Archaeology Travel Blog: Ancient Side

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The first weekend of the dig and now I have an opportunity to explore the world of Ancient Anatolia. So first stop: Side!

Side (Σίδη) (meaning pomegranate) is located in the region of Pamphylia in Anatolia and one of the first things you notice on arrival is that modern Side is a tourist town. But it is also one of the best preserved classical sites in Turkey. The ancient city of Side is found on a small peninsula measuring about 1km by 400m, so it is not a particularly big site.

Strabo tells us that the city of Side was founded around the seventh century BC by Greek colonisers from Kyme in Aeolis. The natural geography of the area made it an ideal place for trade and a harbour in Anatolia. Arrian tells us that the colonisers did not understand the dialect of the locals indicating that the area was already inhabited. Arrian asserts that the indigenous language had a strong influence though and gradually became the primary language in Side. This is seen in several of the inscriptions uncovered at the site in the local tongue. The Hittites also have connections to the area as attested to other artefacts found such as a basalt column base.

From inside the Byzantine Hospital at Side

Side has a history of great influence and personality. In 333 BC, Alexander the Great occupied the site and introduced the population to Hellenistic culture which became the dominate tradition until the first century BC. Ptolemy later overtook the site when he declared himself king of Egypt in 305BC. Side stayed under Ptolemaic control until it was captured by the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd Century BC. Side was freed from the control of the Seleucid Empire after the defeat of Hannibal and Antiochus the Great. Despite conflicts and changes in control, Side remained prosperous and even minted its own money from 188 BC to the end of the 1st century BC. In the 1st century BC, Side also became an important base for the Cilician pirates and their slave trade and profited from this. With the defeat of the pirates, Side fell under the control of Rome and became part of the Roman Empire! Side began to decline around the 4th century AD with an influx from mountain invaders. It had prosperity on and off through the next few centuries before being abandoned around the 12thcentury.

Theatre at Side

It is a site with a long history which has left behind it numerous buildings and ruins for us archaeology and history fanatics to explore. The most complete of the ruins at Side is the Theatre complex which is the largest in the region in the Roman style. It could seat around fifteen thousand people and was converted into an open-air sanctuary with two chapels during the Byzantine Era. The seats still contain the inscriptions of names of patrons and on occasion shows are still shown there. The city walls also still remain alongside the Hellenistic main gate. There are colonnaded streets with many of the marble columns still standing and many others nearby. The local museum is the remains of the public bath house and elsewhere the agora and temple of Tyche still are visible from the second century BC. There are also the remains of a Byzantine hospital and a Basilica and three temples. An aqueduct (probably supplied by bringing water from the Melas river) and nymphaeum (an elaborate fountain building spanning three-stories and decorated with marble reliefs) can also be seen in a fair state of preservation near the city gates.

The state Agora is still visible within the sand dunes of the Eastern beach at Side. It is an amazing site surrounded by columns which held a giant cross in the centre during the Byzantine period. It would have been decorated by copies of Greek statues, some of which remain on display in the Side Museum. There may have also once been a library of this site. The ancient harbour was constructed during the Hellenistic period and is located on the south east part of the peninsula next to the temples of Athena and Apollo which are still standing in part on the beaches of Side.

Temple of Apollo at Side

We also were fortunate to have the chance to visit the Museum at Side which as I said is located in what was once a fifth century bath complex. The range of statues and coins in addition to the gardens, view and collection of inscriptions was wonderful. The statues are well-preserved and the inscriptions well cared for and readable. There are also interesting reliefs of the Sidetan victory over an army from Pergamum in the second century BC and a number of ornate sarcophagi recovered from Side’s necropolis which is now no more. There are a number of amphorae which have been recovered from the waters around Side and some fragmented displays of the Sidetan language which I mentioned previously, which remain undeciphered. So I will have to put that in my diary to do sometime after my PhD.

Agora at Side

Archaeologists from Turkey continue to excavate the site today since 1947. The archaeology department from the Anatolian University currently continues excavations at Side. One hundred archaeologists in 2012 are being led by Professor Huseyin Alanyali in order to preserve and restore sites. They will be continuing work on the temple of Apollo, the temple of Type, the temple of Dionysis, the temple of Athena, and a basilica. So there work is really cut out for them. Unfortunately because of excavations I couldn’t visit the site of the temple of Apollo when we visited but they look like they are doing some excellent work. There is also a team of fifteen archaeologists being led by Professor Peter Scherrer from the archaeology department of the Austrian Graz University who will be working alongside Turkish archaeologists in the Eastern side of the site.

So that is Side. Next site: Lamos, up a very big hill…


5 thoughts on “Archaeology Travel Blog: Ancient Side

    […] GraecoMuse – GraecoMuse explores the ruins of the ancient city of Side in Turkey’s Antalya Province.  […]

    orlando travel said:
    August 8, 2012 at 1:33 am

    looks like a great place to visit.

    dave gwartney said:
    August 13, 2012 at 5:21 am

    I can’t wait to travel to Turkey. Hopefully next year it will become a reality!

      GraecoMuse said:
      August 14, 2012 at 5:18 am

      Definitely come to Turkey, it is amazing! Just go prepared. I think I may go back next year as well 🙂

    GraecoMuse Turns One « GraecoMuse said:
    October 13, 2012 at 12:52 am

    […] Archaeology Travel Blog: Ancient Side – 04/08/12 […]

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