Other classical: Turkey

© Bob Denton, 2016
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There are very early signs of water management measures in ‘Turkey’, based upon discoveries of dams. These early dams used a settlement pool to clean up water for drinking, which was then fed by pipes and a qanat-like approach to its users. Ancient dams from as far back as the 13th century BCE have been found at Eflatunpınar and Köylütolu, the first with an interesting relief and the latter having an inscribed block that judging by the cavity on its top, may have been used in rituals.

Eflatunpınar uncovered in 1887
Image source: Wikipedia
Inscribed block from Köylütolu dam
Image source: www.hittitemonuments.com

In eastern Turkey dams were built as a response to a drought in around 1,240 BCE. The Hittite king, Tuthaliya (or Tudhaliya) IV, decreed that a number of dams should be built to maintain a supply both for drinking and for irrigation. 

One early dam at Karakuyu, took advantage of the site where two small floodwater ravines met and consisted of an 8-metre high, 400-metre long U-shaped mud-built bank that had a stone sluice-gate and is surmised to have had a wooden valve system for water release.

Karakuyu dam
Image source: Dokuz Eylul University, Turkey
Karakuyu dam today
Image source: dsi.gov.tr

From 10,000 BCE there were a number of thriving early settlements in Anatolia, aka Asia Minor, situated along the west coast of Turkey. Historians tend to classify the region’s ages as Ancient, Classical, Hellenistic, Byzantine and Turkish.

A Hittite chariot on an Egyptian relief
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Göbekli Tepe in Anatolia dates to c 9,000 BCE and is a PPNA site where a series of ritual circles of T-shaped pillars were set in sockets. They are 6m (20 ft) high and weigh 20 tonnes (tons) they are thought to be anthropomorphic as some have carved human arms and loincloths on their surface and the T-piece is presumed to be representative of a head. There are also animal reliefs at the site. It is believed the inhabitants were still hunter-gatherers, living at the site for part of the year, because little sign of residential buildings have been discovered, hence it is said to have a spiritual-cum-ritual purpose. The site also boasts a Roman watchtower reputedly a part of the Limes Arabicus (not confirmed). This is significant because it shows monuments being created before sedentary settlements and its dating places it at around the same era as Jericho.

Göbekli Tepe
Image source: Wikipedia

Nevali Cori, dating to 8,400 BCE, located on both banks of the Kantara stream. This is a tributary in the middle Euphrates region, in the foothills of the Taurus mountains. There are pillars and a temple here, with sculptures and reliefs carved into the limestone.

Nevali Cori figurines
Image source: tf.uni-kiel.de

Several hundred 5cm high clay figurines that were found here are considered to be votive articles, these were fired at 500-600-deg C showing this to be a PPNB site, having not yet developed pottery, but clearly close to doing so!

Of 22 buildings investigated only one proved to be a dwelling featuring cobbled floors. Every metre or so a channel was discovered capped by stone slabs. These are assumed to be drainage, but others surmise that they may have been used to cool the house. It has been suggested that this site was where Einkorn wheat was first domesticated (today Einkorn wheat is only used for animal feed). Regrettably, the Attaturk Dam, erected in the 1990s, has inundated the site.

From 7,500 BCE, another Anatolian discovery is at Çatalhöyük, a Neolithic proto-city that is one of the best-preserved sites – sometimes claimed as the world’s first city. It is built on a raised 20 metre (66 ft) mound – UNESCO World Heritage Site #1405. It consisted of domestic mud-built homes without any public buildings, perhaps at its peak it was home to 5,000 to 7,000 people. They used outside middens for their waste and sewage.

Image source: hometurkey.com

Countless remains of Hellenistic, Roman and early Byzantine water supply systems have been uncovered in Western and Southern Turkey, many dating from the millennium that spanned the year 0. These include a 240km long system serving Istanbul, a 100km long system to Phocea, the 65km long system to Pergamon and a 43km long system to Ephesus. Many others existed beyond these.

Valens (Bozdoğan) Aqueduct, Turkey
Image source: www.flickr.com
Mağlova Aqueduct, Turkey
Image source: www.whereist.com

The region also boasts dams, flood protection canals and aqueducts, cisterns – the locals and their invaders proved to be adept water engineers to tackle the weather here.

