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The Thermae of Alexandria Troas

The remains of the Thermae of Herodes Atticus are the most important architectural vestige of the once magnificent city of Alexandria Troas, in the remote north-west of Turkey. Undoubtedly they formed a more than outstanding building complex to the point that, despite the plunder and to stand unexcavated, they look still grandiose in sight.

Figure 1.- Plan of the ruins of the Herodes Atticus thermae elaborated in 1745.

The thermal complex was built, along with the rest of elements of the city's water system (aqueduct, reservoirs, fountains and nymphaeum), between AD 135 and 138, reigning Adriano, at the initiative of the great sage, politician and patron Herodes Atticus: at that time Imperial Corrector of the free cities of Asia (Legatus Augusti ad corrigendum statum civitatium liberarum). The sophist Philostratus of Athens tells us in his book "Lives of the Sophists" that Herod Atticus obtained from Adriano a subsidy of 3 million denarii to solve the problem of the water supply of Alexandria Troas: a city that despite its great importance kept on being supplied in the manner of the smaller settlements, this is by means of wells of doubtful salubrity and the rainwater accumulated in the domestic cisterns. In view of the costs soared up till 7 million, the procurator of Asia angrily protested to the Emperor Hadrian for what he considered to be a disproportionate expense, arguing that the tribute of 500 cities was being used for the welfare of only one. Outraged, Hadrian sharply rebuked Atticus, the father of Herod Atticus, asking for explanations; But he would only get the answer that everything that had been built in Alexandria Troas was necessary and that he was ready to give his son the 4 million extra cost to balance the accounts. Here is an echo of the legendary fame that once had the enormous fortune forged by the grandfather of Herod Atticus, a banker by profession, which, passed on to his descendants, allowed them all kinds of rights and licenses, including replicating with arrogance to the emperor of Rome.

Photo 1.- Southeastern corner of the Herodes Atticus thermae, made with solid and well worked ashlar blocks.

In figure 1 we can see a plan of the thermae realized in 1745. Although some of the represented structures do not exist anymore, in general the sketch is still valid and useful to study the ruins.

Photo 2 .- Southern Wall of Herod Atticus´ thermae with its large, typically roman, half-barrel vaults.

Photo 3 - Vault of the southern wall of the thermae, with arch of discharge above, façade of little ashlar and large ashlar corner to one side.

As can be seen in the plan, the walls of the East façade are the best preserved by far. Exploring on the ground we observe a powerful masonry structure agglomerated with lime mortar (opus incertum), which constitutes the inner core of the original wall. For its part, the outer facings of this structure, now largely plundered, were built employing a small size ashlar, some remains of which can be seen here and there. The corners and other delicate points were reinforced with great limestone ashlar blocks (photo 1). Finally we observe that the entire structure is pierced by a long succession of half-barrel vaults: constructed with large limestone ashlars placed in dry as well as covered by semicircular voussoired arches (photo 2), carved in the same material. At present only the mentioned arcs can be seen in surface, the rest of the vaults height remains buried under a gross layer of debris. At some points discharge arcs (photo 3) can be seen above said vaults intended to relieve the weight of the upper floors that were raised on them.

Photo 4.- Support pilasters of the arcades located inside the building complex.

Photo 5 .- The center of the Herodes Atticus thermal complex with its semicircular arches and one of the pilasters in good condition.

The dependencies of the thermae were covered by vaults supported on the outer wall and on a series of pilasters in the interior. The remains of some of these pilasters are preserved (photo 4), with ashlar base and masonry wall: both similars to the exterior wall ones.

Photo 6.- View of the base of the best preserved pilaster, built with very good quality ashlar.

The center of the building complex was occupied by a large square space covered by a large groin vault (photo 5). There remain the remains of the four large pilasters that supported the vault, one of them in fairly good condition (photo 6), preserving even the start of the arch with which it connected to the rest of the structure. These four pilasters were connected to each other through semicircular arches, slender and with a wide span, three of which are held in place against all odds considering their apparent fragility. An incontestable proof of the effectiveness of this constructive technique.

Photo 7.- The nymphaeum built by Herodes Atticus. High quality ashlar base.

On the other side of the road, very close to the thermae that we have just visited, the ruins of a U-shaped structure rise, with well-worked ashlar base and very damaged masonry main wall (photos 7 and 8). It has been identified as a nymphaeum or monumental fountain: a building that likely was related in some way to the thermae we just met. Next to this nymphaeum, a few steps from its north face, there is a little wall, half-hidden by the vegetation. These are the remains of the last section of the city aqueduct, in this case arranged in the form of raised channel.

Photo 8.- The nymphaeum seen from its southeast corner: ashlar base and masonry main wall.



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