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.
What to See
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:
Like them [other Anatolian deities], the Aphrodisian goddess stands in a stiff frontal pose, with her upper arms pressed close to her body and her hands extended forward. Her most distinctive attribute is her heavy overgarment (known as an ependytes) that conceals most of her body.
The front of this garment is divided into horizontal zones, each of which is filled with complex figural reliefs.... It is this series of reliefs that distinguishes the Aphrodisian goddess and shows her individual significance. Each motif symbolizes part of the goddess's divine identity and mythological sphere of power; they include the three Graces, Selene, Helios, erotes, and Aphrodite herself, here shown not in her distinctive local guise but in a more traditional Hellenistic mode of presentation: half-nude and seated on a seagoat, accompanied by a dolphin and a triton.
Furthermore, the particular division of Aphrodite's ependytes communicates the fundamental conception of Aphrodite as a goddess of earth, heaven, and sea. [More Info]