Old Smyrna Höyük
Old Smyrna Höyük
The Old Smyrna Höyük was first inhabited in 3000 B.C. and enjoyed its prime during the Iron Age as a flourishing Greek colony. Located in the modern Bayraklı district of İzmir, the mound contains multiple cultural layers extending from the Early Bronze Age to the Roman Period.
The Ancient City of Smyrna Documentary
Old Smyrna was located on a small and rocky hill, around 365 x 250 m wide in area, on the current Tepekule (previously known as Haci Muço Hill) in the Bayraklı district of İzmir. While we know little of Bronze Age in the area, the settlement rises as a Hellenistic town in the 10th century B.C. and is home to one of the key ports on the coast of Western Anatolia. The town faded into history following the Roman Period not to be unveiled again until the 19th century. Old Smyrna is crucial to modern İzmir’s cultural history as it is the oldest settlement to trace footsteps back in time.
The curvilinear structure dated to the 10th century B.C. measures 2.75 x 4.30 meters. Built on a single tier of stones, the cob walls buttressed a reed roof. With the entrance located on the longer wall, the structure is a perfect representation of 10th century Old Smyrna.
The precedent of Hellenistic houses with multiple rooms and courtyards were the megarons, the rectangular or curvilinear structures where a portico leads to the main hall. Prevalent across the Aegean, these structures appeared as civilian, religious and public buildings.
The greatest example of megarons in Old Smyrna is the “Megaron for Meetings,” dated to the second half of the seventh century B.C. The structure is neatly built with polygonal walls and andesite plate coating. The entrance to the 11.3 x 6.6 meter building faces south. Ekrem Akurgal interprets the large main hall and its overall neat construction as a meeting hall for leaders and royals. The building was abandoned in the late seventh century BCE
Double Megaron consists of two megara adjacent to each other through a common wall. Constructed in the late seventh century and early sixth century B.C., the 13 x 10 m building is striking with its neat polygonal walls. The clearing on the south of the building to where the rooms lead is thought to be a courtyard within the building premises. The suggested layout makes Double Megaron the earliest structure with a courtyard discovered in Old Smyrna and is a significant indicator of contemporary advances.
Temple of Athena
The Temple of Athena is crucial in religious architecture not only in Old Smyrna, but also in the broad Western Anatolia. It is located in the northeast of town, facing the eastern gate and adjacent to the defensive wall. The Temple’s construction began in the early seventh century B.C. The building is unique in the region among the early examples of religious monumental stone constructions.
The construction of the building in Aeolic Order can be divided into four stages. At the first stage, the Temple is a simple curvilinear structure that rises on the inner platform, previously a part of the town’s defensive walls. By the final quarter of the seventh century B.C., the structure was renovated to expand the terrace built in the IIA and B stages towards the west and to include a stoa to the southeast. The Temple at this stage is believed to be the first temple constructed as a peripteros, a cella surrounded by columns. The IIIA stage that began around 610 B.C. transformed the Temple into a true monumental architecture. Stone walls rising on the foundation built with local andesite are surrounded by Aeolic order columns of white tuff stone.
With the growth of the city's fortification system, the sanctuary of the temple was gradually expanded towards the city. The temple whose ruins we see today is a temple that started to be built in 620 BC and was probably left unfinished as a result of the destruction of the city by the Lydians before it could be completed. The columns and capitals made of white tuff stone of the temple, which has a peripteros plan with 6 columns on the short front and 10 columns on the long side, are in Aeolian order. Aeolian capitals and mushroom-type heads found in the excavations stand out in the whole Greek world with their craftsmanship.
The two stoa structures located on the same plane with the temple, just to the west, must have been used for the worshipers to sit in the shade and to store the gifts dedicated to the goddess. The statues, figurines, decorative shields and arrowheads found in the excavations in this area are important in terms of showing the variety of gifts dedicated to the goddess.
The temenos wall of the temple facing the Athena street is quite high. In order to reach the elevation where the temple is located, a ramp was built in the East, near the entrance gate. The ramp takes visitors directly in front of the temple.
Between 610-600 BC, the main room (naos) and the front room (pronaos) were located in the temple, with 15 columns with Aeolian capitals on the long sides and 11 on the short sides. The columns of the temple, which has an andesite foundation, whose construction was never completed, were made of white tuff stone. The life of the temple, which took its most magnificent form in this phase, was not long. During the siege of Old Smyrna by the Lydian King Alyattes in approximately 600 BC, the building materials of the temple were dismantled to protect the city. In 547/6 BC, it is known that the Persians, who put an end to the Lydian Kingdom, plundered the temple. At this time, the entrance to the temple area provided a corridor facing Athena Street between the walls of the high terrace where stoas and statues dedicated to the goddess were thought to be placed. This entrance was closed with a wall in line with the defensive measures taken by the Smyrnas during the Persian attack. In 500 BC, the construction of a larger temple was started, but with the suppression of the Ionian uprising, which also took place in Smyrna in 499 BC, in connection with the Persians, the construction of this temple could not be completed. The last construction activities of the temple are dated to 460 BC with archaeological finds. There is a stoa just to the west of the temple for the protection of visitors and votives. There is a ramp to the east of the temple.
