8000 years ago the first settlers arrived in Aphrodisias, and today it is the best-preserved Hellenistic civilization example in Turkey. Aphrodite is the beautiful Goddess of love in the Greek myths and the one that Mozart adores the most, so of course we had to stop at Aphrodisias!
Unlike Santorini, it is not cheap to rent a car in Turkey and gas is extremely expensive surprisingly, but it was well worth our efforts to see the country side and two special places that we did not want to leave this country without seeing. There are tour busses but we did not feel that would give us the freedom that we wanted and timing to avoid the crowds.
We ordered the car to our hotel late the night before, so that we could leave early in the morning and our adventure began as we did not even have map with us, but Aija was kind enough to give us directions. The main roads in Turkey are good, but they have a similar system to Greece where there is one and half lanes each instead of two, which makes for some interesting moments.
We did mostly enjoy the ride, but it did take us much longer to get there than expected. We were quite far out in the countryside for much of the ride feeling a little like we were in the middle of nowhere and hoping we were going in the right direction.
Once we arrived to a beautiful park-like setting (1,28 acres/520 hectares) with very few people around, we were very glad that we had made this decision as it is a real hidden gem that most people miss. It is really well organized to tour and trek the grounds which are picturesque, as well as a fine museum filled with artifacts from the site.
New York University did the first and constant excavations in Aphrodisias starting in 1961 with Dr. Kenan T. Erim who led the team until his death in 1990. He gave so much that he is buried at the site which was his wish for it was this archeologists life’s passion. The work continues to this day with a young and enthusiastic team and we were very grateful to be able to talk to them and watch them work.
How many six year olds interested in this kind of thing get to lick an ice cream while watching archeologists work at an important site, see the tools close up, and ask questions of two master degree students in architecture who were doing survey work of the current excavation?!? I think it was one of those moments that the famous commercial would call “priceless”. Again we got to see and talk to young women as well as men doing this important work. It was worth the trip just for that, but there was more to come.
By the first century BC, Aphrodisias was considered a sacred sanctuary and had long been a location important to the cult of the Mother Goddess. From the time of Julius Caesar to the end of the Roman Empire it was awarded special privileges .
My favorite part was the Tetrapylon which is a showy monumental gate that dates back to the 2nd century and one can view the country side and Temple of Aphrodite from there. We saw it from many angles and places that day and it was startling and beautiful from every one.
The ellipsed shaped stadium that seated thirty thousand people is one of the most important antique buildings in the world. The olympic sized pool was laid entirely in marble.
The first temple was built in archaic times and was for the love goddess Ishtar. Later on this same spot in the 1st century the Aphrodite temple was built and thrived until Christian times in the 5th century when it was converted into a basilica.
There was no one in the museum when we were there, so we felt a lot of freedom to explore. Mozart could not help herself from hugging a statue of her favorite Goddess Aphrodite and pretending like she was a statue in the Zolios reliefs.
The grounds were filled with interesting sarcophaguses as one entered and exited and it was hard to leave this captivating site. It is too bad they did not have a place to eat lunch there as that was the only weak point. We stayed longer than we meant to but I felt it was okay as we did not want to get to Pammukale before the tour busses left for the day. It is just an hour and a half away.