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THE REDISCOVERY OF APHRODISIAS

Aphrodisias owed its fame very largely to its school of sculpture. The reason for the choice of this city by the distinguished members of this school lay in the quarries of high quality marble to be found in the vicinity. In the Roman period, the busts, statues, reliefs and friezes exported to the capital of the Empire were so much in demand that Rome decided to invite the sculptors themselves. Very few of the artists of this period signed their works, but, by the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the extraordinarily high regard in which the sculptors of Aphrodisias were regarded removed any qualms they may have felt about adding their signatures.

Although very beautiful works were sent by ship to Italy, the sculptors still reserved their finest products for their own city, creating the reputation of a beautiful city of marble that persisted until the Renaissance. The seamen who sailed round the ports of the Eastern Mediterranean buying ancient statues for the aristocracy of Europe would hear tales of a lost city of Aphrodisias beyond the Taros Mountains.

Finally, in 1740, the English traveller Richard Pococke arrived here and produced a description of the ruins. Attention was drawn to the site by Charles Texier's visit in 1835, and in 1892 Osman Hamdi Bey, the Director of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, paid a visit to the site and decided on excavations, but the project never materialised. In the excavations conducted by the French archaeologists Gaudin and Mendel in the years 1904-1913 and by the Italian archaeologist Jacopi in 1937 work was largely concentrated on the Baths of Hadrian and the Agora. At the beginning of  the 20th century the city still remained almost entirely buried under the soil. The City walls, destroyed in the 7th century and never repaired, were in a state of complete ruin and the theatre was completely filled with earth, with the result that the site presented the appearance of an absolutely natural, untouched mound. Slender marble columns emerged here and there from amidst the poplars but when viewed from a distance, they could scarcely be distinguished from the tree trunks  surrounding them.

A strange village by the name of Geyre grew up over and around the ruins. Although only 160 km from Izmir, its distance from the main road made it a place that very few people ever visited.

In 1956 the region was shaken by an earthquake which destroyed more than halfl of the houses in the village, upon which the authorities took advantage of the occasion to rebuild the village at a distance of about I 2 km beyond the ancient site. During this resettlement process the villagers continued with the construction of a water channel from the skirts of the Babadag Mt. and, in carrying out the excavations for the channel, their spades turned up some exquisite marble carvings and reliefs. This led to an invasion of the region by archaeologists who succeeded in persuading the villagers to choose a different route for their channel but, in spite of the manifest archaeological interest of the site, they merely erected a wire fence around the ruins and departed.

Aphrodisias still had to wait for some time for its name to become known.

Two years later, the famous photographer and traveller Ara Guler arrived in the nearby town of Aydin. Guler prefers villages to country towns, so after he had completed his business in Aydm he set out to find a village in which to spend the night.

"Chance took me to Geyre," he says, "I had never heard of the place in my life and when I saw it I really couldn't believe my eyes. Exquisite columns standing there, Statues of breathtaking beauty. Columns lying around on the ground - some of them used to prop up the precarious walls of village houses that seemed ready to collapse at any moment One beautifully carved sarcophagus lid was being used as the trough of a village fountain while on another villagers were playing cards. I had never seen such an interesting place. I rushed off to get my camera and took a whole pile of photographs."

Guler later sent the pictures to his agent in Paris, who sent the1 to Horizon ... The magazine asked for more, and GuIer went back to Geyre to take. them. But this time they wanted an explanatory text. Guler accordingly applied to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. The Director told him he himself would bot be able to help him but recommended an acquaintance of his in America. This acquaintance was Kenan Erim, an American of Turkish origin who was then Professor of Classical Archaeology in the University of New York. Kenan Erim had never visited Aphrodisias but he knew all about lit Ever since his student days in Princeton he had dreamed of Aphrodisias and hot one day it might be his. After an initial visit in 1959 he returned to Aphrodisias in 1961 to embark on excavation work on the promise of financial assistance from the National Geographic. This excavation work, which was to occupy him for the rest of his llife, further assisted by various institutions rluch as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Vincent Astor Foundation and the Ford Foundation, combined with the arrangement of special tours. With the arrival of Kenan Erim, Aphrodisias took on a new lease of life. But for an archaeologist the discovery of Aphrodisias was a tremendous stroke of luck. None of the other excavations being carried on in Turkey in the field of classical archaeology yielded such a wealth of finds in so short a time. Indeed, fortune shone on Kenan Erim from the very first days. The trench dug by the peasants five years previously revealed remains of the city defence walls and towers as well as the head of a goddess. With this head in his hand Kenan Erim went straight to the hut containing the statues unearthed by the archaeologists who had dug there fifty years before, and here he succeeded in finding the torso to which the head belonged. It fitted exactly. It was as if this statue, created 1,700 years ago, had come back to life.

APHRODISIAS CITY MAP

Aphrodisias cit plan, map

 

  • 1 - The temple of Aphrodite
  • 2 - Odeon and the Palace of Bishop
  • 3 - Agora Gate
  • 4 - Agora (Market Place)
  • 5 - Hadrian's Baths
  • 6 - Theater
  • 7 - Martyrium
  • 8 - Gymnasium
  • 9 - Pool
  • 10 - Stadium
  • 11 - Watter Channel
  • 12 - City Gate
  • 13 - Tetraplyon
  • 14 - The temple of Augustus (Sebasteion)
  • 15 - The Museum of Aphrodisias
  • 16 - Theater Baths

The same day, another miracle occurred.

The caretaker found an inscribed piece of marble behind one of the cases left behind the hut. This also fitted exactly on to one side of the statue. On the fragment was the word "polis" (city). They had found the city on the very first day. They took this as a good omen. On the last day of the 1970 excavations they found "the people" in the theatre - a statue representing the people. Kenan Erim worked for thirty years at Aphrodisias, until his death in 1990. His grave lies in front of the Tetrapylon, the monumental gate of the cult centre of Aphrodite. Very great progress has been made in the excavations at Aphrodisias and the site has now been made more easily accessible, making it one of the most popular tourist attractions in CentralWestern Anatolia.


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