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The city of Aphrodite, goddess of love, is one of the largest and best-preserved archaeological sites in Turkey. Though most of what you see today dates from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, archaeological evidence indicates the local dedication to Aphrodite follows a long history of veneration of pre-Hellenic goddesses, such as the Anatolian mother goddess and the Babylonian god Ishtar. Only about half of the site has been excavated.
Aphrodisias, which was granted autonomy by the Roman Empire in the late 1st century BC, prospered as a significant center for religion, arts, and literature in the early 1st century AD. Imposing Christianity on the citizens later proved difficult, however, because of Aphrodite's large following. One method used to eradicate remnants of paganism was renaming the city, first Stavropolis (City of the Cross), then simply Caria, which archaeologists believe is the origin of the name of the present-day village of Geyre, which contains Aphrodisias in its borders.
The excavations here have led archaeologists to believe Aphrodisias was a thriving sculpture center, with patrons beyond the borders of the city—statues and fragments with signatures of Aphrodisian artists have shown up as far away as Greece and Italy. The towering Babadag range of mountains, east of the city, offered ancient sculptors a copious supply of white and delicately veined blue-gray marble, which has been used to stunning effect in statuary, in spiral and fluted columns, and in the delicate reliefs of gods and men, vines, and acanthus leaves on decorative friezes.
The beauty of Aphrodisias rests in its details, and a good place to start absorbing them is the site museum, just past the ticket booth. The museum's collection includes several impressive statues from the site, including Aphrodite herself. Pick up a guide and a map—you'll need them, as the signage is poor.
From the museum, follow the footpath to the right, which makes a circuit around the site and ends up back at the museum. The Tetrapylon is a monumental gateway with four rows of columns and some of the better remaining friezes. The Temple of Aphrodite was built in the 1st century BC on the model of the great temples at Ephesus. Its gate and many of its columns are still standing; some bear inscriptions naming the donor of the column. Next to the temple is the fine Odeon, an intimate, semicircular concert hall and public meeting room. Farther on is the stadium, which once was the scene of footraces, boxing and wrestling matches, and other competitions. One of the best preserved of its kind anywhere, the stadium could seat up to 30,000 spectators. The theater, built into the side of a small hill, is still being excavated. Its 5,000 white-marble seats are simply dazzling on a bright day. The adjacent School of Philosophy has a colonnaded courtyard with chambers lining both sides where teachers would work with small groups of students.
- Cost: Ruins 5 TL, museum 5 TL
- Hours: Daily 8:30--5
- Location: Aphrodisias
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