Sculpture as a vehicle of meaning

Sculpture would also be used to underline meaning, because it can "carry" meaning much more explicitely than can architecture. Public sculpture might include statues or reliefs of the gods, usually those having some connection with the locality; or statues of prominent citizens or (in Roman times) the Emperor. These would be displayed on pedestals, in niches on the buildings, or even on small corbelled platforms protruding from colonnades, as at Pompeiopolis (17). Sometimes they would be of colossal dimensions: fragments of such works survive in several Turkish museums (such as Hierapolis), and Istanbul has a cuirassed statue that has only been blocked out (19). To appreciate the affect sought by their designers, we should "repopulate" the sites with their sculptures, unfortunately often now faraway - which is why buildings such as the Library of Celsus at Ephesus, where the statues remain, are so impressive. Much material has been lost, of course: very famous was the Column of Justinian in Constantinople, with his bronze equestrian statue on top (Majeska 1984, 237-40).

Colossal statues were not restricted to open spaces, of course, for Roman baths provided many suitable locations. Nor were they restricted to the civil arena, for suitably magnificent temples and cult statues were also part of the diligent Greek or Roman's political consciousness. Such statues were an obvious target for looters and Christians, and few survive; but Claros, near Ephesus, is an exception. Here are to be found the remains of no fewer than three colossal cult statues - in marble, not the wood, gold, ivory and jewels of the famous ones of Pheidias, but deeply impressive. Proximity to good marble quarries helped support aspirations to splendour - which is perhaps why Aphrodisias is so rich in both fine architecture and high-quality sculpture.

The attempt to conjure up splendour began at the approach to the city and did not lie only in a lavish use of large buildings and sumptuous materials such as marble. It started at the very walls of the city which, in classical and especially in Hellenistic times, were made from square or even polygonal blocks so carefully cut that aesthetic considerations were clearly as important as defensive ones. A good example is provided by stretches of the Hellenistic fortifications at Kaunos. This same luxuriating in the sheer beauty of the stone is evident all over Hellenistic sites (Winter 1971; Lawrence 1979). At Kadarinda, the market building (?) on the acropolis is of polygonal masonry on the side facing the agora. In the temples at the Letoon (SB1.3), or in the tombs and retaining walls at hilly Arycandra, the same high quality is in evidence. Given that the former is an prestigious international shrine, and the latter but a small town, beauty is clearly for local as well as international consumption. At Limyra, a Hellenistic building called the Plotomaion, and crossed and hence protected by a Byzantine wall, has recently been cleared: the fit of the blocks is exceptionally fine, with dovetails for the cramps, and a scribed line paralle, to the front edge of each block, in front of which the stone is completely smoothed to ensure accurate mating with its fellows. Each of these front blocks (the inner ones, not for display, are more rough and ready), must have taken a skilled mason several hours to prepare. The same interest in solidity spills over into Roman times: the granary at Andriake, the port for Myra, has polygonal masonry on the hill-facing long side - which could in no sense be called this (very fine) building's "display" side.

The survival of splendour in Turkey

Travellers to Turkey can still smell in many locations the perfume of splendour. Nothing can rob Pergamum of the magnificence of her site; but the change in relative sea and land levels has done just that to Miletus and Ephesus. Miletus is now approached across a flat and featureless plain, with little more than the hump supporting the theatre for relief; Ephesus is approached from round the back of a cliff. This part of the coastline has been transformed since Antiquity, and a glance at comparative maps (Kleiner 1968, 4-5) demonstrates that the correct way to approach both cities was by sea. Ephesus lay at the head of a smallish gulf; Miletus was a southern sentinel to a much larger body of water which reached as far as Herakleia under Latmos.

At Pergamum, the whole of the upper city - buildings, sculptures, general opulence - were intended as a political statement of the achievements of the reigning dynasty, as Pollitt (1986, 79-110) explains in his chapter on Pergamene sculpture and its historical setting. The same might be said for the "Imperial Agora" at Side, with its sumptuous and high-quality decoration (21), or for Aphrodisias, where this area is approached by magnificent propylaea, recently re-erected (SB3.1); or, also at Aphrodisias, the grand palaestra outside the baths, with its rich pillars and beautiful columns (20).

Nor was splendour restricted to the larger cities, for it was often reflected in their dependencies. Given the predominant place of religion in Greek life (it was often used as the focus of artistic and architectural effort), it is not surprising that religious sanctuaries, many of much more than local significance, were flooded with gifts to emphasize the prestige of individuals or of states. Delphi and Olympia, Delos and Didyma, Samothrace and Samos, and the Asklepieion at Pergamun all benefited from their long-lasting fame and, as a result, still offer some of the best remains of antique architecture.

From all this it is clear that good city planning is an important, perhaps essential, component in conjuring up splendour. For those who live in Western Europe in cities or towns in existence since mediaeval times, the idea of a planned city might seem strange, for we are used to streets of varying widths that bend and wriggle, apparently the result of an inconsequential layout. A few centres still retain their Roman grid pattern, and there are also some later towns (new Carcassonne; Palmanova; Washington) that are as deliberately planned as a Roman military camp. Not all Greek cities (including Rome and Athens) were rigidly planned, but new foundations were properly laid out where possible, and this applies to some of the most important cities in Turkey.

Regular city plans

Theories can certainly be found to explain why regularly planned cities are worthwhile - logicality, even-handedness, and the newness inherent in substituting rationality for an existing organic "mess", as at Miletus, after the original settlement had been destroyed. What is more, an anarchic "organic" layout bespeaks longterm growth, but no firm and guiding hand. Another powerful reason in favour of deliberate planning is that a sense of geometrical order was thought of as analagous to aesthetic value, on the basis that geometry is beauty - a long-lived notion that still formed the touchstone of Palladio's architecture in the 16th century in North Eastern Italy and Venice. The "truth" of mathematics becomes manifest in measure: God is the Divine geometer or, in Mies van der Rohe's splendid assertion, echoing Saint Augustine, beauty is the splendour of truth.

The desire for symmetry encouraged the Greeks, and the Romans after them, to use the grid layout on some very difficult sites, of which Priene is a good example. Certainly, once a decision had been taken to build on this precipitous site, the only practicable method was to terrace the roadways with their flanking monuments and houses at 90 degrees to the direction of the slope - which is fine at the centre, but makes for very precipitous sides indeed. Was there an alternative? On this site, there was not, because the sea came close up to her gates, and a mountain with its own walled citadel stood to the rear. The Temple of Athena Polias holds the prominent position, and this must be not only because of the importance of the goddess, but also to impress visitors approaching by sea. The stadium and the gymnasium are fitted in down on the coast, on the only convenient flat land.


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