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The summer excavations at the ancient Lycian city of Rhodiapolis

ANTALYA - Turkish Daily News | 10/4/2008 12:00:00 AM | T. Mikail P. Duggan

The city of Rhodiapolis, an ancient Lycian city settlement, was scientifically excavated for the third successive summer season this year and this antique site has over these past three years been transformed through the excavation and restoration work carried out

Rhodiapolis is the name of an ancient Lycian city settlement on a hilltop directly to the west of the modern town of Kumluca which is roughly 90 km. west of the city of Antalya. A well signposted road leads for 5 km. from the town center of Kumluca, past a succession of citrus orchards, irrigation canals, farm houses and plastic and glass greenhouses on the fertile alluvial plain and then along an un-surfaced road that climbs into a wooded valley leading to the site. The ancient city overlooks the modern town of Kumluca on the alluvial plain below and you can see from the site far out across the plain that is bordered by the Beydağ Mountains to the silver Mediterranean Sea and the peninsular and islands of Cape Gelidonya.

The transformation of Rhodiapolis

The city of Rhodiapolis was scientifically excavated for the third successive summer season this year and this antique site has over these past three years been transformed through the excavation and restoration work carried out under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Nevzat Çevik, head of the archaeology department of Akdeniz University with the permission granted by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, by teams of archaeologists, restorers and students, the majority from the archaeology department of Akdeniz University, Antalya.

Rhodiapolis has been changed from the bare, tree denuded landscape it was after the forest fire of 2000, when the site was marked by the burnt stumps of felled pine trees and pockmarked with the waste heaps and pits dug beside and inside the ruins of antiquity during the course of years of illegal excavations; it was a time when the fine public buildings of the city remained to a large extent buried beneath great quantities of rubble stone. During these past three summers of excavations many of the public buildings of this small city have been carefully excavated, dug out from the debris, earth and huge quantities of rubble stone that had buried them from view. Rhodiapolis is an antique site that is now worth visiting on a yearly basis, to see these almost magical changes.

Entirely unknown buildings and important and remarkable structures have been appearing each year from beneath literally hundreds of tons of earth and rubble stone, the deposition of the centuries and the consequence of the location of this site on a hilltop where building rubble and other debris has slid down from the acropolis and from the upper levels of the site down the slope, debris in part caused by past seismic damage to the buildings of the city that was constructed to a considerable extent from slabs of rubble and mortar, the rubble stone slabs quarried from the north slope of the hill upon which the city was erected. For example, from beneath tons of rubble debris that had slid down from the acropolis into the theater and filled it more than half full, the orchestra, the stage building and the lower rows of seats have all once again been exposed to public view, for the first time in more than 1000 years, along with the remains of the stoa that was erected adjacent to the west parados of the theater. The remains of the circular Byzantine lime kilns exposed in both this stoa and in the agora excavations, kilns where marble was burnt to produce lime, together with the early Christian hostility to pagan sculpture, they smashed it up, means that no intact marble statues only defaced and damaged parts have been recovered. The largest marble statue to come from Rhodiapolis was brought to the Antalya Museum in 1971 and today stands, an over life size draped female figure of Fortuna, on the exterior-left of the Museum's main entrance, by the over life sized statue of the Emperor Hadrian found at Perge.

Likewise lying beneath a mound of stone blocks and rubble in front of the stage building of the theater at the start of the 2006 campaign there was the body of the monument carrying an extensive inscription on its exterior walls that was raised in part to record the generosity of the Lyciarch, the elected ruler of Lycia, Opramaos, following the major earthquake of 141 A.D. that destroyed many public buildings throughout Lycia including theaters. Through Opramaos's generosity many quake damaged and destroyed public structures were rebuilt or restored in the period following this great natural disaster. This monument has now reappeared from under the ground displaying evidence of all its architectural and sculptural refinement and the pediment that once crowned its temple-in-antis form has been recovered and lies reconstructed and almost intact in front of Opramaos's monument above the agora, awaiting the time when the entire monument with its restored inscribed blocks can be restored to all its former splendor.

