As excavations are going on within boundaries of Aphrodisias, which increased its importance starting in 2nd century B.C. with increasing power of the Rome, much information is being discovered about this great antique city...
The name of Aphoridisias is not mentioned in antique sources and for the first time Stephanos from Istanbul mentioned it by saying that the city was known as Ninoe. This primary information is presented by Laborde Texier and Dilettanti Association and at the beginning of 1900s a French group led by Paul Gaudin conducted two excavations in the area. Indeed, Osman Hamdi Bey was to take over activities in Aphrodisias, but he could not realize his wish. Few years later he personally gave the permit to conduct activities in the area to Paul Gaudin. After Gaudin, Gustave Mendel took over the activities and remained in charge until 1913. In these years, under the auspices of the Athena French School, Andre Boulanger carried out the activities. About 23 years later, an Italian named Giulio Jacopi administrated some excavations which lasted for a short while and during these activities Aphrodite Temple and ruins of Hadrian Baths were discovered. In 1961, Kenan T. Erim took over the research activities on behalf of New York University. In 1962, on the south of Aphrodite Temple’s holy area, odeion was discovered in a well-preserved situation. 12 years later, excavations of the theater which had 10 thousand capacity and used as an arena by the Romans were completed and sections like pulpitum (front stage), skene (stage building), cavea (sitting area), analemma
(carrying wall surrounding sitting area), diazoma (main walking path which divides sitting area horizontally), and orchestra
(cylindrically shaped middle section where the chore sing) were renovated. As a result of the activities which are still going on, countless number of remains made out of materials obtained from marble ores in the area from the Helen and Rome eras, are being discovered. This fact indicates that Aphrodisias at the same time was one of the most important sculpture centers during the Rome. Discovery of unfinished statues during the excavations proves with certainty that there was a sculpture workshop in Aphrodisias. Nowadays, many findings excavated from Aphrodisias Antique city are being exhibited in Archeology Museums in Istanbul and Izmir, and in Aphrodisias museum as a result of activities which lasted for eight years.
The city was famous for its cult of Aphrodite and for its marble sculptors. In the later first century BC, it was taken under the personal protection of the Roman emperor Augustus and prospered under the imperial peace that followed.
There were excellent local quarries, and the city center was built up in the first and second centuries AD with imposing marble complexes; theatre, temples, baths, colonnaded squares. The Sebastion was one of these monuments.
Aphrodite, whose name is given to the antique city, is usually known as the beauty goddess. This city is constructed
around a temple dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite, which also symbolizes fertility, and named as Aphrodite Temple. Nowadays only fourteen columns of this magnificent worship building exist and looking at them is enough for understanding importance and magnificence of this place. With acceptance and spread of Christianity, similarly to many other antique cities in the 5th century A.D., Aphodisias Temple wanted to be turned into a chapel and these activities damaged the construction as much as the earthquakes did. Therefore, nowadays archeologists have very limited information about the temple’s pre- Christianity situation. This temple which was completed by Augustus, was also renovated by Hadrian.
During the theatre excavations which started in 1966 with support of the National Geographic Society, many important findings have been discovered. From the inscription on the stage wall, it is understood that the theatre was built in the 1st century B.C. The theatre was renovated in the 2nd century A.D. and during the Byzantium era and archeologists have discovered many statues and reliefs from the area which help them to understand history of the antique city. On the theatre’s stage building there are inscriptions in Helen language. These inscriptions are composed of Roman leaders and emperors’ letters, senate’s decisions, and other documents. In addition, from the area two boxers, a young man, and Nike statues have been excavated and nowadays they are exhibited in the museum. In the 2nd century A.D. renovations were conducted in this theatre to make gladiators’ fights and wresting competitions possible. The purpose was to turn this place into an arena. For this purpose sitting areas were widened, halls and corridors were constructed. But the earthquake that took place exactly 2 centuries later damaged the stage structure. In this era, four dressing and storage rooms at the back of the stage connected to the corridors were repaired. In a more effective earthquake which took place 3 centuries later the theatre was totally destroyed. Byzantium, by filling the area over the sitting places and constructing houses on it, turned the theatre hill into a fortress.
