Bosra, Syria.

Ancient Theatre of Dreams.

In the south-east of Syria, the ancient Roman city of Bosra was briefly a Nabatean capital before becoming the prosperous and powerful capital of the Roman province of Syria.

Their black basalt usage, which is found throughout the area known as the Horan region of Syria, distinguishes the masonry of the buildings and ruins.

Several delightful Roman ruins are found within the old city, including the monumental ancient Roman theatre which is one of the largest and best preserved in the Mediterranean. The famous theatre was built in the second century AD during the reign of Roman Emperor Trajan who was emperor from 98 to 117 AD.

North-south cardo- Bosra. Syria.
Bosra. Syria. View along the north-south cardo with its cobblestone surface and parallel row of columns lining the ancient street.

The colossal scaenae frons or stage backdrop of the theatre was three stories high and adorned with ornate fine Corinthian columns, statues, and sculptured friezes. Unfortunately, only the lower level survives today. Its cavea, which is virtually intact, comprises 37 tiers of seating that could accommodate an audience of 15,000 spectators.

The Ancient city of Bosra is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site. I have also included a few images of the Roman theatre found in the ancient city of Philippopolis- Modern Shahba. The ancient theatre is small, however it is one of the best preserved in Syria. Shahba is about 90 kilometres southeast of Damascus.

Click to view the complete Bosra image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Paestum, Italy.

Majestic Ancient Greek Temples.

Originally named Poseidonia, in honour of the Greek Sea God Poseidon, Paestum was founded in the 7th century BC by Ancient Greek colonists from the city of Sybaris which was situated in the current Gulf of Taranto in southern Italy.

Its location was chosen for its fresh water supply and rich fertile plain, ideal for agriculture. Its site also allowed for excellent land access through the Lucanian hills to the seaport. The city became wealthy enough to mint its own coins and became an important centre of Magna Graecia–Greek colonisation in Italy.

After a few hundred years, the city was occupied by the indigenous Lucanians and then by the Romans in the third century BC. Paestum succumbed to malaria after the fall of Rome and was eventually abandoned in the late 9th century.

Paestum was a must see by any traveller engaged in the famous Grand tour- 17th to early 19th-century.

For nearly 1000 years, Paestum and its grand majestic temples were overgrown by tangled vegetation and partially submerged in swampland until the mid-18th century, when the ancient site was rediscovered by road crews. 

The three ancient Greek Doric temples of Paestum (Hera, Hera II and Athena) are ranked amongst the best preserved Greek Temples in the world.

Paestum Italy.
Paestum. Campania. Italy. The cover panel mural painting from the Tomb of the Diver (Tomba del Tuffatore) from the Tempa del Prete necropolis. This panel, which was the tomb lid, shows a naked youth executing a prefect dive into a blue sea. The dive is thought to symbolize the passage from life to the death.

The museum house the extraordinary cycle of mural paintings from the 5th century BC Tomb of Diver, which are the only type of its kind in the world and are the only example of Greek wall painting with figured scenes from the Archaic, or Classical periods to survive in their entirety.

Paestum is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Pinara, Turkey.

Evocative Ancient Lycian city

The remote ancient Lycian city of Pinara is on a pine forested mountain foothill of the ancient Mount Cragus (today Mount Babadag),two kilometres above the village of Minare, in the Fethiye district of Mugla Province, south-western Turkey.

The lost ruins of Pinara were discovered by Sir Charles Fellows, a British archaeologist and traveller from the 19th century.

Colonists from the overpopulated city of Xanthos, which was the largest city of the Lycian Federation, established Pinara (meaning ‘round hill’ in ancient Lycian) on the western bank of the River Xanthos in the 5th century BC. During this period, Pinara had a large natural harbour and was one of the chief ports of the influential Lycian league. The harbour no longer exists and in its place are reed-filled wetlands.

Very little was written about Pinara by ancient writers, however Strabo, the ancient Greek geographer, philosopher and historian wrote Pinara was a very important and developed city and was one of the six principal cities of the prominent Lycian league and possessed three votes at the Federal assembly. (The other five were Xanthos, Patara, Olympus, Myra, and Tlos). 

Strabo also noted that the city appears to have paid hero honours to Pandarus, Homers celebrated archer from the Trojan war.

In 334 BC, the city surrendered happily to Alexander the Great, on his march through Lycia. The locals welcomed as a liberator Alexander because of their disdain for the former Persian occupiers. The city, like the rest of Lycia, was completely Hellenised during this period.

Ancient Theatre. Pinara. Turkey.
View of the spectacular Greek-style 2nd century BC theatre. Pinara. Turkey. The theatre is situated at the base of the ancient city and accommodated up to 3,200 spectators.

