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 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)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Exploring Olympos, next to Chimera

From the main road, I follow the signpost down to Olympos, through the splendid Lycian landscape of pine trees amidst park-like grassland full of spring flowers. Olympos has been well-investigated by the archaeologists from Antalya but in the heavy overgrowth of spring, it looks as if everything is still to be discovered. Luckily there are plenty of signs to guide me through the remains hidden in the thick bushes, brushes and swamped reeds behind the dirt road leading to the pebble beach.

I start along the north side of the river with crystal clear water (that has not changed course since antiquity) noticing the remains of a bridge that once crossed it and seems to date from Roman times. Behind the dirt road, there are only vague footpaths running among the tombs. They are mainly vaulted family graves bearing Greek inscriptions about the deceased on the marble lintels above the entrance gate. It is fun in a way for it seems like detective work to locate them hidden in the clusters of low trees, half buried in eons of soil and marshy deposits.

Back on the dirt road, I am directed towards a Temple through lush greenery. In a clearing the five-meter-high temple doorway suddenly faces me. It has a beautifully decorated lintel with consoles of big acanthus leaves at each corner and unfinished pearl motives around the sides of the door jambs. This portal belongs to a Roman Temple built in Ionic style, apparently between 161-180 AD according to an inscription that also states that it once held a statue in honor of Marcus Aurelius. I peep around the corner but except for the entrance there are hardly any walls to speak of and the floor is a rubble of broken blocks that may be sorted out one day. Somebody took the measurements of this temple however and came up with 10.5 by 12.5 meter.

I jump over a couple of narrow streams but I stop in my tracks at the sight of an aqueduct (a walled canal system according to the Turkish translation) running parallel with one of the rivulets. My path seems to run through the bottom of the canal, one meter wide by one meter high, I guess. How exciting! It runs straight, makes a sudden turn, joins up with a side canal and runs on further into the thickets. I keep marveling at this centuries old work of art that still carries traces of paint and I reflect how easy it would be to lead the spring water back through the bedding of this aqueduct.

I stop at the remains of an imposing Mausoleum on my left, built for three tombs and called the Lyciarch Grave, dating from the second half of the 3rd century AD. Originally it was roofed with a vault that has collapsed. The rough outer walls now shelter only two sarcophagi as the central and most beautiful one has been taken to the Museum in Antalya, of course. Measuring 2.4 x 1.15 m and one meter high, the crystallized white marble is decorated with columns and band motives in relief. The well-preserved lid shows a couple, a man, and a woman, lying down. I must have seen it when I was in Antalya earlier this year, but I didn’t pay too much attention probably. One of the billboards gives a translation of the inscription that was found on the tomb: “I, Lyciarch Marcus Aurelius Archepolis from Olympos, also known as Hoplon, son of Rhesimachos also called Diotimos (constructed) this grave for my dear father Rhesimachos, also called Diotimos and my dear brother Marcus Aurelius Menodoros, also called Rhesimachos, and for myself and for the persons that I determined in my will. There will be no permission for any other person to be buried in it. Otherwise, the burying person will pay 2,000 silver coins to the Sacred Treasury of the Empire”. Five generations in all have been buried here together.

On the right-hand side of the U-shaped podium stands the so-called Hoplon Sarcophagus (one of the foremost families of Olympos) made of white marble with gray veins imported from Marmara Island that has approximately the same measurements as the previous one. The longer side is decorated with three stylish garlands and the inscription on the podium reads: “Hoplon from Olympos built this grave for his relatives, father and mother, himself, nephew Gagatis and his wife Melitine.” Any other person will be fined and thrown out. No kidding! The sarcophagus on the left is of the chest type and not as well preserved. I’m amazed to learn that it is made of crystallized white marble when staring at this grayish dark tomb whose long side has been pieced together again. Its measurements are again comparable to the two other tombs in this Mausoleum.

My canal road takes me further into the bushes and after a sharp left turn, the soil is rather swampy and muddy. I move with caution between the reeds and yellow irises, following the sign “Mosaics”. And here they are, pieces of a two- storied building that may have been a Basilica or the Bishop’s Residence built at the end of the 5th century AD. The rough walls show decorative brickwork and on the floor of the asymmetrical rooms, I find plenty of mosaics representing birds and other animals.

Returning along the channel to the through road, I catch a glimpse of slender arched windows resting on a polygonal wall of what once were the Harbor Walls located on the other side of the river. It is hard to imagine that both banks of this now shallow stream are half hidden in the reeds and sweet laurel was a sheltered mooring place for the ships sailing the Aegean! But it definitely is a unique photo opportunity.

