Aphrodite's City

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Middle East » Turkey » Aegean » Aphrodisias
September 5th 2007
Published: February 12th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY


This is one of the loveliest views I have seen at an ancient site.
A rolling landscape of golden hillsides, rocky ridges and tall, green cypresses was flying past my window in streaks of sheer beauty. It was another lovely day, but I couldn’t really remember the last time it hadn’t been. My bus was filled with several interesting people, all of us bound for the ruined city of Aphrodisias, about an hour from Pamukkale. When we boarded the bus that morning our driver had informed us that there was not going to be a guide and that our ‘tour’ only included transportation to and from Aphrodisias - Not being overly fond of tours, I was very happy about that. We had been on the road for nearly an hour when, across a lovely green valley, I spotted an ancient wall of huge stone blocks. Behind the wall I could just make out the tops of a few standing columns rising up amongst the forest of stunted green trees - It was a lovely scene, but, more importantly, it meant we had arrived at our destination. We pulled off of the road at an intersection that was barricaded and watched over by a few bored police officers. We were then directed to a large parking
Entering the Field of CompetitionEntering the Field of CompetitionEntering the Field of Competition

I really just walked down the bleachers to the field, but I liked the view from inside the tunnels.
area that was a considerable distance from the ruins on the other side of the road. As we left the bus, our driver told us when to be back in the parking area and then we loaded onto a long tourist tram pulled by an ordinary farm tractor for our ride to the site.

The tram and all of the traffic control measures had me worried that I was part of a horde of invading tourists that was about to overrun the site, but the telltale coaches and the massive tour groups were still well concealed if they were there at all. The tram dropped us off at the main gate, near the museum. While my group was standing together just outside of the gate trying to agree on a route through the ruins that would suit all of their needs, I set off on my own and headed towards the ticket booth and paid my admission fee. From there, I walked around the museum, which I wanted to see last, and stopped at a lovely palace-like ruin with several standing columns that was buried in a stand of trees. The palace was an active excavation site and it
Colonnades in the Trees (2)Colonnades in the Trees (2)Colonnades in the Trees (2)

In the forest beside the agora.
was closed to exploration, so I took a quick look and then headed for the first major structure of Aphrodisias. I was not quite sure what I was expecting to find as I walked down the shady lane beneath the trees. I knew that Aphrodisias was an important city named after the Greek Goddess of Love, Aphrodite, and home to the cult of Aphrodite of Aphrodisias. I had also read that the city was a wonderland of carved marble due to its close proximity to a marble quarry and its active sculpture school. I had seen my first large classical ruin the day before at Hierapolis and I was expecting somewhat of the same thing - A few standing columns and excavated buildings surrounded by a sprawling plain of ruined structures. When I rounded a bend on the forested path and emerged onto a large, green lawn I could only gasp. Ahead of me rising up out of a field of green was a partially restored monumental gateway of remarkable proportions and behind it, in the distance, the towering columns of the most important structure on the site, the Temple of Aphrodite.

The Tetrapylon, as the monumental gate was
Spiral FlutesSpiral FlutesSpiral Flutes

I love the columns with the spiral fluting. This is the Tetrapylon.
known, consisted of two similar arched ‘roofs’ that were beautifully carved out of gleaming white marble and erected one in front of the other. Two banks of four columns, some of which were carved with beautiful spiral flutes, supported each ‘roof’ and held them suspended high above the ground. The Tetrapylon served as the awe-inspiring gateway to the Temple of Aphrodite, which was the focal point of the ancient city. I was completely blown away by the gate’s proportions. It had been carefully re-erected and stood proudly as a hint to the former grandeur of the site. I slowly walked beneath the monumental gate and then I proceeded straight for the Temple of Aphrodite.

In contrast to the gate, the temple was a nearly complete ruin. A huge earthquake toppled its massive structure in the seventh century, shattering its columns and destroying any hope of re-erecting its massive walls. The temple served as the home to the cult of Aphrodite of Aphrodisias. Within its walls many odd rituals in honor of Aphrodite were preformed. Later, during the Christian era, the temple was converted into a basilica, altering its initial layout a bit - I thought it was funny that
The PalaceThe PalaceThe Palace

This was my first view of Aphrodisias.
a temple dedicated to the goddess of love had been converted into a basilica, considering the nature of the love rituals that had been regularly performed there in her honor. Most of the temple’s lofty columns and walls were laying in huge heaps of rubble more befitting a war zone than an important archaeological site, but a few of the columns and walls had been re-erected in a way that revealed the proportions and the layout of the once grand structure. I spent about twenty minutes exploring the rubble field around the structure - It would have been a monumental task to restore the temple!

