Authored by colbyhaskins

An Under-the-Radar Cult Center - Aizanoi

In the center of the flat plains on a high plateau in western Turkey stands a temple. Few visitors find their way here except those drawn by the knowledge that no other temple in Anatolia is in such a remarkable state of preservation. Another fascinating feature of the temple is the inscriptions on the walls, which tell the building's story. In one of these inscriptions, it writes, '(I) Avidius Quietus, greet the senators, city councilors and the citizens of Aizanoi. Contention lasting many years over the holy lands dedicated so long ago to Zeus was finally brought to an end by the authoritative judgment of his majesty the Emperor...' The temple stands in Aizanoi, once a city of the Roman province of Asia Minor, in Phrygia. It lies near the town of Cavdarhisar, 57 kilometers from Kutahya. At that time, Quietus was the provincial governor, and the emperor of whom he speaks was Hadrian (117-138), a man with a deep admiration for Hellenic culture. Although Hadrian never visited Aizanoi, he held this holy city in special regard. Aizanoi began life as a modest provincial town and became increasingly wealthy from its exports of grain, wool, and wine.

The time had come for it to trumpet its fortunes, and it was decided to begin by building a temple dedicated to Zeus. However, a long-standing dispute over ownership of the land earmarked for the site presented a serious obstruction. The temple lands' boundaries were unclear, and those who worked them refused to pay the rents or taxes to which they were subject. Hadrian settled the dispute, and copies of the letters of such significance for the city were later inscribed on the temple walls. As befitted a structure dedicated to Zeus, God of gods, and Hadrian's penchant for Hellenic art and architecture, the temple was constructed of marble. It incorporated many features of the Graeco-Anatolian architecture, lending it a Roman neoclassical character. Furthermore, it was built upon a barrel-vaulted substructure. For what purpose this area, with its impressive and mystic atmosphere, was used is an interesting question. According to some researchers, this substructure, which is a feature occurring only rarely in Anatolian temples, was devoted to the cult of Meter Steunen , goddess of rocks and mountains. Meter is another name for the Anatolian mother goddess Cybele, the epithet Steunene referring to the sacred cave where she was worshipped. Finds in a cave two kilometers from Aizanoi show that this goddess was worshipped in the area, tending to confirm this theory. The temple stands on a high podium on the west bank of the Kocacay, which flows through the city.

Only the priests of the temple were admitted into the walled temple itself. A huge statue of Zeus, of which no trace has been found, once stood in the cella, or principal chamber, and would have been erected there before the doorway was built, on account of its size. The massive columns carved from single pieces of stone, each approximately 9 meters in height and weighing 10-12 tons, would have been carried from a great distance on runners drawn by oxen. After the plinths were set in place, the columns were heaved into position. Then scaffolding was erected so that stonemasons could carve the flutes, which lent the columns a more graceful appearance. Combining the Ionic and Corinthian styles of Roman architecture, the composite capitals were fixed to the summit with iron clamps. Once the 48 columns had been completed, the stone sections of the architrave were set over them every 5 meters in length. Such long single-piece sections had never been used before. The pitched roof was then constructed, and decorative finials known as acroterium were placed on the pediments and along the roof's sides. The imposing acroterion in the form of a female bust that originally crowned the West pediment's summit is now displayed on the ground in front of the temple, but which goddess it represents remains a mystery. The architect of the Temple of Zeus probably went to the gymnasium at the end of a tiring day's work to participate in the sports himself or watch the young athletes training. Then he may have relaxed at the baths before going to watch an oil wrestling contest at the palestra. On his way to the meat market, notorious for its quarrels, on the other side of the river, he would have passed the combined theatre and stadium of Aizanoi, a unique structure found in no other ancient city, and cast yet another appreciative glance at it with an architect's professional eye.

On the walls of the round building thought to be the meat market has engraved a copy of Diocletian's edict laying down maximum wages and prices in an endeavor to combat inflation. The edict lists the prices of many products, from the sponges used to make eye lotions, diverse foodstuffs, and minerals, to shipping costs and slaves. The 2nd and 3rd centuries were the high points of Aizanoi's prosperity. The emperor had favored the city by declaring it the official center of the cult of Zeus. On this sacral authority, it was here that the highest-ranking priest of Asia Minor was appointed.

Subsequently, the temple was used for Christian worship, and in the 13th century, the Cavdar Tartars decorated the walls with hunting and battle scenes.

Plan a trip to Turkey soon? visit here .

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