Magnificent Architecture: Aspendos

Magnificent Architecture: Aspendos

The emperor decides to have his beautiful daughter wed; however, it would be so hard to choose among the numerous candidates, so he makes a decision and announces that he will have his daughter marry the man who builds the most useful masterpiece for the town.

All artists of the town work day and night. After going through each of the works carefully, the emperor concentrates on two works. One of them is a theater and the other one is the aqueducts that carry water to the town. The emperor examines the aqueducts and thinks that the maker of this work deserves his daughter’s hand in marriage because it meets an important demand of the town. The beautiful daughter with an artistic spirit begs her father to see the theater, too. Father and daughter go to see the theater. They go up to where the vaulted galleries are and start arguing and trying to convince each other while also pacing up and down the galleries. At this moment, the architect comes to the theater unaware the presence of the emperor and his daughter in the theater. He starts talking to himself. Suddenly the emperor and the daughter hear what he says: “Emperor’s daughter must be mine… Emperor’s daughter must be mine…” The emperor thinks that if this man could achieve the acoustic in the theater this perfect, he can undertake any task. He has his daughter marry him, Zenon the Architect. They wed in the theater. However, according to the legend, this is the sad part of it, the architect of the aqueducts Tiberius Claudius Italicus takes his own life by jumping down from the tower top of the aqueducts he built.

You haven’t seen such a thing before

There are many legends about many extraordinary works in history; however, it would be useful to mention that the legend of the Aspendos theater is among the most impressive ones. The following is the words of D.G. Hogarth, a British scientist and archaeologist who had lived during the end of the 19th century, for the Aspendos theater, which is among the best preserved Roman theaters in the world: “You might have seen amphitheaters in Italy, France, Dalmatia, and Africa, temples in Egypt and Greece, and palaces in Crete. You might have been satisfied with  survived ruins from the ancient age until today or you might have never liked them. But you haven’t seen the ancient theater in Aspendos, yet.”

Legendary acoustic

The inscription on the bracket placed on the south wall of the theater building that was built in the reign of the Roman Empire Marcus Aurelius (161-180) in the 2nd century AD, points to Zenon, the son of Theodoros, as the architect of the structure. This work, which was dedicated to the gods and emperors of the time, is among the world’s rare structures where the caveas and the building itself were constructed as a whole and it mesmerizes visitors even today. The arches that consist of 59 barrel vaults are among the most impressive sections of the theater. One other is the stage that still stands. The highest point of it is at the same height with the theater’s vaults. The stage had been completely made of marble and it had been decorated with embossments and statues.

Due to the perfect acoustic, even the guests who sit at the top caveas can hear everything the actors say. The names inscribed on the caveas belonged to the prominent residences of the city. The inscriptions located on both sides of the entrance that we can still see today belongs to the two siblings who sponsored for the building of the theater and dedicated the theater to their gods and the emperor family. The still visible red zig-zag motives are from the days when the theater was used as a caravanserai in the Seljuk reign. Thanks to Atatürk, who had given the order to restore the theater after his visit here in 1930, the theater is still standing and hosting important artistic events such as concerts.

Findings in the excavations

The most brilliant period of Aspendos is the time of Roman support. With the collapse of Rome, Aspendos also shrinks and the city walls are built to protect the structure from external attacks. In the Byzantine period, Aspendos lost its former glory and became a military base of Byzantium. Repeatedly invaded by the Arabs. However, it becomes an important base again in the Seljuk period. It lost its importance in the Ottoman period and was completely abandoned in the 18th century. After 1923, with the hope of revival, it was reconsidered an important excavation site in the Republic of Turkey. Found in the Roman Basilica of the ancient city there is a marble statue thought to belong the god of music, fine arts, the sun, fire and poetry, the prophetic god in Greek mythology; Apollon, two-thousand-year-old shops thought to be used for sale or storage of valuable materials, some even might have been used as an office and the eighteen-hundred-year-old inscription are among the findings in recent years.

Way beyond time  

Another aspect of Aspendos that attracts the attention of scientists is its aqueducts. The aqueducts are extremely well preserved, with two siphons that are still standing and regulating the flow of water. In the Roman period, bringing water to cities was one of the most important works. The transport of water with normal atmospheric pressure on the arches was a common thing in Roman cities. Nowadays it is possible to see the remains of these arches, especially in European cities. However, the carrying of water with the technical features of Aspendos Aqueducts is more perfect than most aqueducts in its time. Before the aqueducts were built, water from the wells in the flatland and from the cisterns in the Acropolis was used. However, with these aqueducts built in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, continuous water supply was obtained from the water resources in the Acropolis. The technique used was the compound container theory, which was later invented. Three towers with a 30-meter-high ramp and atmospheric pressure were used to depress the water, and it traveled between these towers with the pipes located over the 880-meter-long aqueducts. This way the water was carried to the city which is 3 km away. In the light of all these engineering details, historians and scientists meet on the common ground of the theater and aqueducts as structures far ahead of their time, while today’s International Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival, which is held every year, welcomes art lovers from all over the world in this magical atmosphere.