Wings over Sardis
Flying Through Sardis
These aerial videos were taken with a DJI Phantom 3 Professional quadcopter. They provide a new perspective on the complex and dramatic topography of the site and its monuments, and a useful introduction to the site. Each flight has two figures on the right: a map and a thumbnail photo. To see the videos, click the thumbnail photo. The paths shown on the maps are approximate.
Flight From the Temple of Artemis to the City
Beginning near the Temple of Artemis (figs. 1, 2), this flight rises, and then circles for a panoramic view around the city. The sheer cliffs of the Acropolis demonstrate why Polybius called Sardis “the strongest spot in the world,” besieged many times in antiquity but never captured by main force. The “Flying Towers” perched on the cliffs are part of the Byzantine fortifications of the citadel.
Rising further, we see the former Izmir-Ankara highway traversing the site, and on the far side of the highway, the reconstructed horseshoe-shaped Marble Court of the Bath-Gymnasium Complex, which was located at the western edge of the city. Nearby is the Lydian Gate (on which, further below), and the nearer side of the highway is the colossal Lydian fortification (Sector MMS, mostly under white roofs). Extending from the Bath-Gymnasium Complex towards the upper right is a row of mounds. These mark the north side of the ancient city, just inside the Roman city wall. The core of these mounds is the continuation of the Lydian fortification, which has been detected in geophysical survey and excavated at two points at “Mound 2.” Here it is at least 20 m wide, the same width (or greater) than it is preserved at sector MMS, and is preserved about 10 meters high; the original height of the fortification must have been significantly greater. In one area a masonry wall, perhaps part of another gate, has been excavated. Beyond the mounds is the plain of the Hermus River, the town of Sart Mahmout, and in the distance at right, the town of Salihli.
A series of long fingers or spurs of land reach from the Acropolis into the lower city. Some of these were terraced in the Lydian period to form part of the palace complex (Field 49 and ByzFort), intermediate between the Acropolis and the lower city proper.
Panning to the right we see the Tmolus (Bozdağ) mountains; the deep cleft of the Mağara Deresi, whose marble quarries supplied the marble for the Temple of Artemis and other buildings at Sardis; the broader valley of the Pactolus River, famous for its gold, stretching to the southwest; the Necropolis hill; and the villages of Sart Mustafa and Sart Mahmout (now Upper and Lower Sart), Bintepe, the Gygaean Lake, and the mountains of northern Lydia. Descending slightly we return to a view of the Acropolis at sunset.
The Mounds, Bath-Gymnasium Complex, and Lower City
This flight starts north of the city, and follows the Roman city wall and the mounds that cover the Lydian fortification (figs. 3, 4). Flying towards the west, it then crosses the mounds into the palaestra of the Roman Bath-Gymnasium Complex and its Marble Court. Reconstructed in the 1960s, this is one of the most recognizable monuments of the site. After panning past the Synagogue, with sector MMS under white roofs in the background, the flight returns through the lower city of Sardis just within the city wall, now occupied by grape vineyards and wheat fields. At the end it reaches Building C, perhaps a basilica, before turning north to return over the city walls.
The Theater, Stadium, and Lydian Terraces (Palace?)
Starting from the former Izmir-Ankara highway, this flight takes us to the ancient theater and stadium (figs. 5, 6). Parts of the theater were excavated between 2006 and 2010, but the building was almost entirely denuded of its original marble seats, probably in antiquity. The rectangular roof in the cavea (seating) of the theater protects a Lydian house, also excavated between 2006 and 2010; the roofs in the orchestra (center) of the theater protect trenches excavated where the theater joins the stadium. The stadium — mostly unexcavated — is aligned with the theater, and recognizable from its concrete vaulting on the north side. The flight then takes us to one of the spurs above the theater and stadium, called Field 49, the site of excavations in 1981-1982 and 2009-2015. This hill was terraced in the 7th century BC or earlier with a monumental wall built of massive boulders; the flight reveals this terrace wall from the air as we have never seen it before. Buildings on top of this terrace date from the Lydian through the Late Roman periods; during the Lydian period it is believed to have belonged to the palace complex of the Lydian kings. The steep cliffs of the Acropolis rise dramatically behind the terrace, while the gibbous moon sets in the west. The flight then descends to Field 55, site of excavations in 2005 and 2013-2015. The marble walls were built from spolia from an early Imperial Roman sanctuary, and include architectural fragments from the temple, dozens of inscriptions, and other remains. The roof protects the painted walls of a late Roman house. The flight descends to the enigmatic Building A, then turns towards the Acropolis and pans back along Field 49, the stadium and theater, then turns to show the rest of the lower city, Building D (four piers rising from an olive orchard in the lower right near the end of the video), Building C (to its right), and the Bath-Gymnasium Complex. At the end in the far distance on the right are the tumuli of Bin Tepe (see also Baughan, “Burial Customs”) and, beyond them, the Gygaean Lake.
