Aphrodisias’s extensive ruins are surrounded by tobacco fields and framed by the majestic Baba Dağ Mountain range. Still very much under excavation, the site is expected by some archaeologists to eclipse Ephesus in grandeur after another 50 or 60 years. The site’s stadium is remarkably intact and impressive, and the museum is better in many respects than its counterpart in Ephesus.
The city has had nearly as many different names as the goddess Aphrodite, its Classical namesake, had lovers. Before its stint as the center of Greco-Roman worship of the goddess of love and fertility, Aphrodisias was named Ninoe, probably for Aphrodite’s antecedent, the Akkadian goddess of love and war. It was later known as Lclegonpolis, Megalopolis, and Plasara until it became the center for the cult of Aphrodite. The rise of the Byzantine Empire saw the city’s temples converted to churches, and the name to Stavropolis (City of the Cross), and later, Caria, from which the nearby modem village of Geyre probably takes its name.
Aphrodisias was well known as a center for astronomy, medicine, and mathematics, but above all as a showcase for sculpture. Chiseled from the famed white and bluish-gray marble quarried in the nearby foothills, the finer statues in the Roman Empire were often marked with an imprint from the celebrated Aphrodisian school, which is believed to have operated from the first century BC to the end of the 5th century AD. Under excavation since 1961 by a team from New York University, the modem site contains an enormous theater, an odeon, numerous temples, and the best preserved Roman stadium in the ancient world.
TRANSPORTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
The best way to see the ruins is to take a daytrip from Pamukkale. When there is sufficient tourist interest, one bus leaves daily at 9:30am, picking up guests at the various hotels in Pamukkale. The bus departs Aphrodisias at 2:30pm (2hr., round-trip $10). However, many hotels make their own trips if there is enough interest. It is also possible to take a dolmuş to Nazilli from Aydın (45min., every 30min. 6am-midnight, $.90) or Denizli (45min., every 30min. 7am-9pm, $1.60), catch a dolmuş from Nazilli to Karacasu (30min., every 30min. 7:30am-10:30pm, $1.20), and take another dolmuş from Karacasu onto Aphrodisias (10min., every hr. 9am-6:30pm, $.40), although the service on the last leg of the journey may be unreliable. Karacasu is known for its beautiful red pottery, and artists sell their wares for around $.40 per piece about 500m from the dolmuş stop. The nearest PTT is in Geyre.
Postal code: 09374.
ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD
Since Aphrodisias can be visited as a daytrip, there’s not much reason to stay in town. The Aphrodisias Hotel Restaurant, operated by Mestan Gökçe Bey (who speaks Turkish, French, and English), is 21m from the Aphrodisias entrance, beyond Chez Mestan. This more elegant hotel offers clean rooms with bath, central heating in the winter, and rugs on the tile floors. All rooms have balconies. (448 81 32; fax 448 84 22. Singles $16; doubles $20; triples $24. Camping $4.) The restaurant O serves up a traditional Turkish plate ($4). Meals are held on the rooftop in winter and in the garden in summer.
THE RUINS OF APHRODISIAS
At the entrance, the dirt road to the left leads to the large and still acoustically sound theater, built in the first century BC. On the theater’s proskenion (horizontal slab running above the columns) is a dedication, “to the people of Aphrodisias,” from Gaius Julius Zoilos, a freed slave who financed the building’s construction. Further along the road and on the right, a number of columns mark the remains of the agora. The looming structure at the bottom of the hill is Hadrian’s Bath, equipped with a sauna, frigidarium, and changing rooms. Farther down the road to the right is the odeon, once graced by an extraordinary marble mosaic stage, used for concerts and political meetings. The nine columns in front of the odeon form a court which archaeologists christened the Bishop’s Palace because of the religious artifacts and statues unearthed there.
The highlights of a visit to Aphrodisias are the three magnificent structures at the back of the site. The soaring Ionic columns of the Temple of Aphrodite mark the original home of a famous statue of the goddess. Sculpted nearly 2000 years ago, the statue was similar in appearance to the many breasted Artemis of Ephesus. So far, only copies of the original have been unearthed. The grand structure with elegant, spiral fluted Corinthian columns and beautiful floral reliefs on its pediment is the tetrapylon, the gateway into the ancient city. The name, which means “four gateways” in Greek, refers to the four rows of four columns that comprise the structure. The ancient 30,000 seat stadium is one of the best preserved of its kind. Even the marble blocks that once marked the starting line for foot races are still in the central arena. The first 3 rows of seats were replaced with a tall wall to protect the eager Roman audiences from the violent animal hunts and wrestling matches.
The museum near the site entrance displays a breathtaking collection of sculpture. Among the highlights are statues of Aphrodite, her priests, and a satyr carrying the child Dionysus. (448 80 03. Site open daily 8am-8pm; in winter 8am-5pm. $3.20, students $1.20. Museum open daily 9am-6:30pm; in winter 9am-5pm. $3.20, students $1.20.)