Ephesus (ancient period)

One important early location in this region was Ephesus, on the west coast of modern Turkey. Founded by the Ancient Greeks, finds show it existed in 6,000 BCE, but it became a significant city by 2,000 BCE.

Artemis of Ephesus metal statue (1st century CE)
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was built here the Temple of Artemis. Ephesus is UNESCO’s World Heritage Site #1018. Pliny suggests the temple took 120 years to build featuring over 100 marble pillars some  m (56ft) high to create a  m (418ft) x  m (239ft) temple.

Temple of Artemis
Image source: ancient.eu

There were three rebuildings of the temple. A flood destroyed it in the 7th c BCE and it was rebuilt in 550 BCE, funded in part by Croesus (as rich as…), then responsible for the region. Greek and Roman traditions suggest that when the temple was next destroyed by arson in 356 BCE, this had fatefully coincided with the birth of Alexander the Great. It was rebuilt but was left in ruins by 401 CE. Only one pillar was uncovered by excavation and parts of a frieze, it is suggested that some of the pillars were redeployed in the Hagia Sophia. Antipater of Sidon described the temple glowingly in 140 BCE thus:

‘I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, “Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.’

Clay pipes recovered from Ephesus
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Ephesus was early in exploiting its ready access to water springs and employed water cisterns for water storage and management. By 1,000 BCE its affluent homes had hot and cold running water for bathing. The water was supplied through clay pipes and the sewage was vented to stone-block ditches and canals.


The Urartians, located around Mount Ararat and covering modern day Armenia and southern Georgia, dates back to 850 BCE. They were also proficient in building dams, canals and reservoirs, becoming the equal of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian water management systems. As this area ‘enjoys’ regular seismic activity, they needed to build in precautions against these within their waterworks.

The Urartu settled in eastern Turkey, a region that is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The capital of the Urartu kingdom was Van (or Vankale), aka Tuspa (or Tushpa) set along the shores of Lake Van. However the rivers flowing in to the lake habitually dried up during the summer and the lake waters had too much sodium carbonate to be potable or to be useful for irrigation.

Urartu kingdom
Image source: www.ancientanatolia.com

Their King Sardur I (840-830 BCE) built Van castle, but it was his son Menua who co-ruled (825-815 BCE) who built the Shamiram canal. The name Shamiram derived from a contemporary Assyrian Queen Shammu-ramat (or Shamiram) his neighbouring enemy. She has an interesting history-cum-legend, from courtesan to queen, indulging in several infatuations with other leaders, but nothing that links her directly with Menua or the canal, other than her name being applied to it (Ozkaldi, A, 2007). It has remained in constant use until modern times – see later.

Shamram canal
Image source: Dokuz Eylul University, Turkey

The canal ran 56 kms from its source, a spring near Mzenkert up at an elevation of 1760 metres. Its course includes an aqueduct over the Engil (or Hoşap) creek. Around half of its length had to be hewn from rock to an average four metres width and up to two to three metres depth. It fell around 60 metres across its length as it delivered between 1500 and 3000 litres per second (depending on the season). This provided drinking water and irrigation for the lands around the Urartian capital. As a result this became the granary of the kingdom as Menua turned his capital into a garden city. Its population grew to c 50,000.

Ferhat canal
Image source: http://fle135-turkiye.pbworks.com/w/page/5905581/Amasya

At the same period a second waterway, the Ferhat canal, was built near Lake Balik which further illustrated that the Urartu were adept water engineers.

Fragment of cuneiform inscription from Menua canal
Image source: www.panoramio.com

Menua had a large army, in one battle he was said to have fielded 1,600 chariots, 9,174 horse-mounted warriors and 2,704 archers and he maintained 15,700 infantry under permanent arms. So it was no idle boast that appeared on one of fourteen inscription in (neo-Assyrian) cuneiform found on the canal’s aqueducts:

‘This canal is named Menua Canal. Menua the powerful, the great king, King of Biaina, Prince of the city of Tushpa; Menua speaks in the name of the dread Khaldi: Whosoever damages this inscription, whosoever overturns it, whosoever does such things according to his own desire or in the name of another, Menua warns that the dread god Khaldi, the god Teisheba and the Sun god Shivini will efface him from the sign of the sun.’

