The ancient city of Aphrodisias was built over the remains of numerous prehistoric settlements dating back to the Early Bronze period. Prior to the founding of Aphrodisias, the city names of Lelegonopolis, Megalopolis, and the Assyrian city of Ninoe have all been associated with this ancient site. The Hellenistic city of Aphrodisias was named for Aphrodite, and is located near the modern town of Karacasu in Turkey, in the fertile valley of the Dandalas River, a tributary of the Meander River. It is situated at the base of the Babadag mountain range, at 500 m above sea level. The city was the capital of the ancient Roman province of Caria on the southwest coast of Asia Minor. Although the 200-acre site was inhabited as early as 2700 BC, the ruins we see today date from the 3rd century BC and reflect the influence of Rome from the 1st century BC to the 7th century AD.
Aphrodisias is one of the oldest sacred sites in Turkey. The site has been sacred since as early as 5.800 BC, when Neolithic farmers came here to worship the Mother Goddess of fertility and crops.
Dedicated to the ancient Mother Goddess and then the Greek goddess Aphrodite (called Venus by Romans) it was the site of a magnificent Temple of Aphrodite and the home of a renowned school of marble sculpture. The Temple of Aphrodite later became a Christian basilica through an impressive swapping of columns. Aphrodisias enjoyed a long and prosperous existence from the 3rd century BC through the 7th century AD.
The place is unquestionably one of the unique ancient cities of Asia Minor with its well-preserved buildings and numbers of magnificent sculptures from the Roman period. Being built near a marble quarry that was extensively exploited in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, the city was also an important centre in the past with its famous sculpture school and for being one of the several cities that was dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love.
The city was named after Goddess Aphrodite in the 2nd century BC and according to the Suda, before the city became known as Aphrodisias (3rd century BC), it had three other names: Lelegon Polis (city of Leleges), Megale Polis (Great City) and Ninoe (Ninos) - the mythical founder for the Assyria-Babylonian Empire and the husband of the famous Semiramis.
Aphrodisias remained a pagan stronghold long after the introduction of Christianity to the area, but it was eventually renamed Stavropolis (city of the cross) and then Caria after the local region.
Aphrodisias was not the city of famous sculptures only, but it was also a hometown for renowned scholars and philosophers. The philosopher Xenocrates, who had been a student of Plato, is believed to live in Aphrodisias.
For centuries Aphrodisias consisted of just the shrine, but when the Romans defeated the Pontic ruler Mithridates in 74 BC, Aphrodisias was rewarded for its loyalty and began to prosper.
Sulla and Julius Caesar were devotees of Venus and favoured her city, and the Emperor Augustus granted it the high privileges of autonomy and tax-free status, declaring Aphrodisias the one city from all of Asia that I have selected to be my own.
During the Byzantine era, Aphrodisias/Stavropolis became the seat of the metropolitan bishop of Caria and the Temple of Aphrodite was turned into a Christian basilica. It was a major undertaking, unique among all temple-to-church conversions. Walls and colonnades were dismantled and reused to enlarge and modify the building. The columns of the front and back of the temple were used to extend the side colonnades, creating two long rows of 19 columns each. The cella of the temple was also dismantled, with its stone reused in the construction of new walls on all sides.
The first systematic archaeological digs at the site were begun in 1961 under the aegis of New York University and by deceased Professor Kenan Erim, who was buried here, near Tetrapylon, and yielded many remains of the city's central monuments. In addition to the Temple of Aphrodite, major areas of investigation included the Bouleuterion or Council House, and the Sebasteion. Other important public buildings are the Theatre, the Hadrian Baths, and the Stadium; the latter seated 30,000 people, and is the best-preserved of all ancient stadiums. The buildings of the site are remarkable not only for the preservation of their architecture, but also for the many inscriptions, statues, relieves, and other objects associated with them.
MAIN STRUCTURES ON THE SITE OF APHRODISIAS
The Tetrapylon was the monumental gateway which greeted pilgrims when they approached the Temple of Aphrodite. The Tetrapylon consisted of four rows of four columns (tetra means four and pylon means gateway in Greek) It connects the major street to the sacred way heading toward the sanctuary of Aphrodite.