The Acropolis and its Tunnels
Starting at the foot of the Acropolis, this flight begins with a view of the twin spurs of sectors Field 49 and ByzFort, which are believed to be the site of the Lydian palace (figs. 7, 8). Beyond them is Bin Tepe (the tumulus of Alyattes, the largest in Turkey, is in the center of the frame), and the Gygaean Lake. After panning around the cliffs of the Acropolis, we see exposed sections of the tunnel that once connected the Acropolis with the dry streambed (Wadi B) that runs between ByzFort and Field 49. Climbing further, we see the “Flying Towers” — part of the Byzantine fortifications of the citadel — and beyond them on the horizon, the Necropolis hill and modern Sart Mustafa. We pan back to ByzFort and Field 49, before a slightly dizzying ascent. The final view reveals the entire Acropolis from the “Flying Towers” to the southern Acropolis wall and barracks. Near the center of the frame at the end, below and to the right of the Turkish flag flying from the summit, are the Lydian Acropolis North walls, part of another monumental complex, probably palatial, on the citadel.
The Roman Arch, Lydian Gate, Bath-Gymnasium Complex, Synagogue
This flight begins in the unexcavated land over the late Roman colonnaded avenue that passed in front of the Bath-Gymnasium Complex and Byzantine Shops (figs. 9, 10). Flying into the current excavation area, the mass of collapsed marble blocks was discovered only in 2014: a huge three-bayed monumental arch, 33 m wide and perhaps originally 24 m tall. Its central span of 13 m makes this among the largest, if not the largest freestanding arch in the Roman world. It incorporates a number of fluted column drums, spolia from the Roman conversion of the Temple of Artemis. All that remains now, however, are the supporting piers (one, on the left nearer to the Bath-Gymnasium Complex, was excavated and cleared of its collapse in the 1960s and 1970s; the other, next to the modern road, is mostly buried by marble blocks), and a tiny percentage of its superstructure. The rest has fallen victim to the lime kilns. The arch seems to have collapsed in the early 7th century AD; and it is significant that the main road through Sardis was never completely cleared after the collapse, but remained obstructed by debris; after this time, most buildings of the lower city seem to have been abandoned, marking the end of Sardis as a city.
As the camera rises it passes over the complex superimposed remains of sector MMS/N. These include the Lydian gate in the fortification wall (protected in modern times by a roof, whose panels were removed but whose steel frame remains in place here), and remains of the Roman road and colonnaded sidewalk that passed over the stub of the Lydian gate. In this view we see, therefore, three phases of the main thoroughfare from the Aegean coast to central Anatolia, spanning almost 3,000 years: the modern highway; the Roman marble-paved avenue, passing through a monumental arch at the entrance to the city; and underneath that, the Lydian road as it passed through one of the main gates in the Lydian fortification.
Turning south, we see the mixture of permanent and temporary roofs that protect the Lydian fortification and Roman houses of sectors MMS and MMS/S. Turning around to the north, we come to the Bath-Gymnasium Complex and, in the foreground, the Synagogue. Turning further still, we see the mounds on the north side of the city. We return to archaeologist Jude Russo, architect Brianna Bricker, and assistant director Bahadır Yıldırım studying the fallen blocks of the arch.
The Temple of Artemis
One of many circuits through the Temple of Artemis (also here), this flight starts at the west end among the standing columns of the Roman west façade and porch (figs. 11, 12). On the left is Church M, a chapel belonging to the late Antique, Christian phase of this sacred temenos. Circling around to the north, the three newly-cleaned columns and Hellenistic cella walls and column foundations stand out against the uncleaned surfaces blackened by cyanobacteria and lichen. The flight circles the two standing columns, showing the stylistic differences between the two contemporary Roman capitals — note the leaf patterns that decorate the capital that now rests skewed, compared to the much plainer capital that rests straight. The flight passes through the east and west cellas of the temple, and over the Altar of Artemis.
