17 September 2023
Türkiye has a very effective “chamber of commerce” assisting the tourism board. In 2022, I visited an exhibition at the Istanbul International Airport. While having the greedy nerve to charge 10€, it did an excellent job of highlighting the country’s many archaeological sites. While in Ankara, I found an equally interesting display of information boards doing the same, albeit free. The advertisements worked, I wanted to see more of Türkiye.
In 2022, I visited Ankara’s Erimtan Archaeology and Art Museum. The exquisite artifacts of glass, bronze, glazed cups, pottery, and gold were amazing. However, it was the temporary Aphrodisias exhibit of international Turkish photographer Ara Güler that fired my imagination. By accident, in 1958, Güler discovered the ancient town of Geyre and photographed it and its inhabitants. National Geographic published these beautiful and poignant photos.
Left, photo of Ara Güler in Old Geyre – Erimtan Archaeology and Art Museum
However, his stunning photographs also brought the archeologists who began excavation of their town, known to its inhabitants as Yeni Koy or “new village”. For these people the ancient ruins were a part of their daily life. Their goat herds pastured among the stones. Villagers had lived for generations within the remains of thousands of years of ancient history.
Right, photo of villagers in Old Geyre – Ara Güler, Erimtan Archaeology and Art Museum
“What was to happen to those marble faces crying out from the earth and dried leaves in Geyre?”Ara Güler
As a result of Güler’s photos, swarms of archaeologists quickly moved in and began their digging. What they found was a settlement dating back to the Bronze Age. The once isolated and happy inhabitants were relocated in 1960 to New Geyre. UNESCO has protected the ancient site since 2017.
I am sad for the villagers as they lost their traditional homes and pastures. I am excited to explore Aphrodisias.
The village of Old Geyre emerged sometime in the late 1700s when settlers moved into the area due to its ample water, fertile soil and pastures. Unbeknownst to these simple farmers, they were building their homes over the ruins of the ancient marble quarries and the Greek/Roman city of Aphrodisias. Since its inception in the 4th century BCE, the city’s other names included Leleges, Ninoé and the Byzantine’s Stravopolis before becoming Aphrodisias sometime in the 3rd century BCE.
Supposedly, the city’s namesake was Aphrodite for the Greek goddess of love. It was famous for its white and blue-gray marble quarries and its schools for sculpture. Being in an earthquake zone and prone to flooding, the city saw severe damage and rebuilding over the centuries. It never fully recovered after the 7th century, fell into disrepair, and eventually its inhabitants moved elsewhere.
In 1958, with just one black and white photograph, everything changed. Excavations began in earnest in 1962 and continue to this day. Artifacts discovered and restored are impressive. Many beautiful examples of sculptures have been unearthed and are on display in the nearby Aphrodisias Museum.
Along Aphrodisias’ Monumental Way are several beautifully reconstructed buildings. A gorgeous multi-columned gateway built about 200 CE opens into a large agora in front of the Temple of Aphrodite. Several columns and the base of the temple are its only remains. Many large statues in various stages of completion were discovered in the area. It is thought that the agora housed a sculpting school.
The quarries of Aphrodisias played an important role for centuries. The quality of its marble resulted in an unusually large number of inscribed items surviving in the city. Over 2000 inscriptions are transcribed. Because pieces of stone were re-used in the city walls, these inscriptions were easily accessed. Most inscriptions are from the Imperial period of Augustus through about the late 4th century, with funerary and honorary texts well represented. However, there are a handful of texts from all periods from the Hellenistic to Byzantine eras.
The Bouleuterion or Odean/Council House is near the agora and consists of a large semicircular theater and stage with a seating capacity of about 1,750. In the past, the complex was possibly covered by a roof. Aphrodisias also had a 890×200’ stadium with 30 rows of seats which could hold over 30,000 spectators. It is probably the best-preserved stadium in the Mediterranean.
For detail and design, the Sebasteion/Augusteum from the 1st century BCE is hard to best. Its dedication reads “To Aphrodite, the Divine Augusti and the People.” While practicing paganism for centuries, the most popular cult was that of Aphrodite herself. There is a connection between the goddess and the imperial house of Augustus. The family of Julius Caesar, Octavian Augustus, and their successors claimed divine descent from Aphrodite. A relief uncovered in the ruins of the Sebasteion represents the city making sacrifice to the cult image of Aphrodite, their ancestral mother.
Surviving images from this era show Aphrodite draped in a straight long heavily detailed tunic and wearing necklaces and crown. Later renditions of Aphrodite tend to beautify and sexualize her more than these early statues.
Numerous artifacts and sarcophagi are displayed in the gardens, including a tomb unearthed illegally in 2018. Within the Aphrodisias Museum, several variations on Aphrodite are on display. The majority of its collection is sculpture and small figurines as befits the many students of sculpture who mined its quarries and studied in Aphrodisias’ agora.
In Achilles Hall are sculptures of Achilles and Penthesilea the Amazon Queen, of young Dionysus the god of wine-making, Herakes/Hercules and many many others. In the middle of the hall stands the cult statue of Aphrodite. Also there is the statue of head priest Diogenes and his wife. All in all, one needs to polish up on Roman mythology and the Trojan War and its participants.
Within the ruins, the unearthing of additional priceless treasures continues. In 2020, two sarcophagi were found in an olive grove. And those stone heads photographed by Ara Güler? They and others are in situ here in ancient Aphrodisias.
And it would have been sad to miss the carved head that caught my attention and interest in 2022 –