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Cave and City: A Procedural Reconstruction of the Urban Topography of Magnesia on the Maeander


Caves and cities are normally found at the opposite ends of the architectural spectrum. The former is typically perceived as a primitive, undesigned object, part of nature; the latter is held as the height of civilized planning and rationality. At the Greco-Roman city of Magnesia on the Maeander in western Turkey, however, these two typologies were intimately bound together in unexpected ways. Magnesia on the Maeander was the site of the ancient cult of a cave-dwelling Apollo at Hylai, whose devotees were sometimes imbued with a supernatural strength that enabled them to jump from high cliffs and rush through the mountains carrying entire trees that they had torn up by the roots. City and cave appear to have been linked through a complex dynamic of movement in which the frenzied tree-carriers ended up depositing their burdens at a city-center sanctuary of Dionysos. This movement provides an alternative way of understanding the layout of the city, and augments the scant archaeological remains of the street grid. Drawing on textual and empirical evidence, this study seeks to understand if the city grid, its main thoroughfares, and the orientation of its buildings were influenced by the desire to connect to important topographical features such as the cave of Apollo.

The reconstitution of these dynamics into a synthetic urban topography requires the collation of incomplete evidence from a variety of different sources and time periods, including historical accounts, numismatics, inscriptions found on the site, architectural remains, geographical surveys, and the preservation of toponyms in local memory. This project makes use of procedural modeling, an emerging 3D mapping technique that facilitates the generation of hypothetical three-dimensional visualizations based on geographically located data to explore a series of focused questions about the impact of cultic practice and landscape on the urban layout of Magnesia on the Maeander. The first set of questions is spatio-empirical in nature, and concerns the reconstruction of Magnesia’s city plan. The second seeks to elucidate a ‘topography of ritual’ at Magnesia and explore the ways in which this network of natural places and religious sites coexisted with, and undermined, the spatial system constituted by the city grid. The idea of the cave and its role in Greek architecture is the third object of study, as represented at Magnesia by the sanctuary of Apollo. Finally, these questions form a case study for a critique of the value and potential of the procedural modeling methodology. As a whole, the project aims to contribute to knowledge of the landscape and built environment of Asia Minor in the archaic through Roman periods, as well as entering into discourses of theory and praxis in the Digital Humanities.

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