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 thumbnail photo and a map. 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.

  • Fig. 1

    Drone flight over Sardis: panorama from above the temple of Artemis. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 2

    Map of drone flight over Sardis: panorama from above the temple of Artemis. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

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.

  • Fig. 3

    Drone flight over Sardis: the mounds, Bath-Gymnasium Complex, and lower city. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 4

    Map of drone flight over Sardis: the mounds, Bath-Gymnasium Complex, and lower city. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

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.

  • Fig. 5

    Drone flight over Sardis: theater, stadium, and Lydian terrace. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 6

    Map of drone flight over Sardis: theater, stadium, and Lydian terrace. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

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.

  • Fig. 7

    Drone flight over Sardis: the Acropolis and its tunnels. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 8

    Map of drone flight over Sardis: the Acropolis and its tunnels. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

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.

  • Fig. 9

    Drone flight over Sardis: the Roman arch, Lydian gate, Bath-Gymnasium Complex, and Synagogue. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 10

    Map of drone flight over Sardis: the Roman arch, Lydian gate, Bath-Gymnasium Complex, and Synagogue. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

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.

  • Fig. 11

    Drone flight over Sardis: the temple of Artemis. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 12

    Map of drone flight over Sardis: the temple of Artemis. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

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.

  • Fig. 13

    Drone flight over Sardis: the necropolis in the morning. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 14

    Map of drone flight over Sardis: the necropolis in the morning. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)