Belief, Ritual, Feast
Offerings to Athena include figurines of young men and women, figurines from Cyprus, Phoenicia and Egypt, terracotta shields honoring the war goddess Athena, metal artifacts, and various ceramics.
Persian Conquest and the Temple of Athena
In 547-6 B.C., Persians conquered the Kingdom of Lydia, a powerful force in Western Anatolia. With the fall of the Lydians, Persian armies were now free to march to the Western Anatolian coasts. Old Smyrna, along with the other coastal towns in the region, then continued under Persian rule.
Even though our information on the town’s Bronze Age defenses are no more than guesses, our knowledge of Iron Age defense systems is quite satisfactory. The first defensive walls are known to have been built in the second half of the ninth century B.C. This defensive structure consisted of a cob wall built before the steep at the peripheral of the mound, which was then back filled with thousands of andesite stones.
The exterior side of the town wall is built high with cob blocks, while the inner side is lower at the settlement level. The rectangular defensive tower at the eastern gate of the town, built of white tuff stone, is another new structure of this period. It is evident that the town during this period was protected by a cob defensive wall and at least one white tuff defensive tower at the eastern gate. The early defensive wall underwent two phases until the later half of the seventh century B.C., when it was damaged. During the same period, the defensive wall was reconstructed for the third time in polygonal masonry using andesite stones, and wall thickness reached 17 meters in places. Around the sixth century B.C., the army of Lydian King Alyattes overtook the strong defensive walls by piling up a dirt hill on the northwestern side of town and took down the walls along with the rest of the town. After that defeat, townspeople did not rebuild the wall for another two centuries. By the end of the fifth century B.C., a new terrace surrounding the town was likely functioning as a defensive wall. The seventh century B.C. wall that can still be traced for 600 meters along the east and south of the town is one of the most significant architectural remains of Western Anatolia.
City wall of Smyrna, which reflect the architectural structure of the Hellenic culture, have a different place among similar known examples in Western Anatolia, Aegean Islands and Continental Greece. Contrary to the city walls, which were preserved at the foundation level in many centers, the Old Smyrna city walls, with their sections extending up to 6 meters in places, have received protection at an unprecedented level. The old Smyrna city walls are also in a special position, as they offer the opportunity to observe phases such as detectable construction techniques, renovation, reuse, expansion and placement of additional units.
Smyrna is the city with the earliest walls among the Hellenic cities. The history of the city walls dates back to a fairly early period, with a defensive wall that could be given to the Bronze Age. However, with the archaeological data, it can be said that the city walls had four main construction phases. The first defensive wall of the Ionian settlement is seen in the first phase, which is between 850-800 BC. The counter forces that caused the construction of the massive wall in this phase are not fully known. However, the second and third phases of the wall played an important role against the Lydian Kingdom, which was an important power of the period. The second phase of the wall was given to 775-755 BC. At the beginning of the 7th century BC, traces of great destruction were found on the defensive wall. This destruction is associated with the Lydian King Gyges, who organized expeditions to many points in Western Anatolia. Although some renovations were made after the mentioned destruction, it can be thought that the Smyrna were partially defenseless until the attack of Alyattes in the early 7th century BC. The third phase constructions of the wall began in the middle of the 7th century BC and were completed at the end of the same century. It is known that in the 7th century BC, the city wall, which surrounded the whole city and had large rectangular towers at some points, had a large gate to the southeast of the Temple of Athena. By the end of the 7th century BC, another blow to the people of Smyrna was made by Alyattes, King of Lydia. As a result of the Lydian attack that took place in the middle of the 7th century BC, the city wall was largely destroyed. In the middle of the 4th century BC, the last construction phase of the walls is seen. The first phase of the walls points to a central authority that emerged with the increasing number of residential architecture.
Old Smyrna is home to one of the earliest known fountains of the Hellenistic world. Dating back to the late seventh century B.C., the fountain was active continuously until the fourth century B.C. Rather than carrying clean water from a distant source, the fountain provided access to and saved the underground water. Constructed out of overlapping andesite stones, the structure is integrated into the Archaic defense walls. In antiquity, the fountain was possibly accessed from outside the defensive walls. The fountain still retains its source and it can be observed almost as it was in its prime, particularly during fertile spring days.
