ISTANBUL: The missing piece of the Sidamara Sarcophagus, the largest sarcophagus of the ancient world, finally drops anchor in its homeland after more than a century
With the recovery of its missing piece from abroad, the Sidamara Sarcophagus, which is on display at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, is now complete again. A sarcophagus is a stone coffin, typically adorned with a sculpture or inscription.
The marble sarcophagus, which weighs more than 30 tons, was discovered 140 years ago in the ancient city of Sidamara, which is now the village of Ambar in the southern province of Karaman now. The sarcophagus is the first discovered example of a sarcophagus produced in Anatolia and also one of the largest and heaviest sarcophagi to survive from the ancient world.
Drawing attention with its extraordinarily beautiful engravings, the artifact features depictions of mythological scenes on the side faces. On the top of the lid, there are two male and female figures who are thought to be the owners of the tomb. The sarcophagus is believed to have been made in the third century A.D.
When the artifact was first unearthed, one-piece, the Head of Eros, became separated from the rest of the huge funerary monument. The missing piece, which was in London, returned home with the cooperation of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) on June 10 this year.
Shipped from London to Turkey with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Turkish Airlines, the Head of Eros has been reattached to the giant sarcophagus after conservation research was conducted jointly by the expert restorers from the Istanbul Archaeological Museum and the V&A.
The Roman sarcophagus, with its reunited Eros piece, is open to visitors in its original form at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
The Sidamara Sarcophagus was discovered by the British military consul Gen. Charles Wilson in 1882 when he was on a tour of Anatolia. As the general could not move the artifact due to its huge size and weight, he took the Head of Eros, a part of the sculptural decoration in high relief on the sarcophagus, back with him to London by detaching it. The artifact was then placed on loan with the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A).
The sarcophagus was rediscovered by a villager in the ancient city of Sidamara in 1898, and the finding was reported to the Istanbul Archeology Museum, which was called Imperial Museum back then.
The Museum’s Director, Osman Hamdi Bey, went to the region to investigate and decided to move the giant sarcophagus to Istanbul. Due to the conditions of the time, the artifact was hauled by buffaloes in the first stage of the journey. Brought to the center of the city, the magnificent work of art completed the grueling journey on a special arrangement of train wagons and arrived at the museum in 1901.
In 1933, the missing piece of the sarcophagus, the Head of Eros, in London was formally donated by Charles Wilson’s daughter, Marion Olivia Wilson, to the V&A in memory of her father. A plaster copy of the Head of Eros was attached to the giant sarcophagus in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum as a result of the collaboration with officials of the V&A in the 1930s.
More recently, research by Şehrazat Karagöz brought the subject of the return of the artifact to its sarcophagus back on the agenda. Cooperation between the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, and his team resulted in an approach directed at the preservation of cultural assets
With the signing of the renewable cultural partnership between the Istanbul Archaeology Museum and the V&A, the missing piece of the sarcophagus has been brought back to Turkey and restored to its original location.