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 Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 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 26, 2016

Phaselis and its three harbors

The city of Phaselis was colonized by the Greeks of Rhodes and that was not without reason for here their navy could find a safe shelter in one of its three natural harbors to load the wood they needed from the Lycian hinterland to build their ships. When the Persians took possession of Anatolia in 546 BC they automatically became master of Phaselis till Alexander the Great changed that in 333 BC. Ambassadors had met him already on his way from Xanthos and as soon as he arrived in Phaselis he was welcomed with a golden crown and other gifts as a gesture of friendship. His march through the rough country of Lycia of which very little is known must have been pretty heavy and it is not surprising that Alexander decided to spend the winter of 334-333 BC in Phaselis to rest his troops. Here he received envoys from Pamphylia which he planned to cross in the early spring before meeting up with Parmenion near Gordion with the other half of his army.

Meanwhile, the citizens of Phaselis tried to take advantage of their good understanding with Alexander to solve their own deep conflict with Marmara, whose people destroyed their crops on a regular basis and even kidnapped their women. When it came to friendship Alexander knew no half measures and the people of Marmara were well aware of that. On the night before the battle, the men decided to send their women, children and elderly to seek protection in the neighboring woods. The men defended Marmara to the last and when the end was near they set the entire city afire and perished themselves. A story for a book, no doubt.

After Alexander’s death, Phaselis remained in the hands of the Ptolemies until 197 BC when the city, like all of Lycia, came under the rule of Rhodes. After 160 BC the Lycian League collapsed and together with so many other regions around the Mediterranean, the city fell under the control of Rome. Then danger arose from an entirely different angle, piracy. Just like Olympos, Phaselis was under repeated attacks and in the first century BC both cities chose to join Zeniketes, the most powerful pirate of his time. Yet in 42 BC the Romans took Phaselis back as they managed to abolish piracy. This peace didn’t last very long either for in the third century the pirates were back. In the meantime, the entire region was struck by a series of very strong earthquakes, such as those that occurred in 141 and on the 5th of August, 240, causing widespread damage. When the Roman Empire was divided between east and west, Phaselis’ decline set in. The export of timber from the hinterland came to a halt, a major blow to the city’s economy. The harbor slowly silted up creating marshy lowlands where mosquitoes thrived and, in turn, caused health problems. Ports like Antalya, Side and Alanya were on the rise and by the 11th century, Phaselis was totally impoverished and virtually disappeared. We had to wait till the 1970’s when the first explorers were able to locate the site.

Today’s Phaselis is not the most exciting place to visit but its location is quite idyllic. A very rewarding approach is from the sheltered Southern Harbor which is generally used by today’s tourists. The Northern Harbor, on the other hand, is privileged because it was and is accessible under all circumstances, either by southwesterly or northeasterly winds. The two islets near the harbor entrance are all that remains of the pier that connected to the mainland with on its far end a lighthouse. It is difficult to imagine that this peaceful cobblestone beach once was a busy harbor, with almost hidden in its far end the Naval Harbor, extremely well protected – now a field of waving reeds populated by loud croaking frogs.

Further inland, to the left of the Naval Harbor, we find the remains of a Roman aqueduct that brought water from the 70-meter-high plateau down to the city.

From here, it is easy to find the 24-meter-wide Harbour Street which was entirely paved. On either side runs a sidewalk that can be reached via three steps. Cevdet Bayburtluoğu (see: Lycia) has speculated that there might have been an extra wooden step since the first one is pretty high. Statues of important citizens lined up the street, duly resting on a pedestal engraved with their name or the reason for the presence. The pedestals have been put back into place after the Byzantines had removed them to build the pier. Cevdet Bayburtluoğu recovered them from the depth of the harbour and put them back in place. This is the reason why some of these stones look so much worn. Importantly, this avenue is reserved for pedestrians as the three-step-staircase on either end makes access for carts impossible.

