Ways to preservation

Preservation through re-use

Hence a lot of material was preserved actually by being reused. In other instances, buildings were protected by being encased or built over by something later. The fine Hellenistic building unearthed at Limyra, the Plotomaion, is so pristine precisely because a Byzantine fortification wall marches right over it, leaving its lower courses intact. There was no reason to do otherwise: why build your own foundations when there is a set already in place? The splendid temple enclosure at Milas was protected by the wooden house built on top of it (SB8.5). Portions of a formerly prosperous city left without inhabitation or maintenance were quickly taken over by vegetation. When a spurt of prosperity returned it was probably a matter of laying out new streets on top of the detritus, because the antique grid had been forgotten. Extensive research on English sites has revealed similar solutions.

Remodelling existing building

A strategy somewhere between renewal and laissez-faire was to make as few adjustments as possible, although this sometimes produced rather strange results as detritus and collapses covered the layout of the original city. At Aphrodisias, the theatre was used for gladiatorial shows from the second century - easily done here, as in several sites in Greece, by dropping the orchestra level somewhat and replacing the lowest set of seats with a high protective wall. The chambers under the raised stage proved useful as cages for the animals. In the Byzantine period, the enormous stadium, seating some 30,000 spectators, was walled off at the eastern end, also for animal and gladiatorial shows (Erim 1986, 67). At Nicaea, the theatre was used as a rubbish dump and then a graveyard in the Middle Ages, apparently (so the signboard says) for the thirteenth-century Lascarids who died defending they city. It was a proper graveyard, and not just a pit, for there are the scanty remains of a church on top of the cavea. At Ephesus sometime in the Dark Ages, the monumental street from the theatre down to the harbour was covered in shacks, while the posh Embolos houses were filled in with rubble, and new building placed on top of them (Foss 1979, 112f.). Here there were not even shacks, as is proved by the almost total absence of coins from the mediaeval centuries: for by this period everyone of course used coinage, so that its absence must prove not only the absence of trade, but that of people as well. And when the prestigious colonnaded streets (that is, the main ceremonial thoroughfares of the cities) were not similarly encumbered, they disappeared completely, to be replaced by narrow and twisting lanes. At Xanthus we find a minute Byzantine chapel occupying the south-west corner of the agora, and at Sardis a small chapel in one corner of the Temple of Artemis, presumably because the temple itself was too big. On their own, such miniature structures seem to indicate decline - except that both sites also house much large basilicas, such as those near the Lydian workshops at Sardis, and the large structure (with much spolia) to the east of the Roman acropolis at Xanthos. At Aspendos, the theatre was used as a caravanserai. At Perge, as already mentioned, the frons scenae has collapsed. This might seem like a disaster, but in fact meant that the reliefs extracted therefore are as fresh as the day they were erected.

Where the antique monuments were unsuited to new requirements, usually in cities with radically reduced numbers of people and therefore radically reduced amounts of taxes and other hard cash, there were several options available in dealing with the existing building stock. One was to build something completely new, but this would usually mean tearing down something already on the site; the temptation to use spolia was therefore great. Another option was to make extensive alterations to an existing building to make it suit a new purpose. Yet another, and the least onerous of all, was to make as few adjustments as possible to existing structures, which could sometimes descend to the level of mere squatting.

Christianity and the Ancient Monuments

Building something completely new could be undertaken for a variety of reasons, but usually involved robbing older buildings. Well before the fall of the Roman Empire, we find all over the Mediterranean a slow-down in quarrying activity, followed by what may have been in some regions a complete halt. Under such circumstances, any "monumental" building such as a church required the use of spolia. There are, moreover, not a few examples of cowsheds made from antique columns - although the smartest example is the use of the stage substructures at Alabanda for a byre, with the orchestra for pasture. Another reason, at least for some new church construction in some areas, may have been a disinclination to interfere with temple structures by converting them into churches. For special projects, it was sometimes considered appropriate to make extensive alterations, as with the Christian re-working of the Temple of Aphrodite at Aphrodisias. At other sites (such as Didyma), the temple structure was certainly re-used by the Christians. Elsewhere, adequate structures were shunned. At the Letoon, for example, none of the three temples was re-used, but a church was built directly to the south: could this be because the temples were not oriented, or does it suggest a continuing distaste for the surviving powers of paganism - a distaste which certainly existed further west, in Italy? Orientation seems to have been a very moveable feast, especially where profit could be taken from adjacent structures. Thus although the Church of S. Nicholas at Myra points exactly east, the church at Tlos points south-east, to take advantage of the relevant wall of the adjacent palaestra. S. Peter's, Rome, provides the best example of this, being reverse-oriented so as to face the city and also, perhaps, because of the slope on the site and the cemetery underneath it.


The extensive reworking of more than a few of the ancient monuments was relatively rare because of the manpower and expertise required. However this, alongside other strategies, seems to have happened at Aphrodisias. The city walls survived; some abandoned sections of the city came into the possession of the Church and had churches built on them. And most importantly, the Temple of Aphrodite was extensively reworked, possibly in the later 5th century, and converted into a cathedral dedicated to Saint Michael. Since this involved moving some of the columns (and hiding their beauty from the outside by an encompassing wall, in order to make a basilica), we cannot think of the work as simply make-and-mend, for the conversion made what was essentially a new building, with new liturgical furniture, and new mosaics and marble floor, albeit largely made from re-worked antique blocks on site already. Although this structure has now been "taken back", as far as is possible, to its temple state, travellers' descriptions tell us what it was like as a church: The cella has wholly vanished from the interior of the colonnade; and many of the slabs of marble inscribed with the affairs of the city [...] are now built into the walls surroundings the Byzantine city. A circular end is constructed of rude stones, closing the east, probably for an altar, where formerly the sun rose on the portico of the Pagan temple. Surrounding the whole of this building, are traces of walls of the same rude workmanship, in which cement was the main support of the construction; and in this line there are still standing several jambs of door-ways, of mean proportion as compared with the old temple; on these appear Christian emblems and inscriptions. The outer colonnade of the Temple of Venus must then have served to form a support to the larger Christian church; at present all is in confused but undecayed ruin (Fellows 1852, 254). On a smaller scale, and also at Aphrodisias, much the same happened at the triconch church, made out of re-used classical blocks (Cormack 1981 for both monuments).


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