- What’s On
A UK Registered Charity supporting the British members of the excavation team at Aphrodisias, as well as supporting publications of the findings. The Kenan Erim Memorial Lecture in February is named after the Turkish archaeologist of the site who died in 1990. In 2017 Aphrodisias was added to the Unesco World Heritage list
A few years before he became Emperor Augustus, Octavian the Triumvir wrote, “Aphrodisius is the only city in all Asia that I have selected to be my own.” This tremendous testimonial is carved, in exquisite Greek lettering, high on the wall of the theatre.
As I stood before it on September 3, 1984 in the early morning sun – which catches it for only an hour or so each day, just after its rising – I understood how he felt. Of all the Graeco-Roman sites of Anatolia, Aphrodisius – named after Aphrodite, goddess of love – is the most hauntingly beautiful.
It has also proved to be the most rewarding. The late Professor Kenan Erim began his excavations there in 1961; every succeeding summer for the next twenty-nine years Aphrodisius yeilded more priceless treasures than any other site in the classical world. Meanwhile he protected it with a fierce passion. Such visitors who made the journey – and the place is mercifully far off the beaten track – searched in vain for hamburger stalls or soft-drink stands; even post-cards were few. The contrast with the popular honeypots like Ephesus was as impressive as it was refreshing. Now, alas, Kenan Bey is dead, of a sudden heart attack sustained in the British Embassy at Ankara in November 1990; but his long-time friend and colleague RRR Smith, Lincoln Professor of Classical Archaeology and Art at Oxford, is carrying on his work, and Aphrodisias retains its old magic.
But what, you may ask, is the source of that magic? Beauty and isolation cannot be the whole story. What made Aphrodisias so special? First of all, for the ancient world, there was its sheer opulene: the sumptuousness of its public and private buildings, the splendour of its theatre, the immensity of its 30,000-seat stadium. Their unswerving loyalty to Augustus and his successors had earned its citizens immunity from imperial taxation. Second, there was the reputation of the city itself, both as a cultural and intellectual centre, and as a place of religious pilgrimage…