I'm going to back up a bit here and go waaay back to April when Jeff and I took a day trip to Nysa and Aphrodisias. I already wrote about visiting Nysa, but never did get to telling you all about Aphrodisias, so that's what I'm here to do today!
After stopping mid-morning at Nysa, and after surviving a bit of bus trouble, we finally made it to Aphrodisias, the main event of our day trip. As our bus stalled and the engine turned over on the highway, I turned not to panic or stress but to my copy of John Freely's "The Western Shores of Turkey: Discovering the Aegean and Mediterranean Coasts" to prepare myself for what I would see at the ancient city.
Though the earliest evidence of a shrine to an Anatolian fertility goddess at Aphrodisias dates to the fifth or sixth century BC, the city itself wasn't settled until the second century BC. About 100 years later the current Temple of Aphrodite was built. Ephesus is about 2700 years old and Bergama about 2400 years old, but Aphrodisias was in use as recently as 2000 years ago, having only been abandoned in AD 1200, making it remarkably easy to conjure what it must have looked like not so long ago.
But it's not just the city's recent past that makes it so thrilling to see: we owe a great debt and gratitute to the late New York University professor Kenan Erim who began excavations at the site in the 1960s and set up numerous funding schemes and annual archaeological digs to continue his work after he died. Because of him, a staggering amount of Aphrodisias has been uncovered, and what there is to see definitely rivals the ruins at Ephesus.
We inadvertently took the suggestion of our guidebook and proceeded in reverse direction through the city. We hadn't even realized we were doing this until we came across our own group coming from the opposite direction (we chose not to stick with our group as we had difficultly understanding the tour guide -- words like "sanctuary" aren't exactly in my Turkish vocabulary -- and because the excellent signage at the site explained things quite well). If you follow our same route, the first sight you will come across is the monumental gateway to the Sanctuary of Aphrodite.
Amazingly, 85% of the monument's original marble blocks survive, which made it easy -- ok, maybe not easy but easier -- to reassemble the monument to what you see today. It's also a great backdrop for photo opportunities.
One aspect of ancient cities that I truly always enjoy seeing are the houses, if they still exist. You almost never see the homes of the lower- or even the middle-classes, but it isn't uncommon to see the remains of a rather rich family's home, as those houses tended to be better built and in more favourable locations, like the city centre, like this one:
Curiously, Aphrodisias was one of the first cities to build itself on a grid system, like the layout of most American cities such as New York and Philadelphia. I personally love the grid system -- some streets go east and west, others go north and south; they all make perfect 90-degree intersections -- and I find them much easier to understand than, say, Istanbul's labyrinth of winding alleys.
In Aphrodisias, most people didn't actually live in the city centre -- hey, like Philly! -- but instead in residential neighborhoods to the north, south, east and west. The house pictured above, though, was actually located on the fringes of the city centre, close to the downtown, and occupies a full city block. It's estimated that the house's two large public rooms -- a formal dining room and a reception room -- were built in AD 400, about 1600 years ago.
Like most other Greco-Roman cities in Turkey, the baths played a huge role in society, not just for hygienic and bathing purposes, of course, but also for its social function.
In the above photo, you can still see the ground-floor walls of the vaulted halls that served as the cold room, hot room, steam room and so on. I can never tell which room was which, so I just go through and make it up. "This here is the sauna, and this is the changing room, and over there were the showers..."
No ancient city would be complete without a theatre, and Aphrodisias's had an estimated seating capacity of about 7000. There are two components to the theatre: the auditorium, seen on the right; and the stage, seen on the left, which used to be three stories high.
As we were walking the opposite direction of our group, we sort of rushed through the site, making the 2-mile circumference in just over an hour. I would definitely like to go back and take a more leisurely stroll through the ruins and perhaps have a picnic lunch at the theatre overlooking the entire city. That sounds like an ideal afternoon, doesn't it?
Practical Info: Admittance to the site was 15 TL when we visited in April 2011, which includes admission to the fantastic on-site museum. Aphrodisias is about 2 hours from Selcuk and about 2.5 hours from Pamukkale. It's somewhat tricky to get to by public transport; we went on a day tour with an Izmir-based company called FMA Travel, but as their website is a bit confusing to follow, it's probably easier to see what tours they have going at Turizm Sayfaları. Check out detailed instructions on how to get to Aphrodisias on Turkey Travel Planner.
Also please note, this blog post does not incorporate information or photos of everything there is to see at Aphrodisias. One that did would be a very long blog post indeed! It merely highlights some of what I thought interesting.
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