The City of Aphrodite

Aphrod1Other names: Stavropolis, Eski Geyre

Aphrodisias, the “City of Aphrodite”, is a wonderful archaeological site deep in the countryside near Nazilli in Western Anatolia.

It should be as well known and over-visited as Ephesus. Instead its inland location ensures that relative calm reigns here making it the perfect place for fans of ruins who prefer to admire them without too many other people. 

Visit on a rushed excursion from the coast and you are likely to get much less out of your visit than if you come on a day trip from Pamukkale, which gives you much longer to look around.

On arrival at Geyre don't bother with the tractor and trailer to take you to the site unless you have trouble walking - the entrance is less than 10 minutes' walk away.

The site is dominated by Baba Dağı (Mt Baba, 2308m), snow-streaked right into May. 

On my most recent visit good new paths were being laid right round the site, and the weeds had been removed from the stadium although the pools were still rather too full of algae. 


There seems to have been a settlement on the site of Aphrodisias from as early as 5000 BC, and from earliest times it seems to have been associated with a fertility cult. However, it wasn’t until the second century BC that it became an important town, known in particular for its sculptures which capitalized on the proximity of several suitably rich marble quarries at the base of Babadağ (Mt Baba).aphrod2Remains of cult statue from Temple of Aphrodite

The city was also famous for a temple of Aphrodite, the Ancient Greek goddess of love, which had been given a golden statue of Eros by Julius Caesar when he arrived here to defeat the armies of the Pontic king Pharnaces II. The temple soon acquired a reputation for hosting orgies which meant that as soon as Christianity hit town it was converted into a church and its stones used to create a new surrounding wall. To make doubly certain, the town was also renamed Stavropolis (“the City of the Cross”).

As was so often the case, Aphrodisias seems to have held its own as a town well into Byzantine times, only to disappear from the records around the end of the 13th century.

Some time afterwards the much smaller settlement of Geyre grew up amid the extensive ruins, only to fall victim to an earthquake in 1956, after which the villagers were moved away to a new settlement, also named Geyre, which is as far as public transport will get you today.

It was the strange merging of ancient Aphrodisias and abandoned Geyre that the famous Turkish photographer Ara Güler stumbled upon in 1958, snapping pictures of the site that alerted the world to the need to delve deeper into what remained.

Excavations at Aphrodisias kicked off in 1961, and are so firmly associated with the name of one archaeologist, Professor Kenan Erim, who worked here from 1961 to 1990, that he is actually buried at the site. 

aphrod3Around the site

Today a clear route around the ruins kicks off from behind the museum which is probably best visited at the end of your tour. Following the signs, you quickly come to the enormous Tetrapylon, a truly monumental first or second-century gateway with four rows of four columns that have all been re-erected.

The pathway continues round until it meets a spur heading northwards which takes you to the remains of the magnificent stadium, one of the largest in Anatolia, able in its heyday to seat 30,000 spectators who came here in particular to watch a festival that closely mirrored the Pythian Games in Delphi in Greece. 

The path then loops back on itself, passing the somewhat confusing remnants of the Temple of Aphrodite, the bishop’s palace, a small odeon, the baths of Hadrian, and the impressive southern agora with large ornamental pools running down the middle before arriving at the base of a hillock which, when you climb to the top, turns out to provide backing for an 8,000-seater theatre that dates back to the first century BC but which was used for gladiatorial combat right through until the third century AD. It was built right into the side of a prehistoric mound. aphrod4

Heading back towards the museum, the path passes more ruined baths and then arrives at the Sebasteion, with an impressive pair of porticoes which were associated with worship of the Roman emperors.

A new gallery in the museum was created specifically to house the sculptures that used to adorn these porticoes, with the emperors facing the Greek heroes in a conscious effort to evoke parallels. It makes a wonderful addition to a museum that already contained an impressive collection of sculptures typical of the Aphrodisias school that flourished here in Roman times.


Most people will probably stay in Pamukkale, although there are a couple of possibilities in nearby Geyre.

Aphrodisias Hotel, Geyre. Tel: 0256-448 8132

aphrod5Carving of the Three Graces from Sebasteion in Aphrodisias MuseumTransport info

If you want to visit Aphrodisias on your own your best bet may be to start from Nazilli whence there are minibuses to Karacasu and then on to Geyre - look for minibuses marked Ataeymir in front of the Karacasu otogar. 

Driving from Pamukkale or Denizli, you might like to stop at the small town of Kızılcabölük for lunch or to visit the mosque or museum.

Most of the hotels and pensions in Pamukkale will be able to book you on a transport-only "tour" to Aphrodisias, usually allowing you two hours at the site. 

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