Some sites are difficult to rob

Moving further inland from Finike is Arycanda, one kilometre from the small village of Arif, several hundred metres above sea level, and relatively far from any modern town. Although the site may have been protected by landslides or earthquakes, very little large-scale material seems to have disappeared, except for most of the columns of the agora; small panels, such as the wall veneers which presumably covered the gigantic baths, ^Ihave^i gone. The problems here for robbers would have been the difficulties in getting material down to the sea. This would have been difficult but not impossible; but it ^Iwould^i have been pointless to cart material down to a coastline crammed with ancient sites so much more convenient to rob, such as Finike itself. Equally, with no large centre of population nearby, there is no (longer?) evidence on site of the usual method of destruction in the cause of construction - namely lime-kilns.

The sheer beauty of Arycanda would be difficult to exaggerate: set on a steep hillside looking south toward the distant sea, with high, snow-capped peaks to the north and north-west, the situation resembles that of Delphi - and the monuments, largely Hellenistic, are of superb quality, with finely-cut joints. And because so much of the site was until recently protected by landslips, the limestone of the buildings often looks as fresh as the day they were built. Termessos is similarly located. Down on the coast, and equally delightful for a picnic, is Phaselis set amongst its pinewoods, with the snow-capped Taurus mountains as a backdrop. It has two harbours, an aqueduct, two colonnaded main streets, a theatre and shops, a thorny, overgrown acropolis, and several groups of tombs.

Some sites are easy to rob

But it is not universally the case that ruins have been preserved, or that we now have more because of digging) than was the case two hundred years ago. For example, if we are to trust William Leake (1824, 108-9), travelling from Konya to the coast in 1800, the present-day Mut stands on the site of an ancient city of considerable extent and magnificence. No place we have yet passed preserves so many remains of its former importance, and none exhibits so melancholy a contrast of wretchedness in its actual condition [...] Among these Turkish ruins and abodes of misery may be traced the plan of the ancient Greek city. Its chief streets and temples, and other public buildings, may be clearly distinguished, and long colonnades and porticoes, with the lower parts of the columns in their original places. Pillars of verd-antique, breccia, and other marbles, lie half-buried in different parts, or support the remains of ruined mosques and houses [...] On quitting the town, we pass along the ancient road, which led through the cemetery. Sarcophagi stand in long rows on either side; some entire and in their original position, others thrown down and broken; the covers of all removed, and in most instances lying beside them. This city, the ancient Claudiopolis, is not even mentioned in Akurgal (1985), and little is to be seen there today. Luckily for the visitor, there are still plenty of prime sites to be admired, even if some have apparently well-nigh disappeared.

Pollution is another element in archaeological survival that must not be underestimated. Before the spread of factories and the internal combustion engine, the air of Europe was relatively clean. Marble and stone can cope with clean rain; but rain which bears the products of combustion acts as a dilute acid which gets under the "skin" of the stone and eats it away, so that its skin erupts in "boils" or dissolves into powder. The result is that many of the monuments in the Western world suffer from this disease, which is probably irreversible, and which has certainly degraded surface detail to such an extent that it is often difficult to "read" sculptured scenes. Comparing a photograph of the Column of Marcus Aurelius taken a century ago, with one taken in the 1980s, is both instructive and sad. It leaves unanswered the question of how to protect so many monuments in a society that relies so heavily both on industry and on the internal combustion engine.

As Turkey becomes more industrialized, so the same problems may well begin to affect her. Luckily, however, the air in Turkey is still largely pure (wood fires are perhaps not a problem), with the result that her antique monuments are usually in an excellent state of preservation even when they have been standing for two millennia. What is more, architectural and sculptured members are pulled out of the ground every day (having collapsed and been buried in previous centuries either through disuse, or earthquakes) looking as though they had just left the masons' hands. Indeed, for a traveller used to the dull appearance of many works of Roman and Greek architecture and sculpture further west, the sparkling clarity and cleanness of Turkey's antiquities is no less than a revelation, as with the recently excavated reliefs from the theatre at Perge.

Islam's likes and dislikes have played perhaps a smaller part than earthquakes in preserving the monuments in pristine condition (although both these factors meet in the walls of Constantinople, now undergoing extensive restoration: see ^BSB2.5^b); apart from the need for marble columns and panels of veneer for mosques and the occasional house, Mohammedans have, from an early (if not from their earliest) period steered clear of figurative sculptures for religious reasons. So whereas in the West, pagan or Early Christian marble sarcophagi have been much sought after, probably since the fall of the Empire, and reworked and mutilated as a result, in Turkey they have been left alone, and not sought through digging.

