Afrodisias is one of turkey’s finest archaeological sites. Added to Unesco’s World Heritage List in 2017. Some people even prefer it to Ephesus, if only because it is less overrun with coach parties. While there are certainly finer individual ruins elsewhere, it is the scope of the surviving remains that distinguishes Aphrodisias, so much of it is preserved that you can get a real sense of the grandeur and extent of the lost classical cities. Come in May or June and you will find ruins awash with blazing red poppies.
Excavations have proved that the Aphrodisias acropolis is prehistoric mound built up by successive settlement from around 5,000 BC. From the 6th century BC it is famous temple was a popular pilgrimage site, but it wasn’t until the 2nd or 1st century BC that the village grew into a town that steadily prospered. By the 3rd century AD Aphrodisias was the capital of the Roman province of Caria, with a population of 15000 at its peak. However, under the Byzantines the city changed substantially: the steamy Temple of Aphrodite was transformed into a chaste Christian church and ancient buildings were pulled down to provide stone for defensive walls (c AD 350).
During the Middle Ages Aphrodisias continued as a cathedral town, but it seems to have been abandoned in the 12th century. The village of Here sprang up on the site some time later. In 1956 an earthquake devastated the village, which was rebuilt in its present westerly location, allowing easier excavation of the site. The pleasant plaza in front of the museum was the main square of pre-1956 Geyre.
Although other archaeologist worked on the site before him, Aphrodisias will always be associated with the work of Professor Kenan T Erim of New York University, who directed work at the site from 1961 to 1990. His book Afrodisias: City of Venus Aphrodite (1986) tells the story. After his death,Professor Erim was buried at the site that he had done so much to reveal.
Most of what you see at Afrodisias dates back to at least the 2nd century AD. The site is well laid out, with good, clear notices in English and Turkish and a suggested route marked by yellow and black arrows. If you follow the route we give here you will be going against the flow of the regular tour groups, which arrived around 11 a.m. most days.
Turn right beside the museum and on the left you will see the side of a grand house with Ionic and Corinthian pillars. Further along on the left is the magnificently elaborate Tetrapylon (monumental getaway) that once greeted pilgrims as they approached the Temple of Aphrodite, reconstructed almost entirely from the original blocks. The tomb of Professor Erim is on the lawn nearby.
Follow the footpath until you come to a right turn that leads across the fields to the 270 m long stadium, one of the biggest and best preserved in the classical world. The stadium has a slightly ovoid shape to give spectators a better view of events. Most of its 30,000 seats are overgrown but still in usable condition and you can easily imagine the football crowd atmosphere when games were in progress. Some seats were reserved for individuals or guilds whose names they still bear. At some stage the Eastern end of the stadium was converted into an arena for gladiatorial combats.
Return to the main path and continue to the once famous Temple of Aphrodite completely rebuilt when it was converted into a basilica (c AD 500(. It’s cellar was removed, it’s columns shifted to form a nave and an apse added at the eastern end, making it hard to imagine how it must have been in the years when orgies in celebration of Aphrodite were held here. Near the Temple Church is The Bishop’s Palace, a grand house that may have accommodated the Roman governor long before any bishops turned up.
Just after the Bishop’s Palace,a path leads east to the beautiful marble bouleuterion, preserved almost undamaged for a thousand years in a bath of mud.
South of the odeum was the north agora once enclosed by Ionic porticoes but now little more than a grassy field where excavations were taking place at the time of writing. The path then leads through the early 2nd-century AD Hadrianic Baths to the southern agora, with a long, partially excavated pool and the grand Portico of Tiberius.
Climb the earthen mound (where a prehistoric settlement existed) to find the white marble theatre, a 7000- capacity auditorium complete with stage and individually labelled seats. South of it stood the large theatre baths complex.
The path then wraps round and brings you onto the side of the Sebasteion, originally a temple to ty deified Roman emperors. In its heyday this was a spectacular building, preceded by three storey high double colonnades decorated with friezes of Greek myths and the exploits of the emperors; 70 of the original 190 reliefs have been recovered and excellent ratio for an excavation of this size.
When you’ve finished looking at the ruins it’s worth wandering round the museum, admission to which is included in the entry price. During Roman times, Aphrodisias was home to a famous school for sculptors- who were attracted by the beds of high-grade marble 2 km away at the foot of Babadağ (MT Baba). The museum collection reflects the excellence of their work and the birds flying around the rafters add a bit of atmosphere! Noteworthy works include a 2nd century cult statue of Aphrodite , a series of shield portraits of great philosophers (deliberately vandalised by early Christians), and depictions of the mysterious Caius Julius Zoiloa, a former slave of Octavian who not only won his freedom but also gained enough wealth to become one of Afrodisias major benefactors.
How to reach there
Afrodisias is 55 km from Nazilli and 101 km from Denizli. You can get there by public transport, but only by taking one bus from Denizli to Nazilli then another to Karacasu and then a dolmuş to the site. It’s more sensible to arrange a tour or private transport (€15, 11/2 hours) from Pamukkale.