Decline: the Reworking of the City Plan

It is logical, although perhaps sad, to end this chapter with an overview of what happened to city walls and streets when urban life declined. This section appears here because the changes wrought were frequently the most radical since the very foundation of the cities in question. The visitor often needs to know this in order to unravel, as it were, the various layers in the "sandwich": for later occupation on a site will not necessarily respect existing planning or the structures which fit into it. This is especially the case with new defensive works.

The chapter on Decline (see below, pp. 000) discusses the general effects of lower population levels and restricted finance and trade upon the urban fabric. Suffice it to state here that the concept of the city as an entity protecting its citizens continued but, given a lower population, there are no documentable cases in which the originally designed or upgraded circumference of walls could be defended. At different rates in different places, cities throughout the Western world from Spain and France to Italy, North Africa and Turkey shrink, sometimes from as early as the third century, and few maintain even the semblance of civic life through the Middle Ages - if by "civic life" we mean a continuing use of monuments for the purpose for which they were designed.

The monuments reused as building materials

Moreover, given both a smaller population and the consequent impossibility of defending the existing walls, those monuments within the walls but outside any newly chosen defensive position are bound to be either abandoned or sacrificed for building material. Generally, such later walls were built in a rush; and the constructors, ignoring the possibility of using newly cut stone (or perhaps lacking the necessary resources) have simply taken what came most conveniently to hand - namely earlier monuments. Often, the walls constructed with blocks from monuments are very thick, and sometimes even double-skinned (as at Seljuk and Pergamum; or at Saintes or Bordeaux in France); hence they have been a prime agent in preserving both bas-reliefs and architectural members. In Western Europe, such later defensive walls were usually dismantled in the 19th or early 20th centuries; in Turkey, the excavators are in some cases still doing so, in order the better to study the monuments from which they were built.

Where possible, high ground would be chosen for the reduced circle of walls. At Aphrodisias, therefore, the smallish hill to the south of site (and called the "acropolis") was defended, using spolia from nearby monuments, including the theatre and the adjacent theatre baths. At Miletus, where the only highish ground has the theatre built against it, and where the wall circuit was especially large, it was necessarily the theatre which was converted by the Byzantines into a fortress, towers of which are still to be seen. The city of Ephesus was also fortified by a large set of walls, and we may surmise that the site was abandoned for this reason as well as because of the stagnant water and malaria problem: hence the population moved slightly to the north, to the settlement now called Seljuk, where a small and easily defensible fortress complex was constructed. This was still strictly within the purlieu of Ephesus even if outside the walls, the most conspicuous monument being a Byzantine fortress containing the 7th century Basilica of St. John. The entrance to this fortress is liberally decorated with older spolia. On even higher ground is the citadel. Here as elsewhere, the newer settlement is built with spolia from the old. Fellows notes (1852, 206) that the ruins of [Seljuk], which arose about four hundred years ago, are entirely composed of materials from Ephesus, and these old castle and mosque walls have become in their turn our quarry for relics of antiquity.

Where high ground was not available, convenient monuments would be employed to help make a smaller set of defences. At the flat peninsular site of Side, for example, the size of the Roman defences was effectively halved by building a second wall at a narrower point along the finger of land, and employing the theatre walls in the process. A high arched gateway flanking the theatre was roughly filled in with stones, to make an aperture small enough to close with a gate. These make-and-mend devices are to be seen at many antique sites, as the prestige of one culture is converted into the practicality of the next, usually with little or no feeling for aesthetics. So much for antique grandeur.

Bibliographical Notes

Wycherley (1949) and Kolb (1984) on the building of ancient cities. Jones (1937) for cities throughout the Eastern Roman provinces. Kleine (1980) for a guidebook to Didyma, Miletus amd Priene; Aristotle Politics II,v,1-2 for the social theory behind Hippodamus' planning. Voigtlaender in Archaeologischer Anzeiger 1985 78-91 for a revised plan of the topography of Miletus.

Winter (1971) and Lawrence (1979) for the art of fortification. Tsangadas (1980) for the walls of Constantinople, Foss (1986) for Byzantine fortification in general, and Constantinople and Nicaea in particular.

Coulton (1977) and Adam (1984) for Roman construction techniques. McKay (1975) for houses, villas and palaces; Mielsch (1987) for villas. Jobst (in Akurgal 1978, 653-60) for Roman mosaics at Ephesus, and Strocka (ibid, 481-91) for frescoes in the same site.

Muller (1976) for Miletus in the Hellenistic period.

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From here you may also go to The Preface, The Introduction, Archaeology in Turkey, Building for Splendour, 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