Explore The North Aegean
Ancient Sardis (Sart in Turkish) lies 65km east of Manisa, at the northern foot of Bozdağ. The route there follows the Gediz river valley, the world’s number-one producer of sultanas, with vineyards dominating the landscape. Sardis became incredibly wealthy thanks to the gold flecks that were washed down from Mount Tmolos (now Bozdağ) and caught in sheepskins by the locals. According to legend, the source of this wealth was Phrygian king Midas, whose touch turned everything to gold. Unable to eat, his curse was lifted when the gods bid him wash his hands in the River Paktolos, which flowed down to Sardis from the south.
Unsurprisingly perhaps given this abundance of gold, the Lydians invented coinage under Sardis’s most celebrated king, Croesus. During his rule (560–546 BC) the kingdom’s wealth attracted the attention of the Persians under Cyrus. The Delphic oracle ambiguously advised a worried Croesus that should he attack first a great empire would be destroyed. Croesus went to war and was defeated, and after a two-week siege Sardis fell; taken prisoner by Cyrus, Croesus was burnt alive, though some accounts have him rescued from the pyre by a providential rainstorm.
As a Persian city, Sardis was sacked during the Ionian revolt of 499 BC. It revived under Alexander the Great, but was destroyed by an earthquake in 17 AD. The Romans rebuilt it, and Sardis ranked as one of the Seven Churches of Asia addressed by St John in Revelation 3:1–6, though this didn’t spare Byzantine Sardis from conquest by Saruhan and destruction at the hands of Tamerlane in 1401. The city only came to light again between 1904 and 1914, when American archeologists began excavating here.Read More
There are two clusters of ruins, both easily reached on foot from the main road, though the uphill one is a hot walk in summer. The first site, essentially the gymnasium and synagogue, lies just north of the road on the eastern edge of Sartmustafa. Entry is via a partially revealed, marble-paved Roman avenue, which passes various shops, though low walls with discernible doorways are all that remain.
A break in the shopping mall leads into the restored synagogue, its walls covered with copies of the original coloured stonework, now housed in the Manisa Museum; the extensive floor mosaics are, however, original. Adjacent to the synagogue is the third-century AD gymnasium and bath complex, once the city’s most prominent building. Its Marble Court, the entry from the palaestra to the baths, has been spectacularly restored approximately to its condition when first built in 211 AD. The walls behind the columns would have had marble revetments and the podia would have supported statues, forming a splendid multistoreyed facade implying association with some imperial cult. Behind the court are the remains of a plunge-pool and rest area.
From the Sartmustafa village teahouses, a paved lane – marked with a brown sign on the far side of the highway, west of the synagogue – leads 1200m south from the main road to the other site, the Temple of Artemis. The temple, once among the four largest in Asia Minor, was built by Croesus, destroyed by Greek raiders during the Ionian revolt and later rebuilt by Alexander the Great. Today fifteen massive Ionic columns remain standing, though only two are completely intact. However, enough of the foundations remain to suggest just how large the building, constructed to rival the temples of Ephesus, Samos and Didyma, used to be. By the two complete columns huddle the remains of a small Byzantine church. More than anything, it’s the beauty of the setting, enclosed by wooded and vined hills and accented by weird Cappadocia-like pinnacles, that leaves a lasting impression.