x0x The golden city Sardis
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x0x The golden city Sardis
By FUSUN AKAY
Sardis, where the first coin in the world was
struck, takes visitors on a journey back in time
through the ruins of numerous ancient
When I reached the center of this city renowned
for its trade, the first thing that struck my eye
was a gargantuan structure about 100 meters long.
In order to reach it, I first had to pass a row of
shops, some rectangular, others square in shape.
The first one is the most colorful of the
workplaces here, the shop of the paint dealer
Yakub, universally loved and respected by the
townspeople. Cans of paint in every color of the
rainbow from green and blue to red and pink line
the shelves along the wall. Yakub advises
customers who are going to paint their houses:
"This shade will make your house too dark," he
says, "take one a couple of shades lighter." Next
to the paint shop is a scribe's office. There's a
bustling crowd here, where documents and
correspondence of every variety are being written
up. A man who wants to sell his house is having a
sales contract drawn up; somebody else is having a
letter composed to his son who is far from home.
In sharp contrast with the crowd in the office,
the hardware merchant next door has no business at
all. Obviously there is little demand for
construction materials these days, and the
proprietor is rolling dice with his apprentice to
while away the time.
SARDIS'S GOLDEN AGE
We're in the ancient city of Sardis, 72 kilometers
south of Izmir in Salihli township of Manisa
province. And the shops we just described are from
the Late Roman period. But the city's history
dates back much earlier than this to the 7th
century B.C. Sardis, for centuries the capital
city of the Lydian League, which put the first
coins into circulation, came under the hegemony of
several different states from the time of the
Lydians up to the 14th century. These lands saw
not only the Persians and the Hellenistic Greeks
but also the Pergamenes, the Romans and the
Byzantines. So this ancient city affords visitors
an opportunity to journey back in time.
The road that begins directly opposite the shops
is the Roman Way, a thoroughfare dating back to
the 4th century A.D. and a short segment of the
roads that were built one after the other in
stages to provide transit between East and West.
At 18.5 meters in width, it is twice as wide as
today's modern highway. In its time, this avenue
was paved with blocks of marble set with
polychrome mosaics. Let us not forget to mention
that it was also the beginning of the famous
2500-km-long Royal Way which extended as far as
Susa in Iran and was built by the Lydians to
foster Sardis' East-West trade.
Sardis experienced a century-long 'golden age'
under the Lydians. Its rise during the Lydian
period when it was ruled by three different
dynasties commenced with King Gyges at the end of
the 7th century B.C.
But its most famous king was Croesus, also known
as Karun, the first person in world history to
strike coins of both gold and silver.While we're
on the subject of the fabulously wealthy, I should
point out that this king is also the origin of the
expression 'as rich as Croesus'.
This ruler, whose wealth remains the subject of
legend to this very day, owed the major portion of
his treasury to the river Pactolus (Sart) which
originates on Mt. Tmolus and in those days was
filled with particles of gold. During the reign of
Croesus, local workshops began extracting the gold
carried by the river's alluvial sands, and the
world's first coined money soon appeared in the
shape of a bean.
The gold workshops along the road leading to the
Temple of Artemis, which we will visit shortly,
did not of course only coin money.
Valuable jewelry in the form of gold rings,
earrings and bracelets as well as silver bowls,
ladles and spoons were also created by its highly
skilled artisans. Some of these priceless items
are on exhibit today in the Manisa Museum.
AN AMERICAN IN THE GYMNASIUM
Following the road we proceed to the synagogue,
accompanied by two fellow-travelers. A pair of
tortoises! As if to mock their slow pace, time now
flows swiftly backwards. The calendar shows the
3rd century A.D. The pavements are decorated with
The only sound audible is the voice of the chief
rabbi, preaching to a packed congregation. The
people are hushed, hanging on his every word.
Immediately next to the synagogue is the structure
we noticed upon entering Sardis, the 'gymnasium',
built in the time of the Romans.
Someone is standing in its marble-paved courtyard,
but he doesn't look anything like a Roman! We
introduce ourselves. He is none other than
Crawford H. Greenewalt, American archaeologist and
director of the excavations under way at Sardis
today. Greenewalt, who teaches archaeology and art
history at the University of California, first
came to Sardis in 1959. "As soon as I got my Ph.D.
from Harvard, I came to Sardis... as a
photographer. I've been spending two or three
months a year here ever since, because I fell in
love with Sardis.
It's a stunning site from the standpoint of
nature. A myriad of cultures also lived here in
harmony over the centuries. The culture I'm most
interested in is that of the Lydian civilization,
though we come across more Late Roman and
Byzantine remains in our excavations.
Our research is ongoing." Greenewalt,
who says that great banquets in honor of the Roman
emperors were once held in the gymnasium, explains
that the broad green area in front of the building
was a training ground for athletes in antiquity.
Immediately behind the gymnasium meanwhile are the
hot and cold water pools.
STILL MAGNIFICENT AFTER ALL THOSE YEARS
Sardis is not limited to the 23,000 square meter
area we've just toured. But the entire area
covered by the ancient city has not yet been
precisely determined. "For the time being the
boundaries of Sardis extend for 1 km east-west and
1 km north-south. If we could find the cemetery,
we could get a better idea about the size of the
city," says Greenewalt. Explaining that they have
now identified a theater and a stadium in the area
east of the city center between the highway and
the Temple of Artemis but have not yet excavated
them, the archaeologist invites us to the Temple,
one kilometer to the east.
Crossing the Sart, whose alluvia still contains
gold, we head straight for the temple. The sun is
directly overhead, but a cool refreshing breeze
helps to relieve its blistering heat.An aged man
on a slow-moving tractor is probably heading for
And the elderly woman bearing savory pastries is
perhaps invited to her neighbors' for five o'clock
tea. One of Sardis' most important monuments, the
Temple of Artemis was built during the
Hellenization of the city in the 3rd century B.C.
The temple, which was built on the site of an
altar with steps, thought to have been dedicated
to Cybele and to have stood here since the 5th
century B.C., underwent continuous restoration and
use in the Roman period. Today only two of its
columns are standing. The others, succumbing to
the weariness of the centuries, lie horizontal,
only half exposed to the light of day... But the
Temple of Artemis is still so magnificent as to
cast a spell over all who behold it. Meanwhile, in
the southeast sector of the temple the ruins of a
church with a double apse, built in the time of
the Roman Emperor Constantine, have been
Many more monuments lie buried in the depths of
Sardis. "Actually the earth is a good preserver of
monuments," says Greenewalt. "But it's our job to
bring them up." As he also points out, these
monuments need to be carefully protected and
preserved. When the Persian king Cyrus captured
the Lydian king Croesus and his city, he declared
gleefully, "Look, Croesus, I'm burning your city
to the ground!" And Croesus answered the great
king as follows: "It used to be my city, it's
yours now. It's your own city you are destroying!"