Today, Monday, we were still in Turkey but in the port of Izmir. It turned out to be a really good day as we went on an excursion to the old city of Sardis and to the Temple of Artemis.

View of Izmir from our balcony

Izmir, a city on the west coast of Turkey, has an interesting history. It was originally known by the Greek name of Smyrna, the Greek word for myrhh. Smyrna was the 2nd of the seven churches mentioned in the Biblical Book of Revelation. Not much is known of the city prior to the last millenium BC but it is believed to be at least 5000 years old. It was re-founded by Alexander the Great in 209BC and once again became a city of vitality and activity. It soon emerged as one of the principal cities of Asia Minor (Anatolia) and was later the centre of a civil diocese in the Roman province of Asia, vying with Ephesus and Pergamum for the title “first city of Asia.” It was in 1930 when the name of the city of Smyrna was changed to the Turkish name, Ifzmir formally.  (There is so much more interesting history of Smyrna/Izmir so I encourage you to click on the 2 links.)

To get to the ruins of Sardis we travelled for 1¼ hours by bus from Izmir and we were very grateful for its air-conditioning as it was a very hot day. As we drove, our excellent guide for the day gave us commentary on the history of Sardis and the Temple of Artemis.

Sardis is known as Sardeis in Greek and Sart in Turkish. This has been the name of the settlement for at least 3 000 years. The settlement flourished most prolifically between the 7th century BC and the 7th century AD. It was very well situated with large areas of fertile land, plenty of water and even some alluvial gold which brought great wealth to the Lydian people who lived there. The Church in Lydia was one of the 7 which were mentioned in the Biblical Book of Revelation. This is the church which told to wake up and get their house in order. Well, if they did nothing else, all the peoples who had lived in Sardis over the centuries, did lots of building. The Lydian people became the wealthiest in the Anatolia region and appointed a number of powerful kings, including Croesus. We have all heard the saying, “As rich as Croesus.” The burial mounds which we could see from the highway, when returning to Izmir, are testimonials to their wealth.

In 547BC Anatolia was conquered by Persia and Sardis became the seat of a governor or satrap and an important administrative centre for Anatolia. Alexander the Great conquered Anatolia in 333BC and Sardis became strongly Greek in nature and a Greco-Roman metropolis. Its final phase as a major metropolis from 1st – 4th centuries AD and most of the ruins which have been excavated date from that era. The city was buried following an earthquake in 17AD.

Our bus stopped near the excavated Roman ruins of Sardis which were extremely interesting. They comprised parts of the town, a synagogue and a Gymnasium. To get to the actual excavations we walked along a part of an original Roman road. We learnt that it was built the width of the wheels on the chariots and from that all railway lines around the world are built the same width. On the one side was a row of columns which would have lined the full length of the road. On the opposite side was a row of shops and restaurants which were very small. Between these were water pipes used to pump hot water as heating for the shops. Making it all look quite attractive were dozens of wild poppies.

Columns along the road
A restaurant
This shop had 2 basins with crosses on and so it was probably owned by Christians
A water pipe at the rear of a shop

We turned up a small side road to enter the Synagogue much of which had been beautifully restored. As some of the restoration was mosaics on the floors so we had to walk on carpeting so as not to damage any of them. The forecourt was very large and colonnaded. It was covered with painted plaster and decorated with marble. In the centre was a fountain for worshippers to wash their hands before worshipping.

The side road

Basin fountain in Temple for washing. Also visible are some of the floor mosaics and the mats on which we had to walk.

Beyond this was the assembly hall which was large enough for over 1 000 people. At the far end was Sanctuary with a large altar. On either side of the altar were statues of lions and a very busty woman representing the Goddess of Fertility, Aphrodite. These were symbolic of the willingness of the Jewish community to acknowledge the beliefs of the people with whom they lived.

Assembly Hall and Sanctuary with altar. The opening in the wall on the right was where the Torah was kept. The white statue of the lions can just be seen between the mat and the altar.

Marble wall tiles and mosaics

We left the Synagogue and went around to the rebuilt Academic and Sporting Gymnasium for boys. It was a beautiful building with beautiful carvings and painting of columns. Behind the Gymnasium was a Roman bath and change rooms. The bath is very long because it was divided into 4 parts with water of differing temperatures. When men bathed, they first entered into cold water and then moved through the different sections with gradually warming water with the last one very hot. They then had their bodies massaged with oil and then repeated the bathing in the opposite direction.

The rebuilt Gymnasium

Detail on columns of Gymnasium
Roman Bath with change rooms

We left the Sardis excavations and walked down the road to the Temple of Artemis which was the fourth largest Temple in the ancient world. It was built by King Croesus, being completed in about 300BC. It, too, was destroyed in the earthquake of 17AD. Most of what remains today dates from the Roman renovation in the second century. Only two complete columns and a few partial ones still stand, but the temple remains an impressive site.

Columns of the Temple

The crane used for excavations in the 1970s
Some excavations

There was a small brick building located near one corner of the Temple which is known as ‘Church M’. The structure was probably set up in the later 4th century and was used by local residents as a place of Christian worship until the early 7th century. A massive medieval landslide that buried the east end of the Temple accounts for the exceptional preservation of Church M, which was discovered in 1911.

Church ‘M’

We left there at about 14:00 for the long ride back to the ship and it was on this return trip we saw the burial mounds about which we had heard. It was a truly inspiring experience.

Burial mounds in the distance

Antiques for sale