Archaeological Site of Aphrodisias

Date of Submission: 06/02/2009
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture and Tourism
State, Province or Region:
Geyre Village, Aydin
Ref.: 5406
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Description

Aphrodisias lies in southwestern Turkey, in the fertile valley of the Dandalas River, a tributary of the Meander, about 150 kilometres east (inland) of the Aegean Sea. It is situated at the base of the Babadag mountain range, at 500 m above sea level.  The city was the capital of the ancient Roman province of Caria.

The ancient city of Aphrodisias is one of the most important archaeological sites of the Greek and Roman periods in Turkey. Famous in antiquity for its sanctuary of Aphrodite, the city's patron goddess, Aphrodisias enjoyed a long and prosperous existence from the second century B.C. through the sixth century A.D.  Today, many of the city's ancient monuments remain standing, and excavations have unearthed numerous fine marble statues and other artifacts. The great beauty and extraordinary preservation of this site combine to bring the civic culture of the Greco-Roman world vividly to life.

Aphrodisias was founded on the site of an ancient local sanctuary in the second century B.C., according to the date of the earliest coins and inscriptions found in the site. In the late first century B.C., the city came under the personal protection of the Roman emperor Augustus, and a long period of growth and good fortune ensued. The first several centuries A.D. were especially prosperous, and most of the surviving buildings of the city date to this period. In the fourth century, Aphrodisias became the capital of the Roman province of Caria. The cosmopolitan character of the age is demonstrated by the presence in this city of an active Jewish community, attested in a famous inscription listing benefactors of the local Synagogue.

The first systematic excavations at the site were begun in 1961 under the aegis of New York University, and yielded many remains of the city's central monuments. In addition to the Temple of Aphrodite, major areas of investigation included the Bouleuterion or Council House, and the Sebasteion. The Sebasteion, a religious sanctuary dedicated to Aphrodite and the Roman emperors, is one of the most remarkable discoveries of Roman archaeology. It is one of the best-preserved examples of a Roman imperial cult complex, and is decorated with an extraordinary series of life-size marble reliefs (originally almost 200), which depict Roman emperors and imperial family members from ca. A.D. 20 to 60, as well as, personifications of the subject peoples of the Roman empire, and mythological heroes and gods. The reliefs provide an unparalleled insight into how Roman imperial power was understood from a local perspective. Other important public buildings are the Theatre, the Hadrianic Baths, and the Stadium; the latter seated 30,000 people, and is the best-preserved of all ancient stadiums. The buildings of the site are remarkable not only for the preservation of their architecture, but also for the many inscriptions, statues, reliefs, and other objects associated with them.

Aphrodisias is well-known for its fine sculpture. Good marble quarries are located only a few kilometres away from the city, and by the Late Hellenistic period, a strong local tradition of marble sculpture had already taken root. In later generations, Aphrodisian sculptors are known to have worked abroad on prestigious commissions, for example, at Hadrian's villa at Tivoli. The sculpture from the site is characterized by virtuosity and variety. Excavation has uncovered statues of, for example, gods, heroes, emperors, orators, philosophers, and boxers, as well as a great range of ornamental and figured relief. The finds range from grave reliefs of the second century B.C. to statues of the last Roman governors of the sixth century A.D. Many sculptures from the site already occupy key positions in the history of ancient art.

The studies for a site management plan were started according to a protocol between the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Geyre Foundation dated to 08.11.2007.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Aphrodisias is the cult centre of the Goddess Aphrodite and the city stood as an important cult centre throughout its history. The Temple of Aphrodite formed the centre and the nucleus of the city. The city was also an important art and cultural centre, including a flourishing school of sculpture.

Criterion (ii): The proximity of the marble quarries was also responsible for the development of a local tradition of marble sculpture which eventually became famous throughout the Mediterranean world.

Criterion (iv): Aphrodisias remained a thriving city from the second century B.C. to the seventh century A.D. and it charts the major historical developments of this long period in great detail- such as the establishment of the Roman Empire, and the conversion of the Roman world to Christianity.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Republic of Turkey has classified Aphrodisias as a first-degree archaeological site and established a permanent gendarme station nearby. These measures have effectively halted looting and intrusive development.

Comparison with other similar properties

A number of other ancient cities were also famous for their sculptors in the Roman period -such as Athens and Rhodes. In these cases, however, the artists are known only through the works they made (and signed) for Roman patrons in Italy.  Because Roman Athens, for example, is not well-preserved, we know little about the sculpture produced there for local consumption. At Aphrodisias, by contrast, it is possible to study the sculptures carved by once-famous artists not only for the international market, but also for their local fellow-citizens.