T e m p l e   o f   A t h e n a   a t   P h o c a e a

Full screen image
Phocaea coast
(Click the image for a full screen view)

The Temple of Athena at Phocaea

Phocaea (Phokaia, Foca)

   City on a small peninsula inside a gulf NW of Smyrna, the farthest N of the Ionian cities and in the Aiolian region.
[Click to enlarge image]
Map of Mysia and Lydia
   It was the most northern of the Ionian cities, and was situated on the coast of the peninsula which separates the gulf of Cyme, occupied by Aeolian settlers, from the Hermaean Gulf, on which stood Smyrna and Clazomenae.

Settlement (9th c. BCE)

   The Phocaeans, directed from Athens, according to ancient authors (Nicol. Damasc. FGrH II, 1.35.2, frg. 51; Paus. 7.3.10; Strab. 14.633; Hdt. 1.146), settled on land given them by the people of Kyme.
   The 9th c. BCE monochrome gray pottery found there may indicate that, like Kymians, these first inhabitants of Phocaea were Aiolians. According to Pausanias, Ionians from Teos and Erythrai settled there, perhaps in one of the earliest movements of the Ionian expansion. Indeed, the Protogeometric pottery probably indicates that the Ionians had lived at Phocaea at least since the end of the 9th c. BCE. From this it might be deduced that the city was accepted into the Panionion after the Ionians settled in the area at this early date.


   Its position between two good harbors, Naustathmus and Lampter (Livy xxxvii. 31), led the inhabitants to devote themselves to maritime pursuits. According to Herodotus the Phocaeans were the first of all the Greeks to undertake distant voyages, and made known the coasts of the Adriatic, Tyrrhenia and Spain. Arganthonius, king of Tartessus in Spain, invited them to emigrate in a body to his dominions, and, on their declining, presented them with a large sum of money. This they employed in constructing a strong wall around their city, a defense which stood them in good stead when Ionia was attacked by Cyrus in 546 BCE.
   The Phocaeans were famous navigators, employing 50-oared vessels. They traded with Naukratis in Egypt and, in association with Miletos, they founded Lampsakos, at the N entrance to the Dardanelles, and Amisos (Samsun) on the Black Sea. But Phocaea's major colonies were in the W Mediterranean, especially Elea (Velia) on the W coast of Lucania in S Italy, Alalia in Corsica, Massalia (Marseilles) in France, and Emporion (Ampurias) in Spain.
   The name Phocaean is often used with reference to Massilia (Marseilles).

Coins (7th c. BCE)

   Phocaea was also famous for its coinage, made of electrum, and for its purple dye.
[Click to enlarge image]
Head of Athena
Phocaea, 500-400 BCE
   This ancient city, some 40 miles north of Smyrna, seems to have risen to great importance after the destruction of the latter by the Lydians, and it was through this port that the products of the interior henceforth found an outlet across the sea (Herod. i. 163). As a maritime city Phocaea was, after Miletus, one of the first coast towns to adopt the new Lydian invention of coining money, i. e. of stamping the precious metals with marks or types as guarantees of fixed values.
   Gold and silver, which from time immemorial had been the universal media of exchange, had no real need of such warrants. They were weighed in the scales, and the generally accepted relation between them was in the proportion of 1 to 13 1/3.
   The ordinary product of the rich Lydian gold-producing districts consisted, however, of an impure gold containing a large admixture of silver, sometimes more, sometimes less, but always variable. The average market price of the impure metal, which from its silvery color obtained the name of 'pale gold' or 'electrum', was considerably less than that of pure gold; it was roughly tariffed at the rate of about 1 to 10 in relation to silver, in contrast with 1 to 13 1/3.
   In order to utilize this abundant natural mixture of gold and silver as a ready medium of exchange, some sort of warrant of exchange value would naturally be required on the part of the purchaser. Accordingly each ingot issued as coin soon came to be stamped with the signet or mark of the issuer responsible for its value, and this custom was so convenient that it was afterwards extended to the purer metals.
   The early electrum staters of the Phocaic standard are distinguishable from the Milesian by their heavier weight, 256-248 grs., as against the Sardian and Milesian, weighing only 220-215 grs., and by their richer color, which is due to their containing a higher percentage of pure gold (Num. Chron., 1887, 304 sqq.). The extension of this standard seems to coincide with the period during which the Phocaeans are said to have been supreme upon the sea, 602-560 BCE (Num. Chron., 1875, p. 282).

Persian Invasion (6th c. BCE)

   In 546 BCE, however, the Persians captured Sardis and soon devastated most of the cities in W Asia Minor, including Phocaea.
   After the Persian conquest of Ionia, when the common cause was hopeless, and their city was besieged by Harpalus, they embarked, to seek new abodes in the distant West, and bent their course to their colony of Aetalia in Corsica and Massilia (Marseilles). During the voyage, however, a large part of the emigrants proceeded only as far as Chios, resolved to return to Phocaea, which they restored, and which recovered much of its prosperity, and submitted to the Persian yoke.
   Xerxes I massed a huge fleet here in preparation for the Third Expedition against Greece. (Diod. XI.2)
[Click to enlarge image]
Head of Athena
Phocaea, 521-478 BCE
   Phocaea continued to exist under the Persian government, but greatly reduced in population and commerce. Though it joined in the Ionian revolt against Persia in 500 BCE it was able to send only three ships to the combined fleet which fought at Lade. But owing to their naval skill, the command of the entire Hellenic fleet was given to Dionysios of Phocaea.