On the pediment over the west columns were decorated with relief figures of Eros and Nike hunting among the acanthus leaves.
The Temple of Aphrodite
The Temple of Aphrodite was built in stages in the late 1st century BC and early 1st century A.D. As completed, it was a structure with eight columns along the front and back and thirteen on the sides.
Inscriptions on some of the temple's columns and door mouldings record the contributions of various leading citizens to the construction of the building. One of Aphrodisias most important monuments, the temple emphasised the city's links with the Julio - Claudian dynasty by providing an impressive home for the cult of their divine ancestress, Aphrodite.
In the 2nd century AD, possibly during the reign of Hadrian, the temple was enclosed within an elaborate temenos structure, consisting of a two-storied aedicule facade on the east side, and porticos on the north, south, and west.
Around 500 AD, the temple was converted for use as the cathedral. The conversion was an unparalleled undertaking, in which the columns of the front and back of the temple were moved from their original positions and used to extend the side colonnades, creating two long rows of 19 columns each. The cella of the temple was also dismantled, and the stones reused in the construction of new walls enclosing the building on all sides. The building was thus converted into a church of basilica plan, 60 x 28 m in size, and considerably larger than the pagan temple it replaced. The manner in which this change was effected - the temple was essentially turned inside out - is unique among all known temple-to-church conversions.
The church was provided with an apse and a synthronon at the east end, and at the west, with a pair of narthexes fronted by a colonnaded courtyard or atrium. Surviving from a Middle Byzantine renovation are wall paintings running under the synthronon and showing Christ and various saints, as well as parts of a marble floor, and much of an elaborately carved templon barrier. At some later stage, possibly in the Seljuk raids of the late 12th century, the church was damaged or destroyed, and not repaired.
The Cult of Aphrodite
The sanctuary at Aphrodisias was famous in antiquity for its distinctive cult of the goddess Aphrodite. She originated in the archaic period or earlier as a local Carian goddess, - the Mother Goddess of fertility and crops, - but by the Hellenistic era she was identified with the Greek Aphrodite and was given a completely new, canonical image. This image is well known from a series of representations found at Aphrodisias and other sites around the Mediterranean. It reflects a carefully designed, unified program that incorporated familiar Hellenistic iconographic vocabulary to make the Aphrodisian goddess a deity who would be recognisable throughout the Greco-Roman world.
The Aphrodite of Aphrodisias recalls her ancient Carian origins and relates her to a series of other Anatolian deities, such as the Artemis of Ephesus.
Her most distinctive attribute is her heavy over garment that conceals most of her body. The front of this garment is divided into three horizontal zones filled with complex figural relieves whose style attests its Hellenistic date. It’s these relieves that distinguishes the Aphrodisian goddess and shows her individual significance and symbolises part of the goddess's divine identity and mythological sphere of power; they include the three Graces, Selene, Helios, Erotes, and Aphrodite herself.
The Theatre of Aphrodisias was built on the eastern slope of the larger of two prehistoric settlement mounds surrounded by the otherwise flat and fertile plain of the Meander River Valley. Situated adjacent to the South Agora, or the Public Square of the ancient city, the theatre was ideally located for public performances, forums, and the circus-like entertainment of blood sports. Excavations have revealed the lower section of the cavea (27 rows of seats) and much of the theatre's architecture.
The original theatre dates from the Late Hellenistic period, but it was extensively renovated between 38 and 28 BC. An architrave inscription records that the remodelled theatre was dedicated to Aphrodite and to the Demos (people) by G. Iulius Zoilos, during the reign of Octavian. Zoilos was an Aphrodisian slave freed by Octavian. By the 30s BC Zoilos had become wealthy and influential in his hometown. Though the inscription is not dated, historical data on Zoilos and Octavian allows placing the renovation between 38 and 28 BC. It is know that the renovation occurred later than 38 BC because Zoilos was not active in Aphrodisias until that year, and predates 27 BC because the architrave inscription does not call Octavian Augustus, a name he adopted in 27 BC.
