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Return to Cnidus

British Museum Excavations in Turkey

The Classical city of Cnidus (or Knidos, if you prefer a Greek to a Latin spelling) is situated at the end of a long and narrow peninsula projecting into the Aegean sea from the coast of south-west Turkey. In antiquity Cnidus commanded a prominent position amidst the sea lanes around the coast of ancient Caria, and the nearby islands of Cos, Nisyros, Tilos, Syme and more distant Rhodes. Mausolus, the powerful satrap of this province of the Persian empire, was probably behind the Cnidians' decision around 360-340 BC to re-found their city using a rational street plan. Cnidus is just a day's sail away from Mausolus' capital at Halicarnassus, which was similarly developed at this time. In its heyday Cnidus boasted four stone-built theatres, a number of fine temples, substantial private houses, a vast cemetery, massive fortifications and two harbours - one military with a great chain suspended across its entrance, and the other commercial. Cnidus was best known for its now lost nude marble statue of Aphrodite by the celebrated Athenian sculptor Praxiteles.

Unlike Halicarnassus, with its busy tourist resort of Bodrum, Cnidus has no modern settlement. Today its Classical and later Byzantine remains lie strewn over the hillsides, and the place looks much as it did in nineteenth-century engravings and photographs. While Troy, Ephesus, Priene, Miletus and other sites along the Turkish coast have been robbed of their sea view by the alluvial action of rivers, Cnidus is fortunate in retaining its proximity to the sea and is much visited by pleasure boats in summer.

British travellers and archaeologists have a long history of involvement in the antiquities of the Cnidian peninsula. Sir William Gell and his companions pioneered modern understanding of the site when they went there under the auspices of the Dilettanti Society in the summer of 1812. Their published account was the principal inspiration for Charles Newton's decision to excavate in 1857-9. In the twentieth century George Bean and John Cook surveyed the entire peninsula in 1949-50, while a number of British archaeologists joined Iris Love's international team for a series of excavations that began in July 1967.

The British Museum at Cnidus

More recently, the British Museum has developed a partnership to work at Cnidus with Professor Dr Ramazan Özgan, his wife Professor Dr Christine Bruns-Özgan and colleagues of the Selçuk University of Konya in Turkey, who have been excavating at Cnidus since the late 1980s.The purpose of the British Museum's current research project directed by Dr Ian Jenkins is to seek a better understanding of the ancient context for objects, especially marble sculptures, which came to the Museum from Charles Newton's excavations. Interest focuses on the Sanctuary of Demeter, on a place Newton called a Sanctuary of the Muses - now recognised as a Nymphaeum - and on his so-called Gymnasium. Reports of each season's research since 1999 can be found in Anatolian Archaeology, published by the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara. The Museum's work has been funded by the BIAA, The Caryatids (Supporters of the Greek and Roman Department), The Townley Group of British Museum Friends and The Philanthropic Fund. A permit to undertake research in Turkey is kindly granted by the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism.