Aphrodisias, named after its patron goddess Aphrodite, was founded in the 2nd century B.C. on the site of a rural sanctuary of Aphrodite. In the 1st century B.C., Aphrodisias came under the protection of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, and this initiated a period of prosperity and growth. A nearby marble quarry supplied the ancient city and sites around the empire such as Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli, with a supply of high-quality white and blue marble. The marble ruins that remain today reflect the period of wealth, and include the 1st century B.C. Temple of Aphrodite, a large public square (Agora) and associated Council House (Bouleuterion), Hadrianic Baths, a Theater and a Stadium. In late Roman times, Aphrodisias became the seat of a Christian bishop, and was largely abandoned by the early 7th century A.D.
2006 World Monuments Watch
Since the late 1980's, WMF has been involved at Aphrodisias, beginning with the restoration of the Tetrapylon in 1988-1989, the Bouleuterion in 2000, the Temple of Aphrodite in 2002, and the Hadrianic Baths, forthcoming. The conservation projects have used local economic resources and have provided opportunities for the local economy. They also have a local-international partnership with the local Aphrodisias Museum and experts partnering with NYU and WMF. Thanks to these efforts, Aphrodisias is now better prepared to welcome visitors, and in 2017 the site was inscribed on the World Heritage List.
Aphrodisias is unusually well-preserved due to its remote location in an agricultural valley, and is an example of a typical ancient town. The conservation strategies developed for this site are of widespread relevance and can be used as a model for long-tern conservation of archaeological sites. The Bouleuterion and Temple of Aphrodite conservation projects have led to the development of treating endangered megalithic structures made of limestone and marble, which can be applied to other ancient sites.
The monumental gateway to the city's main sanctuary, the Tetrapylon at Aphrodisias is one of the city's most impressive monuments. The remarkable preservation of the structure—about 85% of its physical fabric survives—allowed for a complete scientific reconstruction, which was completed in 1991. This project was carried out over the course of several years and included the training of a local team of skilled workmen in all aspects of the work. Many of these men still work at Aphrodisias each season, and have developed a high level of competence in delicate conservation work. WMF and the Kress Foundation provided support for the reconstruction effort in 1988 and 1989. The Tetrapylon continues to be one of the highlights of a visit to Aphrodisias today.
One of the best preserved buildings of its kind in the world, the Bouleuterion is a small, theater-like building in the heart of the city center of Aphrodisias. Nine rows of the marble seats of its auditorium are preserved, complete with sculpted lion paws at their bases. The stage building, where orators would stand to argue their points, was an elaborate multi-storied colonnaded structure filled with statues of important local citizens and deities, many of which are preserved. Once the gathering place of the male citizens of Aphrodisias who served as the city council, or Boule, the Bouleuterion is now a favorite stop for tourists, and for many years the building suffered from exposure to the elements and wear and tear from foot traffic. In 2003, WMF helped to initiate a major conservation effort for the Bouleuterion, which included structural stabilization of the stage building, delicate repairs of the marble seats and decoration, and cleaning. The project, now successfully completed, also help the project team to develop methods that will be applied to future projects at the site.
Temple of Aphrodite
The city's oldest and most important monumental building, the Temple of Aphrodite began construction in the late first century B.C. The temple was the kernel around which the rest of the city was constructed. It was built entirely of marble and fifteen of its Ionic columns have remained standing since antiquity. Over the centuries, the Temple endured invasions, looters, earthquakes, weather, and tourism, and the monument was showing its age. The drums of many of the standing columns, displaced and cracked by earthquake and fire, were bound with iron bands in the 1950s. These rusting bands were no longer serving their structural purpose after several decades and several columns which had defied gravity for years were at risk of catastrophic failure. In 2004, the Kress Foundation European Preservation Program of WMF supported the assessment and stabilization of the columns of the Temple, including the replacement of the iron bands with non-corrosive stainless steel hoops and the repairs and reattachment of broken and fallen fragments.
The Hadrianic Baths were built during the first half of the 2nd century and dedicated to the emperor Hadrian (117-138). This bath complex follows the typical structure of Roman baths found throughout the Empire, which is a great colonnade forecourt with grand marble architecture flanked by series of barrel-vaulted bathing chambers. The vaulted chambers were built of massive limestone blocks covered with marble revetment and the floors and pools were lined with marble. Sculptures were originally placed in niches throughout the baths and the hypocaust, floor heating system, can still be seen underneath the raised floor of the hot bathing chambers. The large bath complexes of the Roman Empire were symbols of imperial civilization and citizens' rights. They were often sponsored by wealthy patrons in order to not only provide a place of relaxation, exercising, bathing, and cultured enjoyment, but also gain political support from the public. The Hadrianic Bath complex is remarkable preserved but is in a poor state of condition due to lack of restoration and repair.