The Lydians and their World (2010)

by Christina Luke

Heritage Preservation in Central Lydia


In Lydia, as elsewhere in Turkey, people’s lives are set within a rich cultural heritage. In western Turkey, memories still recall the Turkish War of Independence, the conflagration of Smyrna/İzmir, and the Turkish-Greek population exchange, as well as the migrations from the Balkans. In Lydia, Turkish (and Greek) war trenches in the foothills and, specifically, on tumuli in Bin Tepe attest to this recent past. An earlier past is also present: throughout the province of Manisa, remains from the Ottoman period abound. The older archaeological heritage is celebrated in central Lydia at Sardis and at the Manisa and Uşak museums.

This mosaic of heritage sits at the eastern border of the İzmir region, among the fastest growing areas of Turkey: urban and agricultural expansion have reached unprecedented levels over the last decade. For this reason, preservation of the natural landscapes and cultural sites is of immediate concern. The rich history of Lydia, as the numerous chapters in this volume attest, must be preserved. In addition to sites and monuments, the landscapes that hosted past communities, as documented in oral traditions, must also be a focus for preservation.

Beyond Sardis, central Lydia is best known for Bin Tepe, where the famed Lydian kings and their families were buried (Fig. 1). This limestone ridge rises from the Hermus (modern Gediz) River plain and offers a place of prominence for the celebration of Lydian ancestors. Today, 116 tumuli remain; yet at least 130 stood in the mid-twentieth century. Prior to the Iron Age, central Lydia was home to a variety of settlements, including the Bronze Age capital of Kaymakçı and its network of fortified sites that ring the floodplain of the Hermus and the Gygaean Lake (modern Marmara Gölü). Preservation of these and other cultural sites and monuments should be holistic, encompassing the waterscapes and landscapes of the region as well as the urban and rural communities that currently live and work in the area.

  • Fig. 1

    View of Bin Tepe, from İzmir-Ankara Highway. (Courtesy of Christopher Roosevelt and the Central Lydia Archaeological Survey)

Natural Heritage

Waterscapes of Central Lydia

The Gygaean Lake, Hermus River, and the surrounding mountains (Figs. 2 and 3) offer a natural heritage celebrated throughout history, particularly by early and ancient travelers making the journey to Sardis and the tumuli of Bin Tepe. The travelers were daunted by the necessity of crossing the mighty Hermus, yet enchanted by the lake and its ecological diversity. In the early-nineteenth century, Richard Chandler wrote:

Before Sardis, on the opposite side of the plain, are many barrows on an eminence, some of which are seen afar off. We were told, that behind them was a lake; and agreed to visit it…[we] came to the lake, which lay behind the ridge, extending westward, and was anciently called Gygaea. It is very large, and abounds in fish, its colour and taste like common pond water, with beds of sedge growing in it. We saw a few swans with cygnets, and many aquatic birds; in particular, one species resembling a gull, flying about in flocks, or lighting on the ground. These were white, but with the whole head black.1

In 1829, John Fuller describes the Gygaean Lake as “a large sheet of water surrounded by gentle hills. Great quantities of wildfowl started from the reeds and osiers rode along its shore, and the tufts of rushes which rose from the shallow water at its edges were covered with shoals of tortoises.”2 For Fuller, Chandler, and others, the natural features were every bit as prominent as the cultural sites.

Authors in ancient times, too, commented on the natural and ecological wonders of the area. Those who traveled along the Royal Road to the famous courts and palaces of the East passed by Sardis. Homer and, later, Strabo tell of the importance of the Gygaean Lake from an ecological perspective as well as a spiritual one. According to Homer, the lake represented the ancestral home of Lydians: “Son of Otrynteus, most feared of men, there you lie. Your death is here, though your birth was by the Gygaean Lake where is your ancestral estate close by the Hyllus rich in fish and the eddying Hermus.”3With the Gygaean Lake as mother of the region, linked to the cult of Kybele (herself linked to mountains and waters),4 central Lydia offers unprecedented potential for building a heritage program that draws on rich oral traditions to situate the current, bustling urban and rural landscapes of today within the historical memories of the region.