To the left are the latrines, next to a small bath establishment, the Bath of the Theatre, probably built after the earthquake of 240 since recuperation material from earlier periods has been used. The sewage of both complexes went straight into the Naval Harbour where traces of this system can still be seen. After these small baths, which functioned at least until the 8th century, one reaches the theatre, the inevitable eye catcher in any city. The old staircase to the entrance is still there but is not very recommendable. Instead, a rather comfortable wooden construction has been put in place. The theatre is typically Hellenistic, although the skene is a pure Roman addition. The walls of skene have been badly damaged, not so much because of age but because of a severe fire that caused many lintels made of porous stone to collapse. Such a shame for a building that withstood centuries. A theatre always touches a soft spot in my soul for this is a place where people gathered some 2,000 years ago, walked through its corridors and climbed its steps, with echoes of voices and sounds from times past under the watchful eyes of snow-capped Tahtali mountain.

The central square or Agora is rather puzzling because it is a shapeless space situated halfway the Harbour Street which continues further along the Agora of Domitian to the Southern Harbour. This Agora is neatly paved and opposite the theatre are the remains of a Nympheion – another of those monuments that a trained eye recognizes immediately. There are two more of such Nympheions on either side of the passageway to the Agora of Hadrian. The left and oldest one (mid-3rd century AD) is rather difficult to make out, as opposed to the one on the right dating from the end of the 3rd, beginning of the 4th century. In the prolongation of the Harbour Street, the stretch between the Agora and the Southern Harbour, that also ends with three steps, we find the Gate of Domitian, which is the entrance to the Agora by the same name. For some obscure reason, the name of Domitian was erased from all official buildings after his death.

It is in this part of the city that we find most of the shops, but since the streets were only accessible to pedestrians, the supplies had to be brought in from the parallel back streets.

At the end of this paved road, right next to the steps leading to the harbour, a number of marble blocks indicate the place where the large Triumphal Arch for Hadrian once stood. It was built in all its splendour after his second visit to Phaselis in 131 AD when the city reached its climax. It consisted of one very large vault resting on two square pillars decorated with lion paws. The busts of Faustina and Sabina have since long disappeared from the niches, and all we can find are blocks with reliefs of fancy vines and drinking vessels.

It is nice to meet my friend Opramoas of Rhodiapolis again, in stone that is. As mentioned earlier, he is the benefactor who contributed to the reconstruction of Phaselis after the terrible earthquake of 141 AD and in thankful remembrance the citizens erected a monument in his honour not too far from the Agora of Hadrian. A small part of the accompanying inscription is still visible on the lintel above the gate.

The Southern Harbor where today’s tourists anchor their boats is a most pleasant green oasis along the dark blue waters and crowned by the snow capped Tahtali Mountain in the background – a picture perfect setting! According to Cevdet Bayburtluoğu, this is where we should look for the Greek city. No serious excavations were ever carried out in these parts and the fencing is pretty random. Turkey simply has too many ruins and areas that are in need of thorough research, making it extremely difficult to set priorities. If this is indeed the site of the original Greek city, which will have to be confirmed by future excavations, we may have a chance to recover the remains of the Temple of Athena where Achilles’ lance was kept.

This being said, these parts of Phaselis have been recently (2008) threatened by a building project. The owner of the Rixos Hotels intended to build a new hotel “Dream of Phaselis” right on top of the ancient city. It was a hard fight, but environmentalists and archaeologists for once did win this battle and in 2015 the project was abandoned!

Walking back, it is worth to investigate the remains of the Large Baths and the Gymnasium along the Harbour Street, both from the 2nd century AD. A few mosaic floors from Byzantine times are still there as well as the piles of fireproof bricks that once supported the floors of the Caldarium and the Tepidarium. On the opposite side, a number of temples stood next to each other but the remains are vague and the thickets cover most of the walls from view. This is, however, the place to look for the Temple of Zeus with the inscription Dios Boulaios from the days of Nero and Antoninus Pius, and a little further one should be able to find the two temples dedicated to Leto’s children, the twins Artemis and Apollo who were highly revered by the Lycians.

The intrepid visitor may still find the energy to scramble uphill to the necropolis, nothing more than broken and crumbled sarcophagi, some of them submerged downhill. It seems that about three-quarters of the necropolis lies outside the fenced area and has not yet been excavated. But there are imposing remains of a large mausoleum which at first was labelled as a temple because of the stumps of columns but it is more likely that this was the tomb of a rich family from Phaselis.

Once again, it will interesting to return here at some point in the future and see what new excavations will have revealed and what additional information will become available.

[Click here to see all the pictures of Phaselis]

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