Out of all the ancient ruins on the Aegean coast of Turkey, Ephesus is the most famous and popular. This is understandable since it was the second largest city of the Roman Empire. Yet if time is no restriction, there are much more historical sites to visit including the relatively unknown capital of ancient Lydia, called Sardis. Located 60 miles east of the Izmir peninsula, it is easily reached within an hour making it an ideal day time trip from any surrounding areas.
History of Sardis
Located in the modern day town of Sart, it was occupied from approximately 1300 B.C. and is widely known as the first city to produce coins.The most famous ruler of Sardis was King Croesus, (560 to 546 BC) who notoriously misinterpreted an oracle prediction, believing he would win a battle against the Persian king. He lost and the city was absorbed into the Persian Empire, later giving way to Alexander the Great, Byzantine and Roman rule.
Ottoman Turks invaded in 1306 but by 1402, the city had been deserted and left to ruins. Thank to impressive archaeology work undertaken during the 19th century, we can see the main monuments that have been excavated and restored.
Sitting on the banks of the Pactolus River, it was also one of the seven churches of Asia, mentioned in the New Testament book of Revelation. Called the church that fell asleep, it referred more to the manner of Christian citizens living in the city, rather than the actual church congregation itself.
Ancient Monuments and Archaeology Work at Sardis
The temple of Artemis reflects a time when pagan worship was popular.Construction started in 334 BC, but was never finished and natural wear and tear over the years, means very little remains. Focus should be on its significance, rather than size because if it had been completed, it would have been the fourth largest Ionian temple of the Aegean coast.
The Jewish synagogue dating from the 3rd century AD highlights the large Jewish community that lived in the region. Historians say this is the large synagogue ever excavated and just the walls, floors and columns, Greek and Hebrew inscriptions and mosaics, remain, yet this is enough to gain a good idea of when the synagogue was at its most glorious.
One of the most impressive structures to see is the marble court entrance. This leads into the gymnasium and bathhouse. Built in the 2nd century AD, it was more than 5 acres and the architecture displays the trends of that time through large, columns and vaulted ceiling for the bathhouse and open courtyard for the gymnasium.
Hotel accommodation is sparse in Sart, therefore for an overnight stay; opt for a hotel in nearby Manisa or Izmir. If you choose to use bus transport, the final destination is Salihli, (Do not forget to get off in Sart.) Drivers will find the ruins conveniently signposted by using the Izmir – Ankara highway.
If time permits, also head to the archaeological museum in Izmir to find ancient artefacts recovered from Sardis. Local and traditional restaurants in Sart will also serve traditional dishes of the region, combing your historical visit with culture.
Further Reading : See our religious and historical tours of Turkey.