Lost Cities of the Golden Age

Assos   (June, 2014)

St. Paul is said to have passed through Assos on one of his proselytizing journeys and the town is referred to in the Bible. In ancient times (6th-5th century BC) it was regarded as the most beautiful place in Asia Minor. I can certainly see why – the setting high over the Aegean Sea and looking out at the Greek island of Lesbos just six miles away is extraordinary. Assos is also where Aristotle founded a school of philosophy in 340 BC, supported financially by his former student, Alexander the Great.

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Phocaea     (June, 2014)

All you third-year Latin students probably remember the numerous references Vergil made in the Aeneid to the “superb mariners of Phocaea.” It was pretty exciting walking around the same harbor, and the same cobblestone streets, once used by those illustrious sailors, some of whom sailed (in legend) with Jason aboard the Argo. Today Phocaea is a small and very pleasant beach resort area.

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Priene     (June, 2014)

Priene, like Ephesus and Miletus, was one of the12 Greek city-states along the Aegean coast that comprised the Ionian League, a loose confederation formed around 650 BC for largely religious and commercial purposes rather than military defense. Like Miletus, it was abandoned shortly after being left land-locked by the silting up of its harbors and finally the entire surrounding area. It was pretty exciting riding my motorcycle from Priene to Miletus, about 12 miles away, on the flat fertile farmland that once was the seabed between these two ancient cities. It was easy to visualize ancient Greek triremes plying theses waters carrying wine and olive oil northward to Ephesus, Chios and beyond. Alexander the Great actually kept a residence in Priene, the remains of which can still be seen.

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Miletus    (June, 2014)

Between about 800-500 BC, Miletus had one of the largest populations in Ionia (now western Turkey), estimated between 10,000-20,000 people. It was one of the most important centers of learning and culture and if you remember your Philosophy 101 class, you’ll remember Thales of Miletus, the “Father of Greek Philosophy”. He was the first philosopher to begin making rational inquiry into the nature of physical existence. He was born, lived and studied right here. I found it amazing to be able to walk in the actual streets where he walked, sit in the same amphitheater that he sat in, and just generally hang out in the same neighborhoods. Even today the ruins are spread out over an enormous area and since there is no modern development anywhere near here, it remains just as it did when the sea around it silted up and left it landlocked in the 3rd century AD. You can really get a sense of everyday life here and what it might have been like.

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Didyma    (June, 2014)

The Oracle of Apollo at Didyma was one of the most important prophecy centers in ancient Greece. It was second only to the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. All that remains in Didyma now is the ruins of the enormous temple, the largest such temple in the ancient world. The present-day ruins are from the reconstructed temple built here by Alexander the Great after his string of victories over the Persians. Standing inside it is pretty awe-inspiring, a reminder that building such colossal structures to honor supernatural deities is not something unique to Renaissance Christianity.

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