National Geographic : 1909 Jan
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE ments belong to the best period of Greek art, and their foundation dates back to the time when the people of Asia Minor divided their worship between the god dess Diana and the goddess Venus. It was in its reverence for Venus that Aphrodisias was famous, and this wor ship lasted in all its pristine vigor until the final overthrow of paganism. The city was situated in a fertile plain, watered by numerous small streams, some of which rose in the center of the city. These springs today have degen erated into filthy swamps and are now the home of turtles, mosquitoes, and fever. Any future plan to excavate this buried city which does not, first of all, include some scheme to drain these swamps is doomed to failure. People resorted to Aphrodisias for sports and games, and the free cities of Asia contributed to the erection and adornment of these incomparable public buildings, the 'remnants of which today call for our deepest admiration. The worship of Venus alone, in a temple the gorgeousness of which sixteen massive pillars still bear testimony, was sufficient to secure for this city the good will of the Roman emperors, for at that time it was popularly supposed that Caesar was directly descended from that goddess. Perhaps no city, in Asia ever enjoyed so much prosperity or has been so much spared from the contingencies of war. So intact were these monuments epi graphically that, until a few years ago, when many inscriptions and objects of fine art were removed, the history of this city and its leading citizens could be traced upon the public buildings. The Temple of Venus at Aphrodisias was one of the finest monuments of an tiquity, but nothing is known of the date of its foundation. After Christianity had forced paganism from the field, and that mystic cult had been banished to the realms of fable, this great sanctuary was transformed into a Christian church and assumed the character of a cathedral. As has been said, sixteen columns are stand ing in their original positions, while the bases of all the others are still in place. Some of these columns were donated by citizens, who had their names inscribed upon them, together with the purpose of the offering. Many of these inscrip tions date to a period prior to Roman domination. Surrounding the temple on every side may be seen in the debris Co rinthian columns of the peribolos. It really would not be a very difficult mat ter to reconstruct the temple and perib olos, so numerous are the fragments that lie about. The ruins of Aphrodisias today lie em bedded in the foliage of the juniper and Judas* trees. Poppies nod in the fields and the honeysuckle droops from the crumbling arches. Century-old olive trees entwine their roots about the hid den tombs, while in the ivy-covered nooks above, on massive pillars, one hears the songs of birds-not such birds as haunt the fissures in the sides of Sipylus and prey upon their weaker comrades of the air, but the little scolding wren or bluebird, that welcome you and make your stay delightful; and then at even tide you hear the sweet farewell note of the nightingale floating out upon the stillness! PERGAMUS, FAMOUS FOR ITS LIBRARY About half way between Magnesia and Pergamus lies the city of Thyatira, which was the seat of one of the Seven Churches. The environments abound in ruins, but the inscriptions are few, and it is doubtful if anything dates anterior to the Roman conquest. Today Thyatira has assumed the Turkish name of Ak-Hissar, and upon the spot where a certain woman named Lydia once sold her purple there has since been reared a stately mosque, and from the minaret of that same mosque, at dawn and sunset, I have heard the Moslem call to prayer: "God is most great! God is most great! I testify * This is one of the prettiest trees in Asia Minor. It is known as the Judas tree from the popular belief that Judas hung himself from one of them after the Crucifixion. This popular belief is further strengthened by the fact that the deep red blossoms return each year at Easter time.