Scribes for Sargon II state that the canal was ‘as abundant as the Euphrates’ and called it the ‘queen among canals’ (the Euphrates was ‘queen among rivers’) (Chahin, M, 2001, p.74).

Later Rusa I (or II?) moved the capital north to Toprakkale (Rusahinili) and to supply its water needs, he dammed Lake Keşiş around 700 BCE to create a reserve for the summer months. Further dams were added along the river from the lake for water conservation purposes. It is estimated that they stored some 20 to 50 million cubic metres of water. These dams were dry-stone walled and sealed with an impermeable clay.

Stele from Lake Keşiş
Image source: www.megalithic.co.uk

A stele discovered near Lake Keşiş (today on display in the Berlin Museum) refers to it as Lake Rusa and describes how water was supplied to Toprakkale and how it was used to irrigate vineyards, orchards and vegetable gardens.


The Greeks, the Romans, and Byzantines each took their turn at demonstrating their hydraulic skills in Turkey. The Seljuks and Ottomans would also try their hand later.

Byzantium (later Constantinople and today Istanbul) sits on the Bosphorus Strait between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. This makes it unusual in terms of the early cities because it had no great river for its clean water requirements, the nearest of any size is the Riva to its Asian east, forty kilometres from the heart of the city. So the Kağıthane and Alibey streams were diverted to become their source during the rule of Emperor Hadrian.

The city boasts a grandiose cistern, the Basilica Cistern, aka Yerebatan Sarnıcı or Sunken Cistern, located 150 metres from the Hagia Sophia mosque. It is the oldest of several hundred cisterns located across the ancient city.

As the Stoa Basilica it was originally built in the 3rd/4th century CE as a centre for commercial and artistic activity. It contained gardens within its colonnade and faced the mosque. Some 7,000 slaves were used to construct the Basilica, many of whom died in the effort. It had to be rebuilt in 476 CE following a fire.

Istanbul Basilica Cistern
Image source: www.tourismagency.net

It was converted in to a cistern in 532 CE by the Emperor Justinian I. Its inbuilt filtration process was created to supply the main royal residence of its period, the Great Palace of Constantinople and abandoned when the royals moved out. It was rediscovered in 1545 and the Ottomans began to use it to dump rubbish and dead bodies. It was cleaned and renovated in 1985 as a tourist attraction. The James Bond movie, From Russia with Love, used it as a dramatic setting.

The water for the cistern was garnered from Eğrikapı, nineteen kilometres (12 miles) north of the city, and is transported 971 metres by the Valens aqueduct (aqueduct of the grey falcon) and the 115m Mağlova aqueduct The Valens aqueduct, completed in 368 CE was merely the final step of a water system that stretched for 250 kilometres of canals and aqueducts and delivered its water to open reservoirs and cisterns, including the Basilica Cistern. The stone used on the Valens aqueduct is by popular myth said to have been taken from the walls of Chalcedon, pulled down in punishment for a rebellion.

Fifty-two stone steps lead down to the underground chamber of the Basilica Cistern. It is supported by 12 rows of marble pillars, 336 in all, many of these appear to have been recycled because their capitals are a mishmash, mostly Ionic and Corinthian but include a few Doric. Its dimensions are 143 metres (453 ft) by 65 metres (212 ft) and it holds 80,000 cubic metres of water. It has needed routine repairs and mud clearance down the years. Today it maintains a shallow series of pools which ornamentally contain large fish.

Istanbul Basilica Cistern – ‘hens-eye’ pillar detail –
Image source: www.nuraygonulsen.blogspot.com

Some of the Basilica’s pillars have an ornate ‘hens-eye’ design on them. Two Medusa pillars add interest, one is upside down and the other sideways, probably simple expedient usage when the pillars were recycled, though one myth is that the turning ensures the gorgon’s gaze is thus neutered.

Basilica, upside-down Medusa pillar
Image source: www.theguardian.com

Some 740 kilometres south of Istanbul is the town of Aspendos. It was built on a hill, yet was a busy port thanks to a navigable exit via the Eurymidon River to the Mediterranean Sea. It is perhaps best known for a 15,000-seater Roman theatre, but it also had a Roman aqueduct built towards the end of the third century CE. An inscription indicates that Tiberius Claudius Italicus spent two million denarii on the construction, it lasted only 150 years, probably damaged by earthquake, so not the greatest of Roman investments.

