Aphrodisias Ancient City

The monumental gateway or tetrapylon at Aphrodisias in Turkey

Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love, did not only make his name known in Greek mythology and gave its name to this city, which is located in Aydın, Turkey today. This whole city was dedicated to Aphrodite. Perhaps the best-preserved ancient city artifacts you can see are in the Aphrodisias Ancient City, and this is one of the features of why Aphrodisias Ancient City is so unique and important, in addition to many more features.

Aphrodisias Ancient City was known as a center of art, architecture, worshipping, and sculpturing in the ancient periods, yet it is not all. Evidence shows that besides being a center for those things, Aphrodisias Ancient City also served as a commonplace for medicine and astronomy practices.

A city that served so many issues and has such an important history, of course, taken under protection. Aphrodisias Ancient City is one of the 18 heritages in Turkey that is listed in UNESCO’s world heritage list. Besides its interesting history, Aphrodisias Ancient City has an interesting discovery story as well.

Visiting Aphrodisias Ancient City

You cannot know what you are missing until you visit Aphrodisias Ancient City. It goes without saying that if you love archeology, history, ancient cities or you just want to see a place that would make you wonder, this place is perfect for you.

Where is Aphrodisias Ancient City located on the map of Turkey?

Aphrodisias Ancient City is located in Aydın province where is on the very west side of the map of Turkey. This region is called the Agean Region. Aydın takes place between İzmir and Mugla. Aphrodisias Ancient City is in the Geyre neighborhood of Karacasu district in Aydin.

Aphrodisias Ancient City is in the valley where the Dandalaz stream. Dandalaz stream is a branch of the Menderes River.

How do you get to Aphrodisias Ancient City?

If you have a car with you, it is quite easy to get to Aphrodisias Ancient City. Unfortunately, there are not many public transportation options for Aphrodisias Ancient City, yet in the summertime, you can find minibusses that go to Aphrodisias Ancient City that departures from Karacasu district.

If you are going there in a car, you need to follow the Nazilli road, which can be found once following the signboards. As you pass the Nazilli district, you need to follow the road which goes to Kuyucak district and turn to Kuyucak way from the Kuyucak-Tavas crossroad. Aphrodisias Ancient City is 15 kilometers away from this crossroad. If you follow the signboards, you can easily find the Aphrodisias Ancient City. The following are the distances from surrounding areas to Aphrodisias Ancient City:

  • 90 kilometers away from Aydin city center
  • 110 kilometers away from Denizli city center
  • 130 kilometers away from Ephesus Ancient City
  • 130 kilometers away from Pamukkale city center
  • 140 kilometers from Kusadasi, Aydin
  • 220 kilometers away from Izmir city center

If you want to use the minibusses that gets you to Aphrodisias Ancient City in the summertime, you can use public transportation to get to Karacasu from Aydin city center. You need to take the bus called “D320/E87”. This trip to Karacasu from the city center will take approximately 1 and a half hours. After you get to Karacasu, you can use the minibusses to get to Aphrodisias Ancient City.

Visiting hours of the Aphrodisias Ancient City

Visiting hours of the Aphrodisias Ancient City depends on the season you are visiting. In the summertime (defined as the dates between April 1 and October 1), Aphrodisias Ancient City is open for visitors between 10:00 AM and 07:00 PM. In the wintertime (defined as the dates between October 1 and April 1) Aphrodisias Ancient City is open for visitors between 08:30 AM and 05:00 PM. 

Ticket offices are open half an hour before closing in the summer and fifteen minutes before closing in the winter season. Aphrodisias Ancient City is only open for visitors on weekdays. Additionally, Aphrodisias Ancient City opens at 01:00 PM in the first days of religious holidays.

You can check up to date visiting hour from this link.

Entrance fee of the Aphrodisias Ancient City

The entrance fee of the Aphrodisias Ancient City is 30 Turkish liras. If you have a museum card, you can visit Aphrodisias Ancient City free, two times a year(For Turkish citizens).

How long to spend in the Aphrodisias Ancient City?

