I am pretty unexcited about this evening’s “big game” between the bandwagon team of dubious integrity and the other guys that rammed their way in via an egregious no-call. Perhaps you, dear reader, need a diversion from the endless-but-not-timeless hype of the afternoon.
This week, the question came up in conversation (I don’t even remember with who), “what happened to the Georgia Dome?” [For the uninformed, Super Bowl LIII will be played in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium which has replaced the former as Atlanta’s main sports venue.] The answer: it was “blowed up” (video here) and removed from existence to make way for the great hood ornament stadium (here is a time lapse of the transition). Apparently Atlanta has some recycling issues (as here). Rather than go on about our “throw-away society,” I offer the contrast of stadiums that have endured to tell about their culture in a way the Georgia Dome never will. Today’s Pic(s) Of The Day:
We begin with the well-preserved stadium at Aphrodisias, in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). It is fairly typical in construction, but has semi-circles of seats at both ends, creating a closed oblong shape.
There are several nicely-preserved stadia in Turkey, including the recently-exposed huge example at Magnesia-on-the-Meander. It is difficult to capture without a panoramic view:
This example is open on one end, which is more typical. It also has some trappings found in other ancient stadiums that we would find familiar, such as reserved sections (as the regular bench seats with inscribed group names at left).
The Magnesia-on-the-Meander stadium also sports some luxury features
that, coupled with its huge size, make it something of the Mercedes-Benz
Stadium of Roman Asia. Premium seating is found down low, in a ring
pictured below, and in apparent box-seat sections at the end. No
retractable roof, though, but with a view and weather like this who
Finally, a couple of views of the best-preserved stadium in Greece; the one at the high point of the remains of ancient Delphi; home of the famous Oracle of Apollo:
As you can see, the Delphi stadium is on the side of a mountain (Mt Parnassus), and the lower (south) side has a significant retaining wall. In that wall, on the east end, is an inscription also having a modern echo. It places limitations on wine brought in or out of the stadium:
You may be wondering why I have not included famous structures like the Colosseum in Rome. That is because the Colosseum is actually an amphitheater, not a stadium. An amphitheater is like a theater in structure, but the seats go all the way around in an oval. Our modern “stadiums” are actually built more like Roman amphitheaters than Greek or Roman stadiums. Modern structures that many people call amphitheaters are really just theaters . . . confusing; but amphitheaters will have to wait for a different post.
With the conflict between Turkey and POTUS in the news this week, I felt prompted to feature an unusual and unappreciated site in the former, long on my list of potential “You Don’t Get This on the Bus Tour” and/or “Pic of the Day” posts.
Adada (lat/long = 37.572972, 30.984000): the city has an unusual but melodic name, probably Pisidian in origin (modern uses of the term, however applicable to my thoughts below, may not be fit for a family-oriented post). The name first appears in the now lost writings of the geographer Artimidorus of Ephesus (2nd century BC), quoted by the later geographer Strabo (Strabo 12. 570).
The site of Adada in the mountainous region Pisidia of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) is an underappreciated delight where encountering other human beings is a rarity. There is a nicely paved agora/Roman forum and adjacent Acropolis reached by well-preserved steps.
Looking NNE from the acropolis, the remains of several buildings preserved to roof height can be discerned between the scattered oak trees a few hundred meters away.
The closest building is the Bouleuterion (city council house), but I am more fascinated with the three between it and the small theater. They are ruins of temples dedicated to the Roman Emperor Trajan, the Roman Emperors (presumably collectively), and the Emperors in conjunction with Zeus-Serapis.
Of the former, there is not much left aside from a single wall. The Temple of Zeus Megistros Serapis and the Emperors is better preserved, but with the roof and entrance scattered about on the surrounding ground.
The Temple of the Emperors is the most photogenic, with entrance door frame standing, two walls fully intact, and the part of the rear cornice in place.
