Aphrodisias was a city of Caria, notable for its extensive and well-preserved remains. Aphrodisias was metropolis of the province and had active schools of sculpture and philosophy. It was a seat of pagan teaching through the late 5th century and had an important Monophysite church—sometimes with its own bishop—in the 5th and 6th C. Aphrodisias assumed the name Stauropolis (‘City of the Cross’) in the 7th century. It was sacked by Theodore Mankaphas in 1188 and by the Seljuks in 1197 and it became Turkish in the late 13th century.

Excavations have revealed much of Byzantine Aphrodisias within its mid-4th-century walls. The city centered on its cathedral church, formerly the temple of Aphrodite (converted in the mid-5th century). Palaces with audience halls, probably of the bishop and governor, flanked the church. The agora to the south was apparently abandoned after a devastating earthquake in the 4th century permanently altered the water table; many public buildings were rebuilt at that time. The south part of the city included baths, a basilica where the Price Edict of Diocletian was displayed, and the theater, before which lay a large paved square. This became the main marketplace after the agora was abandoned, and commerce extended into the adjacent bath, whose basilica was converted into shops. The city was destroyed in the early 7th century and never recovered. Thereafter, the theater became the main fortress and center of habitation. In the 10th/11th century the cathedral was restored and a triconch church was built over the intersection of two abandoned streets.

Temple of Aphrodite

The Temple of Aphrodite was built in stages in the late first century BCE and early first century CE. As completed, it had eight columns running along the front and back and thirteen on the sides, forming a single peristyle around the cella. Inscriptions on some of the temple's columns and door moldings record the contributions of various leading citizens to the construction of the building. One of Aphrodisias's most important monuments, the temple emphasized the city's links with the Julio-Claudian dynasty by providing an impressive home for the cult of their divine ancestress, Aphrodite. In the second century A.D., possibly during the reign of Hadrian, the temple was enclosed within a large sanctuary, consisting of a two-storied monumental columnar façade on the east side, which included a large gateway known as the Tetrapylon, and porticos on the north, south, and west.

Around 500 CE, the temple was converted into a Christian cathedral. The conversion was an enormous undertaking, in which the columns of the front and back of the temple were moved from their original positions and used to extend the side colonnades, creating two long rows of 19 columns each. The cella of the temple was also dismantled, and the stone reused in the construction of new walls enclosing the building on all sides. The building was thus converted into a church of basilical plan, and was much larger than the pagan temple it replaced. The manner in which this change was effected -- the temple was essentially turned inside out -- is unique among all known temple-to-church conversions.

The church was provided with an apse and a synthronon (a stepped bank of clergy benches) at the east end, and at the west, with a pair of nartheces (porches) fronted by a colonnaded courtyard or atrium. Surviving from a Middle Byzantine renovation are wall paintings running under the synthronon and showing Christ and various saints, as well as parts of a marble floor, and much of an elaborately carved templon barrier. At some later date, possibly in the Seljuk raids of the late twelfth century, the church was damaged or destroyed, and not repaired again until modern times.

The Hadrianic Baths

The baths were built in the early second century CE and dedicated to the emperor Hadrian (ruled AD 117-138). They are located at the west end of the South Agora and consist of two main parts: a series of barrel-vaulted bathing chambers and a great colonnaded forecourt with grand marble architecture. The complex contains changing rooms for men and women, a cold room, lukewarm room, and hot room. The vaulted chambers are built of massive limestone blocks covered with marble revetment; the floors and pools are lined with marble, and the hot rooms have floors raised on hypocausts. The massive limestone walls have been standing since antiquity, and the inside of the chambers and the forecourt were excavated in 1904-5 and in the 1960s.

The baths were an important centre of public life designed for cultured relaxation. They were carefully maintained throughout antiquity and were still functioning as baths in the 6th century when they continued to attract wealthy sponsorship for their redecoration. The architectural decoration of the forecourt is grand and of the highest quality, and a striking quantity of the best figured sculpture from the site was found here -- both portrait statues and mythological statues. The complex was both a bathing facility and a museum of marble statuary.

The Bishop’s Palace

The building known as the Bishop’s Palace is a large, Late Antique private residence, located right in the city center, to the west of the Bouleuterion. During the Imperial period, the site of the Bishop’s Palace was occupied by public buildings, probably tied to the functions of the Bouleuterion and North Agora. During the 4th century, the elite of Aphrodisias started funding the construction of their own opulent homes, more than other public monuments. The Bishop’s Palace is one of the largest and best preserved of these private homes, and includes a unique triple-apsed hall.

The Bishop’s Palace was occupied up until the 6th century, when the city declined from an urban capital to a small village centered around the temple-church. Large additions were made to the building in the 10th and 11th centuries, which encroach on the older streets and now-collapsed portico of the North Agora. It is at this time that the building mostly likely housed the local bishop.


Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium

Excavations at Aphrodisias (NYU)

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Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016