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Land of the Honey Girl Aspendos


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Posted 20 March 2005 - 21:36

They call me 'Bal kiz' or the 'Honey Girl'. The village of Belkis , near the ruins of the city of Aspendos , built on a mountain at one end of the Perge Plain, took its name from me. What I am going to tell you is the story of myself and of my beautiful city, Aspendos. Although legend has it that I am the daughter of the Queen of Bees and the King of Snakes and that my father had this palace built for me, my real story goes like this: My father, the king of Aspendos, organized a contest to see who would best serve the city. Whoever won would have the right to marry me. At the end of the competition, one of the candidates had built the city's aqueducts, ensuring that water was brought from afar. Another had built the theatre. As my father was touring the theatre, he was just about to decide the winning candidate when he heard a voice say, "The king's daughter will be mine." The speaker was none other than Xenon, architect of the theatre and my future husband, speaking in a whisper on the stage of the building of whose acoustics he was rightly proud.

STILL STANDING AFTER 2200 YEARS
Conspicuous in the city of Aspendos , which was founded by Argive colonists who headed south after the Trojan War, are an agora, a basilica, a nymphaeum (monumental fountain), and the aqueduct that begins in the foothills of the Taurus and ends at the base of the mountain. Among them, the most magnificent, and the most sound, is the theatre, masterfully built by Xenon in the 2nd century B.C. in order to marry me. It is five storeys high on its front facade, constructed of large stones carved with reliefs. Three large doors, each surmounted by Greek and Latin inscriptions, afford entrance to the theatre. You will enter the structure through a door in the front facade that was made much later, but originally entry was through two vaulted passages on either side of the stage. The royal door is the largest entrance to the stage-building, which had five doors in all. The niches in front of the stage, which is surrounded by Ionian and Corinthian columns, contain statues below small triangular or semi-circular pediments. Although the ox-heads, fruit wreaths, and floral branches that adorned the

pediments are missing in places, on the whole they remain in good condition today. On a small pediment in the center of the columned upper level stands a relief sculpture of Dionysus, god of wine and founder and protector of theatres. The two-storey stage-building and stairs to the spectators' seats are all in sound condition. At the top of the stairs is an intact arcade that encircles the theatre from end to end. Spring has come, and if you leave the theatre and stroll a little among the scattered ruins, you will reach the agora and the basilica set amidst daisies and purple wild flowers, just as in ancient times. I see that the mouth of the Köprüçay (Eurymedon) has changed over the centuries due to war and alluvium. The Eurymedon became famous in 469 B.C. in the war in which the Athenians sank thousands of Persian vessels. The mouth of the river, which could accommodate ships in that period, is completely blocked today, and the bridge over it was erected on the ancient foundations. Crossing this bridge we could go to the village of Serge , a day's walk away.

THE CITY THAT COULD NOT BE SHARED
Although the Persians reestablished their control over Pamphylia in 449 B.C., the Athenians succeeded in holding the city of Aspendos , where they collected abundant tribute, until 425. In 334 B.C., Alexander the Great arrived in these lands, which had been passed back and forth between the two empires for close to a century. Although my people, under Persian rule, at first made an agreement with the great commander, they changed their minds when he set out from here in the direction of Perge.

On the verge of besieging Sillyon, Alexander at that point abandoned the siege and marched on Aspendos with all his forces. Rightfully fearful of this commander, who had until then never suffered a defeat, the people of Aspendos had no choice but to surrender and submit to the newly appointed governor and the tribute that was exacted. The wars continued even after Alexander's death, and my country remained in the hands of the Kingdom of Pergamum until 133 B.C.

NOT A SINGLE STATUE LEFT
People who visit this famous city of historic Pamphylia, which was filled with sculptures each one more beautiful than the last, wonder why they don't come across a single statue today. Like its neighbor Perge, Aspendos, which was attached to Rome in 129 A.D., was looted by the Roman politician Verres.

This great plunderer, who removed the sculptures from all the temples and other buildings, was later summoned to the Roman Senate by Cicero . "My complaint is not that a statue was taken from this city in one way or another," said Cicero . "My complaint has to do with why Verres did not leave even one statue in the city." This is why there is not a single statue to be seen in the city today.

NO WINE FOR THE GODS
Even though Aspendos was far from the sea, ships could approach quite close on the River Eurymedon, giving the city all the advantages of a coastal settlement while simultaneously safeguarding it against pirates. Its soil was neither fertile nor suitable for raising livestock, but its situation along a major East-West trade route and its highly developed art brought riches upon riches to our city. It was one of the first two cities in the region to strike its own coins. The Aspendians were not only wealthy but also refined. Like the residents of the neighboring towns they were wine

growers and vintners, with one difference: we never offered wine to the gods. Instead we wove mats with silver threads and made furniture from the wood of the lemon tree which we sold in the markets of Rome . Philosophers were trained as well in the school of philosophy founded by Diodorus.

A SPELL UNINTERRUPTED FOR CENTURIES
Starting from the early 13th century, Aspendos began to exhibit signs of settlement by the Seljuk Turks. During the rule of Alaeddin Keykubad I in particular, the theatre was restored. Adorned with elegant Seljuk-style tiles, it was used as a caravanserai. This is one of the reasons it has survived in such sound condition. Whether you wander among the city's ruins, or follow the ballet, music, theatre and film festivals held here every summer, may you wear a wreath of wild flowers or carry a bouquet. And if I should suddenly appear before you from behind a column or beneath an arch, it's just the age-old spell of Aspendos all over again.

TEXT:YELDA BALER



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