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The Amphitheatre of Cyzicus.

April 21, 2017

During our visit to the site of the ancient city of Cyzicus in December 2015, we find out that, apart from the ruins of Hadrian's Temple, there were vestiges of a large building some kilometers to the east of the temple. In order to locate it we climbed to the top of the hill that rises to the north of the site (the Dindymon mount of the classic texts) from where we scrutinized the hillside and the closer valley in search of ancient structures. We were lucky: far below from us, already in the valley, one could clearly distinguish, jutting out from among trees, an enormous wall with remainings of roman typology vaults. Very excited, we began the descent of the hill trying to identify, among the many forest paths that left the asphalt road, the most appropriate one to reach that magnificent ruin. It was not difficult: a dirt track full of bumps and stones seemed to point directly to that magical place. Since it was impractical for a normal vehicle, we parked on the side of the road and started walking on the dusty path. The Roman walls stood some 800 meters down the hill and, although the path did not exactly pass through them, it was easy to reach the first remains cross-country.

 

Photo 1.- Panoramic view of the Cyzicus amphitheater seen from the top of its cavea.


A first examination of the ruins added to what we had read about the site indicated that we were before the vestiges of the ancient Cyzicus amphitheatre. The truth is that there was not much left: a solitary pilaster with vault start. It was necessary to look out the other side of a dense thicket of prickly shrubs to fully confirm that this was an amphitheater: before us opened an immense oval completely covered with thick forest but still recognizable. In fact the point where we were, on top of a sort of wall of roman masonry, was the high part of the bleachers (cavea), reason for which by looking to the front and down one could identify the typical geometry of an amphitheater. From that place, it was impossible to get anywhere, due to the rapid descent of the cavea into the thick vegetation prevented passage. Carved stone, beyond the previous pilaster, there was little or none: the vast majority of the amphitheater is buried and invaded by a dense forest populated by a multitude of trees with thick trunks and leafy branches. When archaeologists want to excavate here it will not be easy. Photo 1 is a panoramic view of the amphitheater seen from the top of the aforementioned cavea. As can be seen, the ovoid plant typical of an amphitheater is easy to distinguish, especially since the vegetation is different: atlantic-type trees colored with different shades of green instead of the monotonous olive grove outside.

 

 Photo 2.- Couple of pilasters belonging to the remains of the amphitheater of Cyzicus ​.


Walking between olive groves and low mount, we went surrounding the great mass of land and thorny bushes that hides in its bosom the ruins of the Cyzicus amphitheater. It was pure cross-country and therefore not exactly easy to get around. A couple of hundred meters below, we found two other pilasters (photo 2). We could examine these structures much better than the first pilaster to which we were unable to get close because of the presence of a deep ditch on the ground. Thus, we checked that the exterior faces of these pilasters were made with granite ashlar (photo 3) of pleasing appearance, placing many blocks in "headers" (perpendicular to the plane of the wall) in order to reinforce the cohesion of the exterior face with the core of rough masonry. On the other hand, both the internal face and the vaulted structure that stood on these pilasters (and of which only the starting remains) were built with masonry (roman opus incertum). Undoubtedly, the vaults (photo 4) were erected using a semicircular wooden shoring whose support holes can be seen just below the vault. The arches that articulate these vaults were constructed with concreted masonry, correctly placed. Finally, once these vaults were completed, the intermediate spaces between pilasters were filled with a masonry similar to that of the arches, concreted in thin layers. The final result is not very attractive from the aesthetic point of view so it can be affirmed that all this masonry had some kind of facing, long time ago disappeared.

 

Photo 3.- Well carved ashlar in the amphitheater pilasters.

 

From this point the terrain descends quite steeply, saving in few meters the substantial difference between that point and the level of the floor of the amphitheater (about four meters). The descent results, so, a little more difficult and you have to cling to the trunks of the olive trees so as not to lose foot in the piles of stone blocks that there are everywhere, coming from the collapse of the amphitheatre structures. But it is well worth the effort because the great roman wall that is visible from afar (photo 5) rises majestically down there, defying the time and the plunder of men for more than eighteen hundred years...

 

Photo 4.- Vault starting in one of the pilasters of the amphitheater.


Our big wall is actually one of the two superstructures that formed the amphitheater main door. Thus, the pilaster on which it is supported is much larger than the others we have examined (photo 6), both in thickness and depth. Its very high height is due to the fact that it preserves the elevation of the two levels that this amphitheater had, both covered by vaults of which a starting has been preserved (photo 7). The rest of the pilasters only rise until the first arch, everything else collapsed a long time ago. The materials and techniques used in this structure are the same as in the smaller pilasters; perhaps the ashlars present a slightly better carving. It should also be noted that in inner face of this structure, to the level of the second floor, you can see the starting of a vault perpendicular to the other two (photo 8) whose old purpose was connecting this line of archs with another one: more internal as well as totally disappeared. This allows us to deduce that the Cyzicus amphitheater was composed of two concentric orders of vaulted pilasters: nothing surprising in a work of such a magnitude.

 

Photo 5.- Great roman wall, the main of the surviving remains of the Cyzicus amphitheater, seen from the level of the two previous pilasters. It corresponds to the structure of the main door of the amphitheater.

 

The interior of the amphitheater is a wooded jungle where no human work is observed beyond a solitary ashlar block resting on the grass about twenty meters from the great wall. Everything is covered in vegetation to the brim. By its center, crossing it longitudinally from north to south, runsa stream (called Kleite) that in this season carries a considerable water flow. In fact, to enter the amphitheater it has been necessary to cross it, jumping from one stone to another. The relative location of the amphitheater with respect to this stream let us to hypothesize its past use to fill the central oval (arena) with water and to celebrate spectacular naumachias. It probably happened in this way judging by the parallels with other roman amphitheatres.

 

Photo 6 (left).- The big wall seen from its base. It emphasizes the great pilaster of ashlar and the startings of the inferior and superior vault. Photo 7 (right).- Detail of the upper levels of the structure of the amphitheater, with the clearly visible vault startings.


The site is beautiful in its savagery. If one day it is excavated, a worthy of admiration building will probably come to light. Originally the Cyzicus amphitheater had thirty-two entrances or, better said, vomitorii. Its major axis, where the Kleite stream runs, measures around 140 meters. Among its ruins have been found some inscriptions that have allowed its dating in the reign of Hadrian, probably taking advantage of the great building impulse funded by this emperor and, specifying a little more, reusing the materials of previous buildings ruined by the earthquake that shaken Cyzicus few years before. Although the process of reusing of the material of the amphitheater started at a very early date, the truth is that it has suffered considerable deterioration in the last century since the testimonies of early twentieth century travelers indicate the existence of a number of vaulted pilasters rather greater than the much reduced current number.

 

Photo 8.- View of the big wall from the inside of the amphitheater, where you can see the starting of the vault that connected the exterior line of structures with the interior one.

 

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