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Magnesia: ‘City of races’ home to best-preserved stadium in Anatolia

A view from the stadium of the ancient city of Magnesia, Aydın, western Turkey, Dec. 2, 2020. (Shutterstock)
A view from the stadium of the ancient city of Magnesia, Aydın, western Turkey, Dec. 2, 2020. (Shutterstock)

The ancient city of Magnesia, which is located in the Germencik district of Turkey’s western Aydın province, was known as the “city of races” and attracted many visitors due to the plethora of sporting events organized here in antiquity. The ancient city still finds a place for itself on the travel bucket list of many, drawing in visitors with its magnificent stadium where athletic games, gladiatorial fights and chariot races were held in the past.

It is believed that the ancient city of Magnesia was founded by the ancient Greek tribe of Magnetes from Thessaly. Even if the city was named after the Magnetes, it was called Magnesia on the Meander (The Büyük Menderes River) in the later period so that it could be distinguished from the nearby Lydian city Magnesia ad Sipylum (modern day Manisa). Magnesia was located in Ionia, the ancient region on the central part of the western coast of Anatolia. Rumor has it that Magnetes are of Aeolian origin, which prevented their acceptance into the Ionian League.

The first excavations in Magnesia were conducted between 1891 and 1893 by a German archaeological team led by Carl Humann. The work lasted 21 months and partially revealed the theater, the Artemis temple, the agora, the Zeus temple and the prytaneion (a place where government officials would meet). In 1984, excavations were resumed at the site by Orhan Bingöl from Ankara University. Bingöl and his teams have gradually revealed the ancient stadium of the city over many years of work.

A view from the stadium of the ancient city of Magnesia, Aydın, western Turkey. (Shutterstock)

A view from the stadium of the ancient city of Magnesia, Aydın, western Turkey. (Shutterstock)

The stadium of 30,000 seats is one of the most imposing and well-preserved ancient stadiums in Anatolia. The track length of the Magnesia Stadium, which is thought to have been used until the 3rd century AD, is 189 meters. The stadium, located in the southern part of the ancient city, features more than 150 reliefs on its arena and podium walls. These reliefs generally depict the competitors, the awards given in the competition and the types of competitions.

Interestingly, in the Magnesia stadium, which has thousands of marble benches, the rows of seats were predetermined for certain groups, similar to today’s system. Most of the inscriptions found in the stadium show that occupational groups had special places here. Although we cannot see the solidarity of tradesmen in the stadiums today, the excavations in Magnesia revealed that craftsmen and occupational associations reserved places to watch the competitions in ancient times.

A separate section was also allocated to people with psychological disorders. Thus, the people of Magnesia did not exclude them from social life; on the contrary, they allowed them to watch the games in a special section.

Moreover, the excavations revealed the fact that the Ephesians, who came to support their competitors, wrote into a section of 2500 people that “these seats are reserved for those who came from Ephesus.” This actually gives an idea about the foundations of the lodge culture that has survived to the present day.

 

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