The river waters, too, feature prominently in historical accounts. For Herodotus, the alluvial plain was a place where numerous “rivers course across it and rush together into the greatest of them all, the Hermus.”5In the first century AD, Lucan tells of the plowed fields watered by the Hermus: “[T]here the earth has allowed Pactolus to spring from gold-laden mines, where Hermus equally rich cuts through the plowed fields.”6As history has remembered, the flowing waters of the Pactolus provided wealth in gold. Today, water demand upstream leaves the Pactolus dry by early July, yet Seneca reminds us of its more vibrant days: “The Lydian Pactolus carried you on its rich waves, drawing the golden waters rapidly along its banks.”7

The ancient and early traveler accounts demonstrate that the waters of Lydia—lakes, streams, rivers—are part of its heritage. Yet, these natural resources have not, until recently, been part of a larger management plan. Today, the Marmara Gölü barrage ensures, in most years, that the Gygaean Lake is full; yet, from 1989 to 1994, and more recently from 2006 to 2008, there were periods of drought. Prior to the construction of the Marmara Gölü embankment and the Demirköprü and Avşar dams, episodes of inundation came frequently, such as in 1966 when the entire Hermus plain flooded and Bin Tepe became an island; looters were active for days on end.8 Today, the Hermus is tightly controlled, yet it has become increasingly polluted. As part of a Gediz Basin water management project,9 the Hermus and the Gygaean Lake are among key natural landscapes slated for preservation initiatives. The lake is the single largest freshwater source in central-western Turkey and is a nesting ground for birds and other wildlife.10 Furthermore, strict (and enforced) regulations preclude overfishing. This diverse ecological environment and the impressive vistas form the backbone of central Lydian waterscapes. The pristine waters recorded by ancient authors and early travelers will, perhaps, offer incentive for preservation and the development of ecotourism.11

Landscapes of Central Lydia

In addition to the importance of water in Lydia, the capital itself—Sardis—is often described by ancient authors as nestled in or sitting beneath the imposing snowy Tmolus, which rises behind Sardis as part of the modern Boz Dağ Range (Fig. 4). Euripides refers to Tmolus as “the encircling mountain that holds the city of the Sardians in its arms.”12Development still at bay, Sardis remains held by Tmolus. From the citadels of Sardis, Kaymakçı, and Asartepe, as well as from the peaks of tumuli, scenic views of Lydia provide a sense of history. In this historical geographic context, the heritage of Lydia comprises not just the typical “archaeological past” in terms of movable (or what can too often be made movable) material culture. The rich historical record of Lydia pertains to the entire landscape: the waterscapes, the mountains, the plains, the agricultural fields, the small villages, and the urban centers.13

Today, just as in the past, the Hermus plain is the breadbasket of Lydia. Organic initiatives for the production of olives, sun-dried tomatoes, raisins, and peaches point to sustainable agricultural programs. Vast tracks of land are part of a dynamic landscape, framed by the mountains to the north and south as well as smaller ridges and ranges in the center of the plain. Whether blanketed in snow in the winter or bathed in pastoral light in the summer, views of mountain pastures (yaylas) and communities balance the increasingly developed alluvial plain, a patchwork of agricultural fields, factories, villages, and cities.

The traditional agricultural landscapes of the Gygaean Lake basin include the fields in Bin Tepe. The First Class Protection in place for Bin Tepe and its restrictions to access have kept development at bay: small villages of a few hundred people remain relatively unchanged from thirty years ago. Evenly spaced in the rolling hills and along the shores and wetlands of the Gygaean Lake, the villages provide rural beauty to the area as well as the home base for many farmers. Traditionally, wheat and tobacco were the main cash crops; tomatoes, chickpeas, onions, and other crops produced smaller yields. In the last decade, vineyards and olive orchards have increased dramatically. The rolling hills of Bin Tepe, with over 100 tumuli nestled throughout, have become more uniform, less interesting with respect to their cultivated vegetation. This coarsening of the perceptual visual field14 threatens the rich visual mosaic of Bin Tepe as well as the preservation of its heritage.

