A World Heritage in the Aegean Aphrodisias

Written by TR Dergisi

The hammer sounds of sculptors who immortalized their art on stone, ring in our ears.

How about a journey full of culture from Aegean settlements that inspire writers to new UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in Turkey, Aphrodisias, accompanied by local markets and ancient cities?

Nazilli’s next door neighbour Kuyucak inspired the novel Yusuf of Kuyucak by Sabahattin Ali, a favourite writer in Turkish literature. Three kilometres after passing the district which is famous with camel wrestling in winter months, we depart for Karacasu. Karacasu is at the end of a 27-kilometres long, old road along Dandalaz Creek running through pine forests from place to place. The newly built road is shorter however the old road is certainly much more enjoyable. Karacasu, established at the narrow valley between Karıncalı and Akdağ that are extensions of the Eastern Menteşe Mountains, is the closest district to Aydın in Denizli. Famous for its pomegranate and apple, the district is also known for the handmade earthenware produced. Aphrodisias, one of the most magnificent ancient cities in Western Anatolia, is located near Geyre village at 13 kilometres east of Karacasu.


Registered as Turkey’s 17th UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in recent days, the ancient settlement was home to one of the most famous sculpture schools of antiquity between the 1st and 6th centuries BC. Archaeologist Yunus Özdemir, one of the professional guides who marked Karian Way stresses that the importance of Aphrodisias is due to exceptionally well preserved monuments which reveal the intense exchange of ideas and values from Late Hellenistic to Roman and Byzantine periods, and the reliefs and inscriptions associated with these. Aphrodisias dedicated to the goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite, was established as a small village in the 6th century BC over a Neolithic settlement dating back 8 thousand years ago. Aphrodisias gained state city (polis) status during the intensive urbanization phase in Menderes Valley in the 2nd century BC. The city which cultivated close relations with Roman Empire in the 1st century BC, began to develop rapidly after the Roman Senate made concessions such as tax exemption and autonomy. In the same period, famous sculptors and architects in Pergamon were invited to Aphrodisias which had rich marble quarries. The sculptors who moved to the city and opened a sculpture school, produced for nearly 500 years starting from the 1st century BC.


Aphrodisias’ appearance on the global culture scene is based on an interesting story. In 1958, while famous photographer Ara Güler was touring Anatolia, he happened to pass Geyre village. Güler found out that the villagers here lived together with history. After he sent his photographs to Time magazine, the village became a hot topic all around the world. Archaeologists from Geyre could not believe their eyes when they launched the exploration. This was the elegant ancient capital of Aphrodisias that disappeared thousands of years ago. At this point, it is important to keep in mind an important warning from the Archaeologist and Editor Nezih Başgelen who has introduced numerous archaeological and artistic publications to Turkish culture. Başgelen stresses that Aphrodisias was not discovered by Ara Güler, however it became a hot topic in the world thanks to him. He also adds that the name of Prof. Nihat Erim, who led the excavation team, must be mentioned for bringing Aphrodisias to daylight and for his great contributions in the city gaining recognition. As .tr magazine, we send our gratitude to all those who led the way in Aphrodisias becoming a world cultural heritage and continue our journey. Established at the heart of a lush plateau nourished by Dandalaz Creek, a bayou of the Büyük Menderes River, the city now welcomes its visitors with a three kilometre section of city walls which still stand.

The road, diverging from the main road accompanied by the rustle of poplar trees, takes its guests to a large parking lot after a few hundred meters. When you pass through the turnstiles and enter the ruins, you reach a spacious square surrounded by ancient sculptures typical to Aphrodisias and lush gardens adorned with sarcophagi. The finest examples of busts, sculptures, reliefs and architectural elements dating back to 1st and 2nd centuries BC, many of which were recovered in archaeological excavations, are exhibited in Aphrodisias Museum on the right. Aphrodisias sculptures are distinct because there is a large number of well-preserved works on a rich variety of subjects. Sebasteion, built as a token of gratitude for Roman emperors, is considered the masterpiece of Aphrodisias sculptors. A total of 190 panels decorated with human-size reliefs are placed between the columns on the second and third floors of the three-storey building constructed as a temple. 77 panels which still stand are preserved. The capital of the Roman province of Caria in the late 3rd century AD, Aphrodisias began to lose its importance when the Temple of Aphrodite was converted into a church in the 6th century AD. It was completely abandoned in the 12th century.


Aphrodisias was not merely a religious centre in ancient times, but a life centre of a civilization advanced in arts and philosophy. The sculptures and panels produced in city’s workshops adorned the palaces of Roman emperors. The panel fragments made here nearly 2 thousand years ago, depict bravery of Roman Empires and mythological scenes in astonishing detail. Aphrodisias, Roman Emperor Augustus referred to as “the apple of my eye in Asia”, will impress you as a masterpiece of the antiquity with its Monumental Gate (Tetra-pylon), the Temple of Aphrodite with 14 columns still standing, theatre with a capacity of 10 thousand people, Hadrian Baths,  agora with a pool, Odeon, the episcopal palace, philosophy school and well-preserved 30 thousand seat stadium. Just like it impressed us… When the ancient streets of the city we enjoyed touring all day are washed with the scarlet lights of the sunset, we sit on the steps of the theatre and watch this wonderful city one last time. The hammer sounds of sculptors who immortalized their art on stone, ring in our ears.

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TR Dergisi

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