After Alexander’s death, his empire was spilt with Pinara annexed to the Attalid Kingdom, the Hellenistic Dynasty that ruled Pergamum. It eventually became under Roman rule and achieved great prosperity. During its peak, Pinara even minted its own coins.

The area was and is prone to earthquakes and large earth-shaking events considerably damaged the city in 141 and 240 AD. The city was rebuilt; however, it was eventually abandoned in the 9th century.

Many footpaths crisscross the extensive and interesting site, linking many remnants from its past. Highlights include the ancient theatre, foundations of ancient temples, Cyclopean walls, an Odeon and Agora, an upper and a lower Acropolis, and thousands of rocks tombs cut into the vertical limestone cliff face, some of which are quite intricate.

Click to view the complete Pinara image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Delos, Greece.

Sacred island of Apollo and Artemis

Near the Greek island of Mykonos and part of the Cyclades, sacred Delos is the birthplace of the Greek God Apollo and his twin sister, the Greek Goddess Artemis, and one of most important archaeological and ancient sites in the Mediterranean.

According to ancient sources, Zeus (Greek king of all gods) had an affair with the beautiful young goddess Leto. Hera, rightful goddess wife of Zeus, was furious and barred every place in the world from giving the pregnant Leto a place to give birth.

The whole Greek world followed Hera’s order – with the single exception being Delos, a floating, unimportant, barren, rocky and windswept island that thought it had little to lose by giving sanctuary to Leto. So, with a haven in Delos, Leto rested under a stately palm tree and gave birth first to Artemis and then Apollo. 

It is said that as soon as Apollo, God of the Sun, Prophecy and the Arts saw the light of day, the island glowed and the entire world shone.

Today, Delos comprises rich and extensive archaeological ruins from antiquity when, as Apollo’s sanctuary, it was a prosperous and cosmopolitan Mediterranean trading port and attracted pilgrims from all over the Greek world. Even today, a trek to the summit of Mount Kynthos, the highest point on Delos, will reveal modern dedications and small shrines to Apollo.

Terrace of the Lions. Delos. Greece.
Delos. Greece. The grand row of five marble lion sculptures crafted and dedicated by the Naxians to the Sanctuary of Apollo in the 7th century BCE. On a natural terrace standing guard and overlooking the sacred lake, it is believed that there may have been up-to nineteen lions.

The ferry ride to Delos from Mykonos is about 30 minutes; however, visitors are not allowed to stay on the island – apart from archaeologists working there.

In antiquity there was a law in place that forbade births and deaths on the Island. Pregnant women and persons gravely ill were transported to the adjacent island of Rheneia to avoid breaking the sacred law.

Delos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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 All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Temple of Hatshepsut, Egypt.

Powerful Queen and Pharaoh

The mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut is on the west bank of the River Nile, just across from Luxor, ancient Thebes, in Egypt.

Queen Hatshepsut was one of only a few women ever to reign over Egypt as Pharaoh. She ruled for 20 years during the 18th dynasty – 14th century BCE.

Rising out of the desert plain and set against towering cliffs in the Theban Hills, the temple, with its many monumental ramps, fine terraces, and elegant columns, is one of the most impressive from ancient Egypt.

What’s also impressive are its colourful hieroglyphic paintings and reliefs, that tells the story of Hatshepsut’s divine birth and of her journey to the Land of Punt (which is believed to be modern-day Somalia) to bring back treasures such as ebony, ivory, gold, perfumes and myrrh trees.

Relief. Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Egypt.
Thebes. Egypt. Temple of Queen Hatshepsut colourful relief showing a festival scene with soldiers running forward carrying branches of trees along with their axes.

The Temple of Queen Hatshepsut is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site as part of the Ancient Thebes, with its Necropolis listing.

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All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Segesta, Sicily Italy.

Glorious Architectural Legacy of Ancient Greece

The archaeological park of Segesta is in the commune of Calatafimi-Segesta within the western province of Trapani on the island of Sicily, southern Italy. Ancient Segesta was one of the principal cities of the Sicilian indigenous people, called Elymians. 

The Elymians according to legend (and the Greek Historian and general Thucydides) were originally Trojans who fled the destruction by the Greeks of the ancient and famous city of Troy. Having found haven in Sicily, they merged with local peoples and become one. 

From the 8th century BCE, the Ancient Greeks colonised or influenced most of Sicily and Segesta was no different. The city adopted Greek culture, including architecture and temple building. 

Standing glorious in magnificent isolation on a low hill amid verdant country side and framed by mountains is the Greek Doric Temple of Segesta. 

One of the three orders designed by the Greeks was the Doric order. The other two were the Ionic order originating from the Ionian Greek city states from Asia Minor and the Corinthian order, named for the Greek city-state of Corinth. The Romans later adopted these orders.