The renovation completed by Zoilos included a three-story stage building with a logeion, proskenion, and decorated scaenae frons. There may have been no stone cavea at this point; the seating may have been made of wood except for marble prohedria (seats for wealthy and aristocratic guests) in the front row.
The theatre underwent another phase of construction sometime during the reigns of Claudius and Nero (40-68 AD). Inscriptions from this period show that the wealthy benefactor Aristokles Molossos and his son Hermas built an entrance, the two parodoi (side entrance into the orchestra of the theatre), the analemmata (retaining walls) of the cavea, and possibly the third set of seats above the second diazoma (horizontal walkway separating sections of cavea seating). This enlarged cavea was furnished with marble seating and could accommodate between ten and fifteen thousand people.
In the late 2nd century AD, under Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD), the theatre was further renovated to make the space suitable for gladiator contests. The orchestra was expanded by removing the first two or three rows of seats, and a high wall was built around the orchestra with wood or iron railings on top to protect spectators in the front rows. A Tibunalia (seat of honour) was built in the lower cavea and an access staircase leading from the orchestra allowed victorious gladiators to approach presiding officials to receive recognition and honours.
The theatre continued to be used through the early Byzantine period, when chapels were built at each end of the proskenion. The theatre collapsed in an earthquake during the reign of Herclius (610 - 641 AD) and was never repaired. The site was used as a fort during the Byzantine period, and later houses were built on top of the rubble.
The theatre at Aphrodisias preserves a unique record of Hellenistic as well as Roman artefacts. Because the stage building fell forward on itself during the earthquake, and because later builders on the site simply built on top of the rubble, the scaenae frons is remarkably well preserved with much of its decoration and statuary intact. It is also one of the few theatres with an extant skene (stage building); the structure commissioned by G. Iulius Zoilos remains intact.
Statues of Nike, Aphrodite, the Muses of Tragedy, a youth, and the Emperor Domitian have been found at the site, as well as several statues of pugilists (boxers) complete with scarred bodies and cauliflower ears. These artefacts are on display at the site museum.
Another unique feature of the theatre is the so-called archive wall found in the North parodos (side entrance into the orchestra). The parodos wall, measuring five by fifteen metres, is covered with inscriptions in Greek that record the history of the city. Most inscriptions are letters and decrees from Roman Emperors, including the Roman senatorial decree that granted the city special rank and privileges.
Located in the north end of the city, the Stadium is probably the best preserved and biggest of its type in Mediterranean. It is 262 m long and 59 m wide with 22 rows of seats. It has the capacity of 30.000 spectators.
The ends of the stadium are slightly convex, giving the whole a form rather suggesting an ellipse. In this way, the spectators seated in this part of the stadium would not block each other's view and would be able to see the whole of the arena. The stadium was specially designed for athletic contests, but after the theatre was damaged in the 7th century earthquake the eastern end of the arena began to be used for games, circuses, wild beast shows and gladiatorial combats. During the Roman period the stadium was the scene of a large number of athletic competitions and festivals.
The Agora of Aphrodisias was the large public or market area in the northern part of the portico between the Temple of Aphrodite and the Acropolis. It is a structure built mostly for musical events. Eventually it was also serving the purpose of holding public speech and literature competitions as well.
The Agora had two long Ionic porticoes. The northern portico is still unexplored, but seems to be built earlier than the southern one. The southern portico is the one called the Portico of Tiberius.
Portico of Tiberius
The south portico at the Agora is known as the Portico of Tiberius. The construction of the portico started during the reign of Tiberius 1C AD; therefore it was named after him. The Italian mission of 1937 found splendid friezes and dedicatory inscriptions honouring the emperor.
Sebasteion, a religious sanctuary dedicated to Aphrodite and the Roman emperors, is one of the most significant archaeological discoveries that have been made in recent years. Brought into daylight in 1979, it was built in the 1st century AD and was dedicated to Imperial Sebastes (Greek equivalent of the Latin Augustus).
