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Aphrodisiasย stands out as one of Turkey’s most well-preserved ancient cities, even being mentioned in the massive Byzantine encyclopedia known as the Suda. The city derived its name from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, who had a sanctuary within its boundaries. Due to its proximity to a marble quarry, Aphrodisias boasted a renowned sculpture school, where numerous sculptures were unearthed.

Notable scholars and philosophers, including Xenocrates, a student of Plato, are believed to have resided in Aphrodisias. The settlement itself traces its roots back to prehistoric times, with two mounds dating back to the 6th or 5th millennium BC, indicating a long history of habitation in the area. However, it remained a small village until the 2nd century BC when it began to flourish.

The city experienced its most glorious period during the late 1st century BC when it came under the personal protection of Roman Emperor Augustus. The subsequent centuries, particularly the first few centuries AD, marked the height of Aphrodisias’ prosperity. It was home to an active pagan and Jewish community, and its sculpture school further contributed to its prosperity. However, an earthquake in the 4th century caused changes in the water table, resulting in parts of the city becoming vulnerable to flooding. Emergency plumbing measures were undertaken to address this issue. Unfortunately, Aphrodisias never fully recovered from the earthquake and, combined with the troubles plaguing the Roman world in the late 6th and early 7th centuries, it regressed to the size of a village. Eventually, in the 14th century, the city was completely abandoned.

Aphrodisias boasts several significant structures, including:

1. Temple of Aphrodite: While its origins date back to earlier centuries, the temple that stands today traces back to the 1st century BC. Constructed in multiple stages, the temple was completed in the 2nd century AD. It features eight columns on the front and back, as well as 13 columns on each side. The contributions of influential citizens are inscribed on the columns and door moldings. The temple underwent extensive modifications, transforming into a Christian Basilica around 500 AD, serving as the city’s cathedral. The conversion resulted in a larger basilica compared to its original pagan temple form.

2. Aphrodisian Sculptures: The abundance of marble from the nearby quarry enabled the renowned Aphrodisian sculptors to create remarkable sculptures. Today, the museum showcases full-length sculptures, including both finished and unfinished pieces that serve as evidence of Aphrodisias’ sculpture school.

3. Monumental Getaway (Tetraphylon): This grand gateway, also known as the tetrapylon, served as the entrance that welcomed pilgrims to Aphrodisias. The tetrapylon connected the main North-South Street to the Temple or Sanctuary of Aphrodisias, serving as a link between the Major Street and the sacred way leading to the temple.

4. Bouleuterion: Situated on the north side of the north agora, the Bouleuterion is an open-plan building with around 1,750 seats. It features numerous entrances on the ground floor and several stairways leading to upper floors. The presence of massive parallel buttresses suggests its original structure was roofed. Although it remained intact until the 5th century, it was later converted into a palaestra (wrestling area) by a municipal official.

5. Stadium: Aphrodisias is home to the best-preserved and largest stadium in the Mediterranean. The stadium has an elliptical shape and was designed to ensure unobstructed views for spectators, with seats arranged accordingly. Originally intended for athletic contests, the stadium also served as a theater after the earthquake damaged the original theater in the 7th century. During the Roman period, it hosted numerous athletic competitions and festivals.

6. Odeon: The Odeon in Aphrodisias functioned as a concert hall. Its semicircular design featured 12 tiers of seating. The stage and orchestra area were adorned with intricate mosaics. Unfortunately, the roof suffered damage during an earthquake in the 4th century.

7. Baths of Hadrian: Constructed in the 2nd century, the Baths of Hadrian comprised two large galleries with underground service corridors and water channels, providing a luxurious bathing experience for the city’s inhabitants.

8. Theater: Built in the 1st century BC and dedicated to Aphrodite and the people of Aphrodisias, the theater could accommodate 8,000 spectators. The stage building included six dressing rooms and various storage rooms. In the 2nd century AD, the orchestra and stage buildings were renovated to accommodate animal shows and gladiatorial fights. Unfortunately, the theater suffered damage from earthquakes in the 4th century AD.

9. Portico of Tiberius: Situated at the southern end of the Agora, the Portico of Tiberius derived its name from the construction that began during the reign of Emperor Tiberius. During excavations, Italian archaeologists discovered numerous friezes and dedicatory inscriptions honoring the emperor. The central feature of the portico is a large pool.

10. Sebasteion: The Sebasteion served as a grand temple complex dedicated to Aphrodite and the Julio-Claudian emperors. It stands as one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in recent years. The Sebasteion features a 14-meter-wide courtyard, with four main architectural elements. To the west, a Propylon served as the entrance to the sacred areas, while the north and south sides contained buildings that framed a paved sanctuary or processional space. On the eastern side stood the temple, which served as the focal point of the entire complex. Construction of the Sebasteion was interrupted by a major earthquake, resulting in a two-generational effort to complete it.

11. Agora: Located between the Sebasteion and the Temple of Aphrodite, the Agora functioned as a large public square and included a market area. It was primarily used for musical events, public speeches, and literary competitions. The agora featured two porticoes, with the southern portico known as the Portico of Tiberius, while the northern portico remains unexplored.

Aphrodisias stands as a remarkable testament to the ancient world, with its well-preserved structures and rich historical significance. This city, named after the goddess of love herself, Aphrodite, housed a renowned sculpture school and flourished during the Roman period under the personal protection of Emperor Augustus. From the grand Temple of Aphrodite to the monumental Tetraphylon and the impressive Stadium, each architectural gem tells a story of artistic excellence and cultural significance. As we explore the ruins of Aphrodisias, we catch a glimpse of the vibrant past of this once-thriving city, where scholars, philosophers, and artisans coexisted in harmony. Today, it serves as a fascinating archaeological site and a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of ancient civilizations. Visiting Aphrodisias is truly an immersive journey through time, where the echoes of the past resonate with every step, leaving us in awe of the enduring legacy of this extraordinary ancient city.

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