The aqueduct carried water 17 kilometres from the Gökçepinar (or pleasant spring) and Pinarbas (or springhead) springs in the hills to its north. It consists of tunnels, bridges and inverted siphon towers as shown in this impressive set of remains:

Aspendos, Turkey – aqueduct ruins
Image source: www.holylandphotos.wordpress.com

The inverted syphon approach was used by the Romans where a valley was greater than fifty metres and thus unsuitable for their then aqueduct bridge construction methods. The Aspendos aqueduct had three inverted siphons involving hundreds of concrete pipes with a male/female jointing. The siphon would project the water through pipes to the next siphon and cross the valley in a series of jumps.

Further water-supply used stone-built canals or tunnelled through rock:

Alabanda masonry canal tunnel
Image source: Dokuz Eylul University, Turkey
Canal tunnel at Seleuceia Pieria
Image source: Dokuz Eylul University, Turkey

In the 3rd century CE there are also examples of a water-powered sawmill at Hierapolis (in today’s Turkey), it used a crank and a connecting rod, as illustrated on a sarcophagus lid.


Perge (south west Turkey) has the first clear written evidence of a waterwheel anywhere in the world, written by Apollonius of Perge in around 240 BCE. Strabo describes one at the palace in Cabira of Mithridates VI of Pontus (in today’s Anatolia, Turkey). He was of Persian/Greek ancestry and this citation dates this watermill to 71 BCE. Vitruvius also described a geared watermill in the 1st century BCE.

Perge became a Roman settlement in 133 BCE and grew during the Roman and Byzantine periods, it was abandoned in the 7th century CE. It had a temple to Artemis outside its walls, and there are ruins of a Roman theatre and several churches.

Perge Nymphaion (fountain)
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

But for our purposes its 130-150 CE monumental fountain the Nymphaion is still extant.  It is situated at the end of its colonnaded street. It was fed by a stream which runs beneath a reclining statue to the river god, Kestros, the torso still in situ. The water fills a large pool then feeds a channel along the street.

Perge lead-lined cistern
Image source: www.bugbitten.com

Perge also used cisterns to store water, many lead-lined,

Perge Caldarium
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Perge Baths
Image source: ancientwatertechnologies.com

Ephesus (Roman period)

The god Artemis was worshipped in Ephesus and become the inspiration for a famous ‘Lady of Ephesus’ statute. The metalsmiths of Ephesus were so committed that they stood against St Paul the Apostle’s Christian preaching shouting ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians’. Paul lived in Ephesus from 52-54 CE. There is also one ‘legend’ that the Virgin Mary spent her last days here.

Artemis of Ephesus metal statue 1st century CE
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

From ancient times Ephesus had been supplied by a series of water systems. An 8km run of baked clay pipes, called the Şirince delivered 10 litres/second to the city. In the 6thc CE, this was expanded by the addition of the 650 m long Selcuk aqueduct, that utilised an inverted siphon to reach the St John Basilica and Ayasuluk hill. The 7km long Derbentdere water system used baked clay pipes to deliver 20 litres/sec. Two longer distance masonry-built conduits existed – the 36km long of Değirmendere conduit delivered 200 litres/sec and the 42km long Kayapınar some 100 litres/sec.

The Romans also built baths here in the 2nd century CE. This was a three-floor building which contained the usual caldarium, tepidarium, frigidarium and apodyterium facilities. But it was modified in the 4th century, reportedly by Skolacticia, a local woman. She provided public and private rooms and turned it into lodgings where travellers could be accommodated.

Ephesus latrine
Image source: pinterest.com

An earlier public latrine, 1st century CE, has been discovered with the Roman system of toilets set communally side-by-side. The floors were decorated with mosaics.

A small dam at Marnss was created to supply water via a 6 kms (3.7 miles) clay pipeline to provide a great fountain, built 4–14 CE,

Library of Celsus, Ephesus
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The tradition of reading while using toilets was maintained in Ephesus where the public toilets were built adjacent to a famous library built to commemorate a Roman senator and consul to Asia, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, his tomb is set beneath the library.