The Sebasteion, which consisted of a 14-meter-wide courtyard and two parallel three-storied porticoes with a length of 80 m, of half-columns on both sides, is one of the best-preserved examples of a Roman imperial cult complex, and is decorated with an extraordinary series of life-size marble reliefs (originally almost 200), which depict Roman emperors and imperial family members from ca. 20 AD to 60, as well as, personifications of the subject peoples of the Roman empire, and mythological heroes and gods. The reliefs provide an unparalleled insight into how Roman imperial power was understood from a local perspective.
The north portico was highly damaged with the earthquakes of the 4th century; therefore many of the reliefs decorating its intercolumniations are missing. Each storey of the south portico had different column style. The first storey was Doric; the middle was Ionic, and the third storey, smaller Corinthian half columns.
Baths of Hadrian
Baths of Hadrian, built in the first half of the 2nd century AD, were dedicated to the emperor Hadrian (117-138). The remains of the baths are facing the Agora gate to the west end of the Portico of Tiberius.
This bath complex follows the typical structure of Roman baths found throughout the Empire, which is a great colonnade forecourt with grand marble architecture flanked by series of barrel-vaulted bathing chambers. The vaulted chambers were built of massive limestone blocks covered with marble revetment and the floors and pools were lined with marble. Sculptures were originally placed in niches throughout the baths and the hypocaust, floor heating system, can still be seen underneath the raised floor of the hot bathing chambers. The large bath complexes of the Roman Empire were symbols of imperial civilization and citizens' rights. They were often sponsored by wealthy patrons in order to not only provide a place of relaxation, exercising, bathing, and cultured enjoyment, but also gain political support from the public.
The Baths of Hadrian had two large galleries on either on both sides of a central, with underground service corridors and water channels. The core of the baths was light sandstone covered with marble plaques.
Bouleuterion or Odeon (city council chambers)
Bouleuterion or Odeon (city council chambers) is centred on the north side of the North Agora of Aphrodisias and one of the best preserved buildings of its kind in the world. . It was used as the Bouleuterion for the meetings of the Senate and remained in this form until the early 5th century, when a municipal official had it adapted as a palaestra, recording his achievement on the upper moulding of the pulpitum (stage).
A very well-preserved Odeon was discovered in 1962. It is a semi-circular building and has 12 tiered rows of seats complete with sculpted lion paws at their bases. The stage building, where orators would stand to argue their points, was an elaborate multi-storied colonnaded structure filled with statues of important local citizens and deities, many of which are preserved. The orchestra was decorated with mosaics. It had a roof but its upper tiers of seats collapsed probably in the 4th century by an earthquake. Numerous additional cuttings in the surviving seats, probably for poles supporting awnings, suggest that by this time the building had lost its roof. The orchestra was lowered and provided with a marble pavement, reused, perhaps, from the earlier phase.
It had a hall function of lectures, performances, and various kind of competitive displays, as suggested by a number of factional inscriptions carved on the seats. This hall had an estimated capacity of 1750 people.
The available evidence indicates a construction date in the Antonine or early Severan period (late 2nd or early 3rd century AD). The scaenae frons (stage front) was certainly put up at this time, as the style of both sculpture and architectural ornament suggest. Statue bases terminating the retaining walls of the auditorium bore the names of two brothers, senators in the early Severan period, and two inscribed bases placed symmetrically against the exterior facade held statues of Aphrodisian benefactors, Claudia Antonia Tatiana and her uncle Lucius Antonius Dometinus, who were active at the end of the 2nd century. Tatiana is known to have had close ties with Ephesus, and it is possible that the striking similarities between this building and the bouleuterion on the civic agora there, dated by inscription to the mid-2nd century, are due to some initiative on her part. We do not know what stood here before the 2nd century AD, but it is likely that the present building replaced a smaller one contemporary with the laying out of the agora in the late 1st century BC.
The Ionic colonnade has been restored partly. There is a huge pool at the centre of the portico, 175 m long, 25 m wide and 1 m deep and has two semi-circular extremities at the north and east ends.
