The ancient site of Magnesia on the Meander, located 19 km of Ephesus and 24 km of Miletus, lies on a major road which cuts through the site. Magnesia is situated on the banks of the Lethacus River, a small tributary of the Meander River upstream from Ephesus.
The city was named after colonists from the original Magnesia in northern Greece and called “on the Meander” to distinguish it from Magnesia ad Sipylum. According to an inscription found at the site, a prophecy of Apollo led the first settlers to Leukophryene (white eyebrows), the daughter of a local king who betrayed her city to the Magnesians. Lydians and then later Persians conquered and ruled Magnesia.
Destroyed by invading Cimmerians in the mid-7th century BCE, the city slowly recovered and became the residence of a Persian satrap (governor) in the 6th century BCE. A temple of Artemis was first build in the 6th century BCE at the foot of Mount Thorax and after 392 BCE the entire city of Magnesia was transplanted to the more defensible area near the temple. Alexander the Great visited the city in 334 BCE and expelled the Persians.
According to tradition, a theophany occurred when Artemis appeared and the oracle of Delphi declared Magnesia holy ground. In 208 BCE representatives from Magnesia went all over the Hellenistic world seeking recognition for new quadrennial Pan-Hellenistic games at the city to honor Artemis. As numerous inscriptions in the city attest, seventy Hellenistic cities and monarchs from as far afield as Sicily and Persia agreed to participate. In 87 BCE Magnesia resisted Mithridates VI of Pontus for which the Roman general Sulla rewarded the city with political autonomy.
Since 1985 archaeologists from the University of Ankara excavated Magnesia under direction of Professor Orhan Bingöl, site director.
The city walls, cut by the modern highway, date back to 620-630 AD in the late Roman period. Ruins are still visible of the large Artemis temple, originally built in the 6th century BCE and rebuilt by Hermogenes of Alabanda in 220 BCE. The temple stood on a large platform (41 x 67 m) surrounded with 15 Ionic columns along the long side, eight along the short. The foundations of the altar remain. A frieze of 175 m found at the site depicts an Amazonomachy with Greek warriors and Amazons engaged in a violent fighting collapsed on the ground. Fragments remain in situ atop the columns in what was the temple of Artemis, later transformed into a Christian church. 43 panels of the frieze are now exhibited in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
A first century BCE monumental gateway (propylon) leads to the large colonnaded agora (188 x 99 m). A 2nd century BCE temple of Zeus (16 x 7 m) once stood to the south of the agora. To the south lie partially buried remnants of a 3rd century BCE theatre built into the hillside with capacity for 3000 spectators. Near the center of the site is a 2nd century gymnasium-baths complex heavily overgrown. Further to the south lies a magnificent and well-preserved horseshoe-shaped large Roman stadium, which once had capacity for 28000 people. Reliefs found here depicted captured armor, helmets and shields, suggesting gladiator games were held in this stadium.
The site is very extended and you have to walk some distances to visit all the remains. Restaurants and hotels are in Kuşadası or in Ortaklar.
By car: the site of Magnesia on the Meander is well-signposted and very easy to reach via the main road 550 leading from Kuşadası to Ortaklar. At the entrance of the site is a car park and a small visitor center where you have to buy an entrance ticket.
Text & Photographs: Michel Gybels