The ancient city of love

The ruins of Aphrodisias in Turkey have got to be one of the best sites in the country. In the ancient city of love, you can feel the spirit of how it was.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Aphrodisias, Turkey

It’s all about love, isn’t it? And at the ancient temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the love goddess, you can feel it all around you.

Not just in the ethereal sense, but in the practical. For it was the love of history that saw Turkish archaeologist Kenan Erim dedicate his life to uncovering the story of Aphrodisias.

It became his second home for 30 years and, now buried there, his eternal resting place.

It is because of his work that we are now able to experience one of the greatest sites in Turkey.

Aphrodisias ruins in Turkey

It’s the ruins at Ephesus that generally get most of attention when it comes to the ancient sites of Turkey. But, in many ways, Aphrodisias is far superior.

The site stretches out over a large area, it’s been extremely well preserved or restored, and it’s easy to lose yourself in the moment because it doesn’t have the large tourist crowds it probably deserves.

Imagining life in the Aphrodisias of old is not difficult.

Aphrodisias ruins in Turkey
Aphrodisias ruins in Turkey

Once it was a thriving city but most of the houses of the average people haven’t been uncovered.

It’s the main landmarks which take centre stage, all revolving around the temple to Aphrodite.

Some of the larger houses nearby, often taking up a whole city block, have been unearthed and reveal a wealthy and prosperous community.

Aphrodisias ruins in Turkey

A robust civic society with an emphasis on social interaction and public spaces is how I imagine it would once have been.

A long open stretch of pool with fountains at each end form the boundary of one side…

The traditional-style baths take a prominent place in the city’s layout and would have been the epicentre of the gossip trade…

A beautiful ampitheatre must have been the setting for great performances of culture and arts…

And then there’s the stadium… oh, the stadium.

Aphrodisias ruins in Turkey
Aphrodisias ruins in Turkey

It truly is a sight to behold.

The description on the site’s information plaque describes it as “the largest ancient stadium in the world and one of the best preserved”. That may be true but the superlatives don’t do it justice.

Standing at one end, the other seems so far away. It is 270 metres long and every one of those metres seems to stretch out longer than in should under the midday sun with the empty seats staring down.

There would have been times when thirty thousand people would have filled those spots, shouting and cheering at the sports taking place below. The crowd would have come from not just the city, but from the whole region, for these contests.

Aphrodisias ruins in Turkey

Aphrodisias on World Heritage List?

There’s a lot to love here. What I don’t understand, though, is why it has not been recognised more widely for its value.

Having been to some of Turkey’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, I believe this is a much better candidate for inclusion than Xanthos-Letoon, for example.

But it wasn’t until 2009 that Turkey even suggested it be considered. These things do move slowly and decisions are not always made simply on merit, but hopefully its time will come.

(EDIT: Since I wrote this original story, Aphrodisias was added to the World Heritage List in 2017.)

Aphrodisias ruins in Turkey
Aphrodisias ruins in Turkey

Regardless, you can understand why it became almost an obsession for Kenan Erim to reveal as much as possible of Aphrodisias to the world.

He would be pleased to know that the archaeological work is continuing and that there are visitors who are very grateful for his dedication.

If you’re interested in a guided tour to Aphrodisias, there are a few good options here:

30 thoughts on “The ancient city of love”

    • Yeah, it was nice to not have too many people there. It’s definitely on the tourist map but it’s a little bit out of the way so I think that keeps a lot of visitors away. It will get busier with time, I’m sure.

  1. There really does seem to be no rhyme or reason to the UNESCO inscription process. We’ve visited so many UNESCO sites. Most are really amazing but a few are disappointing head scratchers. Then there are the gems that we fall in love with, like Aphrodisias, that seem more than worthy for World Heritage Status. Then again, finding those gems that aren’t on “the list” is part of the fun.

    • You’re right about the pleasure in finding a site that should be on the list but isn’t. It’s nice to think you know better than the experts – and you’ve often got the bonus that it’s not as crowded!

  2. They kept trying to rope us into a day trip here from Pamukkale. It was our down day to rest and get caught up and the tour operators just felt sleazy. It does look cool though.

    • I know what you mean about the operators. They do feel like they’re trying to rip you off and send you off to some crappy site. But it really is worth it. Hopefully you get back there one day and can get a chance to check it out.

  3. Loved our visit to this city. We had a Bulgarian guide on this portion of the trip who took part in the 1962 excavation. It was the most spectacular ruin in Turkey we visited. Few people.

    • I think it’s one of the most spectacular ruins in Turkey too! But it must have been even more special to have been guided by someone who has done excavations at the site. Gosh, I bet they had some quite amazing stories about it all!

  4. Dear travelers,
    The Ministry of Culture and the Turkish Ministry of Tourism sadly endorse exorbitant prices for all products sold on the grounds of all archaeological sites in Turkey.
    For example, at Aphrodisias in May 2019, a can of soda + 2 scoops of ice-cream costs you 34 ₺ (± 5.00 €) while outside the sites, the same purchase would be up to 7 ₺ (± € 1.00) max.
    This deliberately abusive policy is unacceptable and gives a very bad image of the country.
    So, before you get in, make sure you have enough refreshments with you.

  5. I was a US Air Force Pilot living in Ankara in 1982 when I read an article about Aphrodisias in National Geographic. Two friends and I went to visit the site in February, only to find that it was closed to visitors. A gentleman working at the site that day, who I believe was Mr. Tul, was sympathetic to our pleas, and closed up his office to give us a personalized tour of roughly two hours that went behind the scenes of there current worksite. The experience was incredible, a lasting memory almost 50 years later.


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