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The ruins of the ancient city of Sardis, the capital of the Lydian Union, are in the Sart town of Salihli District in today’s Turkey. It is understood from the excavations that Sart and its region have been the scene of various settlements for over 5000 years and that it had been an important settlement center in the Roman and Byzantine periods. Sardis, which was the capital of the Lydian Kingdom in Antiquity, achieved great development thanks to trade and business in this period.
History of Sardis
The city, which Herodotus of Smyrna, who has the title of father of history, described as the “golden city”, is famous as the most beautiful city of the Ancient Age. Various colored fabrics, perfumes filled in tiny bottles, and healing ointments were massively produced and used in Sardis. The ancient city of Sardis was known as a beauty and care city as well as an entertainment center in the past. The Lydians discovered many entertaining games which are still used today to entertain people from all over the world. Dice, which is an indispensable part of many traditional games, especially backgammon, was first used in Sardis.
There are gold processing workshops from the 6th century BC in Sardis. In this structure measuring 20 meters by 25 meters, the gold extracted from the Paktolos River was processed and coins were minted. There were also jewelry shops near these workshops which used materials obtained from the nearby river. The city of Sardis of the Lydian period is known as the place where money coins were first minted under the guarantee of the state in history. Sardis became a rich city thanks to agriculture, animal husbandry, trade, and gold mining in the Paktolos (Sart) river.
Starting from the 7th century BC to the early Byzantine period of the 7th century AD, Sardes remained an important city in terms of transportation, administration, and trade. Sardis, which is mentioned in the revelation part of the Bible as one of the Seven Churches of Revelation in Western Anatolia that played an important role in the spread of Christianity to the western world, also has special importance in terms of Christianity.
The city did not lose its importance when it came under Persian domination. As an important satrapy center and the capital of Anatolia, Sardis had an important part in history. With the arrival of Alexander the Great, the city was incorporated into the Hellenistic Kingdom of Alexander the Great and became the western capital of the Seleucid empire. This period was very important for the city. The construction of the Temple of Artemis and the theater, which will impress those who see them even today, started in this period.
Sardis developed under the Roman Peace or Pax Romana during the Roman Period and many architectural structures were added to the city thanks to the prosperity of the period. Sardis was equipped with a temple of the imperial cult, huge baths, a stadium, aqueducts, and other public structures. The Synagogue, which was built around the same time, was the largest known Synagogue of the ancient world.
Sardis, which hosts perhaps one of the most magnificent temples of the Ionic order in the world, which has been preserved until today, has a monumental bath-gymnasium complex among preserved Roman structures and the largest synagogue of the ancient world.
The Sardis excavations started before the First World War. Excavations have been going on uninterruptedly since 1958 with the joint legacy of Harvard and Cornell Universities and the American Oriental Studies Research Institute.
The acropolis of the city looks like a hill with high and steep slopes. In addition to the fortification walls dating back to the 6th century BC and reflecting the characteristics of Lydian stonemasonry, the remains of a castle belonging to the Byzantine Period were also encountered. These finds show that the acropolis was used for defense for a long time.
Meaning of Sardis
The name of the city of Sardis comes from the “SARD” (orange quartz) stone, which is found in large quantities in the region and had been used as a precious stone for a long time.
Things to See in Sardis
The Temple of Artemis
The temple, which was started to be built in the Hellenistic Period, was probably built on the location where the sanctuary of an ancient Cybele cult was. The temple is in Ionic style and has a pseudodipteros plan. It was originally made for the Greek Goddess Artemis who later became known as Diana during the Roman period. In later periods, the cella of the temple was divided into four sections, and in these sections, statue heads of Artemis, Zeus Polieus, Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, and his wife Faustina were found during the excavations.
The temple, which was destroyed in the earthquake in 17 AD, was rebuilt according to the old plan during the reign of Emperor Tiberius. A chapel was added to the southeast corner of the temple in the 4th century with the Christianity becoming the dominant religion in western Turkey and Sardis turning into a bishop center.