One of the most magnificently sited classical monuments in the world, the temple was constructed between 42 and 16 BCE.

It was built to impress the ambassadors from Athens whom the Segestans were eager to win over to help protect them from their hostile Greek rival Selinous (modern day Selinunte). 

Ancient Greek Theatre. Segesta Sicily Italy.
Segesta. Sicily. Italy. View from the rear of the Greek Theatre, which stands on the highest part of the ancient city at about 400 metres on the cliffs of Mount Barbaro.

Believed to be the work of a great Athenian architect, the Doric order peripteral temple authentically follows the existing models of classical architecture of Greek cities in Sicily and comprises 36 limestone columns, arranged by 6 columns on the facade and 14 on the sides. 

The temple was abandoned before completion, possibly due to war and conflict. Incompletion is assumed because the columns are unfluted, the lifting bosses (knobs) have been left inserted in the structure and there is no evidence of a cella and roof being built. 

Nearby is the well preserved ancient Greek Theatre, which stands on the highest part of the ancient city at about 400 metres on the cliffs of Mount Barbaro. Dating from the second half of the 2nd century BCE, the theatre originally accommodated 4000 people and has a stunning backdrop overlooking the beautiful panorama of the Segesta territory which is dominated by Mount Inici. 

Click to view the complete Segesta image gallery.

All content, images and text are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Aegina, Greece.

Ancient Island Powerhouse

A stone’s throw south of Athens lays Aegina, an unspoiled and historic Greek island endowed with splendid archaeological remains, beautiful beaches and charming harbour towns. 

Located between the Attica and the Peloponnese, the island of Aegina (Aigina) is part of the archipelago known as the Saronic Gulf Islands which are regarded by Athenians as their own a little secret paradise to escape to from the hustle and bustle of the capital. (Salamis, Poros, Hydra and Spetses are the other Saronic Gulf Islands)

In the 7th and 6th centuries BC, Aegina was a mighty maritime state that rivalled Athens in power and prestige. 

Aegina minted the first ancient Greek coins (marked with a tortoise) and traded and established colonies throughout the Mediterranean. However, the imperial ambitions of Athens eventually eclipsed and then conquered Aegina in the 5th century BC. 

Between 1826 and 1828, Aegina town became the first capital of the new Greek state after winning independence and the new government of Greece was set-up there. 

Aegina Town is a picturesque harbour town, overflowing with colourful fishing and coastal boats and a lively waterfront lined with neoclassical buildings, taverns, churches and many stands selling Aegina’s famous pistachios, considered the tastiest in the world. 

Aegina. Greece.
View of the East and North sides of the Temple of Aphaia or Afea, Aegina Greece.

On eastern side of the island, set atop a pine crested hill, stands the impressive 5th century BC Temple of Aphaia, which is one of the best-preserved ancient temples from the ancient Greek world. Dedicated to Aphaia, a local goddess, the perfectly proportioned Doric Temple has twenty-five of the original 32 monolithic limestone columns still standing. 

The Temple of Aphaia, together with the Parthenon in Athens and Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, form a perfect isosceles triangle which continues to mystify scholars today.

Aegina is easily reachable from the port of Piraeus, with many ferries available throughout the day ranging from approximately 40 minutes to 75 minutes in travel time.

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All Images, Text and Content are Copyright Steven Sklifas

Bulla Regia, Tunisia.

Subterranean Roman City.

Bulla Regia is a notable archaeological site in a highly fertile region of northwestern Tunisia. It is officially recognized as Colonia Aelia Hadriana Augusta Bulla Regia.

The ancient city was under the influence of the North African powerhouse Carthage around the 3rd century BC. With the collapse of Carthage, the Romans eventually obtained absolute authority of the city in the 1st century BC.

Prosperity for the city was the greatest between the 1st and 3rd centuries as it became a major producer and supplier of wheat, grains, grapes and olives to the Roman Empire. 

Bulla Regia and other Roman towns in the region have been referred to as the breadbasket or granary of Rome.

Roman ruins. Bulla Regia. Tunisia.
Bulla Regia. Tunisia. View of remains of buildings, including the House of the Fishing at northern end of the archaeological site.

Abandoned after a catastrophic earthquake, the city was buried by drifting sands and lost to the world for many centuries.

A French company constructing a railway through the region accidentally rediscovered the city it in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, some of the well-preserved buildings, including the monumental gateway to the city, were recklessly destroyed.

Thankfully, the site is home to various fine remnants of its history, including a well preserved Roman theatre. However, the site is famed for its unique and distinctive underground villas that distinguish it from all other Roman towns.

The subterranean villas are adorned with magnificent exquisite mosaics in situ built by the town’s wealthy Romans residents in the second and third centuries AD. The Villas provided an escape from the baking Tunisian summer heat and provided warmth in the Winter.

