Wings over Sardis
Flying Through Sardis
These aerial videos were taken with DJI Phantom 3 and Mavic Air quadcopters. 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. Descriptions are by Nick Cahill. Our app doesn't show full screen videos, but if you click on YouTube you can see them there.
1. Flight through Sardis: panorama from above the temple of Artemis
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 and Synagogue, which were 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.
2. Flight through Central Sardis
We begin our flight at the western edge of the ancient city, near the city wall (figs. 3, 4). The landscape we fly over today was once downtown Sardis: land that is now rich fields of sweet grapes for raisins, olive orchards, and vegetable plots was once a densely-built metropolis with magnificent temples, theaters, public buildings, and houses. The acropolis looms over all, its steep cliffs making it “the strongest place in the world” as Polybius described it. We fly by two prominent hills in the center of the upper city, where excavations since the early 1980s have revealed almost continuous occupation over thousands of years. The first, ByzFort, was enclosed in 12-meter high limestone terrace walls in the time of Croesus. The further hill, Field 49, is one site of current excavations. Approaching this terrace, we fly by archaeologists opening a new trench on the steep slope of the hill, to understand better the long history of terracing here. Temporary roofs cover excavations of earlier buildings dating back to the 8th or 9th century BC. Towards the center of the hill is a complex trench where archaeologists are excavating remains dating from the Early Bronze Age, about 2000 BC (at the bottom of the sondage beneath the platform and winch), through the Medieval period, the 15th or 16th c AD, in a new extension on the slope of the hill. These excavations of 2018 added almost a thousand years to either side of Sardis’ long urban history. Chronologically and spatially between these periods are remains of the Roman, Hellenistic, and Lydian period densely built on top of and into one another. We fly on, backing away to an overview of the ancient theater and stadium (the latter now an olive grove), and then peek at the new excavations of well-preserved late Roman houses built in the remains of a sanctuary of the Roman emperors, as the clouds scud by on another splendid Sardian afternoon.
3. The Theater, Stadium, and Lydian Terraces.
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#lydian-houses, 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 2009-2018 and ongoing. This hill was terraced in the 8th 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 2013-2018 and ongoing. 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.
4. Excavations at the Palace Quarter and Theater of Sardis, 2017
This flight starts high above two hills that dominate the lower city of Sardis, ByzFort and Field 49 (figs. 7, 8). These broad, flat areas, intermediate between the lower city and the acropolis, were probably elite regions of Sardis for most of its life, and may have been the palace quarter of the Lydian kings. The current form of the landscape, however, is not its natural state, but the result of millennia of human transformation of a rugged and inhospitable terrain. Over many centuries the Sardians transformed the natural steep landscape to create broad, flat terraces with sharp edges and regular outlines. Only in the last couple years have we learned that this process began as early as 2,000 BC in the Early Bronze Age, long before the historical Lydians in the 8th-6th centuries BC.
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. In a deep trench within the terrace we get a glimpse of an earlier, 9th c BC mudbrick wall, the earliest monumental Lydian building known so far. 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 (in 2018) Early Bronze Age levels, using winches to haul the earth up from up to 14 m depths. For further information on these recent excavations see Cahill, Recent Fieldwork at Sardis.
5. Excavations at the Palace Quarter, 2019
This flight starts high above the two hills that dominate the lower city of Sardis, called ByzFort and Field 49 (figs. 9, 10). These broad, flat areas, intermediate between the lower city and the acropolis, were probably elite regions of Sardis for most of its life, and may have been the palace quarter of the Lydian kings. The current form of the landscape, however, is not its natural state, but the result of millennia of human transformation of a rugged and inhospitable terrain. Over many centuries the Sardians transformed the natural steep landscape to create broad, flat terraces with sharp edges and regular outlines. Only in the last couple years have we learned that this process began as early as 2,000 BC in the Early Bronze Age, long before the historical Lydians in the 8th-6th centuries BC.
We descend to see archaeologists investigating the terrace walls and other buildings during the 2019 season. One trench at the corner of the hill is being excavated by workmen while architects draw the palimpsest of Roman buildings, constructed here over a period of some centuries. Flying on to the east, excavation has finished for the season, but has exposed a series of Lydian terrace walls — the well-preserved one dating perhaps to the 8th century BC, and below it, wider but less well-preserved walls of the 7th and 6th centuries BC. We draw back to get an overview of the Hellenistic and Roman theater (roofs covering excavation trenches of 2006-2010), then fly back along the line of the ancient stadium whose seats, like the theater’s, have been almost completely robbed.
