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Sardis

The adjoining modern town of Sart is 90km from Izmir along the main highway east.


The wealthy capital of Lydia, where 6th-century BC King Croesus grew rich, lies either side of what was to become the Royal Persian Road stretching from Izmir to Susa in modern Iran. Flowing across it is the Pactolus river, now little more than a stream, where gold was panned using sheep’s fleeces, to which it stuck. The world’s first coins, made of electrum (gold and silver), were produced here. Rebuilt after an earthquake, the city was as important to the Romans as it had been to the Lydians and Persians. Since its discovery in the 1960s, its synagogue, described by John Freely in The Aegean Coast as “an outstanding example of Roman architecture without parallel in Asia Minor”, has demanded a re-evaluation of Judaism under the Romans.

Most startling, by the roadside, is the decayed parade of Byzantine shops in front of the synagogue. Largely Jewish run, they included a restaurant, Jacob’s Paint Shop and other identifiable places that make it seem as if the proprietors left no more than a few decades ago. The synagogue was built within the existing Roman bath and gymnasium complex and has excellent floor mosaics. To the north, rising like volcanoes from the plain, are the burial tumuli of the Lydian kings.

Beside the river on the south side of the road is the former mint and the large Temple of Artemis, 20 columns long. Above it is the acropolis, a 45-minute uphill walk rewarded with panoramic views.


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