Exploring the Ancient City of Aspendos: A Visitor's Guide
For tourists traveling down to Antalya on Turkey's Turquoise Coast, the ancient city of Aspendos, about 50 kilometers east of Antalya, is the big-hitter historic attraction. The theater here is one of the Roman Empire's greatest remaining pieces of architecture. If you can, come in summer when this amazing building plays host to the annual Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival. It's a wonderful chance to experience the acoustics of this ancient theater.
In antiquity, Aspendos was probably the most important city in Pamphylia. This glorious city reached its epoch during the Roman period, when trade and commerce flourished here. According to tradition, the city was founded by the famous Greek diviner Mopsos around 1000 BC, and archaeologists have found evidence of a settlement here from the Hittite era (800 BC) onwards. Similar to the nearby towns of Perge and Side, the city's eventual decline was due to the silting up of its harbor and the centralization policies of the Byzantine Empire. By the time of Seljuk domination over this part of Turkey, Aspendos' once great theater was only being used as a caravanserai.
Aspendos' theater is one of the largest ever built by the Romans in Asia Minor, and today it is one of the best preserved examples of Roman theater architecture. Located in the lower town area of the site, the theater was built in the 2nd century AD during Marcus Aurelius' reign. The mammoth seating plan could fit an audience of between 15,000 and 20,000. It has been thoroughly restored and is now used for music and drama festivals, including Turkey's famous annual Aspendos Opera Festival.
The semi-circular auditorium, divided into two sections by a broad passage halfway up, has 20 tiers of seating, with 10 staircases in the lower half and 19 tiers with 21 staircases in the upper part. Round the top runs a barrel-vaulted colonnade. At either end of the stage are vaulted passages giving access to the orchestra. The two-story stage wall was articulated by slender double columns with Ionic capitals on the lower order and Corinthian capitals on the upper one. The double column flanking the central entrance to the stage had a common broken pediment. The stage itself had a wooden roof suspended by ropes, and the auditorium, too, was probably covered by an awning.
Although most tourists are here to simply see the theater, if you have some time up your sightseeing sleeve, there are plenty more things to do. Immediately above the lower town of Aspendos rises the 40-meter acropolis hill. Beyond the remains of a small temple and the agora stands the nymphaeum (fountain shrine), once a monumental structure articulated by double columns but now represented only by a wall 32-meters long with 10 niches for statues. Adjoining this on the north are the foundations of another building, probably the bouleuterion or council chamber.
Just to the north of Aspendos' acropolis hill are the remains of a magnificent ancient aqueduct and two linked water towers, which would have originally provided water for the city.
Location: Aspendos is 50 km east of Antalya