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 Dragiana/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, Afghanistan) - 329 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)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What did Alexander the Great know of Cnidos? - Caria 3

While history spends time and words about Alexander’s siege of Halicarnassus, close to nothing is known about him in connection with other Carian cities, except Alinda which I’ll treat later on. One of these cities is the important harbour of Cnidos situated at the tip of the Dorian Peninsula, 18 miles due south of Halicarnassus, today’s Bodrum. I had the immense pleasure of sailing into the ancient commercial harbour of Cnidos on yet another trip with Peter Sommer Travels and watch the old city unfold on either side of me. When our gullet, The Almira, threw her anchor and was securely roped to the rocks, I felt like stepping back in time. What an experience!

What remains of Cnidos may not seem spectacular at first sight, but it is the overall setting with the two distinct harbours, one on the north side called the Trireme Harbour and the other one facing south which I just entered, that makes the place so special. Sailing along the Carian coastline is by itself a unique experience for I always have visions of the daring seafarers from Phoenician, Greek and Roman times who crossed these waters and witnessed the same rocky hills and peaceful coves, but entering one of those ancient harbours is absolutely rewarding!

Cnidos was built in the 4th century BC and was laid out in the Hippodamic plan inside a four kilometres long wall reinforced by forty towers to protect it on the land side. I’m amazed to learn that in its heydays this port-city counted more than 70,000 inhabitants. Cnidos was also known to shelter one of the four medical schools of antiquity, the Asclepion, together with the one at Pergamon, Epidaurus and Cos. And last but not least it was here that Praxiteles put his first nude women ever on display, i.e. Aphrodite who was worshipped as Aphrodite Euploia, de goddess of Good Sailing. The story goes that the people of Cos had ordered a statue of this deity from Praxiteles, but they rejected the nude figure he proposed and requested a clothed one instead. The residents of Cnidos however accepted the nude statue of the goddess of love, an easy way to immortalize their city and to bring in flocks of worshippers (today we would speak of tourists). This statue which is believed to have been modelled on Praxiteles’ beautiful mistress and courtesan has been saved for posterity thanks to its many copies over the centuries. It must have been so gorgeous and so lifelike that a young admirer fell deeply in love with her. One night, so the story goes, he sneaked into the sanctuary where she stood and embraced her. Since then she bore a dark stain on one of her inner thighs where he had kissed her so passionately. The rather controversial “archaeologist” Iris Love, pretended in 1969 that she had found the base of the circular temple where the statue once stood, but nothing is less certain. She also claims that the very head of this Aphrodite is resting in the basement of the British Museum, yet the museum authorities insist that the battered head is that of Persephone discovered by Charles Newton in the 19th century.


Except for a handful of houses and a small restaurant on the waterfront, Cnidos still lies there for us to discover. Few excavations have been carried out over the years, yet just enough to entice the visitor’s appetite, otherwise we can let our imagination run freely. On the right hand side of the harbour lies the eastern part of the city where we find the official buildings (theatre, temples, sanctuaries, etc), while the left hand side on the actual western tip of Cape Crio was occupied by the people of Cnidos.


On the hilly slopes, the city was built over several terraces. The Temple of Dionysus welcomes us like any visitors from eons past. In Byzantine times it was converted into a church but excavations have removed most of the Byzantine traces. Except for the rounded apse of this church we now walk over a clean floor in search of outlines of this once grand temple dedicated to the god of wine and pleasure. Right behind it and parallel to its long side runs a one hundred meter long Stoa (3rd century BC) leaning against a heavy back-wall that still supports the higher terrace. It sheltered 25 small rooms for ceremonial use, all of the same size and opening up towards the temple. Most probably, this is where lavish banquets were held during the Dionysian festivals, a theory that is strengthened by shards of tableware and offerings found in the small corridor running between the depth of the rooms and the back-wall. It is possible that this Stoa was two stories high. A few of the five meters high Corinthian columns added around the 2nd century AD have been re-erected to help our imaginary reconstruction. Small slabs of marble still cling to the bottom of the rooms’ entrances next to stumps of columns, capitals and architraves.

At the western end of this Stoa, a Nympheion marks the corner with one of the stepped main streets running uphill. It is so fascinating walking over this marble pavement wondering how many feet have trodden across the same floors and stairs over the centuries. It is hard to imagine what it would have looked like in all its splendour still flanked by columns and leading to the entrance of the many temples and sanctuaries on either side. The remains of occasional earthen pipes show how the city coped with its water management. Looking over my shoulder about halfway my climb, the old Trireme Harbour is in full view with the lighthouse on the highest top of Cape Crio behind it – I wonder if there was one there already in antiquity?

