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Master Class: Turkish Delight for Valentine’s Day- (part 1)

Written by Sean Adcock

Turkey might be famous as the home of Troy and Ephesus, but from where we were staying near Antalaya in the south earlier this year these were out of reach. Probably less well known but I suspect equally and possibly more spectacularly the Mediterranean coast is the home of a series of Roman theatres ad other ‘ruins’.

Our first visit was to Perge. The theatre here is off limits on safety grounds but the remains of the Roman town are extensive and quite impressive, a notable ’dual carriageway’ paved high street with watercourses and drains, the shops remain tantalising unexcavated. There is a hugely impressive bath complex with enormous buildings and some interesting stonework. About the most impressive Roman town remains I have seen. However what really grabbed my imagination were the remains of the stadium, the largest in Asia Minor, situated between the town and the theatre.

Arches, Perge Stadium

Most Roman (and Greek) stadia are set into a hillside or natural dip in the ground, removing the need for much in the way of a structure to support the stands. As with all these ancient stadia the one at Perge is U shaped, unlike most others it has been built up and the U comprises a series of arches, each tapers down towards the inside of the stadia to allow for the slope of the seating, they also taper in narrowing towards the rear. Every third arch acts as an entranceway into the stadium itself, the other two would have been shops etc., the Roman equivalent of souvenir stalls and hot dog stands.

Aspendos Theatre facade

Perge was followed by the 2nd Century Theatre at Aspendos, one of Turkey’s less well kept secrets and reputedly one of the best preserved of all Roman Theatres. Much maintained and one suspects restored the theatre this is essentially complete and until recent years a regular venue for productions. It is worthy of a photo montage in its own right at some future date and as it is relatively well known I shall say little about it here, except that it holds 20000, the seating steeply shelving down so that at least one vertiginous contributor to this mag had to ingloriously shuffle down the steps on his posterior.

The façade, which forms the backdrop to the stage – thought to be one of the first to be built this way allowing for stage scenery to be used is mightily impressive, the back/seating merges into the hillside as earlier noted was the usual case to support seating.

Above: Aspendos interior

Below centre: Aspendos façade corner; Below right: Side Bath House stonework; Bottom left: Side Bath House restoration detail

Interestingly as is the case with a number of the buildings in this region the theatres main structure is built out of what appears to be dressed conglomerate blocks as can be seen left. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it dressed so square before, although most of the windows and arches in the theatre utilised more ‘user friendly’ sandstone.

Our next port of call was Side, where conglomerate was again the stone of choice. There is a substantial, but inaccessible bath building here, which has undergone some recent renovation. It would appear that the repairs here utilised concrete with the joints cut into a cast slab/block rather than the whole being reconstructed out of mortared replacement blocks. A surprisingly good match in terms of texture, if perhaps a little incongruous.

Side was a strange place, scattered ruins interspersed with an unkempt town, in one place a tree, probably no more than 50 years old was growing around an ornately carved pillar top which had obviously been left alongside it as a sapling. Once away from the houses pillars and stone are strewn everywhere – you cannot imagine them remaining un-reclaimed so to speak in many places, but this is perhaps more the norm in Turkey.

Side too has a spectacular 20000 seat theatre. Unlike most theatres it is essentially free standing supported by massive arched vaults. The resultant internal corridor running around below one level of seats and above the level of others (it is at least partly sunken) is particularly impressive. Theatres differ from colosseums in that they are D shaped rather than essentially circular or elliptical. However few towns seem to have had a colosseum and often the theatre doubled for gladiatorial events.

Side Theatre. Left: Exterior arches; Right: Internal gallery

At  Side the stage area is sunk below the level of the seats from which it is separated by a ditch backed by a 2m high wall On top of which the seats start. This would presumably have protected the audience from marauding lions or maybe stopped the gladiators from taking excessive evasive action. Next stop Myra, (Demre). The theatre here was rebuilt after a massive earthquake in the second century AD. Here the seating is built up against a more or less vertical rock face rather than into it.

Side Theatre. Left: Exterior arches; Right: Internal gallery

At  Side the stage area is sunk below the level of the seats from which it is separated by a ditch backed by a 2m high wall On top of which the seats start. This would presumably have protected the audience from marauding lions or maybe stopped the gladiators from taking excessive evasive action. Next stop Myra, (Demre). The theatre here was rebuilt after a massive earthquake in the second century AD. Here the seating is built up against a more or less vertical rock face rather than into it.

Myra Theatre. Left: Interior seating and cliff; Right: dressed and tooled archway

The content below was copied with the generous permission of the author Sean Adcock.  This Master Class article originally appeared in the Spring  2010 in ISSUE No. 20 of STONECHAT, produced by the North Wales Branch of the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Brittan.  

This entire issue of Stonechat, and many more, are available at http://www.dswales.org.uk/Stonechat.html  Thank you to Sean for allowing us to provide this content, and please donate to The North Wales Branch.

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