The goddess of Love: close up on Knidos
I'm writing from Istanbul airport to report back on my visit to the sanctuary of the goddess of Love at Knidos (as promised last week). The idea was to go and see whether the round building excavated there in the late 60s/early 70s really did look as if was the famous temple that housed the famous nude statue of Aphrodite by Praxiteles.
The answer, of course, turns out to be a bit inconclusive.
The best way to get to the site is actually by boat (pic below), and we went from Bodrum. The ancient city was obviously fairly substantial, and you have to climb up a fair way through the ruins till you get to the circular structure that Iris Love uncovered and pinpointed as the home of the statue.
One thing that supports the idea of this spot as THE SITE is its prominence. If you had a really celebrity work of art, you could put it here and it would be marvellously visible from each the two harbours that lay on either side of the town (on the right you see the view from the temple down into the harbours, to left and right -- and the goddess was "Aphrodite Euploia", after all, "Aphrodite of Good Sailing")
I flirted with the idea that this great location might not really be its original home (so far as we can tell the circular structure doesnt go back to the fourth century BC, when the statue was made), but maybe it was where it went when it became the symbol of the city -- moved to the position of prominence once it had become mega-famous. I also had a feeling that the rough surfaces you can just see in the picture at the top of this post might one have held nicely gilded, sparkly stucco. So it really shone out across the sea.
And then there is the fragmentary inscription found nearby, which appears which may feature Praxiteles' name. At least it still sports the words "Prax..." and "gym.." which may be the start of the Greek word for "naked"; so it could be a notice advertising the famous work of art. (We looked for this text both by the temple itself, and in the collection of fragments by the entrance to the site, and later in the museum at Marmaris -- which was closed but we blagged our way in; but not a sign of it.)
But there are still some serious problems.
For a start, the temple was only identified by Love thanks to the look-alike at Hadrian's villa at Tivoli. It does match the ancient descriptions we have up to a point (the idea that the Aphrodite could be admired from all angles fits a circular structure... but noone actually SAYS it was circular).
But only up to a point.(Pseudo-)Lucian, for example, goes on and on about the gardens that surrounded the temple of the goddess. But it was hard to see where these might have been (there was hardly room for more than a few hanging baskets). And the centre of the structure had been crushed by rocks falling from above, which made it impossible to see how the inside of the building had worked at all. Love claimed that she had found a slightly over life-size marble finger in the rubble -- Aphrodite's?
But there was a sequel.
The odd thing was that we went on from Knidos to Kaunos, an ancient city not too far away. And there we found another circular structure (pictured above) in a position closely analogous to the temple at Knidos. This, archaeologists claimed, was the base for some astronomical device. It appeared to have had no permanent structure on top, so seems more likely to have been a support than a building. But then I reflected that we didnt really know 100% for sure what was on top of the base at Knidos. So maybe these things were some distinctive local bit of urban planning -- related or unrelated to the famous statue.
By the way, if you ever get the chance to visit Kaunos, the approach is heavenly -- by boat, through reed beds and turtle breeding grounds. And overall it's a five star site, with a smashing theatre, as you see below (as seen from the strange circular structure).