor, and the south stoa separates the structure from the agora.

To reflect the dignity of government, the bouleuterion was usually a sober but well detailed structure, as at Termessos (SB5.4), where the walls, which stand almost to their full height, are decorated with carefully-cut pilasters and window embrasures above the door level. Unfortunately, the interior is filled with rubble. At Priene, conversely, the interior is very well preserved, but much of the walls are lacking. At Miletus, the council house takes up under half of its walled complex, for it is preceded by a courtyard (with altar), surrounded by a colonnade and approached through a propylon, a porticoed entrance doorway, complete with dedicatory inscription.

Many such council chambers have survived because of their solid construction, because they often use the small "theatre" format familiar from the odeion. Indeed, it is often difficult to distinguish between the two forms (comparative plans in Meinel 1980, e.g. 593). The odeion was a smaller and more intimate version of the theatre, used specifically for concerts and poetry readings. Very much a Greek form, we find odeia all over Turkey, with new ones being built in the Roman period. Squarish buildings, they lack the light-and-shade attraction of columned temples, so their builders frequently embellish their walls by building them with large blocks, and articulating the upper storey with square pilasters. The pilasters might be repeated inside as well, echoing the columns needed toward the centre of the structure in order to support the wood of the roof. We find such a use of internal columns at Miletus, Assos, Priene and Herakleia under Latmos.

We might infer from the staid character of such structures that the "iconography of government" was slow to change - and in this we would be correct. For indeed, change was not required: and the form continues right down to the present day, reborn in a whole series of structures dating from the archaeologically oriented revival of interest in the antique during the 18th century.

The Agora

As with many mediaeval towns and cities, continuing prosperity for the whole surrounding area could depend upon a successful market. It is certain that many monumental complexes both civic and private owe their very existence to money made in trade. A conspicuous example of this is the reworking, in marble paving and with richly decorated colonnades, of the agora at Iasos in 136 AD (inscription), thanks to the generosity of a rich citizen, who might have made his money in import-export from this prosperous port.

A market need not of course involve any specific architecture: a field might suffice. However, commerce was certainly to be nurtured, and many communities therefore set aside not only a space for marketing, but also erected the necessary shops and storerooms, usually embellished with piped water and even fountains. Other measures for the protection and encouragement of trade (standards, weights & measures, tax concessions) would also be set in place. In some cases, indeed, marketing was not simply a local affair, for some cities, especially those with good shipping facilities or those on the main land routes, such as Ephesus, were involved in international trade as well, often acting as entrepots.

The agora as monumental complex

The agora was the very centre of the ancient city, where many public activities were focussed. Not only that, but in the Hellenistic and later periods the agora was treated as a monumental complex in its own right, rather than just a collection of individual colonnades or shops. Waelkens (1989, 81) puts it well: Hellenistic notions of design, in which buildings were seen not as separate entities but as the constituent parts of a larger unit, came to full expression. It was usually a paved square or rectangular area backed by buildings, and decorated all round by a roofed colonnade which provided protection from the sun. Monumental sculpture of symbolic importance for the city would decorate it, and important temples might be adjacent. Its approach might also be grandiloquent, as with the superb propylaea, recently re-erected, at Aphrodisias (SB3.1). Most of the buildings would be offices or shops, but probably there would be a theatre or odeion, a temple, and perhaps access to the baths. At Pergamum, colonnades surrounded the Temple of Trajan on three sides, with the fourth open to the valley. As with markets (although there for more practical reasons), fountains were common. Some such areas, such as the "Imperial" agora at Side (21) or the agora at Miletus, were sumpuously decorated with marble veneers and, once, with statues, of which some bases remain. At Aphrodisias also, there were crowds of statues, decorating public areas and buildings, and many of these have survived. The theatre was richly endowed with them, as Erim describes (in Akurgal 1978, 1065-84).


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

Greek & Roman Cities of Western Turkey