Our next stop was Aphrodisias. This is an amazing site and is hot on the heels of Ephesus for the title of the ‘best’ Graeco-Roman site in Turkey. 

From Gölhisar we took a short cut signed for Denizli that, after 5 miles, had us on the main Denizli road, E87.  You follow that road for about 35 miles until, a few miles after Serinhisar, you reach a T-junction where the first sign for Aphrodisias is seen. From then on just follow the signs.

Aphrodisias is hot on the heels of Ephesus for the title of the ‘best’ Graeco-Roman site in Turkey.  Unfortunately, whereas Ephesus is easily accessible from the coast thus attracting mega cruise liners, along with all the hordes of tourists holidaying anywhere from Kuşadası to Marmaris for whom a day trip to Ephesus is very doable; Aphrodisias is not on any major beaten tourist track, and thus does not get the hordes of daily visitors that descend on Ephesus practically twelve months of the year.  It is now a stop on overnight coach trips to Pammukale, but the coaches have moved on by 2.30pm which is when Fethiye Times arrived.  You park in the car park (5YTL) and then take a seat in a large trailer which is towed down to the site by a tractor.  This park and ride scheme is a sop to the villagers of Geyre who, until the early 1960s, lived in their traditional houses actually within the ruins.  As Freely writes:

{mosimage}“Geyre was one of the prettiest and most picturesque communities in western Anatolia, with much of its charm stemming from the way in which the Turkish village seemed to have grown organically out of the ancient city of Aphrodisias.”

All of this changed when Kenan Evrim, Turkish born, but Professor of Archaeology at New York University, began excavating the site in 1960. The village was moved and the villagers given new houses a couple of miles away.  You can still see photographs of Aphrodisias in 1958 and 1961 taken by Turkey’s foremost photographer Ara Güler, and exhibited in the building next to the site shop.  Evrim worked on the site for 30 years until in 1990, two weeks after the then President Turgut Özal officially opened the reconstructed Tetrapylon (an impressive gateway to the city), Evrim died of a sudden heart attack.  His grave lies in the shadow of the Tetrapylon.  But his work goes on.

{mosimage}Aphrodisias, as its name suggests, was a city dedicated to Aphrodite to whom a temple was raised around 100BC.  Unlike our local Lycian sites, about which little that was written has survived, there is a wealth of ancient writing on Aphrodisias.  Appian, writing in the second century AD, tells us that the oracle at Delphi ordered the Roman general Sulla to make offerings to Aphrodite in her shrine at Aphrodisias.  Octavian made Aphrodisias an ally of Rome in 39BC and gave it the status of an independent city free of the governor of Asia Minor.  He referred to the city as “the one city in all of Asia that I have selected as my own”.  Because the temple of Aphrodite was so revered, Aphrodisias {mosimage}became a centre of artistic excellence in the Roman world and, thanks to good marble quarries a mere quarter of a mile away, monumental structures adorned with the finest sculptures and reliefs were erected in Aphrodisias.  Some of them can still be seen today.  The sculptors of Aphrodisias became famous throughout the Roman world and exported their work as far away as Rome itself.  Indeed, there are scholars who believe the reliefs on the Parthenon in Athens were actually carved in Aphrodisias.

The best sculptures are housed in the site Museum which not only contains excellent exhibits but is also a well-designed building – a rarity in this country we dare to say.  And there is the bonus of well-written signage in English as well as Turkish.  We visited the Museum before exploring the site and shan’t write more about it – just look at the photographs.  And watch this space for our description of the actual site.