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Assos: The main Street and the Agora.

Assos (present Behramkale, in the northwestern extreme of Turkey) is the name of an ancient Greek city built on the southern slope of a high rocky hill raised beside to one of the few quality harbors existing in the sector of the Troas (Troad) coast which overlooks the Gulf of Adramyttium. Its well selected location granted to the city an important defensive capacity as well as a high strategic-commercial value: advantages that explain the great prosperity of the settlement during the archaic, classic and hellenistic periods of the Greek civilization.

Section of the main street of Assos, Turkey

Photo 1.- Section of the main street of Assos. Next to it we can see one of the walls of the ancient gymnasium of the city.

Ancient residential area located very close to the southwest entrance to the city.

Photo 2.- Ancient residential area located very close to the southwest entrance to the city.

Cistern built under the gymnasium in Roman times.

Photo 3.- Vaulted cistern built under the gymnasium in Roman times.

During the early Roman period Assos was one of the busiest ports on the micro-Asian coast. Thousands and thousands of travelers passed through their docks, among which we must highlight the Apostle Paul: arrived from Alexandria Troas around 57 AD, in the course of his third missionary journey. He had covered by foot the distance between the two cities (about 60 kilometers) meanwhile his companions, including the evangelist St. Luke, preferred to travel by boat, alongside the Troas coast. Once they had all assembled in Assos, they embarked together and continued their journey to Jerusalem.

Figure 1.- Plan of the Agora of Assos.

In this post we will know the main street and the agora of the city of Assos: the same ones whose pavements stepped the paulinian sandals almost two thousand years ago. We find ourselves, therefore, walking along that main street, at its beginning, close to the city wall. The stone roadway is wide, with central rib (photo 1) and grooves at the edges. It follows a more or less straight trajectory in the East direction. Every few steps narrower roadways leave from the main one towards the North and South, articulating the city plan. To the right there is a recently excavated residential area (photo 2). A little further on, to the left, we see the poor remains, since they were plundered for centuries, of the Assos gymnasium. Hellenistic work of the 2nd century BC, in Roman times a vaulted cistern (photo 3) was built under its floor. Centuries later, in early Byzantine times, when the gymnasium had already fallen into disuse a long time ago, a church was built in its northeast corner.

Photo 4.- General view of the interior of the Assos Agora.

Photo 5.- Surroundings of the Agora of Assos. In front, remains of houses, behind, at higher elevation, base of the temple that gave access to the Agora.

Finally, we reach the core of the city: the Agora. The plane of Figure 1 may serve to guide us through this part of Assos. It is an elongated esplanade in W-E direction (photo 4), whose most of it had to be excavated in the hard stone (andesite) of the hill. At the western end of this agora stood a small rectangular temple, erected at the beginning of the second century BC and later reused as a chapel in early Byzantine times. Only its ashlar-work base remains (photo 5, upper part). Beyond the temple, two stoas stood on the northern and southern sides of the agora, serving as porticated galleries where the citizens of Assos could shelter from the summer sun or the cold winter wind while carried out all sorts of commercial transactions.

Photo 6.- Southern Stoa of the Assos Agora.

The southern stoa had four stories high, of which only one, the upper one, stood above the level of the agora because of the steep slope of the hill at this point. Chronologically it dates back to the middle of the third century BC although it was probably modified later. At present, only part of its lower storey, the oldest section of the structure, is preserved, built in a magnificent large size ashlar masonry (photo 6).

Northern Stoa of the Assos Agora, Turkey
East end of the Stoa Assos, Turkey

Photos 7 and 8.- Northern Stoa of the Assos Agora. East end of it in photo 8 (below).

The northern stoa (photos 7 and 8) was built at the beginning of the 2nd century BC following the design of architects sent by the city of Pergamon. It had two entirely porticated storeys in turn divided into two longitudinal aisles separated by a long row of columns. The columns of the porticos were fluted, not so the separation columns between aisles that were smooth. In both cases, as well as in the rest of the agora complex, every columns were of Doric order, with andesite shaft and marble carved chapiter. The entire structure was built in a strong andesite ashlar masonry placed to stretchers with abundant headers arranged at approximately regular intervals (photo 9).

Ashlar masonry Assos, Turkey

Photo 9.- Ashlar masonry placed to headers and stretchers in the rear wall of the northern stoa.

The Agora complex counted in its eastern end with a bouleterion (photo 10), that is the place where the council (boulé) of the city met. We know from an inscription that this building was financed by a private citizen named Ladama and by his wife. The constructive differences between this bouleterion and the two stoas suggest an earlier chronology of the first one, perhaps of the late fourth century BC. It had square floor plan and was accessed by its western, porticated façade. In its interior four smooth columns held a deck of wooden beams. Since there are no indications of stone seats, typical of this class of structure, we must conclude that they were made of wood, reason why no trace of them remains.

The Bouleterion of Assos, Turkey

Photo 10.- The Bouleterion of Assos.

Figure 2 shows us how was the Agora of Assos in its time of maximum splendor, back in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC.

Artistic representation of the Assos Agora, Turkey

Figure 2.- Artistic representation of the Assos Agora in classical antiquity.

Beyond the area of the agora the stone roadway we followed disappears and the hill becomes abrupt, full of vegetation and scattered remains of building materials. The entire eastern sector of the site, where most of the city's domestic dwellings were located, is practically without digging, so there is not much to see.



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