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THE CITY WHERE LEGEND CAME TRUE:SARDIS
2001 /APRIL
Until the blue sky faded to grey they proceeded, sometimes talking to the trees, and sometimes dancing. Untold quantities of wine were produced from the vines grown in Lydia, and Silenos the satyr was drunk again. When the ugly and elderly Silenos, with his great flat nose and paunch, collapsed in a stupor beneath a tree, his companions were already out of sight. It was he, half-man and half-goat, who symbolised the processions of Dionysus, god of wine and dance. He was wise and knowledgeable, and was thought to have been the god's foster-father and teacher.

The villagers bound him tightly when they found him and took him to King Midas, who recognised him immediately and feasted him in his palace for ten days and nights. Then he took him to Dionysus who, delighted that Midas had treated Silenos so kindly, asked him to wish for anything he desired. After thinking for a moment the Phrygian king asked that everything he touch turned to gold.
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THE CITY WHERE LEGEND CAME TRUE:SARDIS
2001 /APRIL
It was not long, however, before he realised what a terrible mistake this wish had been, and appeared before Dionysus again begging him to reverse the spell. Dionysus told him to go to Sardis, find the source of the Pactolus River (today the Sart) and there wash his hands and head. Midas did so and was saved. From that day on particles of gold were found in the alluvium brought down by the river, and still are today as studies by the Mineral Research and Exploration Institute have revealed.

The ancient city of Sardis lies due east of Izmir, near the town of Salihli. It was the capital of Lydia, the kingdom which conquered Phrygia, and the place where the world's first coins, made from electron and oval in shape, were minted. Five dynasties ruled Lydia from the time the kingdom was brought into being at the end of the 7th century BC by King Gyges. Most celebrated of all was Croesus, renowned for his wealth and generosity, and immortalised in the saying 'as rich as Croesus'.
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THE CITY WHERE LEGEND CAME TRUE:SARDIS
2001 /APRIL
His enormous wealth came from taxes, trade and gold mines, and he was the first to mint coins made of both gold and silver. The Persians, led by Cyrus, invaded westwards through Asia Minor and captured Sardis 547 BC, sending shockwaves through the Near East and Greece. Two centuries later another great conqueror expelled the Persians from Asia Minor in the process of forging an empire even larger than that of the Persians. Alexander of Macedonia captured Sardis from the Persians in 334 BC, and the city was ruled first by the Seleucids, a dynasty descended from one of Alexander's generals, then by the Kingdom of Pergamum (180-133 BC), eventually becoming part of the Roman Empire.
As you enter the ruins of Sardis the imposing building which you see first at the edge of the road is a synagogue dating from the 3rd century AD, and the largest in the world. It is paved with mosaics, and once its walls were revetted with marble. Behind the synagogue is a marble courtyard and beyond that a gymnasium.
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THE CITY WHERE LEGEND CAME TRUE:SARDIS
2001 /APRIL

Nearby is the caldarium, the best preserved part of the city baths. Three hundred meters to the east of the synagogue is one of the seven churches of Asia Minor mentioned in the Book of Revelations. The main street through the city, which runs past the synagogue and the south wall of the gymnasium, dates from the 4th century AD. It was originally paved with large marble slabs. Nearly thirty Byzantine shops have been excavated here. On the opposite side of the road are the remains of a priet'ss house dating from Lydian times.
The people of Sardis originally worshipped the mother goddess Cybele and subsequently her later manifestation, Artemis. A temple and altar dedicated to Artemis dating from after the time of Alexander remained in use during the Roman period, when it was renovated several times. Contrary to the usual custom the temple and altar face westwards, a feature it shares with the temples of Artemis at Ephesus and Magnesia, revealing roots in a more ancient Anatolian cult.

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THE CITY WHERE LEGEND CAME TRUE:SARDIS
2001 /APRIL

In the centre of the refinery area where gold was melted to remove impurities is an altar to Cybele, presumably to secure the goddss'sb protection for the gold workers. Excavations have revealed that shops selling jewellery were located close to the gold workshops. Herodotus records that the people of Sardis were merchants and it is he who tells us that the minting of coinage was among their inventions. They were also extremely fond of perfumes, and the scented unguents which they produced were packaged in tiny vases known as lydions for export all along the coasts of the Aegean.
When you visit Sardis, that city whose memory is inextricably associated with gleaming gold treasure, envisage its wealthy citizens putting on red robes for their evening meal, and reclining on couches with ivory legs and purple cushions.

 

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THE CITY WHERE LEGEND CAME TRUE:SARDIS
2001 /APRIL

See them wearing purple robes for attending meetings, annointing their long hair - of which they were so proud - with perfumed oils, and dressing it with tiny gold ornaments in a thousand and one forms. They loved games of all kinds, and played with dice and knucklebones. They loved wild music in which high-pitched sounds predominated. They favoured sculpture, architecture and theatre over literature. As you explore the theatre in your sandalled feet, you will perhaps sense the crowds of Lydians milling around you in excited anticipation of the entertainment to come.

 

* Emine Caykara is a freelance writer

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