With the reconstruction work, the Commercial Agora at Ephesus provides a clear picture of the impact such complexes would make on the visitor. Docking at the harbour, the visitor walks up the colonnaded Arkadiane, which has the great theatre as its visual backstop, and turns right into the agora. With shops under the colonnades, the agora had a waterclock and sundial in the centre, and a host of statues, only the pedestals of which remain. To reach the higher parts of the city, the visitor now faces the two-storey Ionic colonnade to the south, and passes through a "triumphal arch" gateway bearing a Greek inscription of gilded bronze, to find the Library of Celsus to the right, and the Street of the Kuretes ahead (SB3.3).


Behind and underneath the pomp and the glamour are the drains and other services. At Perge, for instance, the splendid statue-decorated "tholos" in the middle of the agora, was at some stage turned into a water tower, with conduits feeding the adjacent shops, while ample drains run all around (De Ruyt 1983, 129-33). Antique public toilets are often in evidence all over the classical world. They might be classified somewhere between a business and a leisure activity, because they were communal: a particularly splendid one flanks the agora at Side, and set within the bounds of the theatre (4).


Until the agora area at Aphrodisias is opened to the public, the best site to comprehend the variety of structures which make up such a complex, as well as the continuing search for magnificence in buildings of successive centuries, is the State Agora at Ephesus. This may be approached from the Street of the Kuretes, past a fountain and late Hellenistic monument, then a commemorative fountain (to the builder of the Marnas aqueduct, C. Sextilius Pollio), and so into the open space. This is flanked not only by the bouleuterion (or odeion), and by the Prytaneion or Town Hall (with its adjacent temple), but also by two more monumental fountains. Overlooking the whole area, and built up on tremendous terraces, was a temple to Domitian (AD 81-96).

Seleukia in Pamphylia

The Hellenistic agora and market buildings at Seleukia in Pamphylia (15) constitute arguably the best preserved such complex in Turkey, perhaps because it is not close to any modern community. The market hall at Alinda, also Hellenistic, is very impressive indeed (SB3.2, 14) - but at Seleukia one gets much more visual information, and an agora in front as well, with fine Doric columns, some remains of mosaic, a well-preserved bouleuterion, and even a small Christian chapel in the south-west corner of the agora. The walls of the market shops (to the north) stand their full two storeys high and, even if the upper floors have gone, the holes for the joists are still there, the doorways are nearly complete and, by going behind the complex to the north, the visitor can clamber up vestigial back staircases and gain a good view of the whole complex. A market hall is fitted in on the south side of the agora. Here the site slopes away, and advantage has been taken of the drop to provide a lower-level space enclosed with facing vaulted compartments (shops or store- rooms) and decorated with floor mosaics. Extensive excavation at this site will surely yield important information about the life of this small, hill-top city.


The Hellenistic market hall at Alinda, some 90 metres in length, is equally impressive. Built out of large and bossy blocks, it stands nearly to its full height of about 15 metres. On a sloping site, it has three storeys downhill (with the supports for the upper floors surviving, although not the floor itself), and has the uppermost storey giving onto the agora. Although only perhaps 60 metres above the valley floor and the present village, one wonders whether the sellers enjoyed carting the goods up, and the buyers carting them down again.

Where Alinda and Seleukia are exactly equal is in the beauty of their masonry, and in their delicious sites - Seleukia high among the pine trees with the Taurus mountains behind, Alinda at the head of a broad and lush valley, backed by an acropolis hill decorated with theatre and fortifications. One might add a further quality of these sites: neither receives many visitors.

Theatre and Amphitheatre

Of all the structures of the ancient world, theatre structures survive best, for several reasons. First, they are generally built into a convenient hillside both to save on materials and to provide support; the hillside is then, as it were, completed by seats and side walls, so that there is little to fall down. This is especially the case with the Greek design, where the stage structure - the skene - tends to be single-storey. Secondly, theatres convert well to other uses. However, what we often see in Turkey is Roman remodellings of earlier structures (Bieber 1961 189 for the main differences). At Ephesus, for example, the theatre we now see is Roman, changed and much enlarged from the Hellenistic structure, and given a frons scenae similar to that at Aspendos. Nevertheless, the Hellenistic fountain in front of it was retained.

Theatres do get robbed out for their useful building-blocks: see Xanthos, where the Byzantine fort atop the theatre is made largely from its seats; or Afrodisias, where columns from the frons scenae are used to build the Byzantine fort in front of the theatre. Nevertheless - and this is the third point - either enough remains to make the basic design clear or, more usually, they are left alone and other, easier structures are demolished. Thus there are many cities where the temples (with their less solid construction) have not been left standing, but few without at least the outline of a theatre, and usually very much more. Finally, so many of the abandoned cities of Turkey are far from post-antique concentrations of population, and therefore the less likely to be robbed out. Priene, largely deserted after the classical period except for a Byzantine fort located over part of the Temple of Zeus, is a good example: the theatre seating is intact, as are the front-row thrones for dignitaries (SB5.1), not to mention the stone skene, on which Bieber points out fixing holes for wooden scenery (Bieber 1961, 108-10).

Perge & Aspendos

Two of the most impressive theatres in Turkey are located a few kilometres from each other, at Perge (4) and Aspendos (a third is at Pergamum - one of five theatres in that city). Aspendos has a late 2nd century AD theatre, the structure of which is almost complete - entrance tunnels, seating, and the stage wall, not to mention the external post-holes, each set in its own corbel block, for fixing the velum, the great sun-shade with which most such places were once necessarily equipped (cf. the Colosseum in Rome, where some of the tensioning bollards for the same device, tended by sailors, also survive). This is one of the best preserved ancient buildings in Turkey. Although much of the architecture of the scenae frons has gone, sections of entablature still remain, and the rest can easily be reconstructed, together with the roof or sounding board over the stage, locating grooves for which can be seen in the side walls. The scenae frons was largely architectural, rather chastely decorated with the occasional frieze, and with sculpture in niches (reconstruction in Bieber 1961, 209) - a style which, if less rich than that at Sabratha in Tripolitania is similar to the multi-storey structure at Hierapolis, recently reerected, which is of the period of Septimius Severus (193-211 AD). However, a visit to the theatre at Perge (first built in the Greek period) can help to complete the picture, for some of its Dionysian reliefs are still in place and the rest, together with large quantities of the architecture of the scenae frons, have been dug out of the theatre (collapsed presumably during an earthquake several centuries ago) in the course of the last few years and placed in logical groups in the adjacent stadium. These gleaming white marble blocks (once presumably coloured) are in superb condition precisely because they have been protected from the weather.


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