Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Drangiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Arykanda 2 - Visiting the site

The Civic Agora that I reach first is in fact an Agora without shops around it dating from the 4th century AD. It is a wide and flat space, enclosed on three sides by what was once a wooden portico situated a few feet higher than the square itself. It may have been paved with mosaics but that is not certain. The old tree in the center of the Agora has a solid grip on the remains of a temple, supposedly dedicated to Tykhe.

From the wooden portico, a triple portal gave access to the Odeon that at a certain time doubled up as Bouleuterion. It dates from the 2nd century AD and still stands up to its roof. It must have been a very luxurious building when the walls, orchestra and seats were covered with colored marble.

The Terrace Bath a little further to the west proudly shows traces of colored plaster on its walls but I find it hard to figure out the Nympheion among all this rubble unless it is part of what I take for a cistern. Walking over bits of paved streets and ancient staircases my mind is playing tricks on me and it feels as if I am moving in a time before mine. It all looks so real!

I continue my climb to reach the Market Agora. Here a 137 m long Stoa runs along the northern edge, giving access to twelve shops that made perfect use of the difference in elevations. The pavement is rather simple, made of white flat leftover rubble it seems, efficiently put together. Three steps higher, at the end of the Stoa, I access the real Bouleuterion, cut into the rock. It must have entered into disuse after a destructive earthquake. The seats look very much worn down, so I suppose this construction was exposed to weather and winds for centuries. To the west are the remains of the Sebastaion, a sacred house that was later transformed into a private residence with an atrium. I can’t believe there is so much left and so much to see. It is like visiting a real city!

On a higher terrace behind the Market Agora stands the crepidoma of the Temple of Helios that looks as if it were built in the middle of a road, but this simply is the propylon leading to the Temple from either side. Unfortunately it is not known what this Hellenistic Temple looked like for the stones have been reused for the construction of a Roman grave. It is however atypical because the longer sides are amazingly the ones facing east/west. Archeologists have found two altars here, one carrying the Greek inscription ΗΛΙΟΥ and the other, late Roman-early Byzantine, depicting Helios with a halo. Statues of Asclepius and Hygeia confirm that the temple was shared with other gods. It still looks charming and impressive with its shiny white blocks framed in the young green grasses around it.

One level below this Market Agora I find an enormous Cistern with barrel vault and waterproof walls that apparently was used up till the 5th-6th century AD. It is said to have a capacity of 800 tons but I have no idea how this contributes to its size?

My path now takes me higher uphill, eastwards along dull rock tombs, nothing more than holes in the hillside. But then suddenly after a turn between the pine trees I catch my first glimpse of the Theatre. I stop in my tracks for this is magnificent, white and bright as if newly built. As I stare at this picture perfect Theater ideally nestled against the hill, I feel literally transported back in time! No wonder I entirely forgot my trail up to the Acropolis on the other side of the hill.

This Greek Theater was built some time between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD and counts twenty rows of seats starting right at the orchestra. At the edge of every row are holes that held the beams supporting the sunshade. Amazing! I try the stairs up and down, looking at the unique Lycian landscape and the obvious remains of the skene. I sit there for a while, enjoying the quietness of the place, and it is as if the spirits of the past come alive in a gentle murmur – only disturbed by the songs of the many birds. I picture Greeks and Romans sitting on these very benches talking to their neighbors about the events of the day or in simple anticipation of the play they are going to see. Time just does not exist in a place like this - very special indeed!

Right above this Theater lays the Stadium, built in the 1st century BC, in the shape of a running track. It is smaller than the normal standards, measuring 106 by 17 meters with only a few step-like seats on the north side still in place. The wall behind them somehow reminds me of a Doric temple façade with eight niches and belongs to an earlier construction. The Stadium underwent serious repairs after the earthquakes of 141 and 240 AD and, like the Theater, is in excellent condition. The view towards the sea is too hazy unfortunately but inland it feels like an eagle’s eye perspective.