According to excavations so far, Athena Avenue was the main street of town, running across from east to west, between the sixth century B.C. and fourth century B.C. Beginning from the eastern gate, the avenue passes before the Temple of Athens and likely changes direction in the west to reach the western gate. Numerous streets intersect the avenue in almost straight angles. Therefore, the streets of the town are mostly in a grid pattern. The western gate likely led to the ancient port of Smyrna, which is possibly located to the west of the mound, to the south of modern Bayraklı Sevgi Yolu street.
Trade Network of Smyrna
Old Smyrna, with its port in the Aegean Sea, was a substantial trading hub from the ninth century B.C. to the late Archaic Period. The first town wall dating back to the ninth century B.C. as well as the stone-built Temple of Athena of the seventh century B.C. indicate the wealth brought about by the trade volume of this port. Attican, Corinthian and Euboian ceramics unearthed in the town remains, as well as exotic items from Cyprus, Egypt and Phoenicia such as glass and tiles, indicate the trade between the town and other Aegean and Mediterranean ports. Old Smyrna’s relations with the Kingdom of Lydia of Inner Western Anatolia transformed the town into a significant hub to trade Lydian products with Aegean and Mediterranean ports.
City Wall Nekropolis
The necropolis of Old Smyrna is in the north of town, on the southern hills of Mount Sipylus (Mount Yamanlar). The most important tomb on the hill is the over 20-meter high tumulus claimed to be of the legendary King Tantalus. However, research indicate that the tumulus is not that of King Tantalus as claimed since antiquity, but that of a leader who reigned in the late seventh century B.C. The area where numerous tumuli were discovered in the 1930s are currently buried beneath modern settlements.
Besides the main necropolis on the hills of Mount Yamanlar, the vicinity of town was also often used as a cemetery. Excavations around the eastern town wall discovered that following the damage in the eight century B.C., the remains of the town wall were used as tombs, mostly for children. Around 600 B.C., the town walls were damaged once again by the attacks of Alyattes, and the walls collapsed either forward onto empty fields or backward onto settlements. The remains of the defensive wall were used as a cemetery throughout the sixth century B.C. Remains of numerous pithos and sarcophagus tombs unearthed in this area are still visible.
The Foundation of the Town and Related Myths
There are various myths about the foundation of the town. A legends says that the town was established by Amazons, one of whom was called Smyrna. Another claims that the town was founded by the legendary King Tantalus. Hence, the monumental tumulus on the hills of Mount Sipylus is claimed to be that of Tantalus. Another myth suggests that it was Theseus, the great hero of Attica, who established the town. On a different note, whether the town is actually a Hellenistic settlement is still open to debate. While researchers suggest different dates of foundation based on ancient authors’ statements, items recovered in excavations indicate the town was first established in 3000 B.C. and Hellenic settlements did not appear earlier than the 10th century BCE
The author of Iliada and Odysseia, Homer is the most significant poet of Hellenic literature. While Homer's life is yet to be proven, his place of birth also changes according to ancient authors. Some suggest Colophon, some consider Chios Island, while other authors believe he was born in Smyrna. Presumed to have lived during the eight century B.C., it is almost certain that Homer was born in this region if he truly lived. Of the suggested birth places, Smyrna presents the most substantial archaeological evidence from the eight century B.C. If Homer truly lived, then Old Smyrna is the only place to perhaps wander on the same streets and to breathe in the air where he scripted his legends.
İzmir has always been a popular destination for travelers with an impressive lot to offer. Having been long forgotten, Old Smyrna reappears in the 19th century as a town mentioned by ancient authors, yet to be located. The mausoleum of King Tantalus on the southern side of Mount Sipylus was then attracting travelers and their research focused on the location of Old Smyrna, leading to the discovery of town in the early 1800s.
Located by travelers, little was known on Old Smyrna. Scientific research began with the field study of Helene and Franz Miltner in the 1930s. The report on this research also led to the first systematic excavations in the area, between 1948 and 1951, under Ekrem Akurgal and John Manuel Cook endorsed by the Ankara University and Athens British Archaeological Institute cooperation. The excavations at the time gathered substantial information on civilian settlement, public buildings and defensive structures in town and broadly identified town layers. The excavations were suspended until 1966, when the second term was launched under Prof. Ord. Ekrem Akurgal. The digs continued until 1992 and researched into town layers from 2,000 B.C., the Temple of Athena and the Bronze Age settlement layers. The research also discovered successive settlement layers from early settlement in the 3000s B.C. to fourth century A.D., when the town was abandoned. The third excavation term was carried out between 1993 and 2013 under Prof. Dr. Meral Akurgal. This term focused on the excavation of town structures, walls, and gates. As of 2014, excavations in the area have continued under Prof. Dr. Cumhur Tanrıver on behalf of Aegean University.