On my right, I pass one back-wall after another, each supporting the terrace above. Then I reach the Propylaion, once covered with white marble, where Ionic columns straddled across the north-south and east-west cross-road, and serving at the same time as entrance to the Temple of Apollo Karneios built in early Hellenistic style. A spring of running water seems to be still in working order on the north side. Amazingly the steps along the northern terrace-wall were used to seat the visitors during the ceremonies – hard to picture. 

From here I have a higher view over the Trireme or Military Harbour and I clearly can see the round towers on either side of the entrance (in fact both ends of the city walls) from where in case of danger the harbour entrance could be closed off with a metal chain. The higher I climb the better the overview of this harbour which was very well protected and defended on all sides, and by now I also can spot the Commercial Harbour. The very privilege of Cnidos is this double harbour. The prevailing winds along most of the Carian coast blow from the north, which makes it very difficult at times for the ships to enter the harbours along this coastline. The lay-out in Cnidos is such that ships could and still can anchor at all times in either of the two harbours. Under northerly winds the ships coming from the Aegean would enter the western harbour, while under southerly winds those sailing from the eastern Mediterranean find shelter in the Commercial Harbour. The geographer Strabo tells us that in his days (end 1st century BC/early 1st century AD) there was a canal that connected both harbours, making it possible for the ships to move from one harbour to the other enabling them to sail by any wind. How ingenious!

At the far end of my upwards street, close to the northern city wall, lies the so-called Round Temple, the one which Iris Love attributes to the famous Aphrodite. Well, as far as I’m concerned this is hard to believe if we follow Lucian’s description of the site (2nd century AD), who places the temple amidst splendid gardens for which there certainly is no room on this terrace. From the accounts that have reached us, the temple stood on a round podium about 1.5 meters high with two steps that still are in situ and was surrounded by 18 Doric columns. It had no cella wall, but the space between the columns was closed with barriers reaching halfway to the roof. The base of the statue that occupied its centre, Aphrodite or not, measured approximately 1.3 x 1.10 meters. Based on Lucian’s description one would not be able to walk around the statue inside the temple since he had to ask for the back door to be unlocked for him. Another theory however suggests that this Round Temple where I am standing was dedicated to Athena because of the inscription found in its pavement. Others tend to opt for Apollo instead because of the omphalos that was retrieved here, an exact copy of the one in Delphi. A great number of terracotta statues have been found in the close vicinity, among which curiously enough a quantity of erotic and pornographic pottery as referred to by Lucian. In general, based on the many elements this Round Temple can be dated to the 2nd century BC. However, many questions still remain unanswered and only time will tell.

A little further to the east are the remains of a Corinthian Temple, definitely Roman (second half 2nd century AD) that counted four columns at the entrance while the cella walls were decorated with six half columns on the outside and pilasters on the inside. Money doesn’t seem to have been an issue as this temple is entirely built of white marble. Among the scattered stones I find the top of the pediment and a stone shield from its relief decoration, probably once covered in gold. Underneath that temple, another Byzantine church has been excavated with a clear apse and out-of-place Arabic graffiti in its pavement. Nearby stands a real sun dial from Hellenistic times, like a marble pulpit sharing its wisdom with the sun.

Walking back down to the waterfront, I can’t miss the Greek theatre that counted 35 rows and must have seated 5,000 people (definitely far from enough for the 70,000 inhabitants mentioned earlier). Overall it is pretty well preserved although the footing is rather loose and I wouldn’t venture beyond de first couple of top rows. An interesting feature is the vaulted entrance simply because it could be Greek and not Roman as one would automatically assume. The theatre has been altered in Roman times with a skene behind the orchestra. This orchestra lying below street level may have been turned into a small pool for naval games. As always the location is superb with both harbours at your feet, enough to entertain the theatre-goer before or after the spectacle!

That evening we have a fish-barbecue on board, a fairy-like sight of red-hot glowing charcoal against the orange-pinkish sky after sunset. The black masts of our gulet stand out against this fiery background and by the time we hit out bunks, the waves peacefully rock us to sleep.

Click on the Label Caria 2012 to read the full story.
[Click here to see all the pictures of Cnidos]

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