The result of all these considerations is that Turkey is today a foremost country in which to study the remains of both Greek and Roman civilization (to say nothing of the Hittites, of course). Fine Roman sites survive in North Africa and the Middle East, and Greek ones in Sicily and Southern Italy; but for variety and completeness nowhere can compete with Turkey. And if anyone should wish to dispute just how little has changed at some sites over the past one or two hundred years, let him visit the sites with an 18th or 19th century traveller's account to hand, as already intimated.

Frustrations & pleasures of Turkish sites

Visiting some sites, however, can be frustrating. The large, abandoned sites are easy to deal with, because a yellow signpost points the way and, once there, they are "readable" because cleared of people and unnecessary vegetation. For "lesser" sites, signposts might not exist, and the structures of today's communities gets in the way. At Iotape, near Alanya, there is a Byzantine church with fragmentary mosaics, as well as a lot of tombs, but many of these are hidden amongst banana groves; at Syedra, nearer to Alanya, bananas also obscure the lower city. At Selinus, near Gazipasha, or at Limyra, near Finike, one must negotiate greenhouses and enthusiastic guard dogs to make sense of what remains. Perseverance can, however, be rewarded: getting to the "Mausoleum of Trajan" at Selinus is circuitous, but then to find a nearly complete terraced tomb complex is exciting, the more so since it is little known. At Syedra, a lot of twisting and turning gets the visitor to a mediaeval fortress constructed largely from antique spolia, and still inhabited. At Seleukia in Pamphylia, which can only be approached from the south, some of the ruins are sighted from two kilometres away, but then disappear amongst the pine forests until you are close to them.

Other cities have been cleared of their modern inhabitants, who have then been re-housed some distance away - as at Miletus, or Aphrodisias. Much the same happened in Greece at Delphi, where the village is now a little way down the road. As Erim (1986, 54) writes, The charm of early work at Aphrodisias was accentuated by the ever-present reminders of simple village life and farming activities. Of course, the main problem is that it is impossible to excavate a site while people are living on it, and making use of the antiquities as doorposts, water troughs, building blocks and the like. The end result is that such sites have been as it were sanitized so that they are now fit for tourists - there is much more to be seen, and the museums (on the site, in the case of Aphrodisias) are rich in recent finds.

Fortunately, it is still possible to find people living amongst the ruins at some of the more off-the-road Turkish sites. At first sight a hankering after this "populated" aspect might seem to be the merest romanticism, and more likely to be a burden to the visitor than otherwise. However, the sites of once-populous cities were never intended to be museum pieces, cleaned up and dusted, and without a human being in sight - any more than were country houses, where the owner now tends to live in a gatehouse, and only appears in the house itself to collect money from the visitors. We might frown on sheep and goats in the streets of contemporary cities; but they would have been a common sight in antique ones - so that to see such sights today is some slight reminder that we are dealing with real environments that have been swept of perhaps chaotic life for the convenience of archaeology as well as (not fortuitously) for that of mass tourism.

Indeed, there are several sites in Turkey where people still live amongst the ruins as they must have done for hundreds of years - at Assos, for example, or Heracleia under Latmos. The further off the beaten track the better - although a mere 10km or so brings you from the Aydin/Mugla road to Alabanda, the site of a famous temple to Apollo, where the stage of the theatre is still occupied by a farmhouse, pigstys and all, and with sheep grazing where once the spectators sat.

There is an equally powerful argument in favour of having people on sites - namely that a slice of everyday life can help us catch some sense of the elapsed history of the sites they occupy. That is, the people help us realise just how these sites have looked down the centuries following their days of glory. Places like Assos or Aizanoi can have changed very little over the past thousand years, so that we see nearly exactly what the first modern European travellers to Turkey saw. At Aizanoi, although the great temple stands proud of any houses, the stadium (on the flat, and not difficult to block off) is used for grazing sheep; the Roman bridges must be hunted in and out of peoples' gardens; and ducks waddle along the Roman quays; while for some monuments, you must piece them together in the mind's eye, as it were - for they are now dismembered and in re-use as garden walls, tethering posts and the like. Such sights are still common in Roman North Africa, but in Western Europe nothing similar has been seen for about a century. In the interests of historical understanding, then, long may those Turkish sites escape gentrification! For there are sufficient cleared sites, expertly excavated, to show what a resurrected city looks like, without further destroying the picturesqueness of settlements which have for centuries survived amongst ruins.

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