AIZANOI, TURKEY

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ARTICLE FROM SKYLIFE MAGAZINE, 11/2001, pp. 6-16

SACRED CITY OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE
By Nermin Baiçin, archaeologist

In the centre of the flat plains on a high plateau in western Turkey stands a temple. Few visitors find their way here except those drawn by the knowledge that no other temple in Anatolia is in such a remarkable state of preservation. Another fascinating feature of the temple is the inscriptions on the walls which tell the buildg'si story. In one of these inscriptions it writes, '(I) Avidius Quietus, greet the senators, city councillors and the citizens of Aizanoi. Contention lasting many years over the holy lands dedicated so along ago to Zeus was finally brought to an end by the authoritative judgment of his majesty the Emperor...' The temple stands in Aizanoi, once a city of the Roman province of Asia Minor, in the former land of Phrygia. It lies near the town of Çavdarhisar, 57 kilometres from Kütahya. At that time Quietus was the provincial governor, and the emperor of whom he speaks was Hadrian (117-138), a man with a deep admiration for Hellenic culture. Although Hadrian never visited Aizanoi, he held this holy city in special regard. Aizanoi began life as a modest provincial town, and became increasingly wealthy from its exports of grain, wool and wine. The time had come for it to trumpet its fortunes, and it was decided to begin by building a temple dedicated to Zeus.However, a long-standing dispute over ownership of the land earmarked for the site presented a serious obstruction. The boundaries of the temple lands were unclear, and those who worked them refused to pay the rents or taxes to which they were subject. Hadrian settled the dispute, and copies of the letters which were of such significance for the city were later inscribed on the temple walls.As befitted a structure dedicated to Zeus, god of gods, and in accordance with Hadrian's penchant for Hellenic art and architecture, the temple was constructed of marble, and in a style incorporating many features of the Graeco-Anatolian architecture, lending it a Roman neo-classical character. Furthermore it was built upon a barrel vaulted substructure. For what purpose this area, with its impressive and mystic atmosphere, was used is an interesting question. According to some researchers, this substructure, which is a feature occurring only rarely in Anatolian temples was devoted to the cult of Meter Steunene, goddess of rocks and mountains. Meter is another name for the Anatolian mother goddess Cybele, the epithet Steunene referring to the sacred cave where she was worshipped. Finds in a cave two kilometres from Aizanoi show that this goddess was worshipped in the area, tending to confirm this theory. The temple stands on a high podium on the west bank of the Kocaçay, which flows through the city. Only the priests of the temple were admitted into the walled temple itself. A huge statue of Zeus, of which no trace has been found, once stood in the cella, or principal chamber, and would have been erected there before the doorway was built, on account of its size. The massive columns carved from single pieces of stone, each approximately 9 metres in height and weighing 10-12 tons would have been carried from a great distance on runners drawn by oxen. After the plinths were set in place the columns were heaved into position. Then scaffolding was erected so that stonemasons could carve the flutes which lent the columns a more graceful appearance. 

The composite capitals, combining the Ionic and Corinthian styles of Roman architecture were fixed to the summit with iron clamps. Once the 48 columns had been completed, the stone sections of the architrave, each 5 metres in length were set over them. Such long single-piece sections had never been used before. The pitched roof was then constructed, and decorative finials known as acroterium placed on the pediments and and along the sides of the roof. The imposing acroterium in the form of a female bust which originally crowned the summit of the west pediment is now displayed on the ground in front of the temple, but, but which goddess it represents remains a mystery. The architect of the Temple of Zeus probably went to the gymnasium at the end of a tiring day's work, to participate in the sports himself or watch the young athletes training. Then he may have relaxed at the baths, before going to watch an oil wrestling contest at the palaestra. On his way to the meat market, notorious for its quarrels, on the other side of the river, he would have passed the combined theatre and stadium of Aizanoi, a unique structure found in no other ancient city, and cast yet another appreciative glance at it with an architt'st professional eye.

On the walls of the round building thought to be the meat market is engraved a copy of Diocletian's edict laying down maximum wages and prices in an endeavour to combat inflation. The edict lists the prices of a myriad of products, from the sponges used to make eye lotions, diverse foodstuffs and minerals, to shipping costs and slaves. The 2nd and 3rd centuries were the high point of Aizanoi's prosperity. The emperor had favoured the city by declaring it the official centre of the cult of Zeus, and on this sacral authority it was here that the highest ranking priest of Asia Minor was appointed.

Subsequently the temple was used for Christian worship, and in the 13th century the Çavdar Tartars decorated the walls with hunting and battle scenes.