Aphrodisias, Aegean Turkey

Aphrodisias, the City of Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, about two hours east of Selçuk (Ephesus) and 2.5 hours west of Pamukkale (map), is one of the Aegean region‘s most interesting archeological sites.

Guided tours from İzmirEphesus/Kuşadası and Antalya often stop here on their way to Pamukkale.

Nestled in the broad, fertile Meander River valley, this city has been here for millennia. At its heart is an acropolis on a hill formed of the detritus of settlements dating back at least to the Early Bronze Age (as old as 2800 BC).

By the 8th century BC, Aphrodisias was famous as the City of Aphrodite, and pilgrims came to pay homage to the Goddess of Love at her temple. The goddess was called Venus by the Romans, and it’s easy to imagine ancient fertility rites such as the belly dance being performed in her temple here.

With the coming of Christianity her temple, site of who knows what other rites in worship of love, was converted into a chaste church.

Without the flow of pilgrim money the city declined. In 1402 the fledgling Ottoman Empire and Aphrodisias were attacked by Tamerlane. The empire recovered. This city did not.

Today the ruins, set amid fertile fields of cotton and groves of spindly cypresses, include an elaborate Tetrapylon, or monumental gate (in the photo to the right), the foundations of the Temple of Aphrodite, the Christian bishop’s palace, a beautiful marble odeon (small theater) in excellent condition, and a stadium still capable of seating nearly its original capacity of 30,000 spectators.

The white marble theater built into the side of the acropolis is also in excellent condition:

Theater, Aphrodisias, Turkey

Next to it is a colonnaded palaestra, or playing field, and the great Portico of Tiberius.

Aphrodisias had a famous sculpture academy in Roman times, probably because of the high-grade marble quarried only a few kilometers away at Babadağ. The museum at the site thus has an especially good collection of Roman sculpture. Take a look at the Faces of Aphrodisias.

Aphrodisias is best seen on the way to or from Pamukkale. For example, you might drive from Selçuk(Ephesus) or Kusadasi eastward up the Meander valley for about two hours, turn south at Nazilli, and proceed via Karacasu to Geyre, the village next to the site. More…

After touring the museum and exploring the ruins at Aphrodisias, continue eastward to Pamukkale, where you can spend the night or, if you want to do it all in one long day, have a swim, then return westward to your base in Selçuk or Kuşadası. (I recommend staying the night at Pamukkale.)

By the way: yes, the Meander River (Menderes Nehri in Turkish) is where we get the English word meander,meaning “to follow a winding course.” If you visit Priene, south of Kusadasi on the way to Miletus, you’ll see why:the river wanders all over the broad, flat flood plain on its way to the Aegean Sea.

If you don’t have your own car, or take a tour, Aphrodisias can be a bit tricky to get to by public bus. Here’s how to do it.

—by Tom Brosnahan


Photos: Faces of Aphrodisias

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