This article has been previously published as a part of book Around Ephesus and Kusadasi: TAN Travel Guide by Izabela Miszczak
In ancient times, people attached great importance to the words of the oracle that foretold the future, gave advice and warnings. In the Greek world, apart from the most famous oracle at Delphi, there were many other prophetic centers, of local or wider significance. One of them was the oracle of Claros, the ruins of which are located in Izmir province, near Ahmetbeyli.
The religious center in Claros consisted of the temple and oracle of Apollo, revered locally as Apollo Clarius. This oracle during the ancient period had the significance similar to the ones in Delphi and Didyma. The nearest Greek settlements - Notion and Colophon - took care of this center. Also, every five years, a sports event, known as Claria and organized in honor of Apollo, was held in Claros.
The earliest information about the oracle at Claros dates back to the 7th century BC in the form of Homeric Hymns. These were a collection of thirty-three anonymous Ancient Greek poems celebrating the gods of the Greek pantheon. The ancient tradition attributed them to Homer, who, according to some scholars, was born in nearby Colophon.
Most likely the religious center in Claros had existed much earlier, as evidenced by the holy cave, located near the temple of Apollo. It is believed that it was a place of worship of the goddess Cybele in the days before the arrival of Greek settlers. Archaeological research has confirmed that the oldest fragments of Protogeometric pottery found in Claros date back to the 10th century BC. The ancient Greeks linked the oracle at Claros with Minoan and Mycenean times. Their belief has been reinforced by the discovery of the Mycenaean settlements in Colophon, Ephesus and other nearby archaeological sites.
The highest importance was held by the oracle in Klaros in the Hellenistic and Roman periods when most of the preserved buildings were erected. In the Roman period, i.e. from the late 2nd century BC, Claros attracted pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean region. The importance of the sanctuary has been confirmed by archaeological evidence, including four rows of iron rims, to which sacrificed animals were attached. This solution allowed the simultaneous sacrifice of a hundred animals, and Claros is now a unique archaeological site of ancient Greek civilization, that offers a clear picture of the way the hecatomb was performed.
Unlike most of the oracles in the Greek world, in Claros only men were employed as diviners. They entered the cave or room under the temple of Apollo and after drinking holy water gave advice in the form of a poem. This ritual was always held at night. In Claros there are no inscriptions containing the messages of divination, but many of them were found in other locations, even in remote corners of the world, including - Dalmatia, Algeria, Rome, Britain, Russia and Sardinia.
The most important preserved divinations from Claros are associated with important personalities of ancient history. Alexander of Macedon consulted this oracle and under the received guidance decided to build a fortress on Pagos hill. On its foothills, a new city was founded by the residents resettled from Smyrna. On the other hand, Germanicus, the adopted son of the Roman emperor Tiberius, learned in Claros that his future is painted in dark colors. In fact, he died only a year later in Syrian Antioch (Antakya), at a young age of 34, due to illness or a poisoned by a jealous governor of Syria.
For many centuries, the remains of Claros were completely covered by river sediments, deposited here gradually by a small stream flowing nearby. Only in the early 20th century the work began to uncover the buildings belonging to this cult center. In 1904, Theodore Macridy arrived at Claros, using the information obtained from local shepherds. He found a single column, protruding over river sediments. He assumed that it was a part of the temple of Apollo, but an in-depth study conducted by him with Charles Picard in 1913 forced him to reconsider this belief. This "Temple" proved to be a Propylon or a monumental gate that led into the sanctuary. His further work was stopped by the outbreak of the First World War.
The second round of excavations in Claros lasted from 1950 to 1961 under the leadership of Louis Robert. During these works the actual temple of Apollo and a second one, dedicated to Artemis, were discovered. Moreover, the archaeologists also found monumental statues of Apollo, Artemis and Leto, the altars on the east side of the sanctuary, several inscriptions, a sundial and a stone seat. The third round of excavations, directed by Juliette de La Genière in 1988-1997, resulted in the unveiling of the altars of Apollo and Artemis from archaic and Hellenistic periods. The latest works in Klaros, conducted by Nuran Şahin since 2001, continue to this day.
The Temple and the altar of Apollo
The massive temple of Apollo is the central building in Claros. It was built between the 4th and the 3rd century BC, probably on the site of an earlier sacred building. Certain modifications to the building were made during the reign of Emperor Hadrian. An end to this building was put by an earthquake. The temple was built on a rectangular plan with sides 26 and 46 meters long. Along its long sides stood 11 columns, and along the shorter ones - 6 columns, all in the Doric order. The drums of these columns are up to 1.6 meters in diameter. So far, archeologists were able to find seven capitals and about 150 drums.
Hellenistic altar of Apollo, which has a rectangular plan with sides 9 and 18 meters long, is located about 30 meters to the east of the temple. The sacrifices were here made not only to Apollo but also to Dionysus, as evidenced by sacrificial tablets.
Catagogion and Propylon
The term "katagogion" means an inn for travelers and there were plenty of them in Claros. It is estimated that the delegations of cities coming there counted about 20 people each. They stopped at the local inn, which was equipped with a bath and a kitchen. The price was charged for this accommodation, and book the rooms well in advance. The remains of katagogion excavated in Claros the only ones found so far in Asia Minor. As such they are a valuable source of information for researchers.
The entrance to the sanctuary in Claros was through the so-called sacred road and the monumental gate - propylon. It was built in the 2nd century BC, on the square plan in the Doric order. It consisted of six columns, on which the inscriptions were carved. They contain the lists of delegations arriving to consult the oracle, and the names of young choristers who sang the hymns in honor of Apollo.
During excavations in Claros, fragments of monumental statues, representing three deities: Apollo, Artemis and Leto, were discovered. The researchers have succeeded to reconstruct their original appearance, by using the preserved parts and the images of deities shown on the coins from Colophon. The statue of Apollo was originally 7-8 meters high, and his legs were 3.5 meters long.
The ticket to Claros archaeological site costs around 5 TL. The site is located on a floodplain and sometimes the exploration of its entire area is not possible. High water level makes it difficult especially in the spring. Claros is situated in the river valley, and the Temple of Apollo itself is below the local water table, so the continuous operation of pumps is necessary to keep the water at a lower level. Some parts of the ruins are immersed in water, which adds pinch of melancholy to the atmosphere of this place.
Claros it is difficult to reach by public means of transport and we advise to go there by car. It is situated on the road from Izmir to Selçuk, near the town of Ahmetbeyli. The road is well marked by characteristic brown signposts. Bus line 775 from Özdere and Menderes goes to Ahmetbeyli, but it is necessary to walk or hitch-hike the remaining 2 km.