Although there are many Roman theaters still standing, none are quite as perfect as the one at Aspendos, built by a local architect called Xenon during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 161–180). It owes its current preservation to the fact that the Seljuk Turks repurposed it as a royal palace in the 13th century; traces of the distinctive Seljuk red-and-yellow paint work are still visible. In its heyday, it could hold 12,000 spectators and is most striking for the broad curve of seats, perfectly proportioned porticoes, and rich decoration. The Greeks liked open vistas behind their stages, but the Romans preferred enclosed spaces. The stage building you see today was once covered by an elaborate screen of marble columns, and its niches were filled with statues. The only extant relief on-site depicts Dionysus (Bacchus) watching over the theater. The acoustics are fine, and the theater continues to be used—for concerts and for the Antalya International Opera and Ballet Festival,
held every June and July, rather than for wild-animal and gladiator spectacles as in Roman times.
Most visitors just see the theater, but don't miss out on the rest of the site, which is located up a zigzagging trail behind it. The rewards are a tall Nymphaion (a sanctuary to the nymphs built around a fountain decorated with a marble dolphin) and the remains of a Byzantine basilica and market hall. You can also see, below in the plain, the stadium and the aqueduct which used an ingenious syphon system.