The Necropolis in the Morning
The pockmarked hill opposite the Temple of Artemis is Butler’s Great Necropolis, and the pits are collapsed chamber tombs excavated by Butler (figs. 13, 14). The flight rises and flies further into the Necropolis, and turns north to show a cliff face of the soft conglomerate (unfortunately in shadow) with two or more levels of chamber tombs. In the background we see Bin Tepe and the Gygaean Lake. After a panorama of the Acropolis, Tmolus (Bozdağ) mountains, and valley of the Pactolus River, we return to the Temple of Artemis, still sleeping at sunrise.
Excavations at the Lydian Palace
Two hills in central Sardis, Field 49 (left) and ByzFort (right), were elite areas of residence and administration for much of the city’s history. Occupation goes back to the Early Bronze Age, and in the Lydian period, from the 9th through the 6th centuries BC, we believe the region was the palace quarter of the Lydian kings. Massive terrace walls enclosed the hills for most of their ancient history, although the buildings on top have been terribly despoiled.
From a bird’s-eye overview of the two hills we descend to the northern slopes of Field 49, where archaeologist Güzin Eren is excavating a series of Lydian terrace walls dating to the 8th, 7th, and 6th centuries BC (figs. 15, 16). In a deep trench within the terrace we get a glimpse of an earlier, 9th c BC mudbrick building. We then fly over to a central trench where archaeologists Will Bruce and Julia Judge oversee excavations of almost 3,000 years of Sardis’ history. In the foreground the archaeologists are examining a short stretch of limestone masonry probably belonging to the Lydian palace of Croesus. Most of this building has been entirely robbed out in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman eras, though, leaving almost nothing of what was once the capital of western Anatolia. Behind them, and cutting the Lydian limestone wall at right angles, is a Hellenistic terrace or platform wall, mostly built of reused Lydian limestone blocks. Within this Hellenistic platform, workmen excavate deep sondages into Late Bronze Age and Early Bronze Age levels, using winches to haul the earth up from up to 14 m depths. For more on these excavations see the preliminary reports for 2017; work has been conducted there since 2009, but these results have not, for the most part, been incorporated into recent summaries such as “The City of Sardis.” See also “Recent Fieldwork at Sardis.”
Excavations at Field 49, the Lydian Palace, and Field 55, a Roman sanctuary
In the late spring sheep graze on the slopes of Field 49, while archaeologist Güzin Eren excavates within the Lydian terrace walls of, we believe, the Lydian palace (figs. 17, 18). At the bottom of her deep sondage is one wall of a mudbrick building probably dating to the 9th century BC; the fill she is currently digging was dumped in the Persian period, perhaps during the extensive robbing of the earlier buildings of the 7th and 6th centuries.
We then fly down to a lower terrace, Field 55, site of an early Roman sanctuary of the imperial cult. That sanctuary was systematically dismantled in late antiquity, however, and its remains built into the massive terrace wall and fortification seen on the right side of the trench. At the very right edge, a road runs up towards the upper city, through a gate in the late Roman fortification. On top of the hill are late Roman houses with painted walls (here covered for protection); the team excavates a small expansion of the trench while the architects survey. For more on these excavations see the preliminary reports for 2017; earlier reports on Field 55 include 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.
From the Acropolis to the Upper City
In the early morning, before work begins, we get a breathtaking view of the Acropolis of Sardis with the Tmolus range behind, then descend to the excavation trenches of Field 49 awaiting the start of excavation (figs. 19, 20). For a report on excavations of 2016 see the preliminary reports.
Conservation of the Temple of Artemis
In 2014 we began a five-year project to remove the biofilm from the temple of Artemis, supported by a generous grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund. Here in the fourth year of the project, the team of local workwomen focus on the columns of the east façade, building scaffolding around two of the columns, while a third team works under shades on the south wall (figs. 21, 22). The contrast between the uncleaned and the cleaned columns is striking; and after four years of experience, the team of about a dozen women is experienced and takes great pride in returning this most beautiful monument of Sardis to its original colors. Compare the state of the temple near the beginning of this conservation program in 2014 (fig. 12).
Conserving a Capital of the Temple of Artemis
In 2014 we began a five-year project to remove the biofilm from the temple of Artemis, supported by a generous grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund. Here conservator Michael Morris, developer of the new technique to clean the temple using a mild biocide to remove the discoloring black growth, works with local workwomen on the capital of a standing column of the temple, almost 18 m above the ground (figs. 23, 24).