Unlike many other ancient cities in Anatolia, Aphrodisias
was discovered by a famous Turkish photographer Mr. Ara Guler in 1958. He was travelling through villages and towns. He was in the village of Geyre and noted a village that has so many ancient remains that the villagers live without knowing their importances. Afterwards Ara Guler was in touch with the Turkish Archaeologist Mr. Kenan Erim from New York University. Excavations began in 1960s. Kenan Erim devoted his life to excavate this ancient city. Since this city is lately discovered, you do not see any remains from this city in British Museum or any other museums outside Turkey.
Aphrodisias became an artistic center with a famous school of sculpture. The city was also famous with ceremonies made in Aphrodite Temple in the name of Aphrodite. Ruined because of the earthquakes. In the 4th and 7th century. Major earthquakes happened and changed the route of the rivers nearby. City was under flood due change of route of water. After 7th century earthquakes, city lost its importance.In the 6th century. The name of Aphrodisias was changed to Stauroupolis, meaning the city of the Cross, to erase the pagan goddess of love from peoples minds. As the capital of Caria, Aphrodisias was finally called Caria which then became Geyre in Turkish. Later in the 13th century, the city was abandoned.
Aphrodisias was founded near a marble quarry that was extensively used in the Hellenistic and Roman times. The closest quary was half a mile a away from Aphrodisias. The marble sculptures of Aphrodisias became very famous duirng the Roman period. Many examples have been excavated in Aphrodisias. The sculptors of Aphrodisias became famous and benefited from a great supply of quality marble nearby. There was a famous school of sculpture here which was very productive. A lot of sculpture can be seen today around the ancient city and in the museum. Many finished and unfinished statues discovered in the area. Unfinished statues prove the existance of a Sculturing School. Many sarcophagi were excavated at several locations in site, frequently decorated with designs of garland, columns, figures of people, birds and animals. Names of many sculptors from Aphrodisias have been seen in lots of works in Italy, Greece and elsewhere.
Excavations in the theater hill have revealed layers of settlement going back to the Bronze Age. Aphrodisias was founded in the 5800 BC and flourished under the Roman Empire. First settlers were Carians, Pelasgians and Lelegians. Aphrodisias is mentioned in the 1st century BC by geopgrapher Strabo.
Aphrodisias was named after Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Aphrodite was known to Romans as Venus. The name of the city has the same root as the word "aphrodisiac". Both words derive from the Greek name Aphrodite, the goddess of love, Aphrodisias was one of several ancient cities dedicated to the goddess of love. Within the borders of Caria, during the Roman period, following the assasination of Julius Ceasar in 44 BC. The assasins, Brutus and Cassius fled to Asia Minor where they invaded many cities. Aphrodisias, remained loyal to Ceasar. There is evidence that the city was attacked by the supporters of Cassius and Brutus. The main reason, keeping the city loyal to Ceasar is because of Zoilos, the former slave of Ceasar who was freed by Octavian. Mark Antony recognized the autonomy of Aphrodisias in the 1st century BC.
Statues were carved from the local white, grayish blue Carian marble, mostly from Babadag (Salbakos), nearby mountain. Sculptors from other areas came to Aphrodisias for annual sculpture competitions. The eyes of the statues found here are full of expression and vitality and the bodies seem capable of moving. The public monuments in Aphrodisias were decorated with "peopled scrolls" which were one of the characteristics of stone carving produced by the school of sculpture in Aphrodisias. Some masterpieces have the signatures of their creators who are especially experts in relief and sarcophagus production. Many sarcophagi were decorated with lively reliefs, symbolizing the desire to deny the emptiness of death and its eternal darkness. These sculptors imposed their creative mastery over iron and marble. Iron tools and instruments were to achieve victory and greatness not only in battle fields but in the field of sculpture as well. Anatolia was in a period when matchless works of sculpture were created. The old traditions of Anatolian sculpture reached a phase of lively fineness and beauty of expression.
