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Aphrodisias, Turkey

Aphrodisias, Turkey

Geyre, Aydın Province, Turkey

RELIGIONS Orthodox, Paganism


Aphrodisias is one of the oldest sacred sites in Turkey. Dedicated to the ancient Mother Goddess and then the Greek goddess Aphrodite, it was the site of a magnificent Temple of Aphrodite and the home of a renowned school of marble sculpture. The Temple of Aphrodite later became a Christian basilica through an impressive swapping of columns. Today, the Temple of Aphrodite is well-preserved and partially restored; it is not hard to imagine its ancient splendor. Aphrodisias also offers ruins of a large theater, a stadium and other structures, as well as an on-site museum displaying artifacts.
The site of Aphrodisias has been sacred since as early as 5,800 BC, when Neolithic farmers came here to worship the Mother Goddessof fertility and crops. In Greek times, the site was dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and fertility. The site was named Aphrodisias during the 2nd century BC and the great Temple of Aphrodite was built in the 1st century AD. The cult of Aphrodite at Aphrodisias was distinctive, reflecting the goddess' ancient origins and commonalities with other Anatolian deities (such as Artemis of Ephesus) while also bringing in familiar Greco-Roman motifs that made her universal. For centuries Aphrodisias consisted of just the shrine, but when the Romans defeated the Pontic ruler Mithridates in 74 BC, Aphrodisias was rewarded for its loyalty and began to prosper. Sulla and Julius Caesar were devotees of Venus and favored her city, and the emperor Augustus granted it the high privileges of autonomy and tax-free status, declaring Aphrodisias "the one city from all of Asia that I have selected to be my own." Thereafter it became a cultural and artistic hub known for its exquisite marble sculptures made from quarries of beautiful white and blue-gray marble that lay about a mile east of the city. Sculptures produced in Aphrodisias were exported as far as North Africa and Rome. Aphrodisias remained a pagan stronghold long after the introduction of Christianity to the area, but it was eventually renamed Stavropolis("city of the cross") and then Caria after the local region. (The modern Turkish name, Geyre, derives from Caria.) During the Byzantine era, Aphrodisias/Stavropolis became the seat of the metropolitan bishop of Caria and the Temple of Aphrodite was turned into a Christian basilica. It was a major undertaking, uniqueamong all temple-to-church conversions. Walls and colonnades were dismantled and reused to enlarge and modify the building. The columns of the front and back of the temple were used to extend the side colonnades, creating two long rows of 19 columns each. The cella of the temple was also dismantled, with its stone reused in the construction of new walls on all sides. The church was renovated in the middle Byzantine era and stood for centuries until was destroyed, possibly in the Seljuk raids of the late 12th century. The city faded into obscurity and today is part of the Turkish village of Geyre. Remains of the Temple of Aphrodite, a stadium and portions of a bathhouse were always visible at the site without the need for excavations, but, beginning in 1961, archaeological digs also revealed a theater, an odeon, a basilica, a market, houses and baths, a monumental gateway, and a sanctuary for worship of the Roman emperor.
In the 5th century the temple was turned into a Christian basilica. The new basilica was 60 x 28 m in size, much larger than the pagan temple it replaced. The church had an apse and a synthronon (a stepped bank of clergy benches) at the east end, and a pair of nartheces at the west fronted by a colonnaded courtyard or atrium. From a Middle Byzantine renovation are parts of a marble floor and wall paintings running under the synthronon that depict Christ and various saints.
The well-preserved bouleuterion or odeon (city council chambers), looks like a small theater. Indeed, it was used for musical performances as well as council meetings. Excavations uncovered eight larger-than-life marble statues, which decorated the stage front. The statues included a personification of the citizenry of Aphrodisias and Apollo holding a lyre (which reflect the two uses of the building); the rest were portraits of important citizens.
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    This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.