Delian League (5th c. BCE)

   The city was a member of the Delian League during the 5th c. BCE and paid a tribute of two talents, but in 412 BCE Phocaea rebelled and left the League.
[Click to enlarge image]
Head of Athena
Phocaea, 477-388 BCE
   Then Phocaea was allied to the Athenians and blockaded by the Spartan general Thrasybulos in 407 BCE.
   Telephanes of Phocaea was a sculptor for Darius and Xerxes in the 5th c. BCE.

Alexander the Great (4th c. BCE)

   With the arrival of Alexander the Great in 334 BCE the Persians left the area and the people were given their independence.
[Click to enlarge image]
Head of Athena
Phocaea, 387-326 BCE
   According to Vitruvius (7 Praef. 12) Theodoros of Phocaea wrote on the Tholos at Delphi and was probably the builder of it (beginning of the 4th c. BCE).

Hellenistic Period

   During the Hellenistic period Phocaea was ruled first by the Seleucids and then by the Attalids.
[Click to enlarge image]
Head of Athena
Phocaea, 300-100 BCE
   In 197 BCE Antiochus defeats Rhodes, Samos, Colophon and Phocaea in a naval battle (Porph: Fr_47).
   Phocaea recovered much of its prosperity, as is proved by the rich booty gained by the Romans, when they plundered it under the praetor Aemilius Regillus (October 190 BCE).
   In 132 BCE, although it participated in Aristonikos' uprising against the Romans, the city was saved from destruction by the help of Massalia (or Massilia, Marseilles).

Roman Period

   Pompey (106 BCE-48 BCE) gave Phocaea its independence.
[Click to enlarge image]
Poseidon and Athena
Phocaea, 244-249 CE
   During the Roman period (17 BCE) the area suffered a large earthquake.

The Temple of Athena

   One of the oldest temples in the Ionian world (6th c. BCE), perched on the most beautiful spot of ancient Phocaea. The Temple of Athena was located on a flat rock platform with a commanding view of the city and the bay, where the secondary school now stands.
   Excavations have yielded many fragments of bases, columns, capitals, and architectural terracottas which may have been part of the Temple of Athena mentioned by Xenophon (Hell. 13.1) and Pausanias (2.31.6; 7.5.4).
   Constructed of fine white porous stone, the building seems to have been erected in the second quarter of the 6th c. BCE, and restored about the end of the same century after its destruction by the Persians. The architectural and other finds are in the Izmir Museum.
   In 408 BCE the Temple of Athena was struck by lightning and set on fire (Xen Hell. I.3.1).

Athena of Wood

   The historian Strabon said that Athena was made of wood and was in a sitting position. An imprint of the goddess was also on contemporary inscriptions and coins.

Sanctuary of Cybele

   In addition to Athena, another goddess named Cybele was venerated at the same spot. The open-air theater, constructed in the name of Cybele, goddess of birth and fertility, on the northern slope of the rock bottom served as the platform of the Temple of Athena and was first discovered during excavations in 1993.
   Rock-cut niches beneath the Temple of Athena facing the harbor of Phocaea have lately been interpreted as a Sanctuary of Cybele. Pottery finds from the sea just below the wall of rock go back to Protogeometric times, but it seems impossible to figure out which of these vases once were dedicated to Cybele.

Archeological Excavations

   There have been three archeological excavations in Foša since 1912. During these excavations stone monuments, remains from the Hellenic and Roman periods, evidence of the Archaic period and the Temple of Athena, ceramics dating back to the Roman Empire and 7th c. BCE and 6th c. BCE and also Anatolia's oldest theater and castle walls (570-560 BCE), have been found.
   Ozyigit's excavations are actually the third stage of a series of excavations that began in 1913. The first stage lasted from 1913-1920 and was directed by the French archaeologist, Felis Sartiaux. Excavations began again from 1952-1955 under the leadership of Professor Ekrem Akurgal and continued intermittently until 1974. During this second period of excavations, archaeologists uncovered the site of a temple dedicated to Athena.

   The series of excavations in Foca in 1989 revealed an Ionian city which appears to have been one of the largest in the world during the first half of the 6th c. BCE.

