Side thrived under Roman rule, serving as a significant port, olives being one of the main exports. A Roman fleet and garrison were stationed here and, at its peak, the city had more than 60,000 inhabitants.
We spent yesterday roaming around the Roman ruins. As I previously mentioned, the town of Side sits on the end of a peninsula. To protect it, the Greeks had built a defensive wall about a half mile from the waterfront. The Romans, in turn, further fortified the wall and built a gigantic fountain, called the Nymphaeum, just outside the main gate.
The main gate to the city is nearly completely destroyed now. Here’s a picture I took from the top of the Nymphaeum, looking at the the remains of the outer defensive wall (on the left). The broken columns in the foreground are parts of the Nymphaeum that a team of archeologists and workers are attempting to put back into place.
We climbed down from the Nymphaeum and took a picture of what remains of it. Imagine trying to figure out how to put these columns back together.
The Nymphaeum fountain, like the rest of the city, got its water from a spring in the Toros Mountains, about 25 miles away. The aqueduct that brings the water to Side has a very gradual slope: one meter for every kilometer traveled. We hope to see parts of the aqueduct when we leave Side later today.
Turning around and walking through the main gate, a visitor to the city stands at the junction of two columned streets. Here’s the fork to the left.
As we walked down the columned street, I turned and took a picture of some of the columns. If you look down at the curb, you’ll see a stone-lined channel. There were actually two channels: the upper one brought water to the inhabitants of the street; the lower one captured overflow and returned the water back up the street, possibly providing drainage to the street, as well. Ingenious.
At the end of this street was the State Agora, the government center of the city. It’s still impressive, even in its ruined state.
We wandered around the abandoned alleys that fed into the main, columned street.
Then we did a little “off-roading” up into the dunes that have since covered much of the old Roman ruins so that we could orient ourselves.
The place is so littered with unexcavated rubble that we were constantly tripping over artifacts in the dirt, like this partially buried marble column:
After about an hour, we decided to wind our way back to the junction of the two columned streets at the main gate.
From the main gate, the right-hand fork is still used today as the road into Side. Most of the columns are gone now, but you can still see the shopkeepers stalls that lined this main road.
Behind the shops were the remains of several large residences.
Toward the end of the street is the Theater, built by the Romans on top on an older Hellenistic theater. I would call this a coliseum. That’s it to the right.
Over the years, the Romans decided to build a second defensive wall and main gate in the city at the southern end of the main columned street at the location of the Theater. Today, this is the only vehicular access into Side.
I have, of course, been saving the best for last: the Theater. When I first saw this, it literally took my breath away. Perhaps the real Coliseum in Rome is more impressive (and we plan to visit another Theater in Aspendos later today that is supposed to be better preserved), but the thought that something like this could be built by hand 2,000 years ago is simply mind-boggling.
It’s impossible to sense the scale of this structure from close-up exterior photos, but you may get a feel for it from these pictures of the interior:
The entrance to the Theater is half-way up the structure and from here you walk down to your seat in one of the lower 29 rows. There are also 29 rows above the main entry, but to get to those you would have to walk up staircases that are apparently closed off today.
We walked down from the nose-bleed seats to the front row. The best seat in the house, second row, center, had this inscription:
It probably says: “Reserved.”