Between the east parados of the theater, where a theater seat of a dignitary that replicated in finely carved stone its wooden original with all its fittings was found in excavations this year, and the monument of Opramaos to its west, there was a year ago just a mound of dusty earth and scattered stones that had been cleared in part of a thick covering of rubble stone. During this summer's excavations it was found that lying beneath this mound was the meeting hall of the city, with the southwards facing seats for the participants in a series of semicircular tiers arranged as in the theater. Similarly, lying to the west of the agora the entire carved stone block base of a circular in plan Roman temple, together with parts of its carved stone columns, capitals and architrave has been recovered, the form of this building has reappeared to human view during the course of the 2008 excavation campaign after the passage of centuries lying buried beneath layers of soil and rubble stone, while the wall of the adjacent Roman library can now be seen.

2,400 years of habitation?

The find of a Beylik period coin dating from the first half of the 14th century in the 2008 excavation campaign at the splendid acropolis basilica, the Byzantine part of the Rhodiapolis excavations conducted by a team from Istanbul University led by Assoc. Prof. Dr. E. Akyürek, suggest that the relatively small city of Rhodiapolis may have been inhabited from the 8th century B.C., a date provided by painted ceramic finds from by the bath house, possibly into the 14th century A.D., a city inhabited over the passage of roughly 2400 years.

Doubtless the size of the population inhabiting the city varied during this long period of time, not least as a consequence of the plague pandemic, often called the plague of Justinian from the name of the Emperor who ruled from 527-565 A.D., that lasted for roughly 200 years from 542 A.D. into the mid 8th century and which reduced settled populations in Anatolia, as elsewhere, including parts of Europe, by a factor of between 40 and 60 percent. A further factor in limiting population growth was a consequence of the extensive area of swamp and marshland that stretched out from the foot of the hill upon which the city stands, which, until it was drained and turned into agricultural land during the first half of the 20th century, was a major breeding ground for mosquitoes, the vector for the malaria that was endemic to the human population inhabiting this entire region from prehistoric times onwards. As late as 1937, one in three of the entire population of the province of Antalya, roughly 80,000 people had malaria and one in six of the population of the province 40,000 people had chronic malaria, including many with cases of swollen spleen often leading to cancer. There was also population loss in consequence of the major seismic disturbances that have struck this area roughly once every century over the past thousands of years. The physical evidence for this is recorded on buildings and structures at Rhodiapolis as elsewhere. For example, if you look carefully at the stone blocks that form the north retaining wall of the agora with its late Roman-Early Byzantine mosaic floor, a large area of which was restored in the 2008 campaign, lying on a level area below the theater and the monument to Opromaos, you will notice several different types of stone block construction have been employed for different areas of this long and high wall, including the original polygonal masonry, in addition to one area of this retaining wall originally faced with stone blocks that has entirely collapsed. These observations indicating that this wall has undergone several separate and substantial restorations, a consequence of repeated seismic activity during the period when the agora functioned where this wall formed the rear wall of the two storey stoa, and this wall provides evidence of at least one subsequent major seismic event which caused the collapse of part of the stone block retaining wall that that was not in its turn repaired because the agora had by that time been abandoned. Likewise other excavated building at Rhodiapolis carry clear indications of earthquake damage including large cracks, buckled stone floors, collapsed walls and the upper corners of buildings constructed of rubble stone and mortar sheered off at an angle characteristic of seismic damage.

The more one visits over the course of time ancient sites such as Rhodiapolis and develops some feel for a place, almost subconsciously through walking over it at different times of day, the more one realizes the care that was taken in the location of these ancient settlements often commanding spectacular views over parts of the surrounding landscape. As also the care that was taken in the positioning of their buildings, built with a great deal of effort by hand, often built from and upon rock or upon an artificially constructed terrace or a barrel vaulted support, due to both the nature of the terrain and to reduce the impact of seismic events; and of the relationship of these buildings to the ancient paths and streets leading out into the landscape.

There is much for the visitor with a little time to spare, to see and to think about at Rhodiapolis, as at other antique sites, as there are not only the ruins, the excavated buildings, the rubble, the musing, wondering, theories and informed speculation that seeing the physical remains of past civilizations frequently provoke. There are also the multitude of living creatures, the plants and the wild life that have their home in and around this ancient site or pass over it with flickering wings and there are also the views, at Rhodiapolis out to the sky and the mountains that border three sides of the plain below and the pale sheen of the distant sea.

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T. Mikail P. Duggan is an art historian. 

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