Designed by the Roman architect Vitruoya, the Library of Celsus was built in 125 CE as the third most significant library in the Roman Empire behind Alexandra and Pergamon. Sadly its 12,000 scrolls were contained in double-walled niches to protect them from temperature and humidity, but they were destroyed by fire in 262 CE. The façade survived, with its four statues to mark the virtues of Celsus – wisdom (variously identified as Athena/ Artemis/ Sophia), intelligence (Ennoia), knowledge (Episteme) and virtue (Arete). The current façade has been reconstructed from the original ruins.

The local brothel was situated just across the street indicated by a footprint and the figure of a woman etched into the pavement of Curetes Street. There was an underground tunnel here linking library and brothel.

It had two floors with a mosaic of the four seasons on the ground floor, the prostitutes cells were on the upper floor. The Ephesus Museum displays a figurine of Priapus (Roman) or Bes (Egyptian) with erect penis, both were gods of fertility. This figurine was found in a well beside the brothel. 

Priapus statues in Ephesus
Image source: pinterest.com

There is also a well-presented marble municipal latrine in Ephesus. Its 36 seats had a roof but the centre of the latrine was open for rainwater to be collected in an impluvium, or central pool, to dunk your tersorium (sponge on a stick). The floor was a mosaic. Running water was led through a channel beneath the seats to dispose of the outputs.

Sarcophagus lid with waterwheel relief, Hierapolis
Image source: www.reshistorica.historyboard.ne

Ruins of an early water-powered marble sawmill, dated to 6th century CE, has been found in Ephesus in Turkey.


Phaselis aqueduct
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Nearby Phaselis was established in 700 BCE and had a chequered history. It was conquered by the Persians, by Alexander the Great and by the Egyptians in turn. It was later part of the Kingdom of Rhodes then subsequently became Roman. Under their rule it grew the usual Roman attributes of agoras, theatres and baths.

In 130 CE a triumphal three-gated arch, the Hadrian Waterway Gate (or Üçkapılar meaning three gates) was constructed to support aqueducts bringing water to the city. The Queen of Sheba is reputed to have passed through the arch on her way to meet with King Solomon.


Hierapolis and its travertine Pamukkale
Image source: tiqets.com

Pamukkale is in south-west Turkey, its name means literally cotton castle because of the calcite deposits in the area that have formed a large natural nymphaeum lake, petrified cascades and mineral forests. Eumenes II, king of Pergamon founded the community in 190 BCE, assuming the nearby springs had healing powers.

The Greeks renamed it Hierapolis, or Holy City, and the Romans controlled it from 129 BCE. Its thermal springs became a much-visited spa in the 2nd c BCE. The two sites are combined as UNESCO Heritage Site #485 for its Graeco-Roman architecture. The Roman period also saw the springs being applied to scour and dye wool.

Hierapolis Temple of Apollo
Image source: thattheworldmayknow.com

A Temple to Apollo was built over a fissure from which vapours issued. The apostle Philip was reportedly crucified here by the emperor Domitian’s orders in 87 CE.

Latrine in Hierapolis
Image source: 123RF.com
Turkish Latrine
Image source: ancientwatertechnologies.com

Near the arch of Domitian is a Roman latrine that has lost the stone slab used as the seat but still has its two channels, one for fresh water supply and one for sluicing away human waste.

BRIEFER – Turkish Baths – After the Roman Empire collapsed it was the Islamic culture in the 7th century CE that took on the notion of bathing with their hammams. One of the Five Pillars of Islam is the obligation to pray, but first the adherent needs to wash – either the ghusi, a full body bath, or wudu, washing the face, hands and feet. The ghusi was preferred after high physical activity and particularly after sex and defecation.

The Islamic baths were thus often built as part of a mosque complex, though these were smaller affairs than the Roman versions. Hammas maintained only the caldarium, their harara, and the Roman use of the tepidarium and frigidarium fell out of vogue.

The Turkish bath is not really bathing, it grew from these Islamic roots. The facility first provided a relaxing room with heated steamy air passing through it so that the bather perspires heavily, then moves on to a hotter room, then finally washes with cold water.

The habit of taking a Turkish bath became popular in Victorian England, but here it was not moist but dry air that was used.

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© Bob Denton, 2016
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