You can possibly spend up to one hour in Aphrodisias Ancient City but of course, this duration may change according to your interests.

History of the Aphrodisias Ancient City

Aphrodisias Ancient City is over 7000 years old, and it goes without saying that this city has witnessed so many emperors ruling it, so many disasters and celebrations. Even though Aphrodisias Ancient City is quite old, surprisingly, the remaining are relatively sturdy.

Aphrodisias Ancient City was originally formed as a settlement area, around the year 5000 BC. In the 6th century BC, this settlement area developed enough to be called a village. Until the 2nd century BC, this village could not have the statue of being a government, yet in the 1st century BC, it becomes somehow important and taken under protection by a Roman emperor, Augustus.

The year 39 BC was an important year for this city since it had lots of privileges thanks to this Roman emperor. As a result of those privileges, Aphrodisias city develops quickly. These privileges were things like exemption from taxes, take shelter in the temple, and autonomy.

In the late 3rd century, Aphrodisias becomes the capital city of the Roman empire’s Karia state. But when Rome divides into two regions, the Byzantine starts to rule Aphrodisias city.

Until the end of the 4th century, everything was going well in Aphrodisias city. Yet during and after Visigoth and Arab occupations in the city, lots of problems arose in terms of economy, politics, and religion. Those problems lead to Aphrodisias losing its importance.

In the 7th century, Aprodishias city witnesses a huge earthquake and after this, it cannot be rebuilt completely. After the 11th century, Seljuks rule this city for a while, and the Karacasu region serves as a residential area for Turkmen tribes. And in time, Aphrodisias becomes a small village like in the first times it was formed, and in the 12th century, this city completely becomes abandoned.

Even though that this city is known as Aphrodisias Ancient City, the name of it was not always Aphrodisias. The names Lelegonpolis, Megapolis, Ninoi was used respectively before it got the name Aphrodisias. The city got the name Aphrodisias in BC 2nd century when the Roman empire began to become powerful and the city assigned a sacred meaning.

Who is Aphrodite?

Aphrodite is the goddess of love and beauty in Greek mythology. In Roman mythology, Aphrodite is referred to as “Venus”. In history, different authors and poets referred to Aphrodite with adjectives such as “golden, coquettish, heartbreaker”.

There are different stories about how Aphrodite was born. The most popular story is about Uranos and his son, Kronos. Kronos cuts his father’s genital organ, and it falls into the ocean. It has been said that Aphrodite is born from the bubbles when his genital organ hits the ocean. After she is born, she first visits Cythera and then goes to Cyprus. As she walks in Cyrpus, the grass on the ground begins to grow magically and become abundant, and the oldest temple that is dedicated to Aphrodite is in Cyprus.

Aphrodite’s beauty was incredible so that people were afraid that there will be a war between gods because of her beauty. Aphrodite was only married once to Hephaistos. The reason why Zeus approved this marriage to happen is that Hephaistos was very ugly, and no one was seeing him as a threat. 

A statue of Aphrodite at Istanbul Archelogy Museum
A statue of Aphrodite at Istanbul Archelogy Museum

Yet Aphrodite cheated on Hephaistos with Ares. Aphrodite later had 4 children of Ares, named Eros, Phobos, Harmonia, and Deimos. Ares was not the only one that Aphrodite was cheating on to her husband, she was also having an affair with Hermes. Aphrodite also gave birth to Hermes’ child, and he was named Hermaphrodite.

Besides, the stories about Aphrodite having affair with mortals are quite popular, interesting, and widely known. In the statues of Aphrodite, she is usually described naked.

Discovery of Aphrodisias Ancient City

Ara Güler, a Turkish photographer, was found in Aphrodisias Ancient City as a result of him getting lost in Aydin, where he went to photograph a dam opening there. When he gets lost on the way back, he enters a village. He realizes some Roman-style columns and other pieces that look like historical artifacts. Inspired by these buildings in the village, Ara Güler immediately starts photographing this place. As he goes back to Istanbul, he tries to gather information about this area, but he finds nothing. He gets really curious about it and sends the photos he took in the area to different institutions.

