Throughout history many peoples have been attracted to the Aegean Coast with its wonderful geographical location, fertile lands and sunny skies. The Ionians began to settle on the Western Aegean shores from the 8th century B.C., establishing the towns that would define the character of the region.
A trip today from Izmir towards the south is also a trip into the history of the Ionians. The Ionians established dozens of settlements, large and small, in the area stretching from Izmir to Lake Bafa, spending the riches gained from seafaring on art, architecture and philosophy. Ionia produced many well-known names in the eld of science and also gave history the event known as the ‘Ionian Renaissance’. Famous Ionians include Thales, who stated that the element of water was found in all beings, Pythagoras, the ‘Father of Numbers’ who believed that mathematics existed in every area of life, and Bias, one of the Seven Sages of Greece who, with the words “I carry all my wealth with me” maintained that knowledge is the greatest of riches.
The Ionians were not just important for the philosophers and mathematicians that they produced, the cities they built also had an in uence on the ow of history and visiting the remains of these spectacular Ionian cities such as Ephesus, Miletus, Teos and Klazomenai is even more enjoyable under the winter sun.
“THESE IONIANS … HAD THE FORTUNE TO BUILD THEIR CITIES IN THE MOST FAVOURABLE POSITION FOR CLIMATE AND SEASONS OF ANY MEN WHOM WE KNOW.” HERODOTUS HISTORIES / BOOK I.142.
Ephesus: The Ionian City Of Culture
The ancient city of Ephesus, one of the most important ruins not only of Turkey but of the entire world, welcomes guests in all its splendour. The 24,000 capacity theatre at Ephesus, one of Ionia’s most important commercial and intellectual centres, gives a clue to the population and cultural structure of the city. The impressive façade of the Library of Celcus and the city’s magni cent roads bear witness to the wealth of the time. Furthermore, besides the wealth of the city itself, the frescoed walls and mosaic oors of the Slope Houses give an idea of the personal wealth of prominent citizens.
The destiny of Ephesus, one of the most important cities of the Ionian Union, was determined mainly by the silt brought by the Küçük Menderes River, which was the cause for the multiple changes in location of the city. From the 3rd century AD onwards, when Ephesus, a city that owed its wealth to seamanship, was cut off from the sea by this silt, the people began to abandon the city. When a malaria epidemic was added to all of this, the city was unable to hold out any longer. Having changed location so many times, the city is known by modern archaeologists as the ‘City of Change’.
Chaos In Ephesus
In terms of the profits made from tourism, parallels can be found between the Ephesus, of 2000 years ago years and today. As well as being an important religious character in the City of Change of the past, Artemis was also the main actor in the formation of faith tourism. Gifts and votive offerings symbolising Artemis bought by visitors were an important source of income for the city. The first development to rock the throne of Artemis, for whom an impressive temple was built, was the rise Christianity, and one of the most interesting stories related to this time comes from Demetrius the silversmith.
Paul the Apostle came to the city in 53 BC, and began to give sermons from the theatre in order to win new converts to the religion. When the number of people converting to Christianity began to rise, the craftsman who created silver votive statues to Artemis intervened. One day, while Paul was giving a sermon in the theatre, Demetrius the silversmith and a crowd of followers stormed the theatre with shouts and cries and forced in driving Paul from the city.
Final Incarnation: The city of Ephesus that is visited today was founded by Lysimachus, a general of Alexander the Great, around 300 BC and it was on this site that it lived its final 600-year incarnation.
Miletus: Home Of The Wise
At Miletus, another important Ionian city, the first thing that welcomes visitors is the theatre. The people of Miletus, who founded a large number of colonies from the Marmara Sea to the Black Sea, were known for their wisdom as well as their strong seamanship. Famous Miletians include Thales, one of the Seven Sages of Greece who de ned water as the primary element in nature, Anaximander, who wrote the history of the universe, and the famous urban planner Hippodamus. Miletian philosophers also described the atom, leading the way for modern science.
Miletus grew through maritime trade and became one of biggest cities of its time with a population of one hundred thousand. Visitors to Miletus today can see the remains of the harbour gateway and the sacred way, as well as the agora and parliamentary building and Bouleuterion as well as the reliefs depicting scenes of Eros hunting, found on the stage of the ancient theatre. Reliefs of Apollo and of dolphins, both sacred to the inhabitants of Miletus, were used in many places in the city. It was believed that Apollo, disguised as a dolphin, guided the rst settlers to the city.
There was a sacred road measuring 20 kilometres that led from the sanctuary of Didyma to Miletus. The Temple of Apollo at Didyma is one of the most extraordinary temples in Anatolia, remarkable for its size as well as for its unique details. The tunnels that link the front of the temple to the rear are the only examples of their kind in Anatolia. This temple to Apollo is thought to have been the most famous oracle of the time; those who wanted to know the future would appeal to the religious men of the temple, who would look into the spring inside the temple and then read their predictions of the future as poems from the temple balcony. One of the most important details showing the temple’s majesty is the reliefs of the mythological Medusa that once decorated the temple roof. It was believed that the temple was protected from ill-fortune by the serpent- haired Medusa who could turn people to stone with a mere glance.
The First Maritime War: The world’s first maritime war took place near the island of Lade, off the coast of Miletus, during the Ionian Revolt of 494 BC.
The Ancient City Of Teos
Once an important port city, today little trace remains of Teos; its Bouleuterion, however, still stands. The Temple of Dionysus at Teos was one of the most famous buildings of its time. In the 3rd century BC the temple at Theos was the headquarters of the actors’ guild of Ionia. For this reason the lands of Teos were considered untouchable. Persecuted for their unusual behaviour, actors took refuge in Teos where they gained impunity. The actors would stage their plays in all of the cities of the Aegean, earning their living from the pro ts they made. However, they were unable to avoid being sent into exile by King Attalus I of Pergamon due to their growing egos and self- importance.
The Actors of Dionysus, who were described in ancient texts as ‘a very aggressive group’ and were said to be dif cult to control, were an issue even for the famous philosopher Aristotle. Puzzling over the question ‘why are the Actors of Dionysus bad people?’ Aristotle concluded that they were unable to attain wisdom as they led a life without rules and conducted their art for money rather than for the sake of art itself…
Lord Of The Dance: The dance performed at the annual Dionysus Festival was known as ‘Zei-Bakkhos’. It is thought that the folk dance of the Aegean region known as ‘Zeybek’ originates from these festival dances.
The First Olive Oil Workshop: Klazomenai
Today’s city of Urla was built upon ancient Klazomenai. By the 5th century BC the Ionians had reached the peak of strength
in various elds, from philosophy to science and, using the communicating vessels technique, pulley systems and the laws of physics, they also established a functioning olive oil factory. This factory was faithfully reconstructed according to the original building and opened to visitors in 2007.
Run by Ankara University, the archaeological excavations continue at Limantepe, in the İskele neighbourhood of Urla, and every day new discoveries are made about the Ionians. With an almost uninterrupted settlement history of around 4600 years
– from 5000 BC to 400 BC – the area of Limantepe is a very special site.
But it is not just Limantepe; dozens of large and small Ionian towns from Izmir to Lake Bafa invite you on a journey into the history of humanity.
Spreading History: The remains of the city of Klazomenai are not just under Urla but also spread to the coastal fields and the island of Karantina just off the coast.