The triumphal arch and city gates of the ancient Cilician city of Anazarbus in southern Turkey; archaeologists are excavating and restoring the city.

Dig uncovers gladiatorial ring in an ancient Cilician city of Turkey

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The long reach of the Roman Empire was felt in southern Turkey, where in the town of Anazarbus the Romans erected a triumphal arch after defeating a Parthian force in the first century BC and where gladiators fought wild beasts in a well-preserved stadium.

Excavations at the ancient city have been under way since mid-2014. The most recent discovery is the arena or gladiators’ ring. The archaeologists, with a $335,000 grant from Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, also intend to excavate a nearby amphitheater in the 4-million-square-meter (988-acre) city.

Underneath the amphitheater are arches and chambers where wild animals, including lions and tigers, waited to be brought into the stadium to fight the gladiators, according to Çukurova University archaeologist Fatih Gülşen, who is in charge of the project.  The stadium had tall granite watchtowers where referees oversaw the combats.

A mosaic of fish in the ancient city

A mosaic of fish in the ancient city (Photo by Klaus-Peter Simon/ Wikimedia Commons )

“We’ll be able to see how such structures operated beyond Rome, in distant states like Anatolia. We’ll see how they were planned, which wild animals were used, which tools and equipment were required,” Gülşen said, according to an article in BGN News .

The area was inhabited long before the Romans took over, but the ruins being excavated now were built on the order of Emperor Augustus beginning in 19 BC. Gülşen said the name Anazarbus means “unvanquished” in Persian.

Anazarbus or Anavarza was one of the most important Roman military outposts in the East. There is evidence that the city was at various times home to Sassanian, Greek, Ottoman, Byzantine and Armenian peoples. The foundation of a fortress at the site may date back to the seventh century BC and the Assyrians. The Romans took it over from the Cilicians. It declined during the later Byzantine period but became the capital of the Armenian kingdom in the 12th century AD. The Armenians abandoned the city in 1375 after the Marmalukes defeated them. The city was never reoccupied.

Anazarbus is on the outskirts of present-day Dilekkaya in the Kozan district of Adana Province. The ruins are becoming a tourist attraction.

The ancient fortress at Anazarbus or Anavarza, which may date back to Assyrians building in the seventh century BC.

The ancient fortress at Anazarbus or Anavarza, which may date back to Assyrians building in the seventh century BC. (Photo by Sarah Murray/ Wikimedia Commons )

Earlier this year, the triumphal arch of Anazarbus, which is 22.5 meters (74 feet) wide, 10.5 meters (34.5 feet) high and 5.6 meters (18.4 feet) thick, was under renovations to restore it as a tourist attraction.

Gülşen said in May 2015 that the gate had three arches, but only two are still standing, according to Archaeology News Network . However, restoration experts used laser scanners to determine which blocks go where in order to replace them. The arch was made with granite, marble and smooth lime. Gülşen called it an artistic wonder.

“It is a huge and unique structure decorated with Corinthian heads, columns, pilasters [rectangular columns] and niches,” he said. “Because of these features, it is the only one in the region that we call Çukurova today, and one of the few monumental city gates within the borders of Turkey.”

Daily Sabah reports the city had the only known two-lane road in the ancient world. The road was 2,700 meters (8,858 feet) long and was lined with monumental columns, which archaeologists are restoring.

The city was home to some famous ancients, including the poet Opanius and Pedanius Dioscorides, who has been called the founder of pharmacology – he concocted medicines from 50 local plants.

Featured image: The triumphal arch and city gates of the ancient Cilician city of Anazarbus in southern Turkey; archaeologists are excavating and restoring the city. (Photo by Mustafa Tor/ Wikimedia Commons )

By Mark Miller

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