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)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My heart is bleeding for Allianoi

With the change of weblogs, I somehow have lost track of Allianoi till I was looking for it the other day and couldn’t find it. Luckily I still had the original texts in my tablets and although the news is “passé” by now, I feel that it is never too late to draw attention to what has happened there and is still happening elsewhere in Turkey’s frenzy to build ever more dams. 

It was in October 2010 when I first read that the gorgeous site of Allianoi would be flooded in spite of all the pleas and contacts with "authorities" over the past three years or so. I couldn't believe my eyes for this is no way to treat our heritage. It is like throwing away the bones of our ancestors. How dare we?

For those who hear the name of Allianoi for the first time, I owe some further explanation. Allianoi is located to the northeast of ancient Pergamon, in the vicinity of Izmir and right in the middle of the Yortanlı Dam Reservoir Area.

Because of its hot springs, the place was known already in antiquity but the big boom occurred under Roman rule. In the 2nd century AD, Allianoi was one of the largest thermal baths in that part of the Empire that attracted crowds from the nearby Asclepion in Pergamon as well as from more distant areas. In Byzantine times most of Allianoi was taken down and the materials were reused elsewhere in the city, but the thermal Baths and the Nymphaeum, i.e. the most important buildings continued to be used as they were. The Ottomans renamed the settlement Paşa Ilıcası (The Thermal Baths of the Pasha), but after that Allianoi slumbered into oblivion, although the use of the hot spring continued. The nearby Roman bridge was also still used until recently as a connection on the road from Bergama and İvrindi.

The Romans were master builders, as we know. They built the Bath Complex on both sides of the Ilya Creek and in order to control its flow they diverted the water to run through a vaulted tunnel. The hot spring has a nearly ideal temperature of about 45-50˚C. The Roman baths like all other buildings on the site date from the 2nd century. The brave archeologists have discovered and uncovered many of them, to be unfortunately buried again. Allianoi counted at least four insulae, a beautiful Nympheum much like the one dedicated to Herodus Atticus in Olympia, Greece, a Propylon, an unknown Cult Building and a so-called Connection Building along with several streets and the bridge over the creek I mentioned above. Also, remains of a Byzantine Basilica from the 9th century measuring no less than 19 x 21 meters have been located. And yet, all these jewels will disappear forever!

It is quite frustrating to find out that everything on this planet has to make way for politics and money. The average lifespan of any dam is 80 years, I learned, and this one is calculated to last only for 50 years. Is it really worth being built? What will we do fifty years from now? Dismantle the barrage and excavate Allianoi again, at huge costs once more? Haven’t we learned anything from our past dam building? The irrigated lands remain fertile for a short time only, seven to ten years maximum. After that, the soil is highly alkaline and crops are hardly worth the effort of planting. As always, when it comes to politics, nobody listens to the environmentalists and nobody takes their analysis seriously. In this case, nobody listens to the archeologists either.

But that is only one aspect of building a dam. Here at Allianoi we are voluntarily burrying our heritage. Old stones have to make way for new concrete, yet we forget that our concrete will not survive 2,500 years like this old city did. One would expect that enough damage has been done already to other locations, for instance at Zeugma, Turkey, a unique site at the frontier of the Roman Empire on the banks of the Euphrates River. Archeologists were able to save a handful of gorgeous mosaics and some wall frescos that have found shelter at the Museum of Gaziantep, but they are taken out of their context and the proud city no longer awaits our embrace.

What will it take to stop this madness of building dams that in the end only scar and deplete the land? Water is vital to our life, I agree, but barrages are not the one and only solution and their lifespan is not eternal as governments all over the world want us to believe. What will happen in 50 or 100 years from now when this barrage and so many others give way? No water then, no crops, no dam, nobody to take responsibility, and sadly no cities like Allianoi to be revived from underneath the sediments. 

Meanwhile, the site of Allianoi has been filled up with sand in an impossible dream that this will safeguard the precious remains of this two thousand years old wealthy spa resort. The theory is that at the death of the dam Allianoi can still be re-excavated, but what about the heavy layers of silt deposited meanwhile on top of these remains? What damage will they have done?

