The second place I visited during my recent trip to Turkey was Aspendos (see itinerary map here). Aspendos is one of the most popular historic sites in the Antalya region. It is located beside the river Eurymedon (Köprüçay) and is renowned throughout the world for its magnificent ancient theatre. During ancient times, the central region of Antalya was known as Pamphylia and Aspendos was one of the most impressive cities in the region. According to Greek legend, the city was founded by Argive colonists who, under the leadership of the hero Mopsos, came to Pamphylia after the Trojan War. Aspendos was one of the first cities in the region to strike coinage under its own name (5th century BC).
In 547 BC, Aspendos came under Persian domination. In 467 BC the Athenian admiral Cimon and his fleet of 200 ships defeated the Persians. After the conquests of Alexander the Great, Pamphylia became Greek.
During the Roman occupation, the town became an important center of the trade in salt, oil, corn, wine, and horses. With its fertile plains and export trade, Aspendos became one of Pamphylia’s richest cities as can be seen from its monumental structures like the Aspendos Theatre. The ruins we can visit today, date from this period.
Many tourists come to Aspendos to see its impressive Roman theatre, said to be one of the best-preserved of the ancient world. The building, faithful to the Greek tradition, is partially built into the slope of a hill.
We know from inscription in the southern parados that the theatre was constructed during the reign of Marcus Aurelius by an architect named Zeno and that it was a gift to the city by two brothers, Crispius Crispinus and Crispius Auspicatus.
The cavea is semicircular in shape and divided in two by a large diazoma. There are 21 tiers of seats above and 20 below. Beginning from the orchestra and going up, the first row of seats belonged to senators, judges, and ambassadors, while the second was reserved for other notable of the city. The remaining sections were open to all the citizens. The women usually sat on the upper rows under the gallery.
A wide gallery consisting of 59 arches and thought to have been built at a later date, goes from one end of the upper cavea to the other.
The capacity was about 12,000 people. In recent years, concerts given in the theatre, as part of the Antalya Film and Art festival, have shown that as many as 20,000 spectators can be crowded into the seating area.
Without doubt the Aspendos theatre’s most attractive and striking component is the stage building.
On the lower floor of this two-storey structure were five doors proving the actors entrance to the stage. The large door at the centre was known as the valva regia, and the two smaller ones on either side as the portae hospitales. The small doors at orchestra level belong to long corridors leading to the areas where the wild animals were kept.
In the pediment at the centre of the colonnaded upper floor is a relief of Dionysos, the god of wine and the founder and patron of theatres.
Aspendos’ other principal remains are on the Acropolis, behind the theatre. The first building is a Roman basilica. The basilica was originally used as a public and administrative building and then converted into a Christian church in the Byzantine period.
South of the basilica and bounded on three sides by houses and stores is the agora, the centre of the city’s commercial, social, and political activities.
The most magnificent structure of the Acropolis is the nympheaum (monumental fountain) of which only the front wall remains standing. It was built during the 2nd or 3rd century AD.
Other remains at Aspendos are the foundations ruins of a Doric temple with a peripteros plan located at the northeast of the basilica on a flat hill overlooking the stadium.
The other ancient remains at Aspendos that should not be missed is its aqueduct. This one kilometre long series of arches brought water to the city from the mountains in the north. The image below shows the well-preserved remains of the inverted siphon which made this aqueduct famous.
An inscription found in Aspendos tells us that a certain Tiberius Claudius Italicus had the aqueduct built, and presented it to the city. Its architectural features and construction techniques date it to the middle of the 2nd century AD.
Finally, located 4km southeast of Aspendos, is the Eurymedon Bridge, a late Roman bridge over the river Eurymedon. The foundations and several remnants (spolia) of the Roman structure were used by the Seljuqs to build a new bridge in the 13th century, the Köprüpazar Köprüsü, which stands to this day. The bridge is marked by a significant displacement of its course in the middle, following the ancient piers.
The exact date of the bridge’s construction is uncertain. The date of construction is closely connected with the Aqueduct of Aspendos, parts of which were re-used in the bridge.
Text source: Antique Cities Guide written by Archaeologist Kayhan Dörtlük