   During excavations in 1991, the exact location of the ancient Phocaea theater was determined and digs were conducted on the cavea, which were the steps used for sitting, and on the analemma (surrounding) wall. A Greek inscription on one of the steps suggests that the theater was constructed before the Roman period. It appears from Roman tombs and refuse from a Roman ceramic workshop that the theater was not in use during that time.
   Excavation at the northern analemma wall indicates that the theater had a side entrance. The small size of the 12 rows of tufa stone that reach a height of four-and-a-half meters suggests that the temple was constructed in early antiquity.
   The profile of the cavea, the style of the analemma wall and the coins and ceramic pieces suggest that the theater dates to the time of Alexander the Great (340-330 BCE). In fact, the ancient Phocaea theater is the oldest known theater in Anatolia. While it was not as large as renowned Roman amphitheaters, its old lineage suggests that Phocaea served as an important cultural and economic bridge between the east and west during the 4th to 6th c. BCE.

   Dating back to the Hellenistic period, the oldest city walls in Phocaea were excavated during excavations of the Maltepe tumulus in 1992. It turns out that the city wall frequently mentioned in the nine-volume history by Herodotus, the world's first historian, belonged to Phocaea. He wrote: The first Greeks to undertake long sea journeys were the residents of Phocaea. ... They travelled not with round boats but used ships with 50 oarsmen. Arganthonios, the king of Tartessos [an ancient kingdom in southwestern Spain], did great service to the seafarers from Phocaea. At first, he proposed that they 'leave Ionia and settle here,' and when they declined, and upon finding out that the Medians [Persians] had gained in power, he gave them money so they could surround their city with walls.
   The 15-kilometer wall suggests that Phocaea was one of the largest cities in the world at the beginning of the 6th c. BCE.

   Since 1998 the latest phase of the Foca (Phocaea) excavation has revealed a number of significant findings about Anatolian culture. Project coordinators are planning to turn Foca into an open-air museum after completing the excavation which has revealed the world's oldest theater and new information about the Persian mausoleum and the temples to the goddesses Athena and Cybele, all dating to the 6th-4th c. BCE.
   The excavation is being lead by Professor Omer Ozyigit, who believes that the submergence of ancient sites by contemporary settlements is the greatest problem in Foca. We encountered a variety of finds even in the sewage pits and construction sites opened by the municipal administration, he said. The Temple of Athena, one of the most important finds, is buried under a high school building at this time. We have continued to work in order to excavate the temple, where a statue of Athena was found.

   The excavations in 2000 revealed more finds from the Temple of Athena and the Persian mausoleum, and they have also pointed to a hitherto unknown sacred rock site below the Temple of Athena associated with the Anatolian earth-goddess Cybele.
   Restoration of part of the Temple of Athena is planned, and work on the Persian mausoleum such as cleaning, architectural reproduction, restoration and environmental arrangement continues.
   Ozyigit aims to reconstruct the Temple of Athena in situ and revive the aura of the mystical times of thousands of years ago. He also hopes to change the former junior high school building (now part of the high school complex) next to which the temple was uncovered into a museum that will display some of the artifacts dug up at the site.

The Small Aegean Islands

   In the small Aegean islands facing the city, other excavations are underway. So far, sanctuaries have been found cut into the rock on the islands of Incir and Orak. The temples on both islands face east - looking straight out at the Temple of Athena. The excavations are partially complete, and Ozyigit plans to continue until all the remains on these islands are brought to light. Archaeologists hope they will be able to uncover other rock temples related to Cybele, the principal goddess revered in ancient Anatolian culture.

Final Note

   Care must be taken not to confound Phocaea with Phocis, or the ethnic adjectives of the former, Ph˘kaeus and PhocaeŰnsis, with those of the latter, Ph˘keus and Phocensis; some of the ancient writers themselves have fallen into these mistakes.


[Click to enlarge image]
495 X 390
12,8 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
Phocaea coast
390 X 451
17,4 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
521-478 BCE
320 X 300
17,8 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
500-400 BCE
353 X 361
25,8 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
477-388 BCE
320 X 314
21,0 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
387-326 BCE
320 X 304
21,1 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
350-300 BCE
329 X 301
20,3 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
300-100 BCE
368 X 360
28,3 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
150-250 CE
287 X 140
7,27 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
244-249 CE
351 X 355
36,8 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
590 X 416
41,5 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
590 X 397
34,1 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
Foca harbor1
590 X 394
43,2 KB
[Click to enlarge image]
Foca harbor2
590 X 394
44,8 KB

Tourist Information:

   Foca is located 71 kilometers northwest of Izmir, Turkey.
   With its natural beauty, scenic bays, various different kinds of fish and particularly the Mediterranean Seals (Monachus), which are kept under preservation and have been living in the area for thousands of years, Foca has much to offer.
   In addition to Foca's cultural riches, the area is home to some fascinating natural beauty spots. Nearby the islands of Incir and Orak are the islets known as the Sirens' Rocks. Originally formed by volcanic eruptions, the waves, wind and rain wore them down until they acquired their present form. The name of these rocks, which are mentioned in Homer's epic, The Odyssey, probably came from the way the wind, as it passes over the rocks, resembles the voices of the mythological Sirens. Ancient legend has it that these creatures, with the heads of women and the bodies of birds, attracted sailors with their seductive call. Unfortunately, those who heeded their call would go insane and die. Accordingly, these rocks became a sailor's worst nightmare.


Back to the top
Copyright ©1998-2004 Roy George