Aphrodisias was a special city and beloved by Augustus. Due to this it was exempted from paying taxes. There could be several reasons for this:
- The connection between the goddess and the imperial house was also a particularly politic one at the time, as the the family of Julius Caesar, Octavian Augustus, and their successors claimed divine descent from Venus/Aphrodite.
- Zoilos a good friend and a former slave of Augustus was from this city.
- Aphrodisias, was an artisan city. Sculptors from Aphrodisias made statues for emperors and commanders from all over the Roman Empire.
In a letter written by Emperror Augustus to Stephanus (governor of Laodicea), Aphoridisias is priviledged:
''Caesar to Stephanus
You know my affection for my friend Zoilos.
I have freed his native city and recommended it to Antonius.
Since Antonius is absent, take care that. No burden falls upon them.
This one city, I have taken for my own out of all Asia.
I wish this people to be protected as my own townsmen.
I shall be watching to see that you carry out my recommendation to the full.''
Tetrapylon was a monumental gateway that leaded entrance to the Temple of Aphrodite. The gateway was built in the late 2nd century AD during the reign of Hadrian. It had 4 rows of 4 columns. It is thought to have marked the intersection of a major street with a sacred way heading toward the sanctuary of Aphrodite.
The Temple of Aphrodite was the main attraction of the Ancient City of Aphrodisias. Historians think that before this temple was built here, there was an earlier cult for Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar who is known as godess of fertility and sex. There were festivals in the name Ishtar at the begining of spring. These celebrations are made for the arrival of spring in the name of Ishtar. The name Ishtar is also associated with the word easter. The building was converted into a church during the Byzantine period. From this chuch, historians mention about twenty bishops from Aphrodisias who attented the ecumenical councils in the early times of christianity. The building was originally designed as an Ionic temple with 40 columns arranged in an 8 by 13 rectangle shape. Once it was converted into a church, the columns at each end were removed, an apse was built in the eastern section, and a baptistery and an atrium were added to the west. On some columns donator names are being noted. Life in the city was concentrated around the Temple of Aphrodite. The cult of Aphrodite was so popular that it took some time before Christianity was fully accepted by Aphrodisians. The temple was founded here in the 1st cetury BC with the funding made by Zoilos.
Worship to Aphrodite goes back to 7th century BC to Assyrians who came here from Mesopotamia and settled here and worshipped to goddess named as Ishtar who is also the goddess of love. The similarities between Aphrodite and Ishtar are generally well-recognized. In Mesopotamian mythology, Ishtar was the principal goddess of the Babylonians and Assyrians. She was both the compassionate mother of all life, who brought fertility and relief from sickness, and the lustful goddess of sexual love and war.
Bouleuterion (senate house), is located at the north side of the North Agora. The original building was vaulted.
Seating capacity is expected to be about 1750. Archaeologists found many unfinished statue pieces and sculpturing tools during the excavations done in the area between Bouleterion and Aphrodite temple. For this reason the place is considered as the famous sculpture school of Aphrodite in archaic ages. The school was actively used from 1st century BC until 6th century AD, Some historians believe that there were some sculptring artists moved to the city from Pergamon after the death of Attalus 3rd who inherited his empire and treasure to Roman Empire in the second century BC. The artists who were left without work moved to Aphrodisias. The reputation of the artists of Aphrodisias was beyond Anatolia and Rome.
Baths of Hadrian were built under Hadrian in the 2C AD. Hadrian visited the city of Aphrodisias and these roman baths were constructed in the memory of his visit. There were two pairs of large rooms on either side of a huge central hall called the caldarium. Total 4 sections as Apodyterium (Chaging rooms), Fridgiderium (Cold Rooms), Tepiderium (Luke warm/tepid room) and Caldarium (Hot/Steam Room).
South agora also known as the Portico of Tiberius, had an Ionic colonnade which has partially been restored, was started during the reign of Tiberius, 1st century AD. The central area of the portico is occupied by a huge basin or pool, with two semicircular extremities at the north and east ends. The portico may well have been a gymnasium or a palaestra with an exercise area between the colonnade and the pool.