Only the Times newspaper replies to these photos. The Times newspaper asks Ara Güler to send them colored pictures because the ones that he sent were all black and white. Subsequently, Ara Güler goes back to Aydın and takes colored pictures of the area. These colorful photographs resonate all over the world. Then, archaeologists go to the site and figure out where this place actually is.

Architecture and Significant Structures in the Aphrodisias Ancient City

The architectural significance of the Aphrodisias Ancient City is mainly due to Aphrodisias Ancient City’s location. As I mentioned earlier, Aphrodisias Ancient City is located very close to Babadağ mountain, which has marble quarries at the foot of the mountain. This made it possible to practice sculpture very often. This is usually linked with successful and worldwide known sculptures was from this area. It is no surprise that the structures in the Aphrodisias Ancient City are mainly made from marble. Besides, the reliefs and writings on the structures remained sturdy in comparison to other ancient cities and this is another importance of the Aphrodisias Ancient City.

The sculpture was given so much importance that a new carving style emerged in this region, called “Manierist Style”. In the architectural properties of the structures in the Aphrodisias Ancient City, this style can be observed.

Hadrian Baths

This bath in the Aphrodisias Ancient City gets its name from a Roman emperor. At one point in the 2nd century, while Roman emperor Hadrian was visiting Aphrodisias, the city council built those baths in memory of this event. Those baths are built as a complex, and has 4 rooms all four side of them, in addition to a central concert room. Those rooms are named tepidarium, apodyterium, frigterium, and sudatorium.

Hadrianic Baths in Aphrodisias
Hadrianic Baths in Aphrodisias

Some of the remaining that was taken from this area of the Aphrodisias Ancient City is now serving in Istanbul Archeology Museum, and some of them were illegally taken out abroad. Somme attempts and campaigns were made in order to save those stolen remaining and take them back to their home in the past.

Ancient Theatre

According to the inscription on the stage structure of the theater, this theater was built by the philosopher Zoilos. According to what is written in the inscription, this theater was gifted by Zoilos to the Aphrodite and city people. A relief of Zolios was found during the excavations. In the theater, there are stage rooms with Hellen inscriptions.

The circular part in the center of this theater was once used as an orchestra. Later, the lower parts of the sitting area were removed, and this area was deepened and used as an arena. In the 2nd century AD, this area was optimized for gladiator wars.

Theatre in Aphrodisias ancient city, Aydin, Turkey
Theatre in Aphrodisias ancient city

Artifacts belonging to many different civilizations were found during excavations in this region, in addition to statues. The ancient theatre is located on the south side of the Aphrodisias Ancient City. in place of this area, which is now an ancient theater, there was a mound used for observation purposes. This mound was 24 meters high and was a good area for observation.

Remains such as household appliances, idols, pithoses, and adobe walls were found during the excavations around this hill. Later, the acropolis where this mound is located was carved and a city theater was built.

In front of the stage, 5 statues (2 boxer statues, Melpomene statue, Nike statue, and Demos statue) were found and they are now being exhibited in the museum. The north side of the stage part of the theater was named “archive”, which contains important inscriptions about Aphrodisias city, such as privileges the city has or senate decisions. For example, one inscription in this archive explains the case where the golden Eros statue, which was gifted from Caesar to the Aphrodisias city, was stolen from there and taken to Ephesus city. The inscription also explains how they managed to take this statue back.

Aphrodite Temple

It is known that this temple was built in the archaic period. The fact that some of the mosaics here belong to the Hellenistic period proves how old this temple is. In a relief unearthed during excavations in Aphrodisias, the king of Asus Ninos and his wife Semiramis tell how they brought the “Aphrodite culture” here. Indeed, the Aphrodite culture came from Mesopotamia, by Assyrians coming here from Nineveh after their city was destroyed by Meds and Babilles. On their way here, they brought with them Ishtar culture, which is the goddess of beauty and love in Assyrian culture.

