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Gate to Temple of Zeus Unearthed in Magnesia, Asia Minor

Temple of Zeus Magnesia
The ancient stadium, or hippodrome, in Magnesia in Asia Minor. A gate to a temple dedicated to Zeus has now been unearthed by Turkish archaeologists. Credit: Torsten62 /CC BY-SA 4.0

The ancient Greek city of Magnesia in Asia Minor, now part of Turkey’s Aydin province, was home to a spectacular stadium, temples, and other monuments; it has now exposed another of its ancient treasures—the gate to a temple dedicated to Zeus.

Turkish archaeologists, who have been excavating Magnesia for decades, rediscovered the temple’s gate recently after the Temple was first discovered in the 1890s by a German archaeologist, who reburied much of what he found. The site is not far from another temple, dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis, which was already uncovered, as well.

The entrance gate for the Temple of Zeus was unearthed as part of ongoing excavations that continue in the Ortaklar area, led by Associate Professor Gorkem Kokdemir from Ankara University.

“I have been working on the Magnesia excavations for 23 years, since 1998,” Kokdemir explained to interviewers from Turkey’s TRT World.

According to Kokdemir, the priceless treasures of the ancient Greek city of Magnesia were first excavated during the latter years of the Ottoman Empire. German archaeologist Carl Humann, who also dug in Bergama and many other cities in western Anatolia, excavated Magnesia in 1891 to 1892.

Kokdemir says that Humann was the first to discover the temple dedicated to Zeus in modern times, but much of it was subsequently reburied. “He [spent] two years in Magnesia and [dug] up the Zeus Temple, the one we rediscovered and is now in the news, in the agora,” Kokdemir told interviewers.

“It is significant because of architectural history,” he explains. “It is dated back to the 3rd century BC, one of the earliest temples of the Hellenistic period,” he explains.

The city of Magnesia, located in what is now Turkey’s Aydin province, has historical riches that were coveted by the archaeologists of the time, and, as was common in that era, Humann simply carted off much of what he found and gave it to the government of his own country.

Kokdemir added that Humann “revealed the architectural elements of this temple and he [took] about ten percent of the temple to Berlin. He [took] many goods to Berlin such as sculptures and inscriptions, along with parts of the Zeus Temple.”

Today, he says, in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, visitors can see parts of the Temple of Zeus that stand at an incredible 5.5 to 6 meters (18.37 feet) tall. He laments that the temple’s architecture has been completed with what he calls “90 percent imitation parts.”

The archaeologist says that the temple dedicated to Zeus is one of the most important sacred sites in Magnesia. “There is the Artemis sacred space there, there is also a sacred agora, the Zeus Temple is in the sacred agora. It is very significant…it is the second [most] important cult (of Magnesia)” he explains.

“In ancient cities people worshipped not just one deity…they worshipped multiple gods or goddesses,” he notes. “In Magnesia the first deity is Artemis, and the second deity is Zeus.”

Kokdemir says his archaeological team is excavating what is left of the Temple of Zeus, including its gate, to glean additional architectural information, to complete what information is still missing and to reintroduce the temple to rigorous archaeological study.

“It has been underground for a hundred years,” he states. “It was only seen during Humann’s time and shortly after was buried under four meters (13 feet) of soil.”

The Magnesia excavation team says that they expect to find sixty to seventy percent of the original parts of the Temple of Zeus Temple. They plan to begin a restoration of the temple, to add pillars measuring five meters (16.4 feet) in height and to reconstruct the roof, making it into a site that can be visited by the public.

Magnesia was founded approximately about 2,400 years ago in the 4th century BC. “Its most striking aspect is the temples built for gods and goddesses and the festivals and games [organized] for these deities,” Kokdemir notes.

Of all the ancient structures in Magnesia, the Temple of Artemis temple is the largest religious structure. Now open to visitors, Kokdemir says it is the fourth largest temple in Anatolia following Ephesus’ Temple of Artemis.

This was considered to be one of the seven wonders of the world at one point. Built by Hermogenes, the Temple of Artemis was his masterpiece.

Kokdemir explains part of the reason why Magnesia played such an important part in the world of Ancient Greece, saying that “in the 3rd century BC, 2300 years ago, there were games organized that were the equivalent of the most important games in the Mediterranean region, the Delphi Apollo Games.”

According to Kokdemir, “participants from Italy, from Greece, from many points in Anatolia, from the islands, joined in these games that [lasted] five days. The games spoke of the significance of Magnesia and also helped the city grow and thrive.”

In speaking to reporters, Kokdemir further explained that there are still many sites in Magnesia that must be excavated. While he and his team expects the Temple of Zeus to be restored to its full glory in a couple of years, depending on funding, the hippodrome, having an incredible capacity of fifty thousand spectators, beacons to archaeologists next.

“We may have to wait for 15 to 20 years to completely experience the amazing city that is Magnesia, but it will be worth it,” he states emphatically.

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