Founded by Greek colonists from Miletus in the 7th century BC and located on a peninsula in northwest Anatolia, the city of Cyzicus was one of the most thriving metropolises of the ancient world, flourishing in the shadow of the imposing Dindymus mountain massif and bathed by the waters of the Propontis strait, which connected it to the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean.

It was incorporated into the Roman Empire in the time of Tiberius, becoming the capital of the province of Mysia, where three other important cities were also located: Pergamon, Lampsacus, and Nicomedia.

An earthquake in 123 AD caused numerous damages in the city, including the collapse of its main temple. Emperor Hadrian visited the area the following year to supervise the reconstruction of the city and the erection of a new temple dedicated to himself.

Steps of the podium of Hadrian's temple in Cyzicus
Steps of the podium of Hadrian’s temple in Cyzicus. Credit: Carole Raddato / Following Hadrian / Wikimedia Commons / Flickr

Archaeological excavations carried out at the site have revealed the magnitude and complexity of this prodigious building, whose dimensions made it the largest temple ever built in the entire Greco-Roman world.

We know its characteristics because it still existed in 1431 when it was visited by Cyriacus of Ancona (considered the father of archaeology), who made several drawings of the building and reported that 31 of its columns were still standing, but the temple was being used as a quarry for nearby Bursa.

An octastyle (8 by 15 Corinthian columns), with a length of 120 meters and a width of 50 meters, the Temple of Hadrian surpassed in size even the famous sanctuaries of Jupiter in Baalbek or Artemis in Ephesus, thus establishing a new standard in the architecture of great classical temples.

Gigantic remains of Hadrian's temple at Cyzicus, scattered in the surrounding area
Gigantic remains of Hadrian’s temple at Cyzicus, scattered in the surrounding area. Credit: Carole Raddato / Following Hadrian / Wikimedia Commons / Flickr

Its grandeur can be measured by the fact that its 60 columns had a thickness of more than 2 meters and were at least 2 meters taller than those of the great temple of Baalbek, reaching 21.35 meters (compared to 19.35 meters in Baalbek).

The construction lasted 16 years, finishing in 139 AD. From the drawings of Cyriacus and a passage by the chronicler John Malalas, who wrote in the mid-6th century AD and considered it “one of the wonders”, it is known that the main pediment of the temple housed a huge marble bust of Hadrian in the form of a giant “imago clipeata”.

One of the most outstanding elements of this prodigious building was, undoubtedly, its imposing portico, whose pink granite columns of more than 21 meters in height were crowned with enormous Corinthian capitals, the largest sculpted in antiquity.

Hadrian's temple at Cyzicus had the largest Corinthian capitals ever sculpted
Hadrian’s temple at Cyzicus had the largest Corinthian capitals ever sculpted. Credit: Carole Raddato / Following Hadrian / Wikimedia Commons / Flickr

In 2013, the excavation work carried out at the site surprised the world with the discovery of the largest Corinthian capital ever found in the classical world, a monumental piece measuring 2.5 meters in height, 1.9 meters in diameter, and weighing 20 tons, which evidences the mastery and refinement achieved by the artists who participated in the construction of the Temple of Hadrian.

The temple was demolished by an earthquake towards the end of the reign of Antoninus Pius but was rebuilt and rededicated to Hadrian in 166 AD, as recounted by the orator Aelius Aristides, who notes its “extreme size”.

By the 19th century, of the temple, which was considered the eighth wonder of antiquity, only the substructures of the podium remained, with numerous fragments of the decorative and architectural elements scattered around, including marble tiles measuring 105 by 85 centimeters, marble gutters with lion heads, and many of the gigantic Corinthian capitals.

This article was first published on our Spanish Edition on May 28, 2024: El templo de Adriano en Cícico fue el mayor construido en la Antigüedad, y sus capiteles corintios los más grandes jamás esculpidos

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