Text and photos by our correspondent from Didyma, Glenn Maffia.
For a number of months I have been reading about the ongoing restoration of the Temple of Zeus Lepsynos located within the antique city of Euromos, approximately halfway between Didim and Bodrum on Türkiye's south-western Aegean shore. It hasn’t made for pleasurable reading from my point of view, I can assure you.
Though the city probably dates back into the Archaic Period (6th century BCE) the temple we see today became active during the reign of Hadrian between 117-138 CE. It conceivably replaced an archaic temple dedicated to the same god, which was made of timber.
Carian rock tombs found in the foothills above the city alluringly suggest evidence to an older settlement dating back before the Greek occupation of these Aegean lands. The Carians were, along with many other groups of people within Türkiye, indigenous to all intents and purposes.
Reservations on renovations
I personally am extremely reticent of so-called restorations or renovations when describing the alterations of an ancient site. I do not believe that we could conceivably do it to any degree of ‘authentic’ competence. Moreover, the need has diminished in the advent of sophisticated 3-D computer graphics.
Maintenance and preservation I endorse wholeheartedly and with conviction. I have observed the German archaeologists over many years at the Didyma site, a place I have called home for almost two decades, where maintenance has been a predominant feature every single year they have been here. They also, more pertinently, have undertaken some of the most important relevant and revealing archaeological work. And not even attempting a pastiche restoration, which appears to preoccupy local archaeologists.
An aesthete’s concern
Now, this brings me to a most important point which evidently appears to be abjectly and woefully neglected by the criteria of the assembled ministers embroiled in the rather confusingly conjoined areas of Culture and Tourism, which is just the best definition of an oxymoron I have ever heard.
One of the modules I studied at university was the discipline of Aesthetics; that is broadly the philosophy of art, which is concerned with the nature of art and the concerns in terms of which individual works of art are interpreted and evaluated.
The alteration of any original work of art cannot be conceived as adding to its intended allure, indeed, it necessarily deflects from the core essence of the work.
It is rather akin to replacing the lost arms of the Venus de Milo upon that gloriously ancient artefact. Such an action would be viewed, correctly, as being nothing short of vandalism.
Euromos’ excavation director, Prof. Abuzer Kızıl, stated to the press that their intention was to ‘rebuild’ the fallen columns from the Temple. Many of the original column drums had been located after successive excavations. Prof. Kızıl explains that “We use chrome rods to join the large architectural blocks (column drums). After we put the columns together, we will put them back in their original places...” Prof. Kızıl strongly attests that “…his team has complied with international restoration rules without using modern materials”.
The first pure chrome metal was produced by the French chemist Nicholas-Louis Vauguelin in 1797! I tend to believe that Prof. Kızıl is equivocating.
For the love of tourism, over history
Let us not make any delusion here, this is a touristic project, not an archaeological endeavour. This restoration, and many others I have noted, teaches us nothing new, apart from that the country is in desperate need of tourist revenues. That deeply offends my sensibilities that history could be manipulated in such a callous manner. Restorations, to me, are anathema which merely create discord and dissonance.
A foreboding which was amplified when visiting recently I observed the pristine white, machine cut, marble rectangular blocks aligned in neat rows awaiting positioning, and some already implanted, to ‘restore’ the naos/adyton (inner-sanctum). I thought to myself, “This is not archaeology, this is merely an extension of mass tourism”. As I let out a resigned sigh, my heart plummeted.
I cannot help but think that the indisputable ‘cash cow’ success of, for example, Ephesus has irreversibly discoloured the perspectives of the archaeologists, or rather their masters, as to what their function should precisely be. It must be the case that their function should be to preserve history, record it and reveal that history in educational terms.
As I alluded to above, there is scant reward in restoring ancient structures with the advent of 3-D computer graphics with its infinite versatility. The obvious advantage would be the medium’s ability to adapt to newly acquired information. I have witnessed many restorations from merely 50 years ago which appear laughable today. I do not place any blame upon the archaeologists responsible for they were only working with the information then available. The point is that it is a far simpler task, and less expensive, to reprogram a computer than to tear down a mistaken ‘folly’ and then restore it with the parameters of any new information which may arrive.
Granted, this may probably infuriate the tourists whom desire their ‘happy snaps’, though what should take precedence herein? As far as I am personally concerned, there is no question.
I cannot conceive of this Temple of Zeus Lepsynos restoration, or many similar projects, being culturally relevant. Do we have the moral authority to shape our collective past into a commercial touristic entity?