6. Geophysical Survey at Field 49, 2018
Archaeological excavation is a slow and painstaking process, and these flights over the vast urban landscape of Sardis drive home the difficulty of understanding even a small region of the ancient city solely through digging (figs. 11, 12). For example, in the 19 seasons that we have been digging on ByzFort and Field 49, we have excavated in about 4% of the area we estimate the Lydian palace quarter to have occupied; and because we are excavating not only one city, but a layer-cake of many cities stacked on top of each other, it can take many years to dig through each one . At that rate we could dig the palace by about the year 2500. Clearly we want to use other techniques besides excavation to direct further research and to allow us to generalize and better understand the excavation that has already been done.
Geophysical prospection has been used at Sardis since 1961, when David Greenewalt, brother of the former director Crawford H. Greenewalt, jr., did resistivity surveys of the city site and of mounds at Bin Tepe. Those surveys were not particularly successful, but more recent research has employed a wider variety of sophisticated techniques. In this flight in 2018, Prof. Dr. Mahmut Drahor of 9. September University in Izmir leads his team in using a ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to survey part of Field 49. GPR has generally been more successful than other techniques in identifying archaeological remains such as stone walls in the deep and complex stratigraphy of Sardis, as it gives a series of “depth slices” that reveal anomalies at different depths, down to about 4-5 m below surface. Prof. Dr. Drahor has also used two-dimensional electrical resistivity tomography, induced polarization tomography, seismic refraction P tomography, and multi-channel surface wave tomography in this area. For a first map of the results of 2018 see the preliminary report, fig. 45.
Our flight begins by following geophysicists Mahmut Drahor, Buğra Oğuz Kaya, Hakan Aycan, and others drag the orange GPR antenna across the top of Field 49. For Sardis, this is easy terrain; the team also surveyed the steep ground towards the theater, acropolis, and elsewhere in challenging conditions. We rise for an overview of the hill, and then dive to a view of the dense archaeological remains that excavation has uncovered in one small area, the central trench on this hill; similarly dense remains probably cover the entire hill and, indeed, most of this part of the site. Here we see remains from the Roman period (the mortared rubble walls), Hellenistic (unmortared fieldstone walls and most of the features built of white limestone blocks), Lydian (walls built of white limestone and dark schist), and, at the end, Medieval just beginning to be exposed in a new extension. It is easy to understand how geophysics is less successful here in this maze of intersecting walls and other features, than at sites with a less complex history. Nevertheless, such investigations offer valuable oversights into the general character of the archaeological remains in different parts of the ancient site.
7. 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. 13, 14). 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.
8. Excavations at Field 55, a Roman sanctuary and late Roman houses, 2016
Excavations since 2013 at this sector in the center of Sardis have revealed two major periods of occupation (figs. 15, 16). In the early Roman period this was a sanctuary, probably of the cult of the Roman emperors. The temple, built in the Julio-Claudian period, had eight columns across the front and was extraordinarily lavish, with relief and free-standing sculptural decoration, figural column capitals, and exquisite ornament. The temple faced onto a broad artificially terraced plaza about 100 m on a side. In late antiquity, the temple was destroyed down to its foundations, and the plaza was converted into elite houses, with painted walls lavish furnishings. A remarkable late Roman feature is a massive wall built entirely of spolia from the temple and sanctuary: column shafts, capitals, bases, inscriptions, etc. This may have belonged to a fortification that enclosed this region of Sardis in late antiquity. The houses and “Spolia Wall” were destroyed in a massive earthquake in the 7th century AD, which also destroyed the Roman arch (below), Synagogue, Temple of Artemis, and other buildings of the lower city.