Aside from the aesthetic quality of Adada’s remains (I love good ruins in deserted locations!), the site evokes thoughts on the nature of Roman Emperor worship. Why did the ancients occasionally deify their rulers and, in the case of Rome, build temples to them? Was it genuine conviction that the rulers were gods, or was it mere political expediency? Or (as I rather suspect) was it a fair dose of the latter, carried forward by the human nature to adore heroes, align ourselves to alpha-leaders, and idolize celebrities (of all kinds) who make perceived contributions to our lives while ignoring their foibles (especially after their death)?
Emperor Worship was a tool of the Imperial Roman government since (before?) its inception. Asia Minor (modern Turkey) led the way in institutionalizing this practice—no doubt initially for political ends. Perhaps to encourage local acceptance of the practice, or maybe as a natural religious evolution—both possibilities are disturbing—in many places Emperors were identified with popular local cults; particularly as Zeus who was equated with pre-Roman (and even pre-Hellenistic) local deities.
Adada’s temples provide us with a spectrum of this phenomena. It may not be too far-fetched to suggest that the same dynamics of politics, religion, and human nature can be seen in our own times. It might be worth noting that refusing to give the Emperor the honors due him, in the eyes of Rome or its local agents, was tantamount to rebellion (as for the Jews of Jerusalem in AD 66) or disloyalty (as for early Christians that refused to worship him). Perhaps the lesson is this: there is a potential cost for attempting to rise above humanity’s baser instincts.
“Santa is dead; I have been to all three of his tombs!” That tongue-in-cheek potential presentation title is the idea of beloved former student, now-former colleague, and fine scholar, J Mark Nicovich. The conundrum of three tombs (plus many other claimed relics) arises from the traditions that St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra in Asia Minor (now Demre in Turkey), was buried in that city but his remains were stolen on two different occasions and taken (ahem, . . . “translated”) to Bari in southern Italy in 1087 and Venice, in northern Italy in 1101. Thus, there are Churches of St. Nicholas in all three locations, each claiming to enshrine the resting place for the inspiration and namesake of Santa Claus. See Part 1 of this Trilogy on “St. Nick’s Not-So-Final Resting Place?” here (and Part 2 here).
So, which church/city possesses the real relics of St. Nicholas? As it happens, recent months have seen some significant developments in this question.
In early October of 2017 Cemil Karabayram, Director of Surveying and Monuments for the region in which Myra/Demre is located (Antalya), claimed in an interview that CT and radar scans had revealed an intact “temple” beneath the St. Nicholas Church. The exact location is not revealed by the article, but he indicated that the find is currently inaccessible “because experts have to first work on the mosaics.”1
Karabayram speculated, “maybe we will find the untouched body of St. Nicholas.” How can this be, given the two accounts of the “translation” of the Saint’s relics to Bari and Venice? “Traders in Bari took the bones. But it is said that these bones did not belong to St. Nicholas but to another priest,” he said, adding. “Professor Yıldız Ötüken . . . says that St Nicholas is kept in a special section.” “We claim that St. Nicholas has been kept in this temple without any damage. . . . If we get the results, Antalya’s tourism will gain big momentum.”2
The claim that Nicholas’ body has remained in Myra/Demre is significant; and the note that tourism would be boosted if it is found is telling. Are city status and tourist revenues a motivation? Bari and Venice surely took note . . .
On 6 December (significantly, the date of St. Nicholas’ death and Feast Day), articles announced that relics of St. Nicholas subjected to Carbon 14 analysis by the Oxford Relics Cluster at Keble College’s Advanced Studies Centre dated to the fourth century; i.e., consistent with the AD 343 death of the historical bishop. Careful sifting of the published info reveals that the single bone tested is owned by an American priest in Morton Grove Illinois, who says he obtained the relic from Lyon in France.3 By inference, the Oxford University news release suggests that the bones in Bari and Venice therefore could date to the fourth century as well. There is no solid connection between the American relic and those in the Italian churches. But the Bari relics of St. Nicholas are missing part of the pelvis, of which the tested bone apparently comes.