  • Fig. 2

    View of Sardis and Boz Dağ, from Bin Tepe. (Courtesy of Christopher Roosevelt and the Central Lydia Archaeological Survey)

  • Fig. 3

    View of Gygaean Lake and Bin Tepe. (Courtesy of Christopher Roosevelt and the Central Lydia Archaeological Survey)

  • Fig. 4

    View from Kaymakçı to Boz Dağ. (Courtesy of Christopher Roosevelt and the Central Lydia Archaeological Survey)

Plunder and Destruction of Heritage: The Problem

How the symbolism of the natural environment may have played a role in the production and use of the material culture in ancient Lydia is ascertained only through isolated remains. Complete assemblages that could potentially illustrate how imagery of the natural and cultural landscapes figured into everyday life are extremely rare, and known only from Sardis. Residue analyses from kitchen wares provide information about the Lydian diet as well as agricultural productivity. Lydian vegetation of both natural and cultivated varieties has been reconstructed from ancient pollen samples. Other windows into ancient natural and cultural landscapes are often obscure.

While information from ornately decorated and appointed burial chambers could provide critical data, an intact tomb chamber has yet to be found—the plight of Lydia a result of massive plunder. While Romans and others ravaged monuments in the area, it is in the mid-to-late-nineteenth century that a thriving market in İzmir first spurred broader interest in the heritage of Lydia.15 From İzmir, businessmen and diplomats shipped materials to colleagues and other institutions. Private individuals as well as major institutions in Britain and later in the United States played strategic roles in building an international interest in this material. Over the years material ran through various networks before ending up on the auction block, notably at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in Europe and the United States, as well as in private collections in Turkey, the United States, and Europe. Today, demand is global, with increasing interest in the United Arab Emirates.16

Over the last forty years, there has been a steady demand for Lydian (and western Anatolian) material: Decorated architectural tiles from Düver, silver and gold bowls and ladles famous from the Lydian Treasure, and the occasional carved monument are among the most desired items. Given the liminal place of Lydia in antiquity, auction labels for such material vary between Lydian, East Greek, Phrygian, Persian, and Achaemenid. That is, Lydia appeals to multiple collectors, those focused on the Greek past as well as those with interests farther east.17

While the labeling of materials may vary, the plunder of the landscape does not: The entire region of Lydia has been and continues to be subject to massive and intensive plunder. Lured by tales of gold embedded within marble—a geological impossibility—and hoards of gold and silver items associated with Lydian burial assemblages, the earthen mounds of tumuli have always been an obstacle to seekers of stone burial chambers. Riddled with tunnels from Roman to present times, the tumuli have been and continue to be violated. Evidence from the field also indicates that chambers continue to be entered. Yet, as shown by comparing aerial imagery from 1949, 1995, and 2006, the rate of complete destruction of the monuments—the earthen tumuli—reached unprecedented levels in the early 1990s; in fact, the data from the aerial imagery strongly suggest that recent expansion of the highway through Bin Tepe and construction of a canal system for water management appear to have spurred plunder.

Today, most of the once-pristine chambers of Lydian tombs have been looted. The information lost is truly priceless. From a single intact tomb, we could learn what an original grave assemblage looked like, including the range of everyday as well as luxury objects, the interior painting and sculptural décor, and the number of people buried. Detailed residue analyses could tell us the artistic recipes for paints, clays, perfumes, and what foods would have been taken into the afterlife. DNA data could establish the genetic relationships of those buried in a single tomb. Such information from a number of different tombs and contexts throughout the region would have a dramatic impact on reconstructing the lifeways of Lydian communities.

The level of interest in preserving what remains of the chambers and the associated monuments and sites outside of Sardis is still unclear. As recently as 2009, the Lale Tepe tumulus tomb chamber and its exquisite paintings were dramatically vandalized.18 The paintings of other tumulus tomb chambers have long since passed dire conditions. The Central Lydia Archaeological Survey (CLAS) monitors looting systematically each season, revisiting tumuli to track changes in their conditions. The simple conclusion is that destruction continues on an annual basis.

