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Çobanisa, Turgutlu, Urganlı, Ahmetli villages... their fleeting images on the steamed up train window as we approach Salihli's fertile plain are like pastoral compositions in the Impressionistic style. Disembarking, we head first for the splendid monuments of the legendary city where gold flowed in the streets, and then to Bintepe.
The station courtyard filled with people the minute we reached Sart. The mad rushing about soon ended in smiles and warm embraces. Baskets, bundles and bags were loaded onto motorcycles, and as suddenly as they had appeared they all vanished again into the back streets.
Our route is set: the old highway to the Gymnasium, the Temple of Artemis in the Paktolos Valley (River Sart), the Acropolis and, finally, Bintepe.
A MAGNIFICENT GYMNASIUM
A short 3-4-minute walk from the station, this monumental Roman structure where sports activities of all kinds were held in antiquity is the largest of its kind in Anatolia. Together with its bath complex and marble courtyard it covers an area of 23,000 square meters which was covered with rows of shops (painters, ironmongers) right up to the facade of the building. A magnificent two-story, columned structure, it still arouses awe.
Immediately adjacent to the Gymnasium on the east and annexed to its courtyard are the ruins of the 3rd century A.D. synagogue, one facade of which has been restored. Adorned with marbles and mosaics, it is an indication that there was a sizable Jewish community in Sardes in that period. The Sart area, which was a prominent settlement in the Roman and Byzantine periods as well, played host to a diversity of cultures for millennia. The known history of the region dates back to the 2nd millennium B.C.
SARDES: CITY WHERE GOLD FLOWED IN THE STREETS
Situated in the rocky northern foothills of Bozdağ (Mt. Tmolos) in the valley of the Gediz (Hormos) River near the township of Salihli in Manisa province, Sardes is known in history as the first place (according to Herodotus, 687 B.C.) where coins were minted with the backing of the state, as well as a wealthy city thanks to agriculture, livestock, trade and the processing of gold.
The road leading from the Gymnasium to the Temple of Artemis follows the gently flowing, copper-colored Paktolos (Sart) River. The main reason why Lydia was the wealthiest land of the ancient world is the gold that came from the Tmolos mountains and mingled with the alluvion of the Paktolos, which flows through the capital Sardes before joining the Hermos.
According to legend, Croesus (known in Turkish as Karun) spread sheepskins on the Sart to catch in their wool the grains of gold that seeped into the river water from mineral veins in the mountains, and then melt them down.
Ascending the throne upon the death of his father Alyattes, the last king, Croesus, gave rise to the expression, 'As rich as Croesus', which is still used today. Visitors arrive at the Temple of Artemis at the end of the road as the Paktolos whispers its legends on the wind.
THE TEMPLE OF ARTEMIS
The original temple of Artemis was built in the 3rd century B.C. Its 21x11 m pink sandstone altar is attached to the temple on the west. This magnificent marble temple, built for the mother goddess Artemis in the Hellenistic period, was abandoned with the adoption of Christianity and, apart from two of its columns, eventually buried under the ground. The addition of a church at its south corner in the 5th century was revealed when the temple was later unearthed in excavations. Detecting the strains of a Turkish folk tune towards noon, I immediately pictured the local merchants grilling meat for their lunch. Soon after I learned of Resul's wedding. Leaping and capering, I crossed the stream within minutes and joined the wedding party. The people of the Aegean offered their inimitable hospitality - soup, chickpea stew, rice pilaff, halva - all to the pungent aroma of wood smoke and each one tastier than the last.
This is a city that has been slowly buried under the loose earth washed down from Acropolis hill over the centuries mainly by the rain. Rugged and almost inaccessible, the city's acropolis resembles a steep hill. From its position commanding the Sardeis-Gediz plain, it saved the city from many an attack. Remains from the Archaic period have been encountered on the hill, which rises in terraces.
In addition to the defense walls, which date to the 6th century B.C. and exhibit the features of Lydian stone work, there are also the ruins of a castle from the Byzantine period. These finds show us that the acropolis was used for defense purposes for a long time. The city of Sardes passed first from the Persians to the Romans and later to the Byzantines. While it remained standing with its castle and old buildings intact during the period of the Saruhan Turkish Prinicipality, it was eventually plundered and destroyed by Tamerlane's (Timur's) armies when he invaded Anatolia in 1402.
LAND OF TUMULUS: BİNTEPE
The savory aroma of köfte grilled over a wood fire wafted over us as we passed Salihli. The share-cabs (dolmuş) that operate between Salihli and Gölmarmara weave through this surreal landscape, a virtual open-air museum worth exploring in detail. The 'Bintepe' (thousand hills) area with the tombs of the Lydian kings boasts some 155 tumuli, large and small, that belonged to either Lydian kings or nobles. Compared by Herodotus to the pyramids of Egypt, these tumuli were already famous in antiquity. The Bintepe area could be described as lying north of the Gediz River approximately in the Salihli - Gölmarmara - Ahmetli triangle. The Bintepe tumuli consist of stone and earth heaped up over small burial chambers about the size of cedar chests and made of long, regularly cut blocks of stone generally in the shape of flat rectangular prisms. Like the Midas tumulus at the Phrygian capital, Gordion, some of these tumuli, in which great kings and prominent people were buried, almost approach the size of the Egyptian pyramids.
The sinking sun at Bintepeler... / Is a different sun... /The whole plain stained gold. / White-helmeted armies file past, / Amidst lightning bolts / That shake the world... / Memories of King Croesus / Permeate the gold-laden plains; / Memories that live on in Sardes...
Few people know about Bintepeler. The odd truck passes by on the road, sometimes even a private car. There are literally dozens of graves large and small. More burial chambers in the tumuli are being opened by the day, each one signifying eternity...
Of the three largest tumuli, the one in the middle is known as the Gyges tumulus. Of the other two, the one on the southwest, in other words the one farthest from lake known as Gölmarmara, is the tumulus where Alyattes (father of Croesus, the last Lydian king) is buried and the largest of all. The splendor of the Lydian tumuli at Bintepe, particularly that of Alyattes, was legendary in ancient times. Simonides, a poor Hellenistic poet who lived between 556 and 468 B.C., evokes it as follows:
“Grave of a Poor Man
Sir, the grave before which you stand
Is not that of a great Lydian king.
I am a poor man;
My grave is not going to be massive,
Even this one is too big for me.”
(Translated from the Turkish translation by Talat S. Halman in his 'Eski Uygarlıkların Şiirleri', Istanbul 1974)