Aphrodite Temple takes place in the north, which is the center of the Aphrodisias Ancient City. This temple, which still has fourteen columns, is located next to the sculpture school. Originally there were 40 columns yet only 14 of them succeed to survive. The columns were made in ion style, which is widely used in Anatolia, and actually first appeared in Anatolia as well. Ion style is characterized by having a slim, delicate, and naïve look in the columns.

Aphrodite Temple ruins in Aphrodisias Turkey
Aphrodite Temple ruins in Aphrodisias

The building process was first started by Zoilos in the BC 1st century and ended in the year AD 130. The temple had its final look in the period of Emperor Hadrian, who made the sacred walls surrounding the structure. Inside of those walls, there was a room that only priests could enter. This room was called “Sella” and Aphrodite’s statue was built here.

Aphrodite temple was a place for pilgrimage for those who believe in polytheistic religions, and this temple is believed to have a feature of protectivity for those who believe in it. It has been said that only male priests were allowed to work in this temple. In some columns of the temple, the ones’ names who built this temple or donated to this temple are engraved on them.

There is an Aphrodite statue in the inner room of the temple. In the statue, Aphrodite is wearing a long dress and one arm is in the air pointing forward. Various reliefs are carved on the dress. this Aphrodite statue has been copied hundreds of times.

This temple began to be used as a church towards the end of the second half of the 5th century AD, because the region was Christianized, and was used as a church until the 11th century. On the walls of the church, religious figures such as Gabriel, Mikael, virgin Mary, and Jesus are painted. In the times when the temple was being used as a church, the church garden and inside part of the church were also used as a cemetery. During this period, the city was called Stavropoulos instead of Aphrodisias because it was thought to be evoking paganism.

Bouleuterion (Parliament Building)

Even though parliament buildings typically represent democracy, in Aphrodisias city, this parliament building was known for its close relationships with the imperial government. This parliament building was completely ruled by the family who was paying all of the expenses of the building, and there were statues of the family members outside of the building. 

Odeon in Aphrodisias
Odeon in Aphrodisias

This building is a typical example of important governmental buildings, by having the statues of significant individuals. It is known that the sculptures of this period also represent political characteristics. The statues inside and the outside of the building was highlighting the importance of both the building and the family who pays for the expenses.

The center of politics in Aphrodisias city was considered to be this building because not everyone could enter, and you had to be an important person to be able to enter. What I mean by these “important persons” is that a few families who are quite influential, and the city council, which also as known as “boule”

Bishop’s Palace

You can see the Bishop’s palace as you walk to the west side of the parliament building. Bishop’s palace carries peristyle techniques in it. It is thought to serve as an official building, and it is the biggest building in Aphrodisias city. The structure of the Bishop’s Palace is quite similar to a typical elite Roman house. Based on the coins found in this area, Bishop’s palace is thought that it was built in 400 AD.

Bishop’s Palace in Aphrodisias

Like other buildings and the structures in the Aphrodisias Ancient City, Bishop’s palace has lots of decorations on it. It is estimated that Bishop’s palace could be used as a home to the provincial governor at some point. And after all those rebuilding and restorations in the building, it became a house for the bishop. The columns surrounding the courtyard in this building are blue. This building was used actively until the city of Aphrodisias was abandoned.

Gaudin’s Fountain

This fountain was discovered by Paul Gaudin, who was the first to excavate in the city and is named after him. This fountain was found on the south side of the Hadrian baths. This fountain was built by re-using the blocks that were formerly used for another purpose. While this fountain was being built, workers put 3 frieze blocks with holes in them, which works as a bridge for water to pour down to a bucket. Those frieze blocks are now being exhibited in Istanbul Archeology Museum.

Another protest for paganism in this city can be observed in Gaudin’s fountain. In the late ancient periods, paganism was not welcomed, and people were trying to diminish all its traces. Such that, in the triangular pediment frame, there are no reliefs except from one crescent relief in the middle of it. Some theories about this relief say that the crescent relief was scrapped by Christian architects.

Although it is known that its first purpose was being used as a temple facade, it was moved from where it was and used as a fountain in its current location. Reliefs on this fountain cover the gap between column bases and create a wall for the pool.