Our flight begins with an overview of the 100-meter-wide artificial terrace, which was created largely in the early Roman period for the sanctuary of the imperial cult, but which apparently had Lydian and Hellenistic predecessors, now very deeply buried.1 We fly down to see archaeologists Frances Gallart-Marqués and Lauren DiSalvo spritzing the wall paintings on the late Roman houses to bring out colors for the season’s final photographs. Despite thousands of hours of painstaking consolidation and cleaning by conservators, they remain difficult to read, and are much more legible in the wonderful watercolors painted by draftsman Catherine Alexander (see preliminary reports for 2014, fig. 25, 2015, fig. 32, and 2016, fig. 18). In the partly excavated courtyard beyond these rooms lie collapsed architectural members such as columns and window mullions, some probably fallen in the earthquake that destroyed the houses in the early 7th century, but others apparently collected here, either intended for use in refurbishing this house, or being salvaged for use elsewhere.
We fly along the late Roman Spolia Wall to examine what is probably a gate with a marble-paved road leading through it. Most of the pavement of the road has been robbed out, but wheel ruts are visible in the remaining slabs. The gate was built from enormous marble blocks, which bear inscriptions from their earlier uses as statue bases, and channels cut in them to accommodate wooden beams in this secondary use. One such block is toppled near the end of the spolia wall.
9. Excavations at Field 55, destruction by earthquake, 2015
In this flight from 2015 we watch while archaeologists, conservators, draftsmen, photographers and other team members excavate part of a room (nicknamed a “taverna”) at the corner of the fortification wall and the terrace, still filled with debris from the earthquake that devastated Sardis in the 7th century (figs. 17, 18). Rubble collapse from the earthquake still fills part of the room; archaeologists are uncovering and documenting the contents of half the room, lying shattered on the floor as they did when the earthquake struck. A marble sigma table is prominent in the remains, surrounded by charcoal perhaps from the wooden table that supported it. In the corner, conservators treat a pair of bronze jugs. The room also contained another sigma table and two marble platters, other bronze and iron eating and drinking vessels, pottery, a polykandelon lamp of bronze and glass, iron agricultural implements, and other objects (see the preliminary report). The dowel and lifting holes in the blocks of the terrace and fortification walls attest to their earlier use in other buildings; less easily visible in the drone footage is the writing on many of the blocks built into the fortification wall, many of which were reused statue bases. This relatively small trench produced 75 of the inscriptions in Prof. Georg Petzl’s recent corpus of inscriptions from Sardis.
We rise and turn to watch archaeologists excavate outside this room. Here the archaeologist is still at a later, Medieval level. The Spolia Wall and Roman rooms were now buried, and the only sign of habitation is a stone drain channeling water from somewhere uphill through this low point in the topography.
10. Excavations in Field 55, 2018: a fallen wall with windows
To learn more about the late Roman houses in central Sardis, in 2018 we opened a trench north of that dug in 2013-17 (figs. 19, 20). Among the discoveries was a house wall which had collapsed, almost intact, to the floor, presumably in the earthquake that destroyed the other buildings here. Three arched windows are preserved in the fallen brickwork; these opened onto a broad paved courtyard with various water features, which is still under excavation in the foreground. At the right-hand side of the trench, the wall has been split and displaced in the earthquake. We had expected to find an assemblage of artifacts under this fallen wall, as we found in other rooms; however, both these rooms were completely bare, probably abandoned even before the earthquake struck.
11. 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. 21, 22). For the results of excavations of 2016 see the preliminary reports.
12. 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. 23, 24). 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. The date of this tunnel is uncertain— 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 Acropolis North walls, dating to the Lydian period and part of another monumental complex, probably palatial, on the citadel.
13. The Mounds, Bath-Gymnasium Complex, and Lower City
In the early morning, this flight starts north of the city, and follows the Roman city wall and the artificial mounds that are the remains of the Lydian fortification (figs. 25, 26). Flying west, we cross 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.
14. Flight over Sardis: the Bath-Gymnasium Complex, Synagogue, and Monumental Arch
The Bath-Gymnasium Complex is perhaps the most recognizable monument of Sardis (figs. 27, 28). Excavated and reconstructed in the 1960s and 1970s, it belongs to a well-known but prestigious type of imperial Roman bathing complex. It was probably begun in the first century AD, and the Marble Court completed in 211/212 AD. In late antiquity part of the Bath was converted to a Synagogue, the largest in the ancient world, with a colonnaded Forecourt and mosaic-paved Main Hall. Such bath buildings were normally located at the outskirts of cities, and this one is no exception. The bath was built alongside a marble-paved colonnaded avenue with mosaicked sidewalks, the main artery leading into ancient Sardis. Recent excavations have uncovered the collapsed remains of a monumental three-bayed arch (also apparently the largest in the ancient world) that marked the western entrance to the city.
