AFTER being included in July on UNESCO World Heritage List, we revisit the Aphrodisias site with Voices columnist Natalie Sayin of www.turkishtravelblog.com

THE lost city of Aphrodisias is a three-hour drive from Altinkum, yet in all the years I’d lived here, I’d never been previously.

Travel guidebooks rarely mentioned it so I assumed there was little to see but once I’d researched it, I discovered a story about the greatest artists of the Roman Empire and how one Turkish man became obsessed with it, nearly 500 years after the city slipped into oblivion and fell off the map. So I decided I had to see this city for myself.

Aphrodisias like many other ancient ruins in Turkey was ruled by various empires over hundreds of years but eventually, earthquakes, invasions and wars, left it in ruins and deserted.

The forces of Mother Nature then started their work. The natural movement of land and the soil of the earth swallowed buildings, temples and houses. Aphrodisias slowly disappeared.

Then one day, in the 1950s a young photographer driving to Aydin lost his way, and arrived in the small village of Geyre. As he sat there, drinking tea with the locals, he noticed houses built with old carved stones like marble.

Even on the dusty road tracks, ancient stones were scattered everywhere. Locals, amused at his excitement, just shrugged their shoulders, but he took many photographs and mailed them to major travel publications of that time.

Nobody responded so he contacted the famous Turkish photographer AraGuler, who sent them to a Turkish archaeologist, Professor Kenan T.Erim at New York University. The professor came to Turkey and realized they had found the lost city of Aphrodisias.

He eventually persuaded the government and local village folk, to move the 55 homes and mosque of the village, 2 kilometres to the east.

Once excavation workers demolished the houses and started working on the bare soil, they discovered the majestic buildings from Aphrodisias, which was originally dedicated to the Mother Goddess of Fertility, Cybele.

Dedicating the rest of his life to excavation work, Professor Kenan T.Erim died in 1990, but the Turkish government rewarded his dedication, by burying him within the ancient city, next to the Tetrastoon gates that welcomed Roman pilgrims traveling to pay sacrifices at the Temple.

So considering Turkey is absolutely littered with ancient ruins, what is so special about Aphrodisias?

For roughly five centuries, the Roman Empire highly respected the school of sculpture at Aphrodisias for their abilities and creative skills. It only dwindled when the city embraced Christianity.

As I walked through the large museum showcasing hundreds of statues from that era, it was obvious the extraordinary talent of the artists was not exaggerated.

Despite having toured many historical sites in Turkey, I’ve never seen statues with such intricate details. Featuring men, women, children, animals and gods, the remarkable carving of eyes, face expressions and even body muscle stood out.

On statues of prominent citizens like Roman statesmen, I could see the precision of the natural flow of cloth on their clocks draped around them. The work was the best of that time.

A short distance from the museum is the ancient ruins of the city and I doubted they could beat my admiration for the statues yet my tour guide had extreme passion for Aphrodisias and with a little imagination, I walked the paths of a Roman city.

We passed the Bouleuterion where statesmen and governors discussed city issues. To the left were the public baths of Hadrian and the 270-meter stadium, the social scene of the elite society of Aphrodisias.

However, I wasn’t impressed with the temple of Aphrodite with the view of the domineering Babadag Mountain in the background. It appeared a mish-mash of buildings styles, and clash of beliefs, possibly because of its later conversion into a church.

The most respected excavated structure from Aphrodisias is the Sebasteion. Most statues in the museum came from it, but more important, Professor Kenan had found a historical gem.

A Sebasteion is a temple complex structure with three storeys of statues. Roman emperors or statesmen could never be higher than the gods who always appeared on the top storey.

Aphrodisias broke that rule in splendid fashion by placing Roman emperors and gods on the same story. Did they believe they were just as great as the gods and this eventually lead to their downfall?

How to Get to Aphrodisias from Altinkum

Hire a car and drive on the Milas / Soke road (D525.) A short distance after Soke, take the Izmir / Aydin road (E87) until you reach Nazilli and from there follow the signs for Geyre.

Alternatively, book a private guided tour with an excursion agent. A tour guide with knowledge of Aphrodisias makes a visit more enjoyable, but if you go independently, buy a book from the onsite souvenir shop instead.

The full article can be seen here: http://turkishtravelblog.com/aphrodisias-turkey-museum-antique-city/

Images reprinted with kind permission of turkishtravelblog.com Photography