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Ancient Greek Amphitheater at Laodicea Restored to Former Glory

Amphitheater Laodicea
The ancient Greek amphitheater at Laodicea has now been restored to its former glory. Credit: Carole Raddato /CC BY-SA 2.0

The ancient amphitheater in the Ancient Greek city of Laodicea, located in the ancient Greek area of Phrygia, has been restored.

The mammoth task of restoring the ancient amphitheater was undertaken by Professor Celal Simsek of the University of Pamukkale (the ancient city of Hierapolis) and his archeological team in 2003. Now, their project of bringing back the ancient Greek monument, which has a capacity of more than fifteen thousand, has finally been completed.

Speaking to interviewers from the Anadolu Agency, Simsek stated that his restoration team team applied the most recent techniques of international criteria, he said, “This is the most extensive project whose restoration has been completed in such a short time.”

Amphitheater Laodicea
The amphitheater at ancient Laodicia has now been restored by archaeologists in Turkey. Credit: Facebook/The

Simsek added that a total of ten academics, a specialist architect, twelve archaeologists, four restoration experts and twenty laborers participated in the ambitious project, which was made possible by the South Aegean Development Agency and the municipality of Denizli, Turkey.

Known as Laodicea on the Lycus (Greek: Λαοδίκεια πρὸς τοῦ Λύκου) Laodicea was an ancient city built on the Lycus River. It was located in the Hellenistic regions of Caria and Lydia, which later became the Roman Province of Phrygia Pacatiana after the Roman takeover of the area.

Located near the city of Denizli, Turkey, the archaeological site was added to the Tentative List of World Heritage Sites in Turkey in 2013.

It contained one of the “Seven churches of Asia,” which were mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

Laodicea Baths
The central bath complex in the ancient city of Laodicea in what is now Turkey. Credit: Carole Raddato/CC BY-SA 2.0

The city of Laodicea was first constructed by Antiochus II Theos in 261-253 BC in honor of his wife Laodice, but it was most likely founded on the site of an even older town. Located approximately 17 kilometers (11 miles) west of Colossae, it is 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) south of Hierapolis.

It was approximately 160 kilometers (99 miles) east of the historic city of Ephesus, which is, of course, also mentioned prominently in the Bible. According to the historian and geographer Strabo, it was on a major road, soon becoming quite wealthy as a result of trade.

Achaeus was its king in 220 BC, but in 188 BC, the city passed to the Kingdom of Pergamon, and, after 133 BC, it fell under Roman rule. It suffered greatly during the Mithridatic Wars but quickly recovered under the dominion of Rome.

Toward the end of the Roman Republic and under the first emperors, Laodicea, benefiting from its advantageous position on the trade route, became one of the most important and wealthy commercial cities of Asia Minor, in which an extensive trade in black wool figured prominently.

Great earthquake completely destroyed city in 60 AD

The area often suffered from earthquakes, however, especially from the great quake that occurred during the reign of Nero in 60 AD in which the city was completely destroyed. However, its proud inhabitants declined imperial assistance to rebuild the city and restored it themselves.

The wealth of its inhabitants also enabled them to indulge in a taste for the arts, as can be seen in its spectacular amphitheater and other public buildings. It contributed to the advancement of science and literature, as attested to by the names of the skeptics Antiochus and Theiodas, the successors of Aenesidemus, and by the existence of a great medical school there.

One of its most well-known citizens, Polemon, became King of Armenian Pontus (later referred to “Polemoniacus”) and of the coast around Trebizond. The once-powerful city even minted its own coins, the inscriptions of which show evidence of the worship of Zeus, Æsculapius, Apollo, and the emperors.

It had the distinction of receiving the title of a “free city” from Rome. Antiochus the Great transported 2,000 Jewish families to Phrygia from Babylonia, leading to the growth of a substantial Jewish population there. The martyrdom of Lulianos and Paphos is believed to have taken place here.

City mentioned many times in the Bible by St. Paul and St. John

With its large Jewish community, Laodicea very early became a seat of Christianity and even a bishopric.

The Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians mentions Laodicea as one of the communities of concern in the first years of Christianity. St. Paul’s missive sends greetings from a certain Epaphras from Colossae, who he notes had worked hard for the Christians of the three Phrygian cities of Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis.

Asking for greetings to be sent to the Laodicean Christians, Paul requests that his letter be read publicly at Laodicea (Colossians 4:16) and that another letter addressed to the Laodiceans (see Epistle to the Laodiceans) be given a public reading at Colossae.

Some Greek manuscripts of the First Epistle to Timothy also end with the words: “Written at Laodicea, metropolis of Phrygia Pacatiana.” Laodicea is also one of the “seven churches of Asia mentioned in the Book of Revelation.”

The Byzantine writers often mention Laodicea, especially in the time of the Komnenian emperors. In 1119, Emperor John II Komnenos and his chief military commander, John Axouch, captured Laodicea from the Seljuk Turks in the first major military victory of his reign.

It was fortified by Emperor Manuel I Komnenos. In 1206–1230, it was ruled by Manuel Maurozomes.

City’s ruins show presence of ancient baths, Senate house, temples, gymnasium

The great city was later destroyed during the invasions of the Turks and Mongols.

Its many buildings include not only the amphitheater, but baths, temples, a gymnasium, theaters, and a bouleuterion (Senate House), as well. On the eastern side, the line of the ancient wall may still be distinctly traced with the remains of the Ephesus gate; there are streets traversing the town, flanked by colonnades and numerous pedestals.

North of the town, towards the Lycus River, are many sarcophagi with their covers lying near them, partly embedded in the ground, and all having been long since rifled.

The spectacular remains of an aqueduct starting several kilometers away at the Baspinar spring, and possibly having another more distant source, can also still be seen. One of the most remarkable aspects of this aqueduct was its complexity.

Aqueduct at Laodicea shows ingenious design

Crossing the valley to the south of Laodicea, instead of the usual open channel carried above the level of the city on lofty arches, as was the usual practice, an inverted siphon was employed, consisting of a double pressurized pipeline descending into the valley and back up to the city.

The low arches supporting the siphon began near the summit of a low hill to the south where the header tank was located and then continue to the first terminal distribution tank  at the edge of the hill of the city where remains are visible to the east of the stadium and South Baths complex.

The aqueduct appears to have been destroyed by an earthquake, as the remaining arches lean on one side without being broken.

The stadium was considered to have been in a good state of preservation even prior to restoration, considering the passage of millennia since its initial construction.

Its seats are arranged along two sides of a narrow valley, which appears to have been taken advantage of for this purpose, and to have been closed up at both ends. Towards the west are considerable remains of a subterranean passage by which chariots and horses once paraded into the arena with a long inscription over the entrance.

The city ruins bear the stamp of Roman extravagance and luxury rather than of the stern and massive solidity of the Greeks, according to archaeologists.

It was announced in March 2019 that a fairly well-preserved statue of Roman Emperor Trajan had been unearthed at the site.

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