The black horse in the museum (original Sebasteion friezes in the background)
Aphrodisias is, in my opinion, one of the most stunning sites in Turkey.
It covers probably a similar area to Ephesus, and has some wonderful buildings, including the fabulous stadium. It is very easy to walk around (though it is quite a long, un-shaded walk), and you will share every building / structure with no more than a couple of other people .
The other big difference is that Aphrodisias is inland, and thus surrounded by mountains, in which you can see the quarries from which much of Aphrodisias was dug. It was abandoned due to earthquakes, although up to the 1960's, it was an integral part of the village of Geyre until Geyre was relocated to enable the excavation and preservation of the ancient site.
Although a number of the significant structures have been excavated / restored, and work continues apace (led by Oxford University) every season, many are as they were – but this does let your imagination run wild, and enables you to see many things that maybe otherwise you would miss if they had been rebuilt.
There are plans to eventually turn Aphrodisias into a site to rival Ephesus, and major work continues to make the site more understandable, more spectacular, and easier to navigate around. Although the driver for this is increased tourism, the lack of a biblical context and the distance from the coast means that visitor numbers will never get close to those of Ephesus - currently they are about 10%.
You can no longer drive up to the site, but have to park a couple of hundred metres away in Geyre, from where you catch a tractor-drawn trailer to the site itself. There are a couple of cafes at the tractor stop, and again just inside the site itself, where you can also find the only toilets.
The museum is also situated near the entrance – and whilst it is tempting to say leave this nice cool place until last, by the time you have walked round, you will probably be ‘statued out’, and just want a cold drink and an ice cream, so I would suggest you do visit first if only briefly. The museum is in two parts - the original, which contains many statues from around the site, and the new building. This is stunning, containing as it does all the original friezes from the Sebasteion, together with the famous 'black horse'. These are all superbly documented, allowing you to see where they used to be, and also what each represents.
There is an obvious path clockwise round the site, with various diversions as you see things that take your fancy. The first obvious site, off to your right, is the Sebasteion – a temple which has been partially rebuilt to give some idea of what it would have looked like in antiquity. At the far end, work continues to rebuild the portico, and also to excavate the road that leads out to the tetrapylon. Once complete, this will provide an easier route by which to explore the site.
The Theatre, looking towards the Tetrastoon and Theatre Baths
The next major structure is the theatre. This is very well preserved, including the stage and like most theatres, it is easy to sit and imagine the shows that must have taken place, over 2000 years ago.
From here, walk down to the stage, and then ‘backstage’ through to the Tetrastoon (square / meeting place), much of the floor of which is still intact, and next to which is the theatre baths complex. This is fascinating to walk round, you can still see the ancient pipework, and much of the marble tiling, and can easily imagine it in its ancient glory, thronged with people.
The bad news, you then need to go back through the theatre, and climb up the ranks of seats to the top.
The Pool, looking towards the Hadrianic Baths
In front of you now is the agora, and the quite stunning pool, known as the 'Place of Palms'. From the theatre you are significantly above it, walk down and round, and enter through the Portico of Tiberius. It is well worth then walking along the edge of the agora by the columns, many still standing, noting the graffiti (ancient ‘board games’, the occasional Chi/Rho symbol) under your feet, and the interesting gargoyles.
This area has recently undergone major excavation and restoration, which has already proved that it was originally like a public park, with palm trees surrounding the water.
Retrace your path through the agora, past the basilica to your left (currently under restoration), and enter the baths of Hadrian (see picture at top of page).
This has recently been restored, and is really worth exploring, as under the floor is clearly visible the whole system that heated the baths, with the original tiles still stacked up.
I walked round here with my brother-in-law, who does a lot of building work. This was fascinating, as he was able to point out a lot of the building intricacies that I would otherwise have missed. It is an interesting point as to how much building technology in Turkey has developed over the years. If you look at some of the half built structures that you see, you may well feel it has gone backwards!
From the baths, follow the path round to the Bouleuterion / Council House / Bishop’s Palace. This has now reopened after extensive restoration, enabling you to fully appreciate the 1750 seat auditorium.
Climb to the top row of seats, exit through the back, and walk down to the Temple of Aphrodite. This interesting building has a long history – it started life as a pagan temple in the 1st Century BC, and 600 years later was turned into a Christian cathedral, which it remained for another 600 years.
From the temple, head off down the path to the stadium (some 200m away). This is possibly the most impressive structure I have ever seen in Turkey. Set well away from the main city, it is in wonderful condition, and, like the theatre, it is possible to sit here for hours just imaging the ancient races that must have taken place. And you can probably do this in utter solitude. (As an aside, all these photos were taken in the 3rd week of August, early to mid afternoon – compare them to the crowds in the Ephesus photos, taken at a similar date / time).
From the stadium, walk back towards the city.
The last major site is the Tetrapylon, an original 2nd century gateway. This has been rebuilt fairly recently (boards near the structure tell the story of the reconstruction, and also of the archaeologist, Kenan Erim, buried nearby, who spent much of his life at Aphrodisias). Due to the desire to keep the grass green, there are usually some sprinklers here – and the only queue you will see all day is people running around under these trying to cool down! From here, you can return to the start along the newly excavated road, and into the Sebasteion though the original gateway.
From Yenice, head back to the main road, and take this towards Muğla . At the main Muğla roundabout take the E330 towards Denizli. Follow this road up and around mountains and across plains (it is a very scenic journey) until you get to the outskirts of Tavas, where there is a set of traffic lights with Aphrodisias signposted off to the left. It is about 35km from here. Total distance is approximately 135 kms, allow 2 hours by car.
A good option is to stop for breakfast at one of the small local cafes by the side of the road. If you don't, and wish to eat when you arrive, continue on past the site, and you will find restaurants on the left within a kilometre or so (a particular favourite is the Anatolian). Although they cater primarily for coach parties, the food is good, and you will get served quickly.
Aphrodisias is not actually very far from the other main sites in the area, Pammukkale/Hierapolis, and Laodikeia, probably less than an hour. However, unless you plan to stay over, my advice would be to not try to do more than one site in one trip – any of these sites justifies a whole day in their own right, and to fit all into one day would not do justice to any.