A sad day for Allianoi. My heart is bleeding indeed…

Hopes may have been high still but by March 2011, the dies were cast. A painful picture of a man sitting on the edge of the 2nd-century Roman bridge in the middle of a nearly flooded city publicized in the Christian Science Monitor says it all. In spite of the pleas and protests formulated by UNESCO, ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) and Europa Nostra (the pan-European Federation for Cultural Heritage), it didn’t take long before the entire site disappeared to the bottom of the new reservoir at the foot of the irrigation dam, covered beneath nearly 100 feet of water and silt. The Yortanli Dam is part of another huge hydro engineering program aiming to keep up with the country's rapid economic development – that is at least what the officials say. 

The positive news is that archeologists have been able to salvage some 11,000 artifacts after uncovering only about 20 percent of the site that is now lost forever – a rather poor consolation if any. The beautiful mosaic floors of this ancient health center believed to be one of the largest and best preserved in the world have disappeared once again. The Turkish government doesn’t seem to care or not to care enough, the race to double their power output by 2020 prevails over the preservation of the country’s and the world’s history.

The site has first been filled up with sand in an attempt to protect the ruins although archaeologists disagree. In the last days of 2010, the flooding was set in motion. The water, according to the latest news of early 2011, has risen approximately 6 feet but will eventually reach 100 feet. I am not aware of a more recent update on the site if any. I only could trace this picture of the flooded area taken in June 2012 (from Alberti's Window). Regretfully, we’ll never know the full meaning and extent of Allianoi. Sadly, this is only one example among so many others. How many more will follow?

Click here for the complete article Dams power Turkey’s future, but drown its rich history by Alexander Christie-Miller, that also maps other natural and cultural threatened areas all over Turkey. National Geographic offers some meaningful pictures on this link.

Friday, January 24, 2014

New theory about Alexander’s death

As we still don’t know for sure what caused Alexander’s untimely death at the age of 32, many theories are circulating and from time to time a new ones appear.

This time we hear from toxicologist Professor Leon Schep at the New Zealand National Poison Centre who, based on the symptoms as described by Diodorus, concludes that the king’s death might be caused by drinking wine made of a poisonous plant called veratrum album or white false hellebore. This plant that grows all over the Eurasian continent was known by the Greeks as a medicine, for instance to induce vomiting. It is however also one of the four classic poisons along with deadly nightshade, hemlock and aconite. Hellebore has been used over centuries in Europe for poisoning arrows and daggers.

Well, after poisoning by arsenic, pneumonia, excessive drinking of wine, fevers, malaria, we might as well add this theory to those circulating about the death of Alexander in Babylon. However, IF the Macedonian king, ruler of Asia, was indeed poisoned, the question that remains to be answered is: who administered the poison? This is more food for speculations about the culprit who has to be looked for among Alexander’s inner circle.

Of course, there is no 100% guaranty for any of the proposed theories, the more since events occurred 2,500 years ago. The Great Alexander died too young and no speculation whatsoever can bring him back.

[Picture from]

Monday, January 20, 2014

Indo-Greek art or the influence of Hellenism on Buddhist art

When in the frame of Europalia India, the exhibition The Body in Indian Art came to Brussels, I had the opportunity to go hunting for Greek elements in the Indian statues and friezes. The oldest sculptures dated from the 2nd century BC and the most recent with still Hellenistic traits were from the fourth century AD, i.e. more or less with the latest influences in the West under the Romans. The attentive visitor will easily recognize Hellenistic influence in the facial expression, the positioning of the body resting on one leg, the execution of the robes, the border elements with palmettos and four-leaved flowers familiar from caissons in Greek buildings, or even in the active Cupid or Amor figures on narrow decorative stone bands. This collection was a unique opportunity since it seldom travels outside India.

After the spreading of Hellenism, Buddha is being depicted in a visual way wearing a light toga-like himation and the Bodhisattvas are merely bare-chested Indian princes. The surrounding buildings are set up in Greek style with remotely Ionian and Indian-style Corinthian capitals. The figures are a mixture of Greek and Indian elements.

The real aficionados will find many magnificent examples of this unique style at the Musée Guimet in Paris, France. This museum has been entirely revamped and hosts a unique collection of Asian Art. In the traces of Alexander the Great, treasures from Afghanistan/Pakistan (roughly ancient Bactria and Sogdiana) and India have been gathered to be exhibited in an absolutely breathtaking collection. Besides major artifacts from Hada and Begram in today’s Afghanistan, there are beautiful examples of Buddha’s and Bodittsava’s among lovely genies from Gandhara worth the visit.