In antique cities, agora was a place surrounded by buildings where every kind of political, religious, and commercial activities were conducted. It is known that the agora in Aphrodisias was shaped at the end of the 1st century B.C. and this market place was founded in the middle of the temple and acropolis (upper city). 200 meters away from the agora, there is the “entrance” section composed of two long porticos (pedestrian road) with columns. During the activities conducted in 1937, ribbon decorations and inscriptions dedicated to the Emperor Tiberius were discovered. Most of the reliefs include sacred or individual portrays surrounded by wreath masks and mythological decors. Tiberius Portico’s columned entrance, which was known as the Agora Gate, was constructed in the middle of the 2nd century and 3 centuries later this place was turned into a nymphaeuma, in other words into a fountain, to protect the market place from the danger of flood and a pool was built in front of it.
These baths, which are adjacent to the west point of Tiberius Portico, were built in the 2nd century. The baths which were discovered in 1904 during Paul Gaudin’s excavation activities, were built during the Emperor Hadrianus era using marble plates. During the excavations Eros figures, and head statues of mythological characters like Medusa, Herakles, Perseus, Minotauros which were used to decorate the complex were discovered and most of these findings are now exhibited in İstanbul Archeological Museum.
One of the most impressive structures of Aphrodisias Antique City is the Tetrapylon. Tetrapylon is a decorative door and according to the sources it was built in the middle of the 2nd century. There are very beautiful decors on this door with columns. During the excavations parts of the door were found and the door was partially built.
Odeon and Bishop Palace
The concert area (sometimes used as a concert hall, too) was built near the Aphrodisias Temple in the 2nd century A.D. and it was discovered by chance during the excavations in 1964. Like all other buildings in Aphrodisias, some parts of Odeon were destroyed by an earthquake after 2 centuries from its construction. Orchestra’s floor cover, which is now kept in storages to prevent damages from rain water, was built out of blue and white marbles. This place was designed to include one thousand people and sometimes it was used as Odeon parliament building –statues of important and well known people of Aphrodisias were placed on big bases and they were surrounding the area. After recognition of Christianity this structure was used as the Bishop Palace and in a close area to the palace there is a grave and unfinished statues around this grave. These findings make archeologists to believe that this place was used as a sculpture workshop, too.
The stadium which had 30 thousand audience capacity was being used for athleticism competitions. As mentioned earlier, when the theatre collapsed as a result of the earthquake which took place in the 7th century this place was turned into an arena. In this area games and animal demonstrations were carried out to entertain people.
Sebasteion was discovered by chance 27 years ago, after expropriation of Geyre village houses. Sebasteion is a name derived from Sebastos –Augustus’ equivalent in Helen language. This place was devoted to Emperor Augustus and emperors from his family and also goddess Aphrodite. The temple was destroyed and damaged because of the earthquakes, but nowadays the top parts of columns on ceremony path stil exist. Construction of Sebastion temple buildings started during Tiberius era and continued during the Neon era, but damaged several times because of the earthquakes in the area and could be completed only at the end of Cladius’ era. During excavation of Sebation countless number of written base plates, relief, panel and embossed work were discovered. In general terms, these findings which decorate portico’s outside wall in two sides of the building are Eros’ birth, three graces, Apollo in Delphi, Meleager, Archiles, Penhesilea, Nyssa and child Dionysus. During the excavations, relief belong to mythological characters, and mythological and heroism characters like Augustus, Germanicus, Lucius, Gaius Ceasar, Cladius and Agrippa, Promethus, Aeneas who belong to the emperor’s family were discovered.
New Museum in Aphrodisias
The superb reliefs, unique in the ancient world that were found at Aphrodisias are at last being exhibited.
These high reliefs belonging to the Sebasteion temple were discovered by Prof. Kenan T. Erim during excavations carried out between 1979-1986.
For years these masterpieces have languished in the excavation house and museum stores waiting for a suitable home in which they could be exhibited to the public.
