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a t A s s o s
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The Sanctuary of Athena at Assos
Homer wrote that the people who lived on the southern shores of the Troad were Lelegians and that they made their living as seamen and pirates during the years of the Trojan wars. Strabo also confirms this information and points out that the Lelegians' homeland ranged from Lekton (Baba Burnu) to Mount Ida (Kaz Dagi) and that it included the neighboring territory of Assos. It also claimed that the oldest name of the city was Pedasos and the name Assos was derived from it.
It is written in the Iliad that Elastos, who was killed by Agamemnon, lived in steep Pedasos on the shore of the Satnioeis and that the Lelegian king Altes (his daughter Laothe, whom he gave to Priam with a large dowry, gave birth to Lykaon and Polydoros), who was the father in law of Priam, king of Troy, also dwelt high up in Pedasos. The geographical descriptions of Pedasos conforms to Assos but is the name Assos a later derivation of Pedasos? In Homer's epic although a lot of settlements in Troad are named, the name of Assos is not mentioned. This suggests that the city must have assumed the name Assos during a later century.
The southern Troad where the Mysians of Thrace settled, first became the settlement of the Aiolians, who came through Lesbos in the 7th century BCE. According to Strabo, who informs us after Mysilas and Hellanicos, the Methymnian immigrants from Lesbos, settled in Assos in the meantime. After this date Assos established a satellite community at Gargara, a place some 20 km to the east. But Strabo, referring to Demetrios of Skepsis, says that the people of Gargara were semi-barbarians and different from the people of Assos.
Assos was the most powerful and the most important city on the northern shores of the Gulf of Edremit when it was captured by the Lydians in ca. 560 BCE. It is said that the wealth of Gyges, Alyattes and Kroisos came partly from the rich mineral beds between Atarneos and Pergamon, which were within the sphere of influence of Assos. Strabo also mentions some excavated masses of land where these minerals beds were, a defunct mine and a deserted mining city.
During the Persian hegemony in Western Anatolia (after 546 BCE), the city remained within the borders of the Persian satrapy. Thus, the only power to which both the city of Assos and the Troad had been subject to, changed. The Aegean cities had to wait for Alexander, the king of Macedonia, to gain their full independence. Although they had become semiautonomous when the Persians withdrew from the Aegean as a results of their defeat on the naval battles at Salamis, Plataia and Mykale by the Hellenes.
The increasing power of Athens in both leadership and formation of the Delian confederacy in the 5th century BCE provided opportunities for the northwest city-states and especially the coastal cities to participate in the confederacy which was formed in 478 BCE. Assos, along with other cities such as Phokaea (Foça), Samos, Teos (Seferihisar), Pitane, Miletos and Lesbos in the Ionic-Aeolic region, participated in this confederacy as founding members. Its annual tax payment was one talent.
The western wall of the city has six gates, one of which is the main gate. In fact, there were two main gates. One is in the west and the other is the East Gate which has double towers. In comparison with the West Gate, this one is in worse condition.
Beginning from the West Gate, buildings such as the gymnasium, the bouleuterion (council house), the baths and the theater were erected and thus the city center was formed having gathered the buildings for social and public purposes with a multi-purposed structure like the agora. The area between the bow of the gymnasium, the agora, the bouleuterion and the acropolis was not used very often.
As for the habitation area of the city, it was on the southern and eastern slopes, and was developed in terraces. With this formation, the city gained an original appearance in terms of urban landscape. We can easily imagine Assos with its magnificent buildings placed on the terraces on the rocky slopes. This must have been impressive in Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
Assos has two necropolis. The first and the main one, is the West Necropolis, on the terraces of the paved road which leads to the West Gate. The other one is the East Necropolis, in front of the East Gate. The West Necropolis was expanded on later times and extended towards the skirts of Ayazma hill on the west. On the other hand a part of the intramural area which did not face the sea, to the north of the acropolis, was rather used as a quarry to obtain construction material and not occupied perhaps until the last century.
Athena, daughter of mighty Zeus and Goddess of fine arts and war, was the protector of Assos. She was also worshipped all along the northern Aegean coast. Several Ionic and Aeolic cities built Temples dedicated to her. The most well known Temples of Athena were located in ancient Smyrna (Izmir), Phokaia (Foça) and Troy.
