Aphrodisias is one of the oldest sacred sites in Turkey. Dedicated to the ancient Mother Goddess and then the Greek goddess Aphrodite, 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.
Today, the Temple of Aphrodite is well-preserved and partially restored; it is not hard to imagine its ancient splendor. Aphrodisias also offers ruins of a large theater, a stadium and other structures, as well as an on-site museum displaying artifacts.
History of Aphrodisias
The site of Aphrodisias has been sacred since as early as 5,800 BC, when Neolithic farmers came here to worship the Mother Goddess of fertility and crops.
In Greek times, the site was dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and fertility. The site was named Aphrodisias during the 2nd century BC and the great Temple of Aphrodite was built in the 1st century AD.
The cult of Aphrodite at Aphrodisias was distinctive, reflecting the goddess' ancient origins and commonalities with other Anatolian deities (such as Artemis of Ephesus) while also bringing in familiar Greco-Roman motifs that made her universal.
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 favored 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."
Thereafter it became a cultural and artistic hub known for its exquisite marble sculptures made from quarries of beautiful white and blue-gray marble that lay about a mile east of the city. Sculptures produced in Aphrodisias were exported as far as North Africa and Rome.
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. (The modern Turkish name, Geyre, derives from Caria.)
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 church was renovated in the middle Byzantine era and stood for centuries until was destroyed, possibly in the Seljuk raids of the late 12th century. The city faded into obscurity and today is part of the Turkish village of Geyre.
Remains of the Temple of Aphrodite, a stadium and portions of a bathhouse were always visible at the site without the need for excavations, but, beginning in 1961, archaeological digs also revealed a theater, an odeon, a basilica, a market, houses and baths, a monumental gateway, and a sanctuary for worship of the Roman emperor.
What to See at Aphrodisias
The extensive ruins of Aphrodisias are picturesquely situated among fertile fields and cypress groves. The site is less crowded than Ephesus, but most guided tours stop at Aphrodisias en route to Hierapolis/Pamukkale. You can also take a day tour to Aphrodisias using Kusadasi as a base.
The first structure you see upon entry to the site is the Tetrapylon, a lovely 2nd-century gateway with four groups of four Corinthian columns (from which it gets its name). It was extensively repaired and re-erected in 1990. The front row of Corinthian columns, with spiral fluting, face the north-south street. The second and third columns are topped by a semicircular lintel with relief figures of Nike and Erotes amid acanthus leaves.
Fourteen columns of the Ionic Temple of Aphrodite have been re-erected. It was an "octastyle" temple, with 13 columns on each side and eight columns at the front and back. On some of the columns are inscribed the names of the donors who presented them to the temple.
In the 5th century the temple was turned into a Christian basilica. The new basilica was 60 x 28 m in size, much larger than the pagan temple it replaced. The church had an apse and a synthronon (a stepped bank of clergy benches) at the east end, and a pair of nartheces at the west fronted by a colonnaded courtyard or atrium. From a Middle Byzantine renovation are parts of a marble floor and wall paintings running under the synthronon that depict Christ and various saints.
The theater of Aphrodisias was completed in 27 BC and later modified by the Romans for gladiatorial combat.
The stadium is one of the best preserved from the classical era and has a unique elliptical shape. It was specially designed for athletic contests, and Aphrodisias was granted the honor of hosting games in Roman times, modeled on the Pythian games held in Greece. After the theater was damaged in the 7th century earthquake, the eastern end of the stadium began to be used for games, circuses and wild beast shows.
The north agora is a large public square (202 X 72 m), originally enclosed by stoas (porches) on all sides. Parts of the south and east stoas have remained standing since antiquity, and the north stoa was partially uncovered in excavations in the 1960s. Archaeologists believe this was the original center of Hellenistic Aphrodisias.
The Sebastion, discovered in 1979, was a Temple of Augustus used for performing the cult of the Roman emperor (Sebastos is the Greek form of Augustus). The temple consisted of two porticoes (80 m long) made of half-columns and a ceremonial way (14 m wide). At the western end was a gate or propylon opening on to the street. All that remains of the temple are the foundations, a few column bases, Corinthian style capitals and architrave blocks. However, around the porticoes a great quantity of reliefs and decorative panels have been discovered.
The large Baths of Hadrian, built across the west end of the South Agora, were massively constructed from large tufa-like blocks faced with marble veneer, and are composed of five great barrel-vaulted chambers, with an imposing colonnaded court in front. The baths, the forecourt, and the west stoa of the South Agora (which led into the complex) were richly decorated with sculpture of important persons. These are now in the Aphrodisias Museum and the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.
The well-preserved bouleuterion or odeon (city council chambers), looks like a small theater. Indeed, it was used for musical performances as well as council meetings. Excavations uncovered eight larger-than-life marble statues, which decorated the stage front. The statues included a personification of the citizenry of Aphrodisias and Apollo holding a lyre (which reflect the two uses of the building); the rest were portraits of important citizens.
West of the bouleuterion is a sizeable building complex constructed in the Late Roman period. Part of the building is may have been used in the Byzantine period as the Bishop's palace.
The Sculptor's Workshop that produced the world-renowned marble sculptures occupied two rooms of a small stoa north of the Bouleuterion, together with the open area immediately south of these rooms. Excavations here in the 1960s uncovered stone-carving tools, 25 half-finished statues, and practice pieces carved by apprentices.
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. Excavators of Aphrodisias describe the statue as follows:
From Denizli, take highway E87 toward Nazilli; about 15 miles before Nazilli, turn left on the road to Karacasu and Geyre. Aphrodisias is about a mile past the modern village of Geyre.
Buses run from Izmir to Nazilli, from which minibuses run every half hour to Karacasu. From Karacasu, you'd have to get a taxi the remaining 8 miles to Aphrodisias. (Most visitors scrap all this and arrive as part of a guided tour or in a rental car.)
Quick Facts on Aphrodisias
|Categories:||shrines; archaeological sites; city ruins|
|Dates:||2nd C BCE - 2nd C CE|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||37.708151° N, 28.724302° E|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Aphrodisias|
- New York University - "Aphrodisias" - on the excavations conducted by NYU, with site plan and details
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Turkey (Dorling Kindersley, 2006; UK edition), pp. 188-89.
- Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service - "Aphrodisias"
- Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey (Oxford UP, 2003), pp. 216-17.
- Biggravel - "Aphrodisias"
Map of Aphrodisias, Turkey
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