Members of the Geyre Foundation have commissioned several design projects, which have been debated at length among themselves and with members of the excavation team.
Their main concerns were that the designs meet modern museum standarts and harmonise with the existing museum building and the conservation area. Finally in 2006 the architect Cengiz Bektaş was commissioned to produce a design.
After months of research and preliminary work the most appropriate site was chosen and work began on designing the building itself.
Meanwhile archaeological excavations were carried out on the chosen site, uncovering remains of a late Roman settlement. Consequently the new building was designed to avoid any harm to these remains.
In February 2007 the foundations were laid and construction was completed in October of the same year.
In this way the Sevgi Gonul Sebastion Hall emerged as an outstanding example of sensitivity and respect for historical and cultural legacy.
Thanks to this building constructed with the contributions of Sevgi Gonul and the Geyre Foundation, the Sebasteion reliefs can now be seen by local and foreign visitors and scholars, 22 years after they were first uncovered.
The outstanding ancient city of Aphrodisias in Western Turkey will attract even more visitors now that these masterpieces are on show to the public.
The marble reliefs belonged to a temple complex built in the first century AD to celebrate the close relationship of Aphrodisias with the Roman Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. They have and unusual combination of Greek and Roman Subjects.
The complex is situated off the regular grid, in an older quarter, east of the city centre. It was dedicated to Aphrodite and the emperors (‘Sebasteion’ means ‘Temple of the Emperors’). Construction streched from c. AD 20 to 60, from the reign of Tiberius to that of Nero. The work was paid for by two leading Aphrodisian families.
The complex consited of an entrance gate at the west, a long processional avenue (90 x 14 m) flanked by 12 m-high buildings, and a raised temple at the east end. The long avenue functioned both as a sanctuary space and as an urban thoroughfare.
The North and South buildings that defined the avenue were three-storeyed (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian) and carried marble reliefs in their upper storeys for their whole length. The reliefs were framed by columnar architecture so that the two facades looked like closed Picture walls. Some 200 reliefs were required fort he whole Project, and more than 80 were recovered in the excavation.
The South building was sponsored by two brothers, Attalos and Diogenes, and their Family. The third-storey reliefs feature emperors and gods, while those in the second storey have scenes from Greek mythology. The heroes of myth represent the past; the Roman emperors above, on the same plane as the Olympian gods, represent the present. The sequence of the reliefs can be reconstructed from their find places in the excavation. To your left are mythological reliefs from the second storey of the South building.
The North building was sponsored by two brothers, Menandros and Eusebes, and their Family. Much of the North building collapsed in the mid-fourth century AD, and was cleared away, so that fewer of its reliefs survive.
The second storey carried reliefs that represent ethne or ‘peoples’ brought into the Roman empire by Augustus, while the third-storey reliefs featured imperial scenes and universal allegories of time and place, such as Day and Ocean. To your right are three reliefs from this third-storey series.
Conservation of reliefs
The reliefs were found in about 10-20 fragments each and were first restored in 1979-1981 soon after their discovery. This work had to be re-done for their current display. The reliefs were taken apart and the old ferrous steel dowels and clamps removed. The fragments were cleaned and rejoined more tightly, and the fixings statically re-designed. The new dowels are of stainless stell set in strong thixotropic polyester (reversible resin), and the cosmetics fills are of lime mortar.
The work was carried out in 1999-2007 by Cliveden Conservation (UK), with a team of locally trained conservators from the area around Aphrodisias.
Anastylosis of building
Part of the Sebasteion’s South building is restored in its original position on the site.
This is a precise stone-for-stone reconstruction, or anastylosis, that places each marble component of the facade in its original ancient position. It shows the sclae and effect of the building and the position of the reliefs in the architecture – cast replicas of the reliefs are used.
Theoretical study and documentation of the 1,800 architectural elements of the South building began in 200. Physical anastylosis began in 2005 and will be completed in 2011. The work is varried out by Gerhard Paul and Thomes Kaefer with a team of locally trained specialists.