Aspendos, located beside the river Eurymedon (Köprüçay), is renowned throughout the world for its magnificent ancient amphitheatre.
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. On these silver staters dated to the fifth and fourth century B.C., however, the name of the city is written es Estwediiys in the local script. A late eighth century B.C. bilingual inscription carved in both Hittite hieroglyphs and the Phoenician alphabet discovered in the 1947 excavation of Karatepe near Adana, states that Asitawada, the king of Danunum (Adana), founded a city called Azitawadda, a derivation of his own name, and that he was a member of the Muksas, or Mopsus, dynasty. The striking similarity between the names "Estwediiys" and "azitawaddi" suggests the possibility that Aspendos was the city this king founded.
Aspendos did not play an important role in antiquity as a political force. Its political history during the colonization period corresponded to the currents of the Pamphylian region. Within this trend, after the colonial period, it remained for a time under Lycian hegemony. In 546 B.C. it came under Persian domination. The face that the city continued to mint coins in its own name, however, indicates that it had a great deal of freedom even under the Persians.
In 467 B.C. the statesman and military commander Cimon, and his fleet of 200 ships, destroyed the Persian navy based at the mouth of the river Eurymedon in a surprise attack. In order to crush to Persian land forces, he tricked the Persians by sending his best fighters to shore wearing the garments of the hostages he had seized earlier. When they saw these men, the Persians thought that they were compatriots freed by the enemy and arranged festivities in celebration. Taking advantage of this, Cimon landed and annihilated the Persians. Aspendos then became a member of the Attic-Delos Maritime league.
The Persians captured the city again in 411 B.C. and used it as a base. In 389 B.C. the commander of Athens, in an effort to regain some of the prestige that city had lost in the Peloponnesian Wars, anchored off the coast of Aspendos in an effort to secure its surrender. Hoping to avoid a new war, the people of Aspendos collected money among themselves and gave it to the commander, entreating him to retreat without causing any damage. Even though he took the money, he had his men trample all the crops in the fields. Enraged, the Aspendians stabbed and killed the Athenian commander in his tent.
When Alexander the Great marched into Aspendos in 333 B.C. after capturing Perge, the citizens sent envoys to him to request that he would not establish that he be given the taxes and horses that they had formerly paid as tribute to the Persian king. After reaching this agreement. Alexander went to Side, leaving a garrison there on the city's surrender. Going back through Sillyon, he learned that the Aspendians had failed to ratify the agreement their envoys had proposed and were preparing to defend themselves. Alexander marched to the city immediately. When they saw Alexander returning with his troops, the Aspendians, who had retreated to their acropolis, again sent envoys to sue for peace. This time, however, they had to agree to very harsh terms; a Macedonian garrison would remain in the city and 100 gold talents as well as 4.000 horses would be given in tax annually.
During the wars that followed the death of Alexander, the city came alternately under the control of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, later falling into the hands of the Kingdom of Pergamum, to which it remained bound until 133 B.C.
From Cicero's presentation of the case before the Roman senate, we know that in 79 B.C. Gaius Verres, the questor of Cilicia, pillaged Aspendos just as he had Perge. Verres, right in front of the citizens, took statues from the temples and squares and had them loaded into carts. He even had Aspendos famous statue of a harpist set up in his own home.
Aspendos, like most of the other Pamphylian cities, reached its height in the second and third centuries A.D. Most of the monumental architecture still visible here today dates to this golden age. Although the city was not on the coast, the river Eurymedon, on whose banks it was situated, allowed ships to reach it. This accessibility, together with the productive plain and the thickly forested mountains that lay behind Aspendos, were major factors in its development. Gold and silver embroidered tapestries woven in the city, furniture and figurines made from the wood of lemon trees, salt obtained from nearby Lake Capria, wine, and especially the famous horses of Aspendos were its foremost exports. Although they were renowned as grape growers and wine merchants, they did not offer wine to their gods in their religious rites. They explained this omission by saying that if wine were reserved for the gods, birds would not have the courage to eat grapes.
Few Aspendians made a name for themselves in history. Andromachos was a famous military commander in his day and was also the governor of Phoenicia and Syria. Little is known of the work of the native philosopher Diodorus, but that he wore the long hair, dirty clothes, and bare feet of the Cynics, which suggests he was influenced by Pythagorus.
At the beginning of the thirteenth century, Aspendos began to bear the imprint of settlement by the Seljuk Turks, especially during the reign of Alaeddin Keykubat I, when the theatre was thoroughly restored, embellished in Seljuk style with elegant tiles, and used as a palace.
At the end of the road that turns off the Antalya -Alanya highway, we come to the most magnificent, as well as functionally the best resolved and most complete example of a Roman theatre. The building, faithful to the Greek tradition, is partially built into the slope of a hill. Today visitors enter the stage building via a door opened in the facade during a much later period. The original entrances, however, are the vaulted paradoses at both ends of the stage building. The cavea is semicircular in shape and divided in two by a large diazoma. There are 21 tiers of seats above and 20 below. To provide ease of circulation so that the spectators could reach their seats without difficulty, radiating stairways were built, 10 in the lower level starting at the orchestra and 21 in the upper beginning at the diazoma. 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. From an architectural point of view, the diazoma's vaulted gallery acts as a substructure supporting the upper cavea. As a general rule of protocol, the private boxes above the entrances on both sides of the cavea were reserved for the Imperial family and the vestal virgins. 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 notables of the city. The remaining sections were open to all the citizens. The women usually sat on the upper rows under the gallery. From the names carved on certain seats in the upper cavea, it is clear that these too were reserved. Although it is impossible to determine the exact seating capacity of the theatre, it is said to have seated between 10,000 and 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 striking component is the stage building. On the lower floor of this two-storey structure, which is built of conglomerate rock, were five doors providing the actors entrance to the stage. The large door at the centre was known as the porta regia, and the two smaller ones on either side as the porta hospitales. The small doors at orchestra level belong to long corridors leading to the areas where the wild animals were kept. From surviving fragments it appears that sculptural works were placed in niches and aedicula under triangular and semicircular pediments.
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. Red zigzag motifs against white plaster, visible on some portions of the stage building, date to the Seljuk period. The top of the stage building is covered with a highly ornamented wooden roof.
The theatre at Aspendos is also famous for its magnificent accoustics. Even the slightest sound made at the centre of the orchestra can be easily hear as far as the uppermost galleries. Anatolia's patricians, who lived in the midst of a rich cultural heritage, created stories connected with the cities and monuments around them. One of these tales which has been passed down from generation to generation is about Aspendos' theatre. The king of Aspendos proclaimed that he would hold a contest to see what man could render the greatest service to the city; the winner would marry the king's daughter. Hearing this, the artisans of the city began to work at high speed. At last, when the day of the decision came and the king had examined all their efforts one by one, he designated two candidates. The first of them