Following a route I had laid out on my tiny map during the bus ride, I headed across the site to the massive, oval stadium. I passed through a gaping chasm that had been rent through the huge walls and bleachers of the ancient sports center. I stood on the grassy field and looked up into the remarkably preserved stands. I then climbed up to the top of the bleachers where I took a seat and stared out across the expansive field. I could almost feel the ground trembling under the stomping feet of
Through the TetrapylonThrough the TetrapylonThrough the Tetrapylon

The Tetrapylon is the monumental gate that leads to the now ruined Temple of Aphrodite.
the roaring crowd. I wondered if the ancient fans had similar rituals as us when they were at the events - The absurd vision of the ‘wave’ sweeping around the seats brought a smile to my face. I decided that visiting the largest classical stadium in the Mediterranean region without running a lap was unacceptable. I stood up, walked down to the field and entered the tunnel at its base. Then I walked slowly out of the tunnel back onto the field trying to feel what the ancient athletes would have felt. I walked across the smaller ‘gladiator’ stage that had been built at one end of the field during Roman times, stepped over a low, rubble wall and then I started running. I could almost feel the thundering crowd. I was wearing sandals and hauling a heavy camera bag, so I didn’t set any records. In fact, to the few people sitting in the stands cheering me on, my performance was more of a comedy than a feat of athleticism, but I had a lot of fun and that is all that matters. I stopped at the tunnel on the far side of the stadium for a photo break
The Temple of AphroditeThe Temple of AphroditeThe Temple of Aphrodite

The temple was badly ruined by an earthquake, but some of the columns have been re-erected.
and then I completed my lap. I took another look around the stadium. It was a grand structure with sweeping stone bleachers of a brownish stone and the remains of what looked like ‘box seats’ at the top of one end - Sporting events were definitely a huge part of life at Aphrodisias. I walked back through the huge, unsightly tear in the bleachers and then I headed back across the site, stopping briefly at the ruined temple along the way.

I spent the next half hour exploring the labyrinthine walkways of the Bouleuterion, or council house, with its impressive marble auditorium, or odium as the sign called it - I later learned that only a portion of the auditorium was intact and that it once could have held nearly seventeen hundred people. The Bouleuterion was an important complex and it had received plenty of attention from archaeologists, but it was difficult to imagine what the place would have looked like. Apparently the good state of preservation of the lower part of the structure, including the odium, is due to the fact that the whole site had been buried in mud during the last major earthquake. I left the
Standing ColumnsStanding ColumnsStanding Columns

The columns of the Temple of Aphrodite are on a massive scale. Even ruined it is an impressive site.
council house and headed towards the huge agora via a circuitous path through the forest. I ended up in a shady stand of trees standing among several picturesque colonnades, which formed a beautiful sight. In order to get down onto the agora itself, I had to weave my way down through an overgrown ruble pile of fallen columns and capitols, which formed a formidable barrier. I emerged from the brush and gasped for a second time - The agora was an artist’s dream. It had not been pieced together into a nearly restored marvel like the Tetrapylon, but the columns that had been re-erected, coupled with the countless blocks of carved marble that littered its overgrown expanses, formed myriad artistic opportunities. I was completely taken by the whole scene - There is something special about fluted columns topped with ornate capitols rising up out of the grassy brush. It was a scene full of ageless mystery. I slowly walked along the colonnade, which ringed the entire rectangular space, which was massive. Down the long axis of the rectangle were a series of ruined fountain-like structures, which were completely overgrown and hard to see. At one end a pair of tunnels
Along the ColonnadeAlong the ColonnadeAlong the Colonnade

A view along the outside of the temples colonnade.
passed through a wall of rubble and on the other end a badly ruined structure stood broken, its ornate, stone-tiled floor the only reminder of its past glory.

