Its crowning glory was a statue of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, by Athenian sculptor Piraxitelles – which attracted admirers from across the Mediterranean basin.
Prof. Ramazan Ozgan is now fighting a legal battle at the country's highest administrative court to overturn the government's cancellation of his almost 20-year-old excavation permit. The government also suspended excavations by the British Museum and Germany's Freiburg University, which had been digging under Ozgan's permit and leadership.
The dispute began when one of a series of columns that Ozgan's team had restored and raised collapsed during a storm in January, 2007.
„I can't describe my happiness when we raised those columns, it was like having a new baby," said Ozgan of the 2006 restoration of the stoa, or row of shops, to which the column belonged. „And I can't describe my grief when that column fell
The government immediately suspended digging and launched an investigation that eventually blamed Ozgan for faulty restoration and accused him of failing to hand over artifacts to a local museum and keeping them at a depot at Knidos. It revoked his permit on April 28.
Two reports by independent experts say the column, which was broken in three when it collapsed, can be repaired and disputed government allegations of negligence.
One of the reports said Ozgan's team could not have been aware of an internal crack in the base of the column because the fissure was covered in calcite. The administrative court ruling could take months.
„I can't describe my happiness when we raised those columns, it was like having a new baby,“ said Ozgan of the 2006 restoration of the stoa, or row of shops, to which the column belonged. „And I can't describe my grief when that column fell.“
Both the British Museum and Freiburg University, which were not involved in the restoration of the column, expressed disappointment at the government decision but said they hoped to resume work at Knidos, at the southwestern corner of Turkey.
„We are of course disappointed with the decision to suspend the excavation but we hope for a way forward,“ said British Museum spokeswoman Hannah Boulton.
„It would be a great historical advantage to study the infrastructure of such an important city, to know more about the sanctuaries and the religion, the houses of the rich and of the poor, the administrative center of the city, the agora," said Wolfgang Ehrhardt of Freiburg University's Archaeology Institute.
Excavations have unearthed important temples, statues and other artifacts since the 19th century – but experts say less than 10 percent of the city has been excavated. Archaeologists hold out a slim hope that they will unearth the legendary sculpture of Aphrodite, whose creator was feted for his ability to turn marble into „living flesh.“
Archaeologists are also searching for clues about life and trade in the ancient city. They hope to find evidence of a visit by Julius Caesar, and confirm a theory that it was then that the city's heavy Roman tax burden was lifted.
„It would be a great historical advantage to study the infrastructure of such an important city, to know more about the sanctuaries and the religion, the houses of the rich and of the poor, the administrative center of the city, the agora,“ said Wolfgang Ehrhardt of Freiburg University's Archaeology Institute.
Experts say famous figures from Knidos include Astronomer Eudoxus, believed to have invented the sun dial; Sostratos, architect of the light house at Alexandria, one of Seven Wonders of the ancient world; and Artemidoros, who warned Caesar of the conspiracy to murder him as he entered the Roman Senate.
The British Museum's project is aimed at finding out more about artifacts from Knidos that entered the museum in the 19th century, including a colossal marble lion from a tomb monument and marble statue of Demeter, the goddess of fertility.
The city was inhabited until late antiquity, when it was abandoned, probably as a result of repeated raids by pirates. Arabic inscriptions in some of the temples testify to attacks by Arab raiders who also sacked other coastal cities in Anatolia in the mid-7th century AD.