This flight starts near the Bath-Gymnasium complex, crossing the palaestra to the Marble Court. We then fly through the Synagogue, starting in the Main Hall with two shrines on its east wall, and crossing the columned Forecourt. We then enter the current excavation area where archaeologists are uncovering the main avenue into the city and the monumental arch that spanned it. Of this arch, which was 33 m wide and once stood perhaps 24 meters tall, only the foundations and a pile of fallen blocks now remain. The team is now uncovering part of the colonnade of the street which collapsed, together with the arch, the Synagogue, and the Bath, in an earthquake in the early 7th c AD. The flight continues back through the Synagogue to the apse where the elders oversaw the services, and then to a section of the marble-paved colonnaded avenue uncovered at the beginning of the expedition in 1961. As it does so, it passes over the so-called Byzantine Shops, a row of one- or two-room units added to the main avenue in late antiquity and serving a variety of purposes.
15. The Monumental Arch, Roman Mosaic, and Lydian Gate
Recent excavations at Sardis have also focused on the western part of the ancient city, where we have uncovered colossal structures that marked the entrance to the city in two of its most important historical periods (figs. 29, 30). In the Roman period, a scatter of huge marble blocks belong to a monumental arch, the largest known in the Roman world, that spanned the avenue leading into the city. This was only discovered in 2014, and excavations of 2015, 2016, and beyond have clarified its size and form. It was a rather austere structure, 33 m wide and perhaps 24 m high. Study is ongoing, and the arch remains to be published fully. The avenue was flanked by colonnaded sidewalks paved with mosaics.
From a high overview of the sector, we descend to see the photographer documenting an inscription in one of the mosaics, which records how the “most magnificent count Flavius Maionios” paved the sidewalk (see below). The date of the mosaic is probably in the later sixth century AD. We fly over the fallen blocks of the arch to the remains of a gate in the Lydian fortification (at Sector MMS/N). This dates to about 1200 years earlier than the Roman arch, to the late 7th century BC. The Lydian fortification (seen at the beginning of the flight protected by white roofs on the other side of the road) was about 20 m thick, and reinforced by an earthen glacis that added perhaps another 20 m to its width, making it perhaps the largest such structure in all of Anatolia. A W-shaped gate in the wall was rebuilt in the early 6th c BC with beautifully cut limestone and sandstone ashlar masonry, with drafted edges. The masons’ marks on some of the blocks, visible at about 2:47, may have identified the work crews that laid the blocks. The effect of this early and luxurious, gleaming masonry structure are difficult for us to appreciate now, since it has been cut off by the Roman road leaving only the lowest courses standing; but like the Roman arch, it must have presented visitors arriving from the Aegean with an imposing sight, the likes of which they had perhaps never seen before.
16. From the Bath-Gymnasium Complex to the Maionios Mosaic
In this flight we descend from an overview of the Bath-Gymnasium Complex and Synagogue to the mosaic that paved the sidewalk of the road leading through the monumental Roman arch (figs. 31, 32). Just where the sidewalk entered the arch, the mosaic bears an inscription reading “The portico was laid with mosaics under the most magnificent count and governor Flavius Maionios.” Maionia is the ancient, Homeric name for this region, and the name of patron of this mosaic — and also, apparently, of a major repair to the arch – recalls the region’s illustrious history; he was perhaps a local boy made good. Similar dedicatory mosaics were found in the mosaics on the other side of the street. The mosaic, and therefore this major renovation of the urban infrastructure here at the entrance to Sardis, probably dates to the later 6th century AD.
17. 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. 33, 34). 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.