Bath and Gymnasium Building
When you pass through the arched doors of the gymnasium, you encounter a great example of the typical Roman bath tradition. When you examine the well-preserved bath structure, it is not difficult to visualize the Lydians, who exercised in the gymnasium, then chatted in the cold and warm rooms of the bath, and spent most of the day here.
The plan of the building is Imperial type. Bath and Gymnasium building’s rooms and halls are placed symmetrically on a straight axis and they meet in a single private room in the center. The palaestra (square courtyard) surrounded by columns covering the eastern half of the bath-gymnasium complex was used for sports events, and the vaulted halls to the west of this place were used as baths. The building, which is thought to have been completed in the middle of the 2nd century, has undergone many repairs in different periods of time.
Synagogue of Sardis
The ancient capital has one of the largest synagogues in history. There are eagle and lion statues at the entrance. Marble mosaic patterns adorn the walls. There are special areas with steps on both sides of the door. It was assumed that the Torah was on the right and the holy relic from King Solomon was on the left.
When you enter through the main gate, the floor mosaics, the fountain and the columns around the fountain create a very nice atmosphere. The vase-like structure made of original marble in the middle of the courtyard was used as a fountain where the congregation washed their hands before the ritual. The mosaics, which look like carpet on the floor, were laid in the 5th and 6th centuries. This structure, which has been preserved very well, was the religious center of the crowded Jewish community at that time.
The basilica-shaped building, located to the south of the palaestra of the bath-gymnasium complex in Sardis ancient city, was converted into a synagogue during the Roman Imperial Period in Sardis which was during the 3rd century AD.
Synagogue consists of a colonnaded entrance courtyard and the main space. In the main space and the entrance section, which is thought to have a capacity of approximately one thousand people, the floor is covered with mosaics and the walls are covered with colored marbles. This spot was given to the Jewish community of the city in the late Roman period and turned into a synagogue. From a Hebrew inscription found, it is understood that the emperor who gave the building to the Jewish community of the city may have been Emperor Lucius Verus.
Sardis and Christianity
After the death of Jesus Christ, St. John left Jerusalem where Christians lived under oppression, to Anatolia, taking the Virgin Mary with him. Thanks to his sermons in Ephesus and his travels in Lydia and the Aegean region, Christianity attracted pagans and Jews.
Sardis, known as the capital of the Lydian Kingdom and the place where the first gold coin was made, was also an important center for Christians in the past and today. Today, the southeast side of the Temple of Artemis has a small church in its right corner. In addition to the Temple of Artemis, which is known to have been built in 546 BC, Sardes Church, one of the churches mentioned in the Bible, also attracts attention to faith tourism tours which are especially focusing on the Seven Churches of Revelation.
King Midas and His Golden Touch
According to the legend; Satiros, the companion of the wine god Dionysus, fell asleep in the rose garden of Midas while visiting Sardis. Impressed by the hospitality of Midas, who found Satiros and hosted him in his palace for ten days and ten nights, Dionysus said that he would fulfill any wish of the king. King Midas wanted everything he touched to turn into gold.
However, when the food, drinks, and even the famous rose garden he touched turned into gold, the king asked Dionysus to take back this sinister power. The god Dionysus, pitying Midas’ situation, told the king to bathe in the Paktalos River. Bathing in this river, Midas’ wish was renounced. And from that day to this day, the gold particles found in this river have been connected to this legend.
Visit Sardis with Licensed Professional Tour Guide Hasan Gülday
Sardis is a prime example of a Hellenistic ancient city with a Roman flavor. I find the city’s history and mythology appealing. Sardis is one of the few places in the world which holds great importance in Roman, Hellenistic, Christian and Hebrew history. You can be a pilgrim on a journey of Seven Churches of Apocalypse or a Hebrew looking for your roots in Anatolia. You will find something for yourself in Sardis doesn’t matter who you are. Contact me to learn more about Sardis and to hire a professional, licensed tour guide to visit Sardis. See you soon, Hasan Gülday.