The plunder of Lydia and other areas of Turkey has been the focus of discussions about heritage, yet discussion of Lydian heritage needs to become a more holistic conversation about preservation of the entire region. Lydia, as the historical sources demonstrate, was and is about more than just things people made and used. It is about a specific landscape. Part of this landscape is the ancient conceptual aspect of spiritual birth and renewal imbued in the Gygaean Lake, the Hermus River, the surrounding mountain ranges, and the seasonal snows on Tmolus. The context in which sites are placed informs how the geography served practical as well as spiritual components of life over time in Lydia, from the period of the Bronze Age center at Kaymakçı to the rise of imperial Sardis, its subsequent sack by the Persians and the later rise of Hellenism. More recently, these landscapes hosted the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish War of Independence, the population-exchange programs under the newly formed Turkish Republic, and dramatic changes in village locations during the economic boom of the1970s. Thus, when cultural heritage is plundered and erased, so too are the memories embedded in the monuments. Furthermore, when the landscapes that provided subsistence to the various cultural and ethnic groups who have over time occupied this region are polluted, so too are the historical underpinnings of social identities.

Central Lydia Today: Contemporary Heritage

The region of Salihli, the closest urban center to Sardis, continues to expand in innovative ways, implementing sustainable energy sources as well as organizing working groups focused on how to develop tourism in the region. The demands on the landscape are clear: larger roads, more buildings, expanding agricultural fields, and shifts in crops, all generating business opportunities. As the nexus point for traffic along the Ankara-İzmir highway as well as routes going north towards Bursa and Istanbul, Salihli represents a burgeoning center. Nestled on the outskirts are a number of small villages. Sart is one of them, the contemporary village where Sardis itself is located.

The impact of heritage on the lives of people in this village is clear. Since 1958, the Sardis Expedition has been among the most steady employers; Sardis has also become an increasingly important node on the tourist route, especially day-trips made from İzmir. The new four-star Lidya-Sardes Hotel, perched above the highway on the foothills of Tmolus, demonstrates the importance of Sardis for local business. Similar to Salihli’s Barrak Hotel, the Lidya-Sardes incorporates aspects of Lydian-period material culture in the decoration and naming of the focal points of the hotel. A design based on the Ionic column capital of the Temple of Artemis at Sardis features prominently in the hotel insignia. Conference rooms, restaurants, and public areas are all named after the local natural topography (e.g. the Tmolus Restaurant). The basement of the hotel hosts an artist studio, complete with a growing library of archaeological publications relating to Sardis. The hotel artist draws inspiration from such publications for mosaics, door plaques, and sculpture. Here, too, the work of archaeologists pervades the business atmosphere and provides opportunities for outreach to those staying in the hotel.

In other ways, the heritage of Lydia, especially that of Sardis, is celebrated by communities in Salihli. The emblem of the Salihli Chamber of Commerce features a stylized industrial wheel, columns from the Temple of Artemis, and a Lydian coin; grapes, cotton, and a tobacco leaf ring the exterior. The Salihli Municipality emblem incorporates similar icons, including the Temple column, grapes, and water. In addition, the image of the Sardis Bath-Gymnasium (itself a major reconstruction project of the 1960s) stands as a central icon throughout Salihli: It is featured as the backdrop during regional municipality meetings; it is the central image on a new postage stamp with two Lydian coins framing the upper title; and it is centrally placed in many restaurants and hotels.

