The naked Aphrodite and the Lion

Every time I travel to Knidos, I feel giddy with anticipation. This is where the mighty Mediterranean meets her capricious daughter, the Agean.

View from the theatre

The approach itself – be it from Bodrum in the North or Datça in the East – is more often than not long and windy but when you drop anchor at the clear blue waters of the South Harbour you are surrounded by a place of great beauty and immense history, with some interesting stories to tell.

The anchorage is both beautiful and safe; you anchor at 5 meters, the sea is so clear that you see exactly where you drop your anchor.

Knidos at a glance

At the isthmus that connects the South and North Harbours, there’s a small T-shaped jetty and a small seafood restaurant serving fresh fish and cold beer.

Just a few meters from the restaurant is the antique city of Knidos, a vast city of white marble and sandstone; with temples, piers, buildings, roads and an amphitheatre still very visible after almost 2300 years. The marble used in the city was of such high a quality that some of it was said to be shipped to İstanbul to be used in the construction of the Dolmabahçe Palace, the largest palace from the Ottoman era.

Knidos was founded at the very end of the Datça peninsula in 360 BC. Two harbours, one for the war ships in the North and the other for the merchant ships in the South, were built. Being a part of the Dorian Hexapolis, the people of Knidos become extremely wealthy by trade. As their wealth grew , so did their city. The people showed their appreciation to the gods by building temples and ordering statues. Being a harbour city, their most prominent gods were Poseidon who ruled the seas and Apollo, who was the god of war, prophecy and healing. It was also the site of the Temple of Aphrodite.

Terrace of Dionysus

The city became a pilgrimage site thanks to its temples and sanctuaries which made it richer and more famous.

Sunset from the North Harbour

The Temple of Aphrodite Euploia was maybe the most important pilgrimage in ancient Knidos dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite. It was known for hosting the famous statue of Aphrodite of Knidos, the first cult statue of the goddess depicted naked. The sanctuary was dedicated to the goddess under her name Aphrodite Euploia or ‘Aphrodite of the Fair Voyage’, which was her name in her capacity of a sea goddess, an aspect very popular among sailors. The people of Knidos valued the statue so much, they refused numerous offers to sell it to wealthier kingdoms, even when their fortunes turned for the worse.

Aphrodite of Knidos

It was also the first naked statue ever. The architect was Praksiteles of Athens, the most revered architect of the antiquity. The identity , or rather the profession of the model is also a mystery. According to one myth she was Phryne, the mistress of the architect and one of the famous entertainers of her time. According to another, Phryne was a vestal virgin who swam naked to celebrate the feast of Eleusis. When Praksiteles saw her, he decreed that such a beauty couldn’t be human, so she must have been Aphrodite incarnated.

The statue, although never recovered, became a cult figure thanks to artists and historians like Dali and the Fisherman of Halicarnassus.

The coins depicting the goddess

Altough there are many replicas around, the whereabouts of the original statue is still unknown; some say it’s stolen, the others say it’s destroyed during an earthquake. The archeologists still search for it.

Another famous statue is the Lion of Knidos, a colossal marble statue discovered in early 19th cc by English archeologists. They were conducting one of the first surveys of the area, by the grace of Sultan Abdülmecid, who was trying to foster close ties with the western powers, especially United Kingdom and France.

The lion looking for the Mediterranean sun

The statue had crowned an 18-metre high funerary monument, with commanding views over the sea and may have once acted as a navigation aid for passing sailors. The monument may have been destroyed in an earthquake, as the statue was found facedown lying some distance from the tomb. The 6-ton Knidos Lion was immediately transported to the UK.

I saw it at the British Museum a few years ago, together with another important work of art, the Demeter of Knidos. Although the British Museum is one of my favourite museums, and the statues are displayed beautifully, I still prefer to see them in situ under the Mediterranean sun, facing the azure waters where the Med meets the Agean Sea.

Entrance of the North Harbour

Nevertheless, take the trouble to sail – or drive – to this paradise, take a long walk around the ruins, dive into the cool waters, enjoy an incredible sunset and let your mind wander. You’ll soon feel that the petty problems of the day disappear and you’ll be a part of something much more important. The magnificient and immortal land that nurtured so many civilisations, which we call Anadolu.

Until next time

Photo Credits : Deniz & Erbil Kural

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