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Article-Photo: ERSİN DEMİREL
Caria’s marble city
Located near Yatağan, Stratonikeia came under the rule of Lydia, Persia, Rhodes and the Roman Empire. It is the world’s largest ancient city built entirely of marble.
When King Seleucus Nikator’s wife died, he married the legendary beauty Stratonikeia. But the maiden was actually the beloved of Seleucus’s son Antiochus, who was stricken by a cruel illness after the wedding. Even the famous Egyptian physician Herostratos, who happened to be in Caria at the time, was unable to cure the young man. One day when Stratonikea entered his room, Antiochus blushed and the doctor realized the situation. He thought about it for days and finally came up with a clever solution. Entering the king’s presence, he said, “I have diagnosed your son’s illness. She is in love with my wife”. “Surely you would not begrudge my son your wife,” replied the king. Upon this the physician asked, “What would you do?” “If my son was in love with my wife,” said the king, “I would give her to him without further ado”. At this point the doctor explained the situation. Antiochus married his step-mother and founded the city of Stratonikeia in honor of his beautiful wife. So the myth goes anyway, and the city’s wealth does indeed date very far back. An important military base and the political capital of Caria, this ancient settlement survived amidst war and destruction. As an important religious center attached to Aphrodisias during Byzantine rule, Stratonikeia later fell prey to nature and was abandoned following a powerful earthquake.
THE REMAINS OF STRATONIKEIA
The archaeological remains of Stratonikeia in the village of Eskihisar are struggling to survive amidst houses and gardens. Very few people live in the village on account of the Yatağan Thermal Power Plant and lignite mines in the vicinity. When you purchase your ticket and enter the official site, you may come across villagers plowing their fields between the ruins. As with many such sites, some of the ancient stones have been used for house and garden walls. One house wall even boasts a ‘double-headed ax’ (labrys) motif symbolizing the war-like nature of Zeus.
The excavations that were undertaken by Prof. Yusuf Boysal in 1967 unearthed some important structures in the historical area. Little remains today however of the extensive defense walls that surrounded the entire site, or of the citadel on the hill. The monumental entrance gate depicting a chariot race, the agora, the ancient avenue, the theater for ten thousand with relief-carved stones on its stage, the gymnasium complex where the youths of ancient Greece and Rome trained and practiced sports, the assembly building (according to some archaeologists the Temple of Serapis), the Temenos Gate in the garden of a house, the monumental fountain stranded now on the opposite side of the road, and the Ionic temple behind the theater are just a few of the remains that are worth seeing. The city’s other important building, the Temple of Zeus Chrysaoris, which is mentioned by Strabo, has not yet been unearthed.
A product of refined stone workmanship whose walls consist of large blocks of black stone, the assembly building is noteworthy for its elegant construction and relief inscriptions. Its entire facade and a portion of its interior walls are decorated with inscriptions in Greek and Latin. The contents of these inscriptions are concerned with votive offerings to Helios, Zeus and Serapis for the prevention of war. Another twelve-line inscription symbolizing the months of the year starting with October is arranged in the form of an acrostic. The inscription, the first lines of which indicate that it was written by a certain Menippos, is intended to inform the city residents. On the facade of the building facing an old mansion is another relief with a sword and an inscription in Arabic.
In antiquity, when great importance was attached to religious ritual, two religious centers called Panamara and Lagina were affiliated with Stratonikeia. Unfortunately little of note remains today of Panamara, which is in the village of Bağyaka about 15 kilometers from the ruins. But the Lagina Hecate sacred precinct, which is joined to the political capital by an 11-km sacred way, was a major religious center for the Carians. With its Doric-columned stoa, three-gate monumental entrance (the Propylon), its altar at the end of a marble road, and its temple crowned with columns, Lagina was the focus of religious ceremonies for centuries. Hecate, one of the most mysterious goddesses of the Greek pantheon, was believed to be present at burial ceremonies for receiving the souls of the dead and to hold in her hand the keys of the underworld god of Hades. The key to the gate of the world of the dead was taken from the temple at the annual Hecate festival and borne to the city assembly along the sacred way in a great ceremonial procession.
The city’s necropolis lies on either side of the sacred way. Under the impact of time and the coal mines, however, Stratonikeia until recently remained entirely underground apart from a burial chamber opposite the city gate. As a result of the excavations that are conducted periodically, the lion sculptures that graced the sacred way were unearthed in 2006 and taken to the Muğla Museum. Stone figures of gladiators similar to those found earlier at Ephesus and Kremna were also encountered at Stratonikeia, and a ‘Hall of Gladiators’ was created at the museum to accommodate them. The frieze reliefs worked with scenes of “the mythology of Zeus', ‘the war of the gods and the Giants', ‘the meeting of the gods of Caria’ and ‘peace with the Amazons’ unearthed in the temple excavations are on display today in the Istanbul Archaeological Museums.
Stratonikeia is 52 km from Muğla, 7 km from Yatağan and 58 km from Milas. The Lagina sacred precinct is in the town of Turgut 12 km from Yatağan. Efforts to bring this historic legacy buried in coal dust to the light of day continue apace.