The Sculptor's Workshop
The city was famous for its Sculpture school. It was an important workshop and had been functioning between the years 1st BC and 6th AC. Production of statues here had continued till late archaic ages, whereas the other schools in Anatolia had ceased to exist in the same period. Some masterpieces have the signatures of their creators who were especially experts in relief and sarcophagus production.
Many sarcophagi were decorated with lively reliefs, symbolizing the desire to deny the emptiness of death and its eternal darkness. These sculptors imposed their creative mastery over marble. The eyes of the statues found here are full of expression and life and the bodies seem capable of moving. The public monuments in Aphrodisias were decorated with peopled scrolls which were one of the characteristics of stone carving produced by the school of sculpture in Aphrodisias.
Anatolia was in a period when countless works of sculpture were created. The old traditions of Anatolian sculpture reached a phase of lively fineness and beauty of expression. Beauty aspirations and love could be seen on the works of art. Today some pieces from these beauties can be seen in Aphrodisias Museum.
The Aphrodisias Museum
The Aphrodisias Museum (on site) displays some of the city's famous marble sculptures. It also includes the cult statue of Aphrodite that stood in the temple, which is unique and interesting.
The museum was open in 1979 and be the end of 1997 the number of the exhibits at the museum reached 12.697 pieces.
Prehistoric artefacts dating back from 5.000 BC and the Bronze Age as well as Lydia ceramics found in the digs on the Acropolis Hill and Pekmeztepe Hill, and Archaic, Classic and Hellenistic Period objects found in the ruins of the Temple of Aphrodite are all exhibited in the museum. Tombs and statues made by the sculpture school of the time and the cult statue of Aphrodisias - Aphrodite can be seen at the museum as well.
The halls of the museum are: The Imperial Hall, Corridor of Zoilos, Hall of Melpomene, Odeon hall, display cases gallery, Hall of Penthesilea, Hall of Aphrodite and courtyard.
Main Historical Sites & Destinations Around Izmir & Kusadasi
♦ The Archaeological Museum of Izmir exhibits an impressive collection of pre-Roman and Roman artefacts recovered from area
excavations, including Bergama, Iasos, Bayrakli and Izmir's Agora… more
♦ Ephesus Open Air Museum - contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. Only an estimated 15% has been excavated… more
♦ Ephesus Archaeological Museum was reopened in November 2014 after extensive renovations. It houses finds from the nearby
Ephesus excavation site… more
♦ Basilica of St. John was built in the 6th century AD, under emperor Justinian I, over the supposed site of the apostle's tomb. It was
modelled after the now lost Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople… more
♦ Temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood 137 m x 69 m with 127 marble pillars each 18 m high. The temple earned the city the title Servant of the Goddess… more
♦ The House of Virgin Mary. Located on the top of Nightingale mountain, the House of the Virgin Mary
Turkish: Meryemana), is located in a nature park between Ephesus and Seljuk, and is believed to be the last residence of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The peaceful site is sacred to both Christians and Muslims, and is visited by many tourists and pilgrims… more
♦ Village of Sirince. Once known as Kirkince, the village was built by the Greeks around 800 years ago and since the population
exchange in 1924 has since been inhabited by Muslims from Thessalonica. Indeed its habitants gave this name on purpose as they did
not want to be bothered by foreigners not to share the beauty of their village.… more
♦ The Site of Ancient Pergamum – City of Science & Satan…? Perched atop a windswept mountain along the Turkish coastline and gazing proudly over the azure Aegean Sea... more
♦ Didyma - Priene - Miletus - the three towns of Priene, Miletus, and Didyma make up part of Ancient Ionia, homeland of many of the ancient world’s greatest artistic and scientific minds, and each endowed with haunting ruins... more
♦ Pamukkale & Ancient Hierapolis. Deriving from springs in a cliff almost 200 m high overlooking the plain of Curuksu in south-west
Turkey, calcite-laden waters have created an unreal landscape, made up of mineral forests, petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced
basins given the name of Pamukkale (Cotton Palace)... more
♦ Aphrodisias is one of the oldest sacred sites in Turkey. The site has been sacred since as early as 5.800 BC, when Neolithic farmers came here to worship the Mother Goddess of fertility and crops... more