North Agora, was mainly used for commercial reasons. This was the market place. In the middle of North Agora. Monumental Tomb of Zoilos was located.
Theater was built in the late Hellenistic period and later restored in the 1st century BC, and according to its inscription it was dedicated to Aphrodite and the people of the city by Gaius Julius Zoilos, a former slave of Gaius Julius Ceasar and later on inherited to Octavian. Octavian gave freedom to Zoilos. The seating capacity was 8,000. The stage building consisted of six vaulted dressing or storage rooms out of which four opened into the corridor behind the proskene. The stage building wall in the north parados had Greek inscriptions of important documents related to the history of the city such as letters of emperors to the city or senatorial decrees. The orchestra and the stage building were restored in the 2nd century AD in order to make the building more suitable for animal or gladiatorial fights. The theater was seriously damaged in the 7th century, and the Byzantines built houses on top of the cavea and converted the hill into a fortress by circling it with walls and towers. In the excavations an inscription is found saying that Julius Galius Ceasar gifted a Golden Eros statue to Aphrodite. The statue is later stolen from the city and taken to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. From the inscription it is thought that Ceasar was in the city of Aphrodisias. The levelized seat rows show that there were gladiatorial games played in the theater.
Tetrastoon, originally surrounded by four (tetra) colonnades on all sides with a round fountain in the center, had several functions in the Roman and Byzantine city. First it was a meeting place for the citizens and also by having surrounding small shops served as a market place. Finally it gave access to the theater. To the south of the tetrastoon was the Imperial Hall with theater baths which have not been completely excavated.
Sebasteion, was a early 1st century AD shrine in which the emperor was worshipped. The building was built after the death of Zoilos in 20 AD, to have good relations with Rome the capital. Sebasteion derived from the Ancient Greek word "Sebastos", which is the Greek equivalent of "Augustus". The sturcture had 3 stories. Each storey was decorated with three different column orders, Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. The building was first unearthed in 1979 it appeared to have no relation to any other building but, as excavations were carried down to deeper levels, it became apparent that this consisted of a temple dedicated to the cult of the Emperor Augustus (Sebastos is the Greek equivalent of the Latin Augustus). Excavations yielded a quite extraordinary quantity of reliefs and decorative panels. The most remarkable of these included depictions of the birth of Eros, the Three Graces, Apollo in Delphi, Meleager, Achilles and Penthesilea, Nyssa and the child Dionysus. There are also reliefs of some members of the imperial family and mythological figures. Those identified include Augustus, Germanicus, Lucius, Gaius Caesar, Claudius and Agrippa, together with Prometheus and Aeneas fleeing from Troy. There is also a particularly interesting group of reliefs symbolizing Claudius's conquest of Britain and Nero's conquest of Armenia. There are also a number of fragments depicting the peoples of the various countries with which Augustus had waged war or formed other types of relationships but these have suffered severe earthquake damage.
The longest Jewish inscription from the Classical world was also dicovered by the Archaeolgists in Aphrodisias. The inscription wriiten on a pillar is dating back to 3rd century AD and describing 126 donors. Probably the donors of a synagogue in Aphrodisias. According to the inscription excavated in Aphrodisias we know there was major jewish community living in the city and descriptions of the synagogue. In the inscriptions names of the Jews, the people who have sympathy to Jews and their ocupations were noted. 54 of the donors were named as Theosebeis. People who had symphathy to jews were named as 'Theosebeis' meaning Godfearers. Theosebeis people were gentiles who had symphaty to Jews and Judaism but did not change their pagan faith.
Aphrodisias was,in ancient terms,a medium-sized town (90 hectares, with a population of maybe 15,000-20.000 inhabitants), but one with a typically metropolitan grandeur of architectural design. The monuments and marble sculptures deﬁne a distinctive period of ancient city life. The most prosperous days of Aphrodisias was between 1st century BC and 2nd century AD. The city lost its tax-free status after 3rd century AD due to adminstrative and political changes.