Today’s name for Tralles is Tralleis nearby the city of Aydin where signposts point me in the right direction. Tralles seems to have reached the level of Ephesus or Pergamon, but so far only basic excavations have been undertaken. This makes the visit more challenging for I have no idea what to expect.
My road ends at a T-crossing, where mini signs point left towards the city walls and the Roman necropolis or right to the Gymnasium. I make a right turn and after some turns and twists, I’m driving along some ruins carrying a sign “Roman theatre” and another one “no photographs”. I don’t understand neither inscription and the many big stones don’t make sense since I cannot make out the contours of a theatre in the landscape, only a short vaulted passage way next to the road gives me a hint. The view from here over the rolling hills where olives, figs and cotton are grown is, however, superb; in a distance, I can see a quarry of red marble in the green landscape. Far below me lay an imposing ruin with vaults that reminds me of an aqueduct. Getting closer by driving in the opposite direction, I discover that this is the Gymnasium from the 4th century BC and I realize that Tralles must have been huge. There is some parking space and not a single soul in sight. Never mind, I love this!
A large billboard welcomes me showing the rough layout of mainly Roman Tralles, with the theatre and the adjacent Stadium and further on the Gymnasium. Then some houses and much further west, the Acropolis. This Acropolis may go back to Hellenistic times. Tralles was founded by the Hittites in 2500 BC and obviously occupied a strategic position. In later centuries, the city was ruled by the Phrygians, the Lydians, Persians, Greeks and Romans till it was totally destroyed by the severe earthquake of 26 BC. Emperor Augustus rebuilt the city, blessing it with his imperial name Caesarea. When the Byzantines arrived, they re-baptized it again to Tralles. Then followed the Seljuks and the days of the Ottoman Empire, till in 1922 the city burnt down to the ground. A new city was built nearby, today’s Aydin, now famously reputed for its fine figs
There is no indication of any scale or size, probably to discourage illegal digging in this remote countryside.
The three vaulted arches with thick walls, which the locals call “the three eyes”, are clear evidence that this is where the Roman Baths once stood. It seems that excavations are in progress, exposing a literal maze of water conduits running more or less parallel to each other but on different levels. This must have been quite a construction! Between the olive-trees further down, I distinguish some low walls and more to right a wide straight passage that could refer to a road. What a place to let my imagination run freely!
I can only guess how far Tralles spreads out in this landscape, but I am certain that Alexander must have been very happy with its surrender! (see: Alexander’s presence in Ephesus).
Overall very little is known about Tralles, except maybe the renowned Anthemius of Tralles, an architect who worked together with Isidorus of Miletus to build the Haghia Sophia in Constantinople. Anthemius also worked there as professor of geometry and his brother, Dioscorus, took over his father’s career as physician in Constantinople while another brother, Alexander practised in Rome to become one of the most celebrated medical men. He wrote a major work on pathology and therapy entitled Twelve Books on Medicine which was used for many centuries in Latin, Greek and Arabic. As to works of art, the only testimony I came across so far is the head of Aphrodite of Tralles at the Louvre, a free copy of Praxiteles’ famous Aphrodite of Cnidos from the 5th-4th century BC (see: What did Alexander the Great know of Cnidos?). It was taken by Kaufmann in 1885, who also seemed to have found her upper thigh and pelvis, now at the Staatliche Museen in Berlin.