During restorations at Bari’s Basilica di San Nicola in the early 1950s, the tomb of St. Nicholas was opened for the first time since it was sealed by Pope Urban II in 1089. The bones were examined by Luigi Martino, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Bari, who found the skeleton was incomplete. A complete skull, however, allowed reconstruction of the ancient face—that of Nicholas, if the bones are authentic.4 In 1992, Martino was asked to examine the relics in Venice. The latter were all broken into smaller pieces, but he concluded that the Venice fragments were complementary to the bones in Bari and they are from the skeleton of the same man. A narrative that the Bari sailors in 1087 hurriedly absconded with the skeleton and left pieces behind to be found in 1099 by the Venetian raiders is thus possible.5 So, in a spirit of ecumenical peace, the Bari and Venice claims can coexist and they can share the reconstructed image of the Saint adored in both places. The logical—but unlikely—next step is to use DNA analysis to connect the bones of Bari and Venice, and either radiocarbon date them or include the Illinois fragment in the DNA analysis. This, however, would spoil the remaining mystery.
Meanwhile, back at Demre/Myra, we await further archaeological explorations in the Church of St. Nicholas. As for the image of St. Nicholas there, there is already some controversy, as the city has displayed four different images of the Saint in the last 35 years.6 From 1981 to 2000, the only public image was a statue of a Father Christmas-like figure with a bag over his shoulder and children huddled around him, as if seeking protection. It still stands in the courtyard in front of St. Nicholas Church. In my mind, this is the most appropriate one, given the controversy that followed (it might be noted that moving/replacing statues is not a new thing):
In 2000, a Russian sculptor and the mayor of Moscow presented Demre with a bronze statue of St. Nicholas in Orthodox style, which was placed atop a large globe on a pedestal in the town square, a block or so in front of the church.
In 2005, however, the Orthodox Christian St. Nicholas was replaced by the town council with a red-suited Santa Claus statue made of Bakelite (as I never saw the Santa statue in place, you can view a pic here). Demre’s mayor, explained “this is the one everyone knows;” plus, it was also less offensive to the city’s Muslim population.7 Nevertheless, complains were made, primarily by Russian interests, as St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Russia. Finally (for now), and perhaps in response to protests, a compromised was reached on Christmas Day 2008, when the current statue atop the pedestal was unveiled:
It is a fiberglass “Turkish Santa” with a heroic stance and victorious mien, holding a small child on his shoulder and another by the hand, each raising a wrapped gift. Controversy aside; I like it.
Actually, I like them all. The changing images (and names) of St. Nicholas are a commentary on social roles of hero figures, cultural appropriation, tribalism . . . and really on human nature. Most Americans of recent generations experienced an evolution (or revolution) in their own concepts of Santa Claus while maturing, not so unlike the changes of statues in Demre. And as for the question of the travels (or not) of Nicholas’ bones; I am taken back to the catalyst for this series of posts: the NORAD tracking of Santa on Christmas Eve, mentioned in Part 1. While the notion that government technology could track his sleigh is exciting, and the website is visually impressive (and educational), I cant help feeling that it robs something from that childhood wonder at the mysterious how and unknown when of Santa’s anticipated arrival. Then I realized the technology and presentation didn’t really answer anything—there is always more mystery and wonder. So, that is why I rather suspect (and perhaps secretly hope) that the true fate of Nicholas’ remains will remain similarly unknown. Life is just more interesting that way.
This is a brief intermediate follow-up to “Part 1 of St. Nick’s Not-So-Final-Resting-Place,” before we get to the conclusion in Part 3 (that will make it a trilogy!). Here I will focus on the city where St. Nicholas (Santa Claus) was bishop and what can be seen there.
Ancient Myra was a typical Greco-Roman city of some regional importance. About 5 km away lie the ruins of Myra’s Mediterranean harbor town, Andriake. An ancient synagogue, identified by a menorah decoration and inscription, is of special interest.
The site of Andriake, recently opened to the public, also includes fine harbor buildings, restored monuments, a huge cistern, and ancient boat replicas. Given his reputation among sailors, Nicholas no doubt was familiar with Andriake.
