Why this Book?

Writing this particular book at this particular time is easily justified for several reasons.

The most prominent is probably that of travel. We have jet aircraft to thank for the democratization of travel, which has placed much of the world at little more than one day's flying time from anywhere else, and which has often brought some semblance of economic prosperity - "westernization"? - in its wake. It may be the case that mass travel frequently destroys the very attractions on which it thrives (a little like locusts, perhaps); but it is certainly true that the commercial jet has made hitherto unspoilt countries attractive possibilities for those we might with brazen snobbery call the more discerning. Turned uncompromisingly toward Europe by Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s, Turkey is one such country which enjoys a pleasant combination of qualities so often absent at more traditional - and crowded - destinations. Her economy is in many regards western, with an increasingly good infrastructure of roads and telecommunications. She welcomes tourists and has, over the past decade or more, built an ever-increasing number of hotels and guest-houses to accommodate them. You can easily find wilderness in Turkey - but now scarcely at all on the west- and south-facing coasts where tourists are attracted by sun, sand, good hotels and very reasonable prices.

Do not deplore the building of hotels, even if in parts of the south coast a strong resemblance to the Costa Brava is developing: Turkey needs the foreign exchange and, after all is said and done, the very existence of such hotels guarantees that of a host of other services that make travelling possible, comfortable and safe. The sea is in this respect like the land: cruising around Turkish waters is very pleasant: there are indeed some sites which can only be conveniently reached by sea or river, and the waters are not yet crowded out either with liners or with yachts. Nevertheless, be mindful of what the Costa Brava looked like but twenty years ago (or the coast between Marseilles and Ventimiglia fifty years ago), and visit Turkey before some parts (a very few parts, thank heavens) transmogrify into generic European holiday scenery - Club Med, pizza parlours, bierkellers and smart timeshares - drowning in their wake the varied Turkish way of life, and a cuisine which is truly of world standard.

Easy access is also the parent of at least some of the archaeological excavations in progress in Turkey, because the Turkish government has evidently taken a policy decision to excavate certain sites not just for their intrinsic interest but also because of their nearness to tourist centres. Ephesus is a good example, only 30 minutes by road from the deep-water port at Kusadasi, where the cruise liners can tie up. But there are plenty of others: Pergamum, about 45 minutes from the port of Dikili; Sardis, down the Royal Road from Izmir; Aphrodisias, between Izmir and Hierapolis; and Troy, under an hour from Canakkale. What is particularly fascinating about visiting such sites is that work still proceeds on them, so that each trip allows you not only to fix more firmly what you saw last time, but also to add more pieces to the jigsaw.

The progress of archaeology

This book is also timely because archaeology has without doubt improved markedly over the years. If we go back a century or, some would say, much less, archaeology then was more treasure-hunting than a methodical attempt to uncover the ways in which people lived in the past. We might be thankful that so much architecture is well-nigh indestructible, unless it is required for re-use as building materials; but in the search for "significant objects" much was missed, so that there is a gap in our knowledge of many settlements in Turkey that can never be recovered. Unfortunately, this is a characteristic not just of digging in Turkey, but of that in the great majority of earlier excavations around the world. Luckily, however, there are a great many ancient settlements in Turkey, and many of them have been little inhabited since Antiquity; archaeological teams both Turkish and foreign have been conducting long campaigns in some of these and, just as important, publishing their results both in scholarly journals and books and in useful guidebooks. Clear and detailed noticeboards on the main sites, set up by the archaeologists, are also most useful. So that we may perhaps say that at places such as Ephesus and Miletus, scholarship serves tourism and tourism serves scholarship in a symbiotic relationship.

Quality, Preservation and Destruction

Of course, people visit Turkish sites for the marvels they have to offer, and those familiar with the ancient remains around the Mediterranean basin or further afield can be in no doubt that many of those in Turkey are in the first rank for a variety of reasons, principally the quality of their materials, their state of preservation, and their comprehensiveness.

The story of the one visitor saying to a companion while looking over the Roman Forum that I never knew the bombing had been so severe may well be apocryphal, but conveys the sense of the problem. To those uninitiated by a good guide or guidebook, especially if not imbued with a romantic imagination, the Forum Romanum may well look like a bomb-site, with battered remains of various dates strewn higgledy-piggledy and at various levels. It can stand as a paradigm for other, less famous antique remains in Europe because, like most of them, it has been occupied by squatters, used as a quarry for building materials and for the lime-kilns, dug over and blasted apart by treasure hunters, built over, patched up and dismantled for nearly two thousand years. No wonder an effort of the historical imagination is needed to "see" the Forum as it was - which is why books of "before and now" postcards sell so well in Italy and elsewhere: the colour photograph shows the remains as they are today, and the plastic overlay shows them in their splendour long ago.

The reasons for such (apparent) maltreatment of the antique are clear: in the Middle Ages and later, building materials were in short supply and, with many quarries inoperative, it was easier to re-use old materials than to quarry new ones, so that bits of the culture of Rome are to be found literally scattered all over Western Europe. Spectacular increases in population, in various waves, have ensured that in some places such as London, or Paris, little remained even by 1800. While in the majority (Milan, Rome, Naples, Aix-la-Chapelle) it has been the pressure of 19th and 20th century living not only in city-centres, but especially in the creation of suburbs, that has obliterated much of the complete picture of ancient life. It is difficult to determine whether love of the antique (which led to the robbing of sites) occasioned more or less damage than straightforward ignorance and indifference or crass misuse. I have examined some of the evidence in The survival of Roman antiquities in the Middle Ages (London 1989).

Countries further away from European population centres suffered depradation in proportion as European ships could conveniently approach their sites and carry material away, or as the Arabs or Turks required material for their own buildings. The Friday Mosque in Mahdia (Tunisia), built from Roman materials, was later despoiled by the Pisan navy, which was also active in carrying away sarcophagi from Rome and Ostia, so that their great and good might be buried in them. Delos, on the main sea route from Italy to the East (and indeed an entrepot in Roman times), lost much of her rich marbles to passing galleys. Carthage lost many of her antiquities to nearby Tunis. And, indeed, throughout Islamic lands which were once Greek and/or Roman the re-use of ancient materials is so extensive that it is often hard to find a mosque that is not supported on Roman columns - so hard that it has even been suggested that no new columns were cut in Arab lands for several centuries, Roman spoils being used instead.

chapter continues...

From here you may also go to The Preface, 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, Decline & Renewal, The Conclusion, The Bibliography, or The Table of Contents

Greek & Roman Cities of Western Turkey