Aphrodite of Knidos

I believe that the cities are living creatures as well as their human creators. Cities, like living creatures, are born, grow up, grow old following their maturity years and die. Every city has a soul, personality, and destiny, just like human beings.

In history, the fates of many cities are sometimes determined by the power of nature itself, including earthquakes, floods, and droughts or sometimes by mankind with fires and wars. There is only one exception entirely changing the fate of a city, which was never witnessed throughout history. This city is Knidos in which nobody lives today, however living with its magnificent past and lasting legends.

According to many beliefs, The Datca peninsula, which lies along from Anatolia through the Aegean Sea and reveals a tongue-like shape, is the land part separating the Aegean and the Mediterranean. In other words, its far side brings the Aegean and the Mediterranean together. Having said that, Knidos, which marked the history significantly during the first ages, was founded just right at this point.

At first, Knidos was established on the island at the far end of the peninsula and on the mainland. In the beginning, transportation to the island is being carried out via a bridge and later on the island and the mainland are connected by filling in between.

Therefore, two seaports arise in the city. Whereas the smaller ones at the northeast are assigned for the use of military ships, the large port at the southwest begins to serve for trading purposes. The importance and the wealth of Knidos increase when the commercial seaport with its breakwater becomes one of the safest harbors in the region.

At those ages Halicarnassus (i.e. Bodrum), Istanköy and Knidos, which are located at both entrances of and across Gokova Bay, compete with each other in every field.

When Mausolos, the famous king of Halicarnassus, died in B.C.350, his wife and also his sister Queen Artemisia asked a monumental grave to be built for her beloved husband. While this monument which is known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is being constructed, Praxiteles who is a famous sculptor then visits the region to watch the progress of the construction.

People of Kos who see this famous sculptor’s visit to the region as an opportunity, ask famous artists to sculpture a statue for their city. In order to meet the orders, Praxiteles makes two Aphrodite sculptures.

The most beautiful goddess “Aphrodite”, also known as “Venus”, is the most recognized goddess of Greek mythology. Whereas her sisters Athena and Artemis are the symbols of purity and virginity Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, is famous with her seducing many mortal or immortal men. One of the goddess statues is dressed, the other one is naked. In those days, men only statues are sculptured naked. However, it is a settled custom to make the women statues as not more than one breast left uncovered. Following many discussions, Kossians decide not to buy the naked statue although it has the same price and they prefer the dressed one. Meanwhile, the naked sculpture of the goddess not preferred by Kossians is purchased by the people of Knidos.

Knidossians put this statue onto a wide and round pedestal made up of marble. The statue can be seen from both seaports of the city. As time goes by, sailors begin to talk about the story which tells that every ship coming to the city is met and blessed by the goddess Aphrodite and that the ships and the sailors passing through the area are protected from the storms.

From now on, the fate of Knidos changes. The people of Knidos who live on only maritime trading and wine production until then put this opportunity to good use. For both protecting the statue and attributing holiness to it, they created a temple with the walls built surrounding. The Aphrodite of Knidos becomes so famous that thousands of people from all around the world host sails to see this extraordinary work of art.

According to a story Aphrodite comes to the earth, merges with the people and enters into the temple. When she sees her own statue she gets angry and asks; “Where did Praxiteles see me naked?” Aphrodite’s reaction in this story reminds us that the statue reflects the beauty of the goddess as well as her little imperfections realistically.

Another historian Lucian, as famous as Herodot, the father of history, tells us about the surroundings of the Temple of Aphrodite;
“We had been nearby the sacred garden. Beautiful scents enchanted us. Fragrant trees had made the courtyard very green, which suits Aphrodite. The trees that bloom and fruit were as if they were submitting their respect to the goddess. None of the trees here grow old. They keep their tenderness evermore and always branch out.”

Cevat Sakir’s response to Lucian regarding Knidos;
“The bushes which emerge from the ruins even today are the remnants of the laurels and other trees about which Lucian mentioned two thousand years ago. These bring me the remembrance of the fragrance that he smelled two thousand years ago; the smell and the voice of the old history. The origin of laurels is Knidos anyway. They have been scattered to the world from there. Although they are made up of bronze; the wreaths adorning hats and foreheads all around the world are the poor Knidos’s laurels of freedom…”

Lucian continues to tell us about what he saw inside the temple;
Aphrodite who is the goddess of love and beauty in Greek mythology also takes on the role of savior of the ships and sailors in Knidos except for those characteristics. The statue has another unknown feature besides it is the first naked goddess statue in the world.

When sculpturing the statue, Praxiteles used his lover as the model. What it is definitely known today is that this young woman who was selected as a model was an Athenian “Hetaera” named Phyrne. Hetaeras are similar to the Japanese geishas. Hetaeras, who can play many musical instruments and areas well-educated as they can join long political and philosophical discussions, are a lot more expensive compared to other prostitutes.

According to a historian, Phyrne, as one of the Poseidon festivals held in Athens at those ages ends and before the crowd, quietly puts her dresses onto the ground, releases her long hair and enters the water as quite naked. Like everyone else, this breathtaking event fascinated Praxiteles too. After this show, the sculptor falls in love with young women. The artist uses his lover as a model and immortalizes the women he loves, by making her a legend to be talked about for centuries. In spite of her dazzling beauty, Athenians saw it scandalous that Phyrne was used as a model in making the sculpture of Aphrodite and this issue had been discussed for many years.

Despite these long-lasting discussions, the Aphrodite of Knidos has inspired other artists for centuries and has been numerously imitated. The naked statues of Aphrodite which are exhibited in all of the museums are the imitations derived from the Aphrodite of Knidos.

What happened to the statue is a mystery. We know that the statue was in Knidos until A.C. 5th century. However, we don’t have any concrete information afterward. According to a belief, it is brought to Istanbul by the Byzantine emperor Theodosius and the Aphrodite of Knidos destroyed because of a large-scale fire in the palace.

Now let’s talk about today’s Knidos…The port at the southwest of Knidos, meeting the blue voyagers in the Aegean Sea while they are sailing down to the south and seeing the ones off before Gokova Bay as they leave Marmaris to northwards, is quite convenient for spending the night. Watch out for the breakwater underneath the water while entering the port. The inner part of the port is protected against every type of weather condition, so you can stay anchored here with no worry. However, there isn’t any service within the historical city other than the restrooms which have no sign of cleanliness. As in our many antique cities, the theatre which has 4500 sitting capacity, awaits its turn for being restored.

A small recommendation for the ones who will visit the antique city. The marble pedestal of the statue of goddess Aphrodite has been brought to light.

Climb onto the wide marble pedestal, look at the boats. Now close your eyes and imagine those boats as merchant ships of old ages. The sailors on board the ships salute you respectfully. And you sanctify them in order to protect from accidents and storms throughout their long and dangerous journey. Focus your mind that the joy and energy inside you begin to move and increase gradually. Without opening your eyelids, extend your arms towards the ships as the palms of your hands are against the sky. A bit later you will feel that your fingertips start to prickle. From now on, you share your joy and your power with them. In a couple of minutes, you will have the feeling that your heart filled with peace and that you get relieved. Now the sailors are set for their long journey and you are ready to enjoy the blue voyage.

Have a good sail…


Aphrodite of Knidos

May 2009