Squeezed between the Stadium and the Theater are the remains of a Byzantine House, complete with mosaic floors and thick walls and apses that remind me of a Basilica. It is clear that each time period has left its own imprint in this city.

Tracing my way back to where I parked my car, I unexpectedly find myself in the Temple of Trajan or Sebastaion with niched walls (the back wall seems ready to topple over!). Blocks from this Temple have been reused in Byzantine times for the construction of the adjacent Basilica dated to late 5th or early 6th century AD based on the floor mosaics. The Basilica did not live long and was probably devastated by the earthquake of 560.

By now, it is nearly one o’clock and I surely can use a break after all this climbing. I’m so glad I took a walking stick with me for the hillside is steep and the scree makes any foothold highly insecure! There are two more cars parked next to mine now, and the guard in charge is checking the visitors, waiting for me to pay my entrance fee. He speaks English and of course, he wants to know where I’m from, where I’m staying and what I have seen so far. What time did you arrive at the site? Ten o’clock? Yes, I thought I saw you drive up (you’ll never pass by a Turkish house without being noticed!). His daughter is at the university in Cyprus, studying English language and she is his pride – rightfully so! He points at the folder I am carrying under my arm, my homework with all the information about the sites I plan to see. Can he have a look? His reaction is almost instantaneous: this is the map from the book! Of course, it is. I know what he means: the plan of Arykanda of which I made a copy from the book on Lycia (by Cevdet Bayburtluoğlu) to carry with me, instead of the heavy booklet. He has the book in his store, he says, hoping for a customer. Too bad for him for I already have it!

I grab my lunch and a fresh bottle of water from the car and settle in the shade of an old tree overlooking the Arykanda Valley. On a clear day, the Aegean should be visible from here. The ever present stray dog is getting lazy and settles in his corner, keeping one eye on me and my food, I suppose.

I’m glad getting a rest and slowly my energy is flowing back. Time to visit the eastern side of Arykanda. Excavations on this site started in the 1970’s and the archeologists accomplished miracles. Since the ruins have been hidden for the past two thousand years or so, the stones all look as fresh and pristine as on the day the buildings were erected. That is what makes this site so unique and very much alive too – not a dead city as we so often encounter!

Closest to my parking space are the Byzantine remains with mosaics under plastic roofs that I noticed upon arrival. They seem to belong to the Bishop's Palace with a large hall, probably used as a reception area, a separate household space, kitchens with amphorae for oil and grain and niches in the walls for oil lamps, and even a bathroom and toilets.

On the lowest terrace lays what is supposed to be the largest bath complex in Lycia, still virtually intact in its sequence of arches, converted into a Bath-Gymnasium probably after the earthquake of 141, and repaired again between the 3rd and 6th century AD, although the activities of this complex were gradually taken over by the nearby Small Bath. I am especially impressed by the bay-window of the Large Bath and I think this must have been the Solarium, but nothing much has been done here to clear the trees and undergrowth and I cannot really get in there either. Well, we have to leave something for future excavations too, right?

Further to the east there are many necropolises only partially dug out, if not simply left as they were found. But the beauties are alongside the avenue above the Bath Complex. Stately and sumptuous Temple Tombs are aligned here, vaulted or not, sheltering Lycian or simple rectangular sarcophagi, often carrying Greek inscriptions. They are all richly decorated and I feel exceptionally rewarded when facing the ornate carved doorway of a Roman Tomb that was described with much enthusiasm by Charles Fellows in the mid 1800’s. The winged figures on either side of a bust over the lintel are badly eroded but clearly visible. The chamber itself is 20 feet square and the five foot wide benches are still leaning against the three walls. The back wall is as he described, made in polygonal masonry but I could not find any trace of the painted plaster on the ceiling he mentioned.

Well, so much for Arykanda. Such a jewel and I’m terribly happy that I could take my time to visit it without being bothered by the hordes of tourists. I feel very fortunate indeed!

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