By the time I finished exploring the lovely ruins of the agora it was getting late. I was almost out of time, so I decided to revert to tactics I had first used on the rushed tours of the Ruta Puc sites in the steamy forests of Mexico. I cinched up my sandal straps, put an arm around my camera bag and I started running as quickly as I could. I first tackled the big hill that took me to the top of the huge theater. I slowed down a bit to explore the theater and the stage, which were both in excellent condition, but I couldn’t have spent more than ten minutes there, which was a pity. After I left the theater I wound my way through a field littered with beautifully carved architectural pieces that had been laid out by archaeologists and were patiently waiting for the day the structure they came from was ready to be restored. I was surprised to discover that I had somehow gotten on
A War ZoneA War ZoneA War Zone

The ruins of the Temple of Aphrodite resembled what you would expect to find in a war zone.
the wrong side of the fence. I was exploring in an area guarded over by ‘Keep Out’ signs, but there was nobody there to chastise me. I eventually found a hole in the fence and managed to work my way back to the site museum. I had less than ten minutes to get to the tram stop, but I couldn’t leave with out seeing the museum. I walked up the wooden ramp and then I did a hurried walk through the museum’s impressive sculpture collection. Any doubts that may have formed in my mind regarding the artistry of the craftsmen in Aphrodisias was completely crushed - I saw many excellent examples of statuary and sarcophagi in the museum, many of which were full size and intact. I was among the last to make it back to the tram and the bus, but I made it on time.

I was exhausted when I slid into my seat on the bus, but it was the kind of pleasant exhaustion that let me know I had had a very enjoyable day. When the last person arrived the bus driver closed the door and we were off. We bounced our way out of
Temple or Basilica?Temple or Basilica?Temple or Basilica?

The Temple of Aphrodite was converted to a basilica later in its life.
the parking area, turned right where the police were standing and headed back the way we came. I watched as the ancient stone walls of Aphrodisias slowly disappeared behind us… I don’t really remember much else from the ride back to Pamukkale. I don’t even remember when I drifted off to sleep. It was getting late in the afternoon when the person in the seat next to mine shook me and let me know that we were back in Pamukkale. I got off of the bus in the center of town and then I walked towards the pension. That night I ate another nice meal at the hostel and then I walked over to the bus station in town to check the schedule for the following day. My time in Pamukkale was coming to an end, but it had been an exciting visit. I got everything packed up that night and then I got to bed early. I showed up at the bus station early the following morning, purchased my ticket and boarded a ratty old bus bound for Selçuk on the coast. As we pulled out of town I got one final glimpse of the travertine terraces of the
In the BleachersIn the BleachersIn the Bleachers

The seats of the massive stadium.
hot springs and then Pamukkale was a memory. I was looking forward to new adventures on the coast, but first I had to survive what was proving to be a very uncomfortable bus journey in rural Turkey…

Additional photos below
Photos: 36, Displayed: 31


The StadiumThe Stadium
The Stadium

The stadium in Aphrodisias is the largest in the Mediterranean world. Note the small gladiator ring in the foreground.
The TunnelThe Tunnel
The Tunnel

The tunnel from the outside.
The BouleuterionThe Bouleuterion
The Bouleuterion

The well restored ruins of the Bouleuterion, or council house.
In the OdiumIn the Odium
In the Odium

This lovely marble auditorium used to be large enough to hold close to 1700 people, but only the bottom portion remains.
Riding a DolphinRiding a Dolphin
Riding a Dolphin

The seats in the odium were supported by lovely carvings of Eros riding a dolphin.
Total Destruction Total Destruction
Total Destruction

This was a lovely column near the odium that hints at the past proportions of the structure.
A Ruined CityA Ruined City
A Ruined City

There were several scenes like this one at Aphrodisias.
Colonnades in the TreesColonnades in the Trees
Colonnades in the Trees

One of several colonnades I found on the way to the agora.
Colonnades in the Trees (3)Colonnades in the Trees (3)
Colonnades in the Trees (3)

Another view of the longer colonnade.

13th February 2009

Ah - the memories!
I was in Aphrodisias in 1992 and as rennovation was just commencing, there were no other tourists, and the only sign of life was a large snake that slithered between my feet! Apart from the stadium, everything looks so much cleaner and restored - there is even a museum now. This brings back many memories (including the not-so-welcome Turkish bus journeys) so thanks for this entry - and especially the photos!
13th February 2009

Hello, when looking at your pictures it instantly makes me want to go and visit these acient ruins. your blog was very interesting too!
20th February 2009

Really great pics!
Your pictures really capture the moment of the time. I especially like the pictures of the auditorium. They really inspire the mood for vacation.

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