The ruins of Ephesus, one of the most impressive Greco-Roman settlements on the Mediterranean, are justly famous, drawing streams of visitors to Turkey year-round. Far fewer make it to Aphrodisias, the spectacular ruin of a city, largely destroyed by an earthquake in the 7th century. Its obscurity can be partly blamed on its location; it’s about 140 miles (230 km) to the largest big city, Izmir, and even further away from Istanbul.
Once dedicated to the mighty Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love (who traded as Venus in the Roman era), it is the collaboration of nature and history that makes this place so special. The ruins are situated on a plateau ringed by mountains, and pomegranate and poplar trees grow between the building blocks. There’s a lot of marble here but even more of it left here for other centers, with Aphrodisias a major quarry center of the ancient world.
Among the most evocative remains of this cult settlement is the main gate, a jostle of columns still solemnly maintaining their formal function long after most of the city walls have vanished. Meanwhile the brilliantly-preserved stadium is a perfect oval framed by raked seating, with room for 30,000 spectators.
The city’s main focus point, the Temple of Aphrodite, hasn’t fared nearly so well, being little more than a base and some intact columns, but like the agora, the baths and the theater, it gives a vivid suggestion of its erstwhile glory.
The Museum of Aphrodisias displays many of the pieces which have been dug out of this site over the centuries. But remember this is an isolated spot, suitable only for daytime visits, so you’ll need to have your return journey organized.