Click to view the complete Bulla Regia image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Palmyra, Syria.

Bride of the desert

An oasis in the Syrian desert, Palmyra was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. 

From the 1st to the 2nd century AD, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilisations, married Greek-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. 

Palmyra prospered in ancient times as a caravan staging post, primarily because of its location on one of the main ancient routes from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates and to markets further east, including those on the Silk Route. 

Palmyra reached its zenith of prosperity (earning it the nickname ‘bride of the desert’) around the 2nd century AD, when it was under the mighty rule of Queen Zenobia, who challenged the powerful Roman Empire and nearly bringing the Romans to their knees. 

Tetrapylon. Palmyra. Syria.
Palmyra. Syria. The towering Tetrapylon, with its Corinthian columns, dominates the central section of the Great Colonnade Street. In the background is the hilltop 17th century Arab castle or citadel of Qala’at lbn Maan. The Tetrapylon, which marks and masks the change of direction of the great colonnade, has four independent pylons, each comprising four columns and stands on a moulded square plinth at the four corners of a stepped platform.

Palmyra has many outstanding remnants of its past, including the following;

 The 2nd century theatre which laid buried under sand until the 1950s has largely been excavated and restored back to its former glory. The magnificently adorned stage has a large central door known as the Royal Gate, which is flanked by two smaller ones. Facing the stage is the semi-circle orchestra; 20 metre is diameter and beyond it rises the cavea with its nine rows of seats.

The Monumental Arch which was erected in the early 3rd century AD under Septimius Severus in order to disguise the thirty degrees change of direction of the first and second sections of the Great Colonnade.

 The Temple of Bel which is the most impressive remnant of Palmyra. Dedicated to Bel who is thought to be the supreme God of the Palmyrene pantheon, the Temple is an enormous complex and its major construction was performed over several stages from the Hellenistic through to the Roman periods. 

Unfortunately, several of the ancient monuments that I photographed at Palmyra have been severely damaged or destroyed, one consequence of the devastating civil war.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Palmyra, is, without question, one of the world’s great archaeological sites. 

Click this link to view the complete Palmyra

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Arykanda Turkey

Built on a series of terraces on a rocky steep hillside overlooking stunning mountainous and valley landscape, Arykanda’s location resonates like mystical Delphi in Greece and is perhaps the most beautiful of ancient cities in the whole of Lycia, an ancient geopolitical region in Anatolia. It is in the province of Antalya on the southern (Turquoise) coast of Turkey.

The city was well known for its grand and lavish buildings, however according to ancient sources, the citizens of Arykanda were apathetic and in the habit of living extravagantly beyond their means. It is said that they fell into debt; and it is believed they repaid their extravagance through new special taxes.

Arykanda was a small obscure settlement when it was invaded by the Persians in the 5th century BC. Like other Lycian cities, Arykanda heroically resisted the invasive powers, however, they eventually succumbed to the might of the Persian Empire.

During 333 BC, Alexander the Great arrived in Lycia (on his way to defeat the Persians) and was welcomed as a liberator by the citizens of Arykanda.

With Alexander came the overwhelming force of Hellenism. Arykanda fully embraced the Greek culture and way of life, which included the Greek language, and it was transformed with all the buildings necessary for a Greek metropolis.

In antiquity, Arykanda was a representative (with voting rights) of the Lycian League and even minted its own coins.

Arykanda continued to grow and prosper after the premature death of Alexander and remained under the control of the Ptolemaic dynasties. It briefly changed hands to Antiochus III and again to Rhodes around 190 BC (ally with Rome at the time). It was formally annexed to Rome in 43 Ad.

Grand Baths panoramic view. Arykanda. Turkey.
Part view of the Grand Baths complex and stunning landscape surrounding Arykanda, Antalya province, Southern Turkey.

The city continued to prosper as a Greek city under Roman authority; however, its prosperity was stalled when it was struck by two significant earthquakes in 141 and 240 AD.

After a bitter struggle with the city’s pagans, Christianity prevailed in Arykanda and the city became a bishop’s seat in the Byzantine age. However, the city was on the decline and sometime between the ninth and eleventh centuries AD; the site was abandoned because of the Arab invasions of the region.

British researcher and explorer Sir Charles Fellows rediscovered Arykanda in 1838. The isolated archaeological site is extensive and thoroughly sign-posted.

It has a very impressive array of excavated architectural remnants from its illustrious past including: Stadium, Theatre, Odeon, Agoras, Baths, many Temples or Sanctuaries, Nymphaeums, Houses and Villas and at least 15 monumental tombs. 

Click to view the complete Arykanda image gallery.

All Images, Text and Content are Copyright Steven Sklifas.