The city of Aphrodite, goddess of love, is one of the largest and best-preserved archaeological sites in Turkey. Though most of what you see today dates from the 1st and 2nd century AD, archaeological evidence indicates that the local dedication to Aphrodite follows a long history of veneration of pre-Hellenic goddesses, such as the Anatolian mother goddess and the Babylonian god Ishtar. Only about half of the site has been excavated. It's much less crowded than Ephesus, and enough remains to conjure the ancient city. he excavations here have led archaeologists to surmise that Aphrodisias was a thriving sculpture center, with patrons beyond the borders of the city—statues and fragments with signatures of Aphrodisian artists have shown up as far away as Greece and Italy.
Once you reach the pretty, rural site, you'll take a short, bumpy ride on a tractor-pulled open-air shuttle from the parking area to the main gate. Past the site museum, follow the footpath to the right, which
makes a circuit around the site and ends up back at the museum. The lovely Tetrapylon is a monumental gateway with four rows of columns and some of the better remaining friezes. Notice the small memorial to an archaeologist who devoted his life to Aphrodisias. Behind it, the vast Temple of Aphrodite was built in the 1st century BC on the model of the great temples at Ephesus, and later transformed into a basilica church. Its gate and many of its columns are still standing; some bear inscriptions naming the donor of the column. Follow the footpath across a field to the impressive 1st century AD stadium, which once was the scene of footraces, boxing and wrestling matches, and other competitions. One of the best preserved of its kind anywhere, the stadium could seat up to 30,000 spectators. Back near the Temple of Aphrodite cluster a once-magnificent ruined residence, the fine Odeon (also known as the Bouleuterion, or Council House), an intimate, semicircular concert hall and public meeting room, towering public baths (currently under excavation), and the sprawling agora, which once included a wide pool. The 7,000 white-marble seats of the city's theater, built into the side of a small hill, are simply dazzling on a bright day. The adjacent School of Philosophy (currently under excavation) has a colonnaded courtyard with chambers lining both sides, where teachers worked with small groups of students.
After a ramble around the ruins, head back to the beauties of the site museum, just before the ticket booth, where Aphrodisias bursts back into life in vivid friezes and sculptures that seem almost about to draw breath. The museum's collection includes dozens of impressive statues and reliefs from the site, including Aphrodite herself, with excellent labeling (particularly in the grand display in the Sevgi Gönül Salonu) explaining their significance and symbolism.