A Temple “intra muros” in Doliche?

Last year, excavations started on the newly acquired field 414 in the eastern part of Doliche. The field is adjacent to the area, where we have excavated a Roman imperial bath house and remains of an archive building. It is here, on the eastern slope of the Keber Tepe, where we expect the ancient city centre to be. This theory is not only based upon the fact that both bathhouse and archive were public buildings, which were usually located close to civic centres, but also due to the geographic situation of the Keber Tepe itself. Sloping down from the west, the hill evens out to create a plateau, which lends itself to the construction of monumental public structures. The assumption that we are excavating in the centre of the Roman city has been confirmed by the results of our ongoing work on field 414.

When we set out to examine the ancient occupation of the area by excavating our first trenches on field 414, we soon realized, that we were excavating a large structure with an apsis to the west. Initially, it was not clear what kind of structure we were dealing with. Various interpretations have been considered, among them an identification as a nymphaeum, a monumental public fountain. By the end of the 2021 campaign, it became obvious that we are excavating a monumental temple: a temple “intra muros”, which simply means a temple inside the ancient city walls. The newly uncovered temple is the last in line of several religious buildings found during more than 20 years of excavation by the Forschungsstelle Asia Minor. During our work on the nearby Dülük Baba Tepesi, we investigated the large sanctuary of Iuppiter Dolichenus, which was a religious site from the first millennia BCE until modern times. On Keber Tepe itself, two Mithrea were uncovered already in the late 1990s. These are underground shrines for the mystery cult of the god Mithras, which was widespread in the Roman Empire. From 2017 onwards we were excavating yet another religious site, a large late antique terrace basilica, the so-called terrace church. These findings underline that Doliche was a centre for religious activities across times and cultures. This was apparent on Dülük Baba Tepesi, now, however, it becomes evident in the ancient urban centre as well.

During this season, we have opened six trenches. The new findings from these trenches shed new light on the temple and help us to better understand its size and its layout. A focus was on the extension of last year’s trenches, and we have now exposed a considerable amount of the western side of the temple, including half of the temple’s apsis. The temple was set against a backdrop of bedrock on the western side and is oriented on a West-East axis. As of now, we cannot say for sure how large the temple was, however we can say that the cella, the inner sanctum of the temple, was at least 30 m wide. Within the cella we can reconstruct two rows of large columns, which helped bear the weight of a roof, spanning such a wide building. Furthermore, our current theory proposes at least one row of columns on the outside of the temple, which is indicated by huge foundation ditches, which were sadly robbed out already in antiquity. At the moment, we do not know which deity was worshipped within its walls, this is a question we hope to solve in the future. For now, we hope to find more indications on the size of the original construction and further details about its décor and its architectural decoration. Some blocks belonging to the temple could already be retrieved and show elaborate motifs of leaves and vines.

Together with the bath complex and the archive, this new temple intra muros sheds light on the wealth and power displayed by the city of Doliche during its time in the Roman Empire. With the new information about the temple and its location within the city, a civic centre like an agora seems more and more likely to have existed in the area framed by the temple and the baths. What a sight it must have been for the ancient traveller! After all, he could not only enjoy a hot bath after a long journey but also marvel at the sights and splendour of Doliche while visiting the monumental temple which was surely visible from all angles of the ancient city and its vicinity.

written by Fynn Riepe

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