Day 4: Aphrodisias, Turkey

by - August 03, 2011

The Tetrapylon, Aphrodisias
Starting at Pammukale, our goal for the day was to reach Bergama which is back near the coast, north of Izmir.  The journey was quite hefty and we wanted to break it up a bit with some of the extensive ruins in the area, which left us with the choice of taking the mountain pass via the ruins at Sardis, or taking the motorway via the ruins at Aphrodisias.  After a lot of deliberating we decided to go what turned out to be the better roads AND the better ruins by choosing the latter of the two.  None of us had heard of Aphrodisias before we had passed it on our way to Pammukale and we decided to look it up in Lonely Planet.  The review was extremely positive - so positive that we tried to fit it into our schedule.  After a standard Turkish hostel breakfast of boiled eggs, salad and bread we drove the hour journey back the way we had come from Selcuk, to Aphrodisias.

The stadium at Aphrodisias
On arrival we knew that this was a bit different to the extremely tourist-orientated Ephesus.  We had been told to expect archaeologists to actually be on the site conducting digs and for there to only be a few other people around.  We parked the car at a small car park and got a lift to the site on a cart that had been attached to a tractor.  The plan was to follow the Lonely Planet route, as this is nearly always the best way to take everything in.  Upon arrival you immediately come across the tetrapylon, a grand structure that would have once been the gate to the ancient city and has been reconstructed using 85% of the original material.  Following around the dirt footpaths you come to a fork in the road.  If we didn’t have the Lonely Planet we would have naturally turned left, but turning right we came across the ancient stadium which is in a remarkable state of completeness and is one of the most impressive ancient monuments I have ever seen.  With most ruins you have to try and envisage what used to exist there but there was enough left of the stadium here, no imagination was needed.  Walking across the deserted stadium was one of those really special moments that you get at historical sites where you can actually feel like you have travelled back in time.

The Hadrianic Baths, Aphrodisias
We spent a fair bit of time taking the stadium in and only moved on when another group of people arrived and broke the magic a bit.  The path continued around past Roman ruins that were just as complete, if not more complete, than the ruins at Ephesus.  A part of the Odeon had been preserved in mud and the original marble was still there, along with most of the seats.  Equally impressive were the Hadrianic Baths, which again were complete enough for you to feel like you were walking like a Roman.  All around us, canvases had been set up over trenches with men working with trowels and pick axes to excavate the site further.  It really felt like the site was being set up for a big future and that we were lucky enough to have caught the ruins ‘before they got famous’.  We walked up the side of the hill beside the city to get a great view over all of the ruins and also to look down into the theatre, which had been cut into the hillside.  The Roman theatre had a capacity of 7000 individually numbered seats. The last major site was the 'Sebasteion’, a temple to the Roman emperors which was three storeys high and covered in friezes.  The surviving friezes are now in the on-site museum (which we didn’t have time to go into) but the temple itself is fairly intact.

Aphrodisias Theatre
We skipped the museum and had a drink while reading through the guidebooks about the site.  The museum, shops and cafes are a lot larger than the number of visitors would suggest is necessary, but as I say I think that the site is soon to be one for the tourbus itinerary.  Thoroughly happy with our choice of stop off on the route to Bergama we got back on the road for the massive drive north.  There weren’t anymore stop offs, except for a brief meal at a service station, and arriving in Bergama at about 7pm at the Athena Pension, we decided to leave the town’s sights for the morning and instead went out for dinner and a drink.  It had been a long day and we hadn’t quite packed in as much as we had intended, but the ruins of Aphrodisias were amazing and at least as good as Ephesus.

Sebasteion, Aphrodisias

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