Sebasteion Temple

The inscriptions on this temple were the source for its name. In those inscriptions, this temple was referred to as “Sebasteion”. Sebasteion means “great” since it is equivalent to the Greek word “avgustus”, which also means great. It is known that there is no other building like Sebasteion temple in terms of size and the number of reliefs, in eastern Rome.

Sebasteion temple extends in the east-west direction, on the road which is between the north door and the theatre. This temple is not in the same line as any other buildings in the city, and it has 80 meters in height with 14 meters in width.

Sebasteion in Aphrodisias, Aydin
Sebasteion in Aphrodisias

This temple’s construction was started in Tiberius’ period, which is the time between AD 14 and AD 37. Until the construction ends, it has witnessed several earthquakes and it has damaged in big migrations of Turks and Byzantine people. For the damage it had during the construction period, it had to be restored several times. It is known that the construction ended in Nero’s period, which is between BC 54 and BC 58.

This temple consists of 3 structures. The first one is the entrance building, in which you can enter directly from the street. This entrance building was referred to as “propylon”, and it has two floors. The second structure is a road made from marble and has three-floored porticos on both sides. The last part of the Sebasteion temple is the “victory temple”.

In the porticos that are located side parts of the road, the second and the third floors were used as sort of a board for between-column reliefs. Those reliefs illustrate either mythological stories or stories about the empire. According to what is written in the capital base of the columns, which is referred to as architraves, this temple was made by two aristocratic families that are related to each other. The architraves are famous for having an excessive number of reliefs on them, which you cannot see anywhere else in the world. The most important reliefs in the architraves are:

  • Eros’ Birth
  • Three Sebasteion Graces
  • Apollo in Delphi
  • Meleager
  • Archiles
  • Penhesilea
  • Nyssa
  • Dionysus the kid

This temple complex was found by Prof. Kenan Erim in the year 1979 and besides those wonderful structures, other remaining such has houses, a philosophy, and a sculpture school were found. Most of those remainings were covered with mosaics, and also, various handmade tools and ceramic containers were found as well. People with knowledge on this subject suggest that after the big earthquakes, the houses were abandoned, and at some point, this place was used as a shopping center.

Stadium

In addition to being the most preserved structure of the Aphrodisias Ancient City, this stadium is also the most preserved stadium among the Aegean region’s ancient stadiums. It has a height of 262 meters and a width of 50 meters. This stadium’s capacity was up to 30.000 people. 

Aphrodisias Stadium, Aydın, Turkey
Aphrodisias Stadium

It was made in ellipse shape so that every single person sitting in the stadium could see what is happening. The stadium was used for athletism, voting events, and competitions. Even competitions similar to the Greek Olympic games were held here.

Agora Gate

Agora gate was initially designed as a monumental facade and was made in AD 2nd century. This gate consists of 8 districts between 2 towers which have two floors each, and it is a columnar structure. In the façade, there is a portrait sculpture exhibition in which the dynasty of Antoninus’ and the donators of the city’s portrait sculptures are exhibited.

It is known that a deep pool and a fountain was made to the front of the Agora gate in the 5th century AD. One of those structures (it is not known which is which, so they cannot discriminate whether if it was made for the pool or the fountain) has reliefs on them, which illustrates mythological characters.

Further information and travel tips

As I mentioned before, there are not many public transportation options to get to Aphrodisias Ancient City. Going there with a car, or if you do not have one, renting a car is highly recommended. Additionally, there are lots of ancient cities and historical landmarks in surrounding areas. While you are in Aphrodisias Ancient City, do not forget to see other beautiful places. For that, getting a museum card is recommended because when you have a museum card, you do not have to pay for entrance fees in museums, ancient cities, and some historical landmarks.

İsmail Çamönü

Hi! I am Ismail. I am a digital nomad from Turkey. I lived in many cities around Turkey during my life and I am passionate about traveling. At Nomad's Guide to Turkey, I share travel tips for nomads, expats, and tourists who would like to visit Turkey.

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