Last year my husband and I had the opportunity to travel around western Turkey. We visited the vibrant metropolis of Istanbul, the coastal port of Kusadasi and several historical sites including Ephesus, Pergamum, and Laodicea. One of the most memorable of the ancient sites that we visited was Aphrodisias. The city was named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. As one of the twelve major gods and goddesses, Greek mythology described her as being beautiful, mischievous, flirty, and seductive. She was known to have flings with other gods, mortals and had more than 20 children. That chick got around! Allegedly she had the power to transform the ordinary into something beautiful through love. So naturally, we were eager to explore the ruins of the city named after her and attempt to find out, “What’s love got to do with it?”
We arrived in the afternoon after spending the morning enjoying the azure waters of the Pumakkale Hot Springs. We boarded carriages, drawn by a tractor that took us out to the site. We soon found out why – the city was huge! The tractor dropped us off at the entrance to the city, and we began to explore. Normally there are hundreds of tourists at all of the sites, but due to political issues at the time, tourist numbers were quite low. Consequently, there were very few other tourists at Aphrodisias and all of the other sites were pretty empty too. It was as if we had the city all to ourselves.
Walking through the ruins was like walking back in time. It was easy to imagine what the city must have been like in its prime. The city was built near marble quarries, and its wealth came from the art produced by sculptors. The city streets were built around several large structures including temples, a theater, and even bath complexes. Some of the columns are still standing – more than 50 feet high! What amazing feats of engineering. Other columns now lay on their sides, which allowed us to admire the detailed design and quality of workmanship of the craftsmen. It was hard to imagine that they were all sculpted and engraved by hand tools. The marble had to be mined, moved to the site, cut to exact proportions, assembled and erected. How did they do that?
Portions of the roads are still intact, and we even walked along what was left of the marble streets, stones worn smooth by time and the elements. It was rough going in some areas since many of the surfaces are uneven.
That was the case with many of the sites, so it was important to be fit and able to climb steps and walk long distances. Here’s a travel tip. It’s also important to wear comfortable walking shoes. I don’t recommend wearing flip-flops or stilettos.
DID YOU KNOW
“The discovery of Aphrodisias dates back to 1958, when a magazine sent legendary photographer Ara Güler, dubbed “The Eye of Istanbul,” to document the opening of the Kemer Dam in the Aydın province. On the way back, his driver got lost, resulting in the discovery of Aphrodisias, the ancient cult center devoted to the goddess Aphrodite.” – Daily News
As sports fans, we were eager to see the stadium. We’d heard that it was the biggest and best preserved in the Mediterranean. It was very impressive; even the seats were still intact. Then, as now, the VIP seats were the closest to the arena and the “cheap seats” were up high. It had been designed for athletic contests, and it was as if we could almost hear the echoes of the crowds who gathered to watch events in that huge arena.
Archeologists have unearthed many examples of sculptures and statuary – some even had life-like faces. They are scattered all over the site, so we were able to examine them closely and even touch them.
Unfortunately, the city was built in an earthquake zone and sustained extensive damage in the fourth and seventh centuries. It never fully recovered and eventually fell into disrepair. Apparently, with all of that love, there was a whole lot of shaking going on.
We live in a fast-paced world of modern technology and 24/7 news cycles, but visiting Aphrodisias allowed us to stop and take a look back in time. While many of our “modern” structures have fallen or crumbled, it was a humbling reminder of the greatness and ingenuity that existed all those centuries ago. We had no idea that a few months later it would be included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
If you are a fan of Greek mythology, a history buff or just like exploring cool sites, I definitely recommend going to Aphrodisias.
To plan your visit, check out more information at UNESCO’s Aphrodisias site