Along with Athena, Hermes was also worshipped as protector of the gymnasium, the God of travelers and thieves and the guide of the deceased to Hades. Tykhe, Telesphoros and Asklepios, the God of health were also worshipped in the Roman period. The attributes of Zeus, the thunderbolt and bull heads, were depicted on the coins of Assos.
Assos minted coins as an independent city-state. But, according to our present knowledge, the oldest coins of Assos do not go back earlier than the 6th century BCE. There are some coins, with Athena's helmeted head on one side and a griffin on the other. Sometimes an owl, one attribute of Athena, was also represented in her place. Motifs such as a bull head, the head of Medusa, a lion head, a bunch of grapes and a swan were also minted on the coins.
The Sanctuary of Athena
The ground of the acropolis was leveled to build the Temple with local stone from Assos and the building was oriented in the northwest-southeast axis. Its entry, in compliance with a tradition in Anatolia, faced east.
When the people of Assos built the Temple they were unaware they accomplished a very original deed even for later centuries. Their only wish was to please their Goddess with the aim of being under her protection. But the building is also significant to the history of architecture. First, it is the first and unique specimen of archaic doric architecture in Anatolia. Besides, it is the only example where the Doric architectural style was mixed with the Ionian architectural elements of the frieze relief and of some ornamentations. With these features the Temple has gained an original place in the history of architecture in Anatolia.
The step where the columns of the building rested (stylobate) measures 30.31x14.3m. This inner structure consists of an ante-chamber (pronaos) and a sacred chamber (naos). The inner width of the ante-chamber is 6.65m. and its depth is 3.30m. There are two columns (in antis) between the walls (antee) at the entry. These columns are 91 cm in diameter and are Doric with 18 flutes. The entrance to the naos is through a door 1.65m. width. Perhaps this door had two folds. A mosaic decorated with zigzags and a meander motif made with black and white marble pieces was unearthed on the floor of the naos. The sacred chamber, where the cult statue of the Goddess stood on a base, was cleaned in 1881. The mosaic was made by placing stones into thin mortar. Unfortunately the mosaic is not in its original place today.
Six columns on the short sides and 13 columns on the long sides surround the building externally forming a row. There are 34 columns in total. Today, 32 capitals have been found in good conditions. The others, brought back from the harbor and the village, from slopes and the walls of other buildings, have been collected in the Temple area. Most of the columns were broken and taken away. The ones that could be found in the vicinity have been used in the restoration of the Temple. The columns are 4.30m height without capitals, with capitals they reach 4.78m. The height of the columns is 1/3 of the width of the stylobate. The height of the drums, forming the shafts, varies between 60-140cm. The diameter of the bottom drum is 91cm and the one at the top, (i.e. under the capital) is 64cm. They have 16 flutes. The sharp edge between two flutes (arris) is perpendicular to the edge of the stylobate. Intercolumnar span, from one center to another is 2.61m on the narrow sides and 2.45m on the long sides. The space between the row of columns and the wall of the naos (pteroma) is quite wide (3.03m).
Although the cover moldings of the capitals (echinus) are all low and flat, dating from the 6th century BCE, each column has a different profile. This fact indicates that different hands were involved in the building phase of the Temple. As is seen in nearly all the Doric buildings, necking rings (annolets) under the capitals were probably painted. Traces of paint found support this idea.
An epistyle (architrave) exists as a toothing and supporting constructional element above the capitals. The architrave blocks, which vary between 2.40m and 2.60m, were then joined to one another by clamps at the central points of the capitals. The surfaces of the architrave, on the two narrow sides, are ornamented with relief sculptures. In the middle of both sides two sphinxes facing each other are in the center of the composition. After this central motif, in the left corner, Hercules shooting a Centaur with his arrows and the Centaur running away, were depicted. On the right side, horsemen and worshipping figures and in the corner, Hercules fighting with a triton are seen. On the other sides, lions attacking a deer and a banquet scene (symposion) were represented. Among the findings there are architrave blocks without any relief which indicates that the upper structure was completely encircled by a frieze.
Taking the two hour road that winds around small hills on Edremit bay leads to Assos. Along the road you will see many cheap and beautiful camping places right by the sea, especially around Ayvacik (not Ayvalik, a more popular destination). There are also many hotels and motels in the area, usually serving weekend travelers from Istanbul and Bursa.
Assos has only just a few hotels and guesthouses since there is really no room for expansion as the steep rocky coastline will not allow it. The Temple on top of the hill is one of those places sunset is spectacular to watch over the Eagean sea.
Copyright ©1998-2003 Roy George