In the publications of the Salihli Chamber of Commerce, the natural and cultural assets of the region are presented as part of regional identity. This identity includes Sardis, the prehistoric footprints from above the Demirköprü dam, the Church of St. Jean in Alaşehir, and the historical houses of Kula. In addition, these cultural assets are set within their natural landscapes: the Cappadocia-style fairy towers of Kula and the Koprubaşı Lake. In central Lydia, focus rests on the Gygaean Lake, Bin Tepe (referred to as the pyramids of Anatolia), and organic agricultural initiatives in Tekelioğlu, a village on the southern shore of the lake. In fact, one of the organic olive producers has capitalized on the Lydian past in its name—Alyattes Organic Olives—as well as in its insignia, a Lydian electrum coin. The company’s advertizing includes reference to the great rulers of Lydia—Alyattes and Gyges—as well as to their imperial domains rich with olives:

Our establishment is on the shores of the ancient Gygaean, modern Marmara, Lake, 5 km north of the ancient city of Sardis, capital of the Lydian Kingdom (9–4th c. BC). Our organic olive orchards stretch between the monumental graves of the Lydian Kings Alyattes (69 m) and Gyges (51 m).

We got our brand name from Alyattes, who was father of Croesus, known as the richest man in history, reigning 619–560 BC. Alyattes was the real entrepreneur in the Lydian Kingdom. The reason for this is his kingdom expanded far beyond today’s Aegean Region, it encompassed the largest olive orchards of the time, and it contained gold brought by the Pactolus River from the Tmolus Mountains.

On the other hand, Alyattes, who kept control of the ancient world trade with grains, olives, and olive oil production, handed down to his son Croesus his great wealth, coming from gold mines and conquests.

Now, our endeavor in these fertile soils is to grow the most beautiful olives of our country in the most natural organic way for your appreciation.

In addition to the local Alyattes Organic Olives, Rapunzel Naturkost, a German company, has a new ecological focus on Tekelioğlu. Their village project seeks to integrate organic-farming initiatives with sustainable development. In addition, the various thermal spas, the mountain resort of Gölcük, and the Adala Canyon feature prominently as heritage aspects of the Salihli region. Set within these cultural and natural elements is the agricultural production of wine, grapes, tomatoes, cherries, and cotton, as well as regional food specialties such as Salihli Odün Kofte.

Heritage Management in Lydia

Lydia has a long history of special heritage, and more is created each day. The ancient histories that guided early explorers to Lydia recall the glory of imperial Sardis and hint at the possibility of earlier populations, perhaps those currently being investigated in central Lydia. These texts document the activities of the people who once lived in the area and the integral role of the natural landscapes in their daily lives. These landscapes and scholarly interpretations of the past inform the present. In the last fifty years, development has gone unchecked in many areas, allowing the rivers and streams celebrated in the historical texts to be polluted and/or choked. New regulations and initiatives promise to protect this area. The power of the conservation movement to protect natural landscapes can be great; Turkey is a signatory to the European Landscape Convention, a promising document that sees living landscapes holistically, incorporating natural and cultural heritage.

Under the European Landscape Convention, landscape preservation focuses on building networks to integrate local populations. Communities—urban and rural—are part of the planning process, along with appropriate ministries and municipalities that seek to balance preservation with the needs of the present. For Lydia, a management plan with attainable goals would be one place to begin. Of key importance will be understanding local perceptions of landscapes, specifically the different ways of defining and valuing aesthetic perceptions.19 Western-oriented policies emphasize preservation of aesthetic views. For central Lydia, this would include the patchwork landscapes of Bin Tepe: diversity of agricultural crop rotation (including fallow fields); small villages; and annual and natural rhythms of the Hermus River and the Gygaean Lake. In addition, sensory aspects need to be considered: the wind as it blows the olive leaves, rolls over the wheat fields, and skates the surface of the lake.

The result of a collaborative initiative would be increased knowledge for all parties, great potential for integration of a variety of tourism projects, and, hopefully, a focus on broad-based heritage preservation that sees multiple pasts—Prehistoric, Lydian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and the Turkish War of Independence—and the present. Local communities, especially local villages near archaeological zones, would partake in the planning process. In this way, heritage would become the focus of dialogue rather than a conversational stalemate that only perpetuates the plunder and destruction of the past. As Turkey moves towards closer integration with the European Union, heritage will play an increasingly prominent role in building social cohesion, promoting a multi-vocal past that will compliment that of the EU. Western Turkey may be critical in this debate, with Lydia as a key part of the dialogue.