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Archaeological Sites Around Antalya, Day I

Since moving to Turkey, I’ve taken several trips with an organization that supports Archaeological research in Turkey, Friends of American Research in Turkey (FARIT). These trips are especially enlightening because an archaeologist comes along as the tour guide, and along with the history of the sites that we visit we are entertained with stories of the struggles and intrigue of the archaeological community, as well as anecdotes about the civilization behind whatever ruin we happen to be viewing. I have yet to meet an archaeologist who doesn’t like to talk, or who is short on stories to share. My favorite from the weekend was an explanation of the entomology of the word fornication. Roman arches were called fornix, and ladies could be found working there at night. They were, simply due to location, fornicators, and their work, fornication.
In February we did a trip to Antalya, on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. We stayed on the old city, or Kaleici (inside the castle) and journeyed each day to explore the Greek and Roman ruins in the area.

A typical boat anchored in Side's harbor

A typical boat anchored in Side’s harbor

Our first stop was Side, one of the original port towns on the coast. It has two harbors, which made it ideal for cargo operations no matter which way the wind was blowing. Now it’s an ideal spot for tourists.

Everybody enjoys a walk on the jetty

Everybody enjoys a walk on the jetty

Side was originally known in Hellenistic times as Pamphylia, or the land of many tribes. The town’s name has two meanings: one, pomegranate, and the other is of a goddess who was a wife of Orion but was sent to the underworld by Zeus and subsisted on pomegranates. Ruins date back to the 7th century B.C., at the end of the Bronze Age. The town was surrendered to Alexander the Great in 334 B.C. – yeah, that guy got around! Like many settlements of its kind, Side was abandoned over the 7th century A.D. as a result of Arab attacks.

Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus

Today Side is a mix of ruins and a tourist economy. Restaurants and shops are right in the middle of crumbling temples and ancient walls.

The most important, and well-preserved part of the Side ruins is the theater. The first archaeological lesson that we learned is the difference between Greek and Roman theaters. Greek theater was all about the chorus, so theaters were usually perfect circles designed so that all seats could hear the singers. Roman theater was more visual and generally used a stage, so you see more of a D-shape and a pronounced stage. The theater in Side applies a combination of the designs, with an original Greek shape but with lots of Roman modifications, including an enhanced stage and signs that a soundboard was used to reflect the actors’ voices to the audience. Later additions to allow for gladiator shows are evident, mostly by a stone wall around the lowest seats. I thought it was to keep the lions and whatnot from attacking the audience, but apparently its main purpose was to keep the gladiators themselves from escaping! I haven’t written about it yet, and will save the details for my report on Rome, but if you want to learn more about gladiators and their shows, the audio guide at the Coliseum explains it wonderfully.

Have you ever wondered why there are so many fountains and baths and other waterworks in Roman civilizations? If you remember nothing else about Roman civ, you probably remember that Romans greatest contribution to the world was engineering, and especially the aqueducts. The thing about bringing a flow of fresh water to your sites around the globe, however, is that you can’t turn it off. So many water features we consider great art today, like the Fountains that grace every Roman city, were actually engineered as water sinks – you’ve got to put it somewhere!
Sometimes Romans had to improvise on their standard aqueduct design. Generally they used natural springs in the mountains and the force provided by height to deliver water to cities located at a distance from the source. As in the example shown below however, the Romans had to build the height with an aqueduct to provide the head to force the water to flow.

Our next stop was Aspendos, another theater from the days of Panphylia. It’s under renovation, and probably will be forever since the city uses the theater for rock concerts and other civic events with huge amplifiers and noise vibrations that the theater was not designed to handle. It’s considered the best-preserved Roman theater in Anatolia. It was built under Marcus Aurelius in the mid 100s, after Aspendos, as part of Pergamon, fell to Rome. In the 11th century it was renovated by a Selcuk and served as a castle, and then used in the 14th century as a caravansary. In the 20th century Aspendos was one of the first archaeological renovations sponsored by Ataturk, who usually favored working on Hittite sites.

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Today you can see the statue ledges of the ornate stage and most of the original shape of the theater. Lines from the soundboard are deeply etched onto the upper sides of the stage structure.  Also, ancient theater guests had better accommodations than the tourists who visit the sites today. Sailors operated huge shade rigs, usually constructed of sail materials, over the entire audience!


Our next stop was Perge, another ancient Greco-Roman city, with findings dating as early as the 5th millennium B.C. and was ruled by everybody and his brother.  Today most of the ruins are from the Roman period.

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We got there so late that the gate guard actually started chasing us off the site. During the run out, we saw the remains of the stadium, one of few in Anatolia, and the agora, the main shopping area.

The most interesting part for me was the old city defensive towers that was later turned into a city gate honoring one of the richest families, complete with statues, inscriptions, and fountains.

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