At Didyma, sitting in the middle of its windswept plain like some enormous whale, indignities were visited on this great structure from an early date. The oracle had probably stopped functioning by about 400 AD, and the site had indeed already been fortified, presumably in 262/3 AD in response to the Gothic invasions. The Christians from Miletus built an aisled church within the great structure, almost certainly using the materials from the very shrine of Apollo (Weis 1983, 42-4 for account and photograph of the church before it was removed). In a sense, the church, protected as it was by the walls of the "cella" (something of a misnomer in this huge, unroofed structure), was therefore within a double fortress. A tenth-century earthquake had damaged the church and the fortress, but the temple resisted until another 'quake in 1493. (Fontenrose 1988, 23ff.).

Variable rates of decline

The decline of urban life towards and after the end of the Roman Empire in the West occurred at different rates in different places, but its effect on the monumental fabric of once-thriving cities was similar everywhere. At Anamurium, a house was built right on top of the mosaic pavement of the palaestra to the main baths, perhaps in the 5th or 6th century. At Assos, a Byzantine church was built so that its north aisle might use part of the colonnade of the gymnasium. Pompeiopolis (also called Soli) is a further example. Supposedly destroyed by an earthquake in the 6th century, it is called in Turkish Viransehir - that is, city of ruins. But how old is the name? Much research would be needed to try and find out, and finding any relevant documents might be sheer luck. In the 19th century, Beaufort described the rich remains of a theatre, city walls, tombs and aqueducts, describing nearby Mersin as a small hamlet. Since little now remains at Soli beyond the fine colonnade, we may assume Mersin grew at least initially at the expense of Soli. What has happened to some of the material remains a mystery. Of the colonnaded street, for example, some 450 metres in length, only thirty-seven columns remain (17); perhaps the rest were carted off by sea to help build Korykos/Kizkalesi down the coast, which uses columns of similar girth and coarse stone as tie bars in one land-facing tower. The famous Red Tower at Alanya, a little further west, also uses column shafts for decoration, and perhaps the fashion was widespread, with obvious consequences for the survival of antique colonnades. Unfortunately, however, it is often difficult to discuss coherently the "afterlife" of antique cities, because the kinds of evidence we have for the classical and early Byzantine period - especially civic-minded inscriptions, which help dating - are rare, so that the change from active to inactive city is difficult to pinpoint.

Causes of urban decline

All buildings and services need maintenance, which requires both money and people. With the decline of both, and the concomitant decline of trade (itself necessary under the Roman system for prosperity), everything degrades, from sewers and harbours to roads and water supply. Trade declines if harbours silt up, and they cannot be kept clear without manpower. Of course, the whole west-facing coast of Turkey had always been washed by rivers bearing a rich silt which made good agricultural land, but which also blocked the harbours into which they drained. Keeping the harbours clear for shipping (and hence for the survival of trade) must always have been a struggle; and it is doubtful whether, whatever the manpower conditions prevailing, sites as badly affected as Ephesus or Miletus (both of which are today some kilometres from the sea) could ever have been saved - Smyrna, after all, was only rescued last century by diverting the course of the river Hermus. Other centres, such as Phaselis (Schlager 1981), were presumably too small or too comprehensively swamped for any rescue to be possible. Nevertheless, it does seem that a port at Ephesus - not necessarily the classical one - was still functioning into our millennium. There is a bitter irony in the fact that Ephesus' great popularity with tourists is partly due to the location, a very few kilometres down the coast, of Kusadasi, which can take largish cruise ships.

Ephesus is now so far from the sea that (apart from the marshiness near to the erstwhile port) it is difficult to picture what it must have looked like, and the processes that made it that way - for the land between the ancient city and the sea is now prosperous agricultural land. A much better (if more mournful) impression is given at sites such as Caunos (SB8.1), where the sea can be sighted from the walls, with marshes and meandering river in between; Patara, where only the theatre (SB5.3) and a granary rise above the sand-dunes, with the sea close by; Elaiussa-Sebaste, where a whole quarter of the city has been engulfed by sand (3); marshy Andriake, with its still-splendid granary and once-splendid nymphaeum; or at boggy Olympos, where the buildings stand above the river with a view of the sea.

Sometimes changes in land/sea levels changed the whole geography of a region. At Miletus (6), go to the Byzantine fortress on top of the theatre (the only hill actually at the site), and look west: no sea is to be seen. Then stand in the north agora, and look north, toward the Lion Harbour. The mouth of this harbour is still marked by its two marble lions, now half-hidden amongst reeds, and half-sunk in the permanently marshy ground - but there is no longer any sea. The flatness and vulnerability of the whole site is underlined by standing on the bluff between the village of Akkoy and the main road, and looking north-west toward Miletus - and then due east toward Mount Latmus. Underneath this lowering mountain sits Herakleia, once at the head of a gulf: shipping could sail past Miletus (and very near to Priene), and dock at Herakleia. No longer, for Herakleia now looks onto Lake Bafa, completely sealed from the sea.

Caunus provides an even more graphic example than either Miletus or Ephesus of the problems caused by silting, because it can still be seen in progress. The Dalyan river meanders through large beds of rushes from Dalyan itself down to the sea. Caunus, now some five kilometres from the open sea, was once upon it. Now, however, boats cannot even dock in the ancient harbour, which is an almost enclosed large pond of stagnant water, surrounded by marsh, and dauntingly called the lake of leeches. Malarial mosquitoes abound, which must have been what gave the ancient city its solid reputation for unhealthiness (post-antique travellers to Ephesus and Paestum, for example, also complained about malaria).


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

Greek & Roman Cities of Western Turkey