Myra is located in Lycia, where the most visually unique ancient remains are tombs, with several types carved in the ubiquitous rock cliffs of the region. Not far from the Church of Nicholas, a nice array of such tombs can be seen above the ancient theater of the city.
The theater with its backdrop of tombs is a major stop for the buses full of cruise-ship borne tourists:
The Russian tourists I mentioned in Part 1, free from the religious atmosphere of the Church St. Nicholas, now typically indulge in over-the-top photo ops at the theater (NOTE: I did not obtain permission from any of these people to take/use their images, but given the very public nature of their exhibitionism, I assume I am okay—however, I have not included the more embarrassing or salacious pics I got that day in 2011):
For the visitor that does not like crowds or the “You Don’t Get This On the Bus Tour” folks, I suggest a visit to the other side of the hill, where only working agricultural fields lie below the Northern Tombs of Myra:
Meanwhile, back at the Church of St. Nicholas, we have not answered the questions posed in Part 1.1 We will address these and the question of Nicholas’ appearance in Part 3 (perhaps later today?) . . .
Thanks for looking!
1 I.e.: Who has the real St. Nicholas? Bari or Venice? Or, could his remains remain in Myra (Demre)?
As I write this, it is Christmas Eve, and NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) is already performing its annual national defense duty: (that of tracking Santa on his rounds). It occurred to me that we can attempt to track Santa’s movements in antiquity—or at least those of his remains . . . .
As is well known (and which will not be detailed here), Santa Claus is a derivative from Saint Nicholas, a quite real early Christian bishop from the city of Myra in southern Asia Minor (now the city Demre, Turkey). After a ministry that spanned the Peace of the Church, defending children, caring for the people in Myra during famine, protecting sailors, saving the falsely accused, and a purported action role at the Council of Nicea in 325, Nicholas died on December 6 (now his feast day), AD 343.1 He was buried in Myra where a church was built over his tomb after his remains were said to produce a healing liquid called manna. The church itself is difficult to appreciate as it is somewhat lower than the present ground level of that part of Demre, and the entrance is covered with scaffolding as part of a long-ongoing excavation and restoration project.
There are several graves in the church, but one is specially remembered as the tomb of Nicholas and greatly revered by Eastern Orthodox, especially Russians. This post and site cannot get a “You Don’t Get This on the Bus Tour” tag because when a cruise ship packed with Russian vacationers arrives, every bus hauls them to Demre, where they invade the church in varying states of inappropriate dress. Such was the case on my first attempt to inspect the tomb in 2011. Any hope of a decent pic of the grave was lost and even approaching it nearly futile. A modest glass barrier could not protect the top of the sarcophagus from the hands of the faithful:
On a subsequent visit in 2014, there was no cruise ship and thus no hordes of Russians having a pious moment amidst their hedonistic vacation. So, I could get a decent pic, I thought. But I noticed with amusement that the modest protective glass was replaced by a significantly stouter defensive shield:
So, why is the sarcophagus clearly broken? And why is the title of this blog post: “St. Nick’s Not-So-Final Resting Place?” And what does this have to do with tracking Santa’s (remains) movements?
As it happens, St. Nicholas’ remains are revered in churches named for him in Bari and Venice, both in Italy, and in several other places around Christendom. How did this come to be? The short version is that after Myra fell to the Seljuk Turks in 1071, the maritime powers Bari and Venice each conspired to relocate the valuable relics of the Saint to their cities. Ships from Bari arrived first in 1087 and, quite against the will of the people and church at Myra, “translated” the bones of Nicholas to their city where they are venerated in a basilica to this day. In 1099, en route to Palestine on the First Crusade, ships from Venice stopped in Myra as well. They broke through the floor of the church and found an urn labelled to contain Nicholas’ remains. They took these and others with them and back to Venice in 1101, where they are revered in a basilica to this day.2
So, who has the real St. Nicholas? Bari or Venice? Or, could his remains remain in Myra? Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 . . .
Thanks for looking!
1 For interesting and informative info on Nicholas, his history, and transformation into Santa Claus, see the St. Nicholas Center.