18. Flight through the Temple of Artemis, 2019
The iconic Temple of Artemis is without a doubt the most beautiful building at Sardis, glowing in the late afternoon sun against the dramatic backdrops of the Acropolis and the Tmolus Mountains (figs. 35, 36). It is also a puzzle, in part because it was never finished. It was begun in the Hellenistic period, perhaps about 280 BC; but only the cella—the main building with its interior columns—was completed at this time. The Hellenistic architects must have intended to build columns around the building, but none were even begun. In the early Roman period, probably towards the middle of the 1st century AD, a new building program completely reorganized the temple. It divided its cella into two halves, cut a new door through the original back (east) wall of the cella, and started to construct the colonnade around the temple, starting at the back of the building. This was probably done to convert the eastern half of the temple to the worship of the Roman emperors, who had given Sardis extensive aid following the earthquake of 17 AD; statues of the emperors and their families were found in the vicinity of the building. Significantly, this seems to have been paid for by the sanctuary, not by the imperial treasury or the province of Asia as a neocorate temple (see the inscription on column 4). About a dozen columns were erected on the east end (two of which have stood since antiquity), and foundations were laid for most of the columns on the two long sides, but the column foundations on the west front of the temple were never laid. In late antiquity, the late 4th or early 5th century AD, a small chapel was built in the corner of the temple, perhaps part of a program to convert the temple to a church.
Our flight starts at the “Northwest Stairs,” an irregular and probably temporary entrance along the north side of the building, built in the Roman period out of reused stair blocks from the earlier Hellenistic cella. We fly around what looks like a room built of rough stone, but this is just a subterranean foundation: the floor of the building would have been at a higher level where the marble column foundations are preserved. This “chamber” was filled with earth and paved, and is probably where a corner column was deliberately but temporarily omitted from the porch in order to ease access into the temple. Close inspection shows that the stairs are more worn in front of this gap than elsewhere. The fluted drums scattered at this end of the building belonged to Hellenistic columns which originally supported the roof of the cella. These columns were dismantled in the Roman period and moved to the west porch where they now lie, victims of earthquakes and human destruction. Corresponding columns at the other end of the temple were more deeply buried and are therefore better preserved. We pause briefly to look at the Hellenistic crosswall of the temple. This too is preserved only in foundations because it was dismantled in the Roman reorganization. In the middle it is constructed of rougher sandstone because a door here led through the wall, and so the foundations did not need to carry as much weight. Flying into the cella of the building, we rise to look down on the two rows of foundations that originally carried columns to support the roof. Again, these were entirely dismantled in the Roman era, perhaps in part to make room for half a dozen colossal statues of the Roman emperors and their families. Between these column foundations is a rough stone square. Although unprepossessing today, this supported the statue of the goddess Artemis, and is centuries older than the temple, which was built around it, incorporating the ancient sandstone Basis into the new marble building. From the air you can see how the Hellenistic column foundations diverge slightly to make room for this sacred structure. We fly on to inspect the capitals of the two standing columns. Although they are contemporaneous, they are stylistically quite different from one another (look closely at the spiral volutes), warning us that different work crews could come up with very different solutions. We turn to look down at the broad east porch and the pedestalled, fluted columns that mirror those on the west. Excavation here showed that two more columns (“in antis”) were entirely removed, together with their foundations, only in the 5th century AD when the temple was transformed under the new, Christian regime. We return through the cella as the sun sets behind the Necropolis hill.2
Comparison to the similar flight in 2015 (below) shows how the temple was transformed by the five-year conservation program (2014-2018), which killed the black cyanobacteria and lichen that infested, damaged, and discolored the marble, returning the temple to its former beauty.
19. Flight through the Temple of Artemis at Sardis, 2015
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. 37, 38). 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, which was conserved in 2010-2012.
20. 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 on the south wall (figs. 39, 40). 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, and preventing further damage from the biological growth.
21. 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 (figs. 41, 42). 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.
22. 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. 43, 44). 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.
- 1See Greenewalt, KST 2005 p. 745-46; Cahill, “Mapping Sardis.” The many architectural terracottas found in a deep sondage here suggest that like the upper terraces, this was an elite part of the city in the Lydian period.
- 2This account differs in a number of respects from that of Fikret K. Yegül, who is publishing the Temple of Artemis as Sardis Report 7 and whose interpretations are published already in, for instance, The Lydians and Their World and elsewhere. For the archaeological evidence for the alternatives described here, specifically the deliberate omission of column 54, the complete dismantling of the interior colonnade, the early Roman date for the conversion of the temple rather than the traditional Antonine or, according to Yegül, Hadrianic date, the rejection of the proposed neocorate status of the conversion, and the columns in antis standing until late antiquity, see Cahill and Greenewalt, “The Sanctuary of Artemis at Sardis.”