I now reach the place where the Acropolis rises high above the city but I find it far too risky to climb, even if the view over the beach must be worth it! In the shady thickets at the bottom of this hill, I come across a lonely sarcophagus dedicated to Antimachos. It is a typical Lycian saddle-back model from the end of the 2nd century AD. Nothing special or out of common but finding it so unexpectedly in the middle of nowhere gets me all excited! The pseudo-door on the short end represents the entrance to the Hades, the underworld, while the family tree motive on the corner plaster stands for eternity – a tradition that started 3000 years BC, so it says.

Right next to the beach and protected by an unkept rough wooden fence, I see two splendid examples of vaulted sarcophagi – thoroughly cleaned and restored. The one facing me carries a relief of a galley – a rarity I am told. The Greek inscription in the frame above it states that the tomb belonged to captain Eudemos who sailed to Marmara and the Black Sea and had a good reputation; and that he had honorary citizenship to Chalcedon (today part of Istanbul). The boat resembles a sponge fishing boat with on the keel a relief of Aphrodite who is supposed to protect the sailors. There is another inscription next to the framed one saying:

The ship has entered and anchored in the last port, for not to go out any more
For there is no more benefit from the wind nor from the daylight
After leaving the morning twilight captain Eudemos
Buried there his short-lived ship like a broken wave.

The second sarcophagus is less photogenic but carries a lengthy Greek text for which no explanation or translation is given. Such a pity for it may have revealed interesting details or the reason why it was put in this protected place.

The beach view exceeds my expectations as the entire setting with the river and the rock formations are so different from what I have seen in Lycia before. On my left, to the North, I see modern houses and hotels leading to Kemer. Higher up the opposite southern hill lays the ancient city of Olympos, quite an idyllic place with an arched rock enhancing the view. I take a break to enjoy the scenery before I trace my steps back on the dirt road.

I remember having seen a sign pointing across the river towards the Theater and I walk back to that point. The river bank is steep and slippery but I find the path running over boulders that have been carefully laid out for the daring visitor like me. On the opposite bank, I dive into the thickets once again, hoping to find the Theater - and I do! This Theater from the first half of the 2nd century AD is definitely Roman and resembles the one in Phaselis but is in much poorer condition probably due to the earthquake of 141 AD and more so after the quake of 240 AD. Unfortunately, during the Middle Ages, lots of the material was removed to be used for other constructions. I enter through a promising vaulted paradox but find very scattered tiers of seats. It is amazing that the archeologists were able to identify twenty rows of seats after all, but it probably helped that the Theater was carved in the bedrock.

I walk on in the general direction of the Harbor when suddenly I see above me a good sized limestone sarcophagus. The billboard reveals that this is the Tomb of Alcestis or of Aurelius Artemias and family from the 2nd century AD. The reliefs are rather worn down but I recognize a figure of Nike on each of the four corners. The garlands and figures of Eros that stand for the four seasons are better preserved. On the long side, I find Artemis and her husband saying their goodbyes when leaving this world. The short sides are in a better condition where one side shows a standing man and a veiled woman and the other a veiled woman with a mace-bearing figure of Heracles, hence the deduction that the female figure may represent Omphale, but more likely Alcestis.

Reading up on its history, I learn that Olympos was founded in Hellenistic times and by 100 BC it was a major city that had three votes in the Lycian League. During the 1st century BC, it was home to the many pirates that threatened the interests of the Roman Empire, culminating in the conquest by Cilician pirates. Their leader was Zeniketes who introduced the cult of Mithras, exclusively for men demanding the ritual sacrifice of bulls in order for the soul to gain redemption and immortality. In 78 BC the Roman proconsul P. Servilius Vata chased and captured Zeniketes, razing the city to the ground. After the final defeat of the pirates in a major sea battle by Pompey, the city became Roman and the land was sold to new settlers. Roman soldiers continued the cult of Mithras, which spread across the entire Empire. In many garrison cities, Mitraea were developed, in which the bull-killing god was worshiped.

In 130 AD Hadrian visited Olympos and the Granary on the south bank of the river probably dates from this time. In the aftermath of the earthquake of 141, it was again Opramoas of Rhodiapolis who donated 12,000 denarii “for festivities in honor of Hephaistos and the Emperor”. The peak of development was reached during the 2nd and 3rd century AD for after that the lower city was sacked by pirates and the population entirely abandoned Olympos in the 6th century. A true story of conquests and conquerors!

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