Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Miletos Tristesse


The saddest sights we saw in Turkey were the ruins of Miletos.
We saw a lot of lost and abandoned cities. Ephesus, Priene, and Kaunos were all once-thriving port cities stranded inland when their harbors silted up. That's also what happened to Miletos, which is now 10km from the sea.
But somehow those other cities weren't sad, and Miletos was.
There was the huge Roman-era theater that had once held 15,000 people who could all look over one of the city's four harbors, but now standing empty and overlooking only a swampy desert. There were the ruins of the harbor monument, built by Antony and visited by St. Paul, that stood now as a Ozymandian pillar in a sad, watery pond. And there was the temple, shown here in the photo, that once gazed out on a harbor, and which now looks out on a shallow lake filled with frogs and water fowl.
Miletos was an enormously powerful presence in its day. It was the principal city of Ionia, and played a major role in the rediscovery of civilization after the Greek dark age. Miletos planted no less than 90 colonies, mostly in the Black Sea region. It was a leader in culture and art, and produced the philosophers Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes. Pericles' celebrated hetaera, Aspasia, came from Miletos. Miletos was one of the leaders in resistance to the Persian conquerors, and was destroyed for its efforts--- and then was rebuilt on a grid system, the first city ever buit on such a plan.
Now, home only to frogs.
We all agreed that there was a powerful sense of tragedy that dogged us as we walked among the ruins. It was difficult to quantify, this tristesse, but it was truly present.
Sadness walks among the old stones like a ghost forever seeking a departed lover. What other landscapes produce such melancholy?

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2 Comments:

Blogger Zora said...

If global warming raises the sea level in the Mediterranean, could Miletos be a thriving port again?

11:36 PM  
Blogger dubjay said...

My guess is that global warming would =lower= the Mediterranean, by increasing heat evaporation.

In which case a number of submerged cities might well reappear.

11:40 PM  

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