Colonnaded Street/Monumental Nymphaeum: A Recurring Combination
Purdue University, West Lafayette, USA
At the height of urban design in Roman Anatolia (2nd to early 3rd centuries CE), several cities achieved a grandeur of appearance in large part due to the presence of colonnaded streets and monumental nymphaea. These two features of urban "armatures" complemented each other in reflecting civic pride and in creating a magnificent visual display, in several instances organized along major sight-lines within the urban layout. The colonnaded street generated a dignified, rhythmic movement, and the nymphaeum formed a strong punctuation, strategically located along a city's main thoroughfare or at its terminus. The nymphaeum's flowing water refreshed the passer-by on hot summer days, and was frequently accompanied by rich sculptural decoration. Besides divinities and allegorical or legendary figures, the sculptures represented local benefactors and imperial patrons. In addition, individual cities adapted these combined elements to the existing terrain and exploited the viewing possibilities, creating "perfect moments."
Urbanistic solutions vary with each case. For example, at Ephesus, the imposing Nymphaeum of Trajan occurs at the top of the colonnaded street linking the upper and lower parts of the city while descending dramatically to a beautiful plaza where the street system changes direction. By contrast, in Miletos the colonnaded avenue leading from the harbor terminates in a square in which the imposing three-story nymphaeum with columned niches complements and competes with the richly articulated market gate, forming a breathtaking ensemble. Still different is the terracing at Sagalassos, where the colonnaded street rises in stages to the lower agora. This sequence culminated in a fine nymphaeum rewarding the pedestrian after an arduous ascent with a framed view through an arch to the landscape below. The fact that some colonnaded streets also served as a city's processional route during religious festivals enhanced the prestige and symbolism of this type of urban passage.