It was Cyrus the Great who first extended the Persian Empire eastwards to include the areas around the Indus River. Gandhara in the Peshawar valley of northern Pakistan fell under Achaemenid rule and was formally included as the seventh satrapy, that of the Upper Indus.

When Alexander the Great arrived in Taxila in 326 BC, Buddhism had not made its appearance in that region yet. Arrian, among others, mentions however that the king met members of the Indian sect of Wise Men who walk around naked. It is common knowledge that Alexander always kept an open mind for other religions, and these wise men must have intrigued him. One of them going by the Greek name of Calanus joined Alexander on his way back west and we can only guess their topics of conversation. Calanus had many pupils and friends inside Alexander's circle, where the only one mentioned by name is Lysimachos who received the horse that the dying man was supposed to ride on his way to the sacrificial pyre arranged at his request by Alexander in person. 

Fact remains that the first statues representing Buddha are part of Alexander’s legacy. Hellenism contributed to the spreading of art, culture, knowledge and took root in Central Asia where the Bactrian kings proudly showed off their close ties. In India, on the other hand, this influence was much slower were it only because the Mauryan kingdom imposed itself shortly after Alexander passage, eliminating the Macedonians on their way.

It may not come as a surprise that the first images of Buddha were created in Central Asia during the rule of Greco-Bactrian kings. Before the spreading of Hellenism, no artist was allowed to show Buddha in human form, and symbols such as a footprint, a wheel, a tree, a stupa or some Sanskrit characters were used instead. By 180 BC, the Greco-Bactrian King Demetrius invaded India leading to the Indo-Greek kingdom that lasted until 10 AD. This is when the Gandharan Buddha was sculpted with straight nose and brow, classical lips and wavy hair – strong idealised and sensuous influences of Hellenism. A striking element was the introduction of the “diaphanous”, a toga-like robe that Buddha wears instead of the expected loin-cloth. Yet the heavy eye-lids, the elongated earlobes, and the oval-shaped faces are still very much Indian. In short, this form of art became a strong melting pot of eastern and western traditions.

Chandragupta of the Mauryan Empire took advantage of the confusion following the death of Alexander to take possession of the former Macedonian satrapies of Parapamisade (Gandhara), Arachosia (Kandahar) and Gedrosia after fighting Seleucos, Alexander’s successor in the east (305-303 BC). It was only when abovementioned King Demetrius defeated the Mauryas that the influence of Hellenism appeared in India.

It is clear that Alexander’s legacy through Hellenism was felt for many centuries, directly of indirectly, and visiting an exhibition even distantly related to the great conqueror is always very gratifying.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The world’s first Parliament building - Patara

Only a few people will have heard about the opening of the first ever Parliament building in the ancient city of Patara, Turkey.

First discovered in 1991, restoration works started in 2010 and it took two full years to complete the project, re-erecting and repairing inside and outside walls, gateways, and the entire seating area. When I visited Patara in 2007, works were still in full progress and the building was fenced off but it now shines in full splendor. It may feel somehow overdone, too well reconstructed, but on the other hand, this is the closest one can get to taste what it is like to sit inside a Council House – and this one is regarded as being the world’s first democratic Parliament (to use modern words).

[Picture from The Hurriyet Daily News]

The Lycian League for which this Council House was built has always fascinated me. The very idea matured in the early 2nd century BC after Lycia came under control of Rhodes with the influence of Rome. Yet Rhodes did not give the Lycians a fair treatment and after many complaints, Rome judged it only fair to grant them their freedom. Finally, the Lycian cities all agreed it was time to unite and the Lycian League, as dreamed of by Pericles several centuries earlier now became reality. The six main cities: Xanthos, Pınara, Tlos, Patara, Myra, and Olympos were the administrative, judicial, military, financial and religious centers and each received three votes in the meetings of the League. Most of the other cities had one single vote each while some very small cities shared one vote (for instance Istlada, Apollonia, and Aperlai). Besides, some cities and small federal states were allowed to mint their own coins, provided they bear the inscription ΛΥΚΙΩΝ ΚΟΙΝΩΝ. This must have been an enormous boost to the Lycians’ pride and eventually to their prosperity.

The building we see here in Patara was however built in the first century AD and served for five hundred years. It could seat 400 representatives coming from all the member-cities of the Lycian League, squeezing inside the walls of this 43 meters long and 30 meters wide Council House. When the Lycian League was at last dissolved, the building was still used as a theater.

Like Patara’s theater, the Council House had been swallowed and hidden under the moving sand dunes for centuries, which in a way helped to preserve the stone, making it look like new.

[Click here to see all the pictures of Patara]

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A moment of reflection in Mieza

Instead of simply looking at a series of pictures, this YouTube presentation has nice music too.


It gives an extra flavor to Mieza, the location where Aristotle walked around followed by his pupils, the most famous of which was Alexander the Great of course. It still is an idyllic place where all you hear is the murmur of the fast running stream. 

It is so easy to turn the clock back two thousand five hundred years, don’t you think so?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Alexander’s Path by Freya Stark

Alexander’s Path (ISBN 0879513403) has been on my bookshelves for many years now. The first time I read it was in preparation for my wonderful trip with Peter Sommer, In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great, the full 21 days journey (now split up into two parts). Since then, I grabbed it repeatedly when exploring Pamphylia and Lycia on my own to get those little extra details that make a journey so much more worthwhile. In a surge of melancholy and enriched by my own experiences, I decided to read it once again, cover to cover, making a most enjoyable mental travel. 

What threw me off, at first, is the fact that Freya Stark goes in the opposite direction of Alexander, starting with Alexandrette (Iskenderun) and the Battle of Issus, moving through Cilicia to the great cities of Pamphylia to finally reach Lycia. She travels in the early 1950’s when the landscape is not spoiled yet by the crowds of coastal hotels and modern roads, in fact still looking very much like in Alexander’s days. Her means of transportation are random, simply adapted to the circumstances: car, jeep, horse, mule, donkey and on foot. Hotels, where she can enjoy a room of her own, are rare, and she often simply accepts Turkish hospitality in whatever form and with whatever comfort that may or may not offer. 

It is not a dreary recitation of facts or references from ancient authors about Alexander’s march through these lands. On the contrary, she knows how to enhance her story with simple daily facts of life as it evolves: her observation of life in the village, the sound of goats and herders in the hills, her own thoughts as the day passes and the road unwinds. She observes the land with an analytical eye, constantly wondering how an army could cross it and what Alexander’s goal was at that moment in time. 

In the end, she extensively crisscrosses the rugged lands of Lycia in search of Alexander’s path, which has not reached us from ancient literature. Even Arrian, otherwise rather detailed in his descriptions, simply mentioned that Alexander moved from Xanthos through Lycia to Phaselis. Freya Stark has spent several trips exploring every single road, pass, river and trail of Lycia looking for the most plausible route and concluded that the Macedonian King either took the coastal road (corresponding mostly to the modern motor road) or the higher ridge via Candyba and Kassaba to Myra and hence to Limyra with another possible deviation via Arykanda to Limyra, to end at Phoenice (modern Finike). Taking advantage of the old well-travelled stony paths and donkey trails, she manages to find the best-fitted passage for Alexander to take his army across the mountain backbone, passing under Rhodiapolis, through Corydalla (now Kumluca), over the Yazir Pass to descend on the eastern side to Phaselis

It may be hard to find, but Alexander’s Path not only is a fascinating and captivating book but a true and precious travel companion.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Seleucia, a shrine among the pine trees

The road to Seleucia is now signposted and paved, no excuse for not going! Local villagers know the site by this very name, although some researchers suggest that its real name was Lyrbe and that Seleucia is to be located further east halfway between Anamur and Mersin under the modern name of Silifke at the mouth of the Göksu River (antique Calycadnus). The name Lyrbe, however, was deciphered on an inscription found on this very hill and may simply be the early name for Seleucia

Anyway, Seleucia has been traced back to Hellenistic times, which by itself is reason enough to set out exploring, although its origins seem to be much older as confirmed by finds from the Classical period and inscriptions carrying the unique language of Side. 

Seleucos Nicator, undoubtedly inspired by Alexander before him, founded many cities, which he named after himself, the best known being Seleucia on the Tigris (later renamed by the Roman as Zeugma). So it is no surprise to find this Seleucia in Turkey, some 15 kilometers north of Manavgat. The old track from the village of Bucakşeyhler is now asphalted and meanders to the one and only access to the hilltop which is otherwise inaccessible because of the sheer rock walls – a natural defense. 

This access road ends at the very city gate, a mere hole in the wall. A couple of wide steps invite the visitor inside where whatever is left of Seleucia presents itself as a shrine amidst tall pine trees in a sacred silence. This makes the approach over the steps of the threshold feel very special. A board gives a nice layout of the Agora, very closely resembling the drawing made by George Bean (Turkey’s Southern Shore)half a century ago – a proof that nothing much has been excavated since.
The centerpiece of the picture is filled by the Agora, the best preserved of Pamphylia I’m told. Some trees have been cleared between the entrance and the agora making the first glance one to never forget! On the left side, a wall shows a combination of different styles and reconstructions, apparently two separate façades one of which built with pilasters where the open space was later on filled with plain square blocks. The basement of this façade has two doors giving access to the two corridors running along the Agora on two separate lower levels.

But the most striking element is to the right of the Agora where the walls of the shops, two levels high,  nicely frame the square. The Granary of Hadrian in Andriake comes to my mind, but the shops behind these walls here are evidently not as big or as deep. Six shop entrances line up framed by a simple lintel resting on sparingly decorated posts, except for two arched thresholds above which run an entablature with triglyphs alternated with a flowered metope. The inside walls carry the square holes meant to support the floor beams for the upper level. One shop is entirely filled by a staircase strangely leading to a window in the back wall and it is obvious that more research is required to figure out where it once was leading to. The same remark applies to the Odeon at the end of the row of shops. This Odeon is accessed through four doors but inside no trace of seating has been found and the theory goes that there may have been wooden benches. The curved back wall consists of some original square blocks mixed with all sorts of rougher stones, apparently used to fill up the gaps that may have appeared after earthquakes in the region. In front of these façades, the well-preserved Doric colonnade at the edge of the Agora is still standing, with at the corner one of those typical heart-shaped columns, a melting together of two columns facing the inside of the space. Along this colonnade runs the gutter, leading me to believe that the passage between the shops and the Agora must have been covered. 

At the far end of the Agora are the remains of an early church which seems to have been modified repeatedly over the centuries. Maybe the vaulted entrance was part of it, or it may well have been an arched passage to exit the Agora, as suggested by George Bean (Turkey’s Southern Shore). More to the right, an entrance gate with a simple lintel is supported by one Ionian column and one plain pilaster, a late reconstruction of some kind, I think.
The meaning of the two corridors on the lower levels on the left is unclear – maybe they served as storage since vaulted niches run along both walls. Anyway, venturing to the right further uphill there are two small temples. The first one seems to be dedicated to Apollo with the intact walls of the cella and arched niches along the inside walls which are possibly where the temple’s treasury was kept as traces of front grilles are present. The other temple is less well preserved, only part of the entrance and the outside walls resting on the otherwise intact crepidoma.

Otherwise, the hillside is dotted with sturdy walls ready to collapse at any time, the purpose of which are anyone’s guess, a basilica, a church, a bath, etc. Two lone arches rise out from the forest soil; they seem to belong to a vaulted building connecting to the water system of Seleucia. Loose square-cut blocks, arches, and lower walls appear like ghosts among the shade of the pine trees. Looking back to the Agora from the road to the necropolis, a mere rubble of stones and slabs of all sizes and shapes, the hill carries the allures of a small acropolis.

The attentive visitor will notice loose pieces of fabric here and there which are the edges of the mosaic covers – a well-known practice to protect these precious floors. However, some mosaics have been moved: one representing the Seven Wise Men of Antiquity and another of Orpheus are now at the Museum of Antalya. Later chance finds have been moved to the Museum of Side. Time to go back to update my mental records!

The half-standing building to the north is clearly Byzantine or, at least, a Byzantine reconstruction of a church. Beyond this last ruin lies the edge of Seleucia offering a grandiose view towards the Manavgat River to the north, now a lake after the constructions of a barrage as so often done all over Turkey, and down to the shimmering sea on the southern horizon. What a strategic place to build a city!

It is important to remember that Seleucia has not been plundered in antiquity when it was customary to re-use stones from abandoned cities and buildings or stripped from their marble to be fed to the Byzantines limekilns. 

[Click here to see all pictures of Seleucia]