Damage to the monuments

The stock of classical monuments in the land of Turkey did indeed suffer a little in Byzantine times from Imperial building projects and, under Islam, for mosques and the like. But the number of robbing expeditions in proportion to her archaeological riches was very small, so that many of her monumental remains have survived almost intact. The reasons for this had to do no doubt with her low population levels and, for some sites on rivers or near the sea, with silting and malaria, and general inaccessibility: Alinda, for example, sitting with her back to a range of mountains and facing a broad plain, is 25 kilometres from the "main" road even today, and there was no waterway to hand. Other cities have only become accessible with the building of roads: Iasos, for instance, 19 kilometres from the main road, and this over a mountain, was previously only accessible by sea - as were many sites in Lycia, where the post-war highway from Antalya to Fethiye is a fine piece of engineering.

There are many settlements in Turkey where human habitation appears to have done little damage to the underlying antiquities. This is usually the result of the accumulation of debris and silt over those centuries when unambitious shacks must have been the main type of dwelling. At Elaiussa-Sebaste, splendid walls and columns stick out above the encroaching sand dunes. At Antalya, the paving under the Arch of Hadrian lies nearly two metres below the present pavement - which probably means that even the cellars or foundations of the present city do not reach down to the Roman level. The damage done by the deep foundations needed for multi-storey blocks has not much affected Antalya within the line of the walls, for the big hotels and office blocks are outside.

As with dwellings, so with fields: at Patara, the roadway of the Arch of Modestus is also about two metres below the present field level, just like the adjacent Lycian tombs. If more than the present exploratory trenches are dug here, there is a good chance of finding much material undisturbed by agriculture. That much does remain to be found - protected under its overcoat of silt and soil - is shown by recent work at Assos, where the area around the main gate is being progressively cleared, revealing some splendid tombs in a necropolis already plundered, perhaps, in Antiquity. In some towns, the municipality has re-used nearby antiquities, as at Sultanhisar, where the town clock is supported and flanked by pieces from nearby Nyssa.

Population levels in Turkey are now growing rapidly, so that many cities large and small have their share of high-rise blocks in suburbs - but luckily these only affect small parts of the country. Smaller-scale pilfering is another matter, and Turkey has suffered from treasure-hunting just like other countries. At Sardis, for example, the Lydians may well have robbed their own earlier tombs; and there is clear archaeological evidence of tomb-robbing there during Roman and mediaeval times. Tombs are perhaps a special case: since the usual practice was to flaunt their magnificence along the roads approaching the cities, it is small wonder that most have been robbed, either by toppling their (often huge) lids, or simply boring a hole through one of the sides and extracting any grave-goods.

Low population levels

At least until the earlier 20th century, low population levels in Turkey, have also served to protect the classical heritage, because fewer people meant less damage. Here again, travellers' accounts from earlier centuries give graphic descriptions of areas which are now much busier. At Side (now a prime holiday destination, but a slave market and pirate centre in Greek times, and a prosperous trading port under the Romans), Charles Fellows (1852, 152) found a small wood within the theatre: There being no village near, nor any cultivation of the ground in the neighbourhood, the hidden relics and coins will remain for future times to discover. The rambling dwellers in tents could of course give me no information, except that lime was obtained there - lime obtained from burning classical marble. In 1764, Chandler saw a lime-kiln by the temple at Euromos, which suggests that its still imposing remains were yet more splendid in his day. Chandler (1971, 102) also found in 1764 the temple at Didyma a noble heap of ruins: At evening, a large flock of goats, returning to their fold, spread over the heap, climbing to browse on the shrubs and trees growing between the huge stones.

In some areas, the traveller can still wade through goats and thorn-bushes, and experience the antiquities waiting to be uncovered, as it were. Ayas, a modern village much extended by pensions catering for the new holiday crowds, is right in the middle of the ancient site of Elaiussa-Sebaste - vegetable gardens with imposing antique walls for their boundaries; heroa terraced up the hill, with smart modern villas lining the crest; goats pastured and housed amongst ancient houses. Across the road are fine-grained sand dunes and then the sea - with large and imposing antique structures partly covered by the dunes. As is well known from sites in North Africa, sand is an excellent preservative, and wholly supportive of structures even including upper floors. Removing some of the dunes at Elaiussa-Sebaste, then, might yield structures unchanged since Antiquity - structures which have not had to suffer the casual neglect and misuse that leads to degradation. At Alinda, many of the ancient buildings must be under and amongst the modern houses, some of which reach up the hill almost to the level of the Hellenistic market: indeed, several walls in the village are built out of the same brown quartzy rock.

Discoveries yet to be made

In other areas, what can be seen is a promise of greater riches yet to be found. At the little-visited Hellenistic foundation of Stratonikeia, for example, between Milas and Yatagan, the modern village of Eskihisar (meaning old castle - a common appelation in Turkey) is nearly empty and the villagers rehoused, because of the very extensive open-cast quarrying not 100 metres away. Some rescue digging has taken place, with trial-trenching in the agora, and the clearing of an imposing Hellenistic podium above the Roman theatre (and, in fact, on the far side of the main road). Judging by the quality of the antique gymnasium, agora and bouleuterion, and by the visible mixture of Hellenistic and Hadrianic buildings, not to mention the excellent sculptures and reliefs in the village museum: and, especially, the stunning precinct and Temple of Zeus Serapis, then there is surely a lot of interesting material waiting to be uncovered. Tactically, one might add, the area needs a good classical site - for there is little to detain visitors at nearby Milas, and nothing at Yatagan.

For other sites, however, early accounts only serve to underline what has subsequently disappeared. At Telmessus in 1781, Choiseul Gouffier saw plenty of monuments as well as a theatre; but little monumental now remains; and Haynes notes (1974, 51) that the Austrians Benndorf and Niemann found that the theatre had nearly gone by 1881 - the blocks taken for the construction of army barracks at Scutari. Fellows (1852, 319) saw at Pinara massive buildings [...] the theatre is in a very perfect state; all the seats are remaining - but much has since been re-used in the local village of Minara, which clearly retains the classical name for the site.

Forces for preservation

There is a more cheerful side to so much destruction, for abandoned antique sites often generated two incentives for the locals to leave them alone - namely overgrown vegetation, and widespread rubble which made agriculture difficult. At Alexandria Troas, Fellows remarks (1852, 43) that the site of the ancient city being now covered by a forest of oak-trees, it is impossible to see its ruins collectively; but for many miles around the ground is rendered useless for agriculture by the multitudes of broken stones and marbles and arches, which lie under the surface in every direction. Early maps and plans are equally informative: the plan of Ephesus made by J. T. Wood (1877, opp. xx) shows the theatre and the adjacent agora but, misplacing the port to northwards, gives no indication of the great colonnaded street which led directly from the theatre down towards it. In other words, it was still buried under the silt, and safe until excavated.

Another important element in preservation is the distance of ruins from centres of population - a point illustrated by a journey north into the hill from Finike, the ancient Phoenicus. This small sea-port has no visible remains whatever. Moving inland to Limyra, six kilometres from Finike, the ancient Lycian/Roman city can still be visited amongst the orange groves and greenhouses. Some of its remains have no doubt been protected by the marshy ground to the south of the modern road; but a lot has gone, re-used in the modern houses. Again, the fact of people living on the site as they have perhaps done for centuries means that it is difficult to get a clear picture of exactly what is what. That there are limits to the pilfering is clear from the recent excavation (on the Western marshy section to the South of the Byzantine wall) of the area around an Hellenistic building, where a lot of material has been retrieved - enough to cover an area the size of a football pitch, in serried, soldier-like rows. Of course, these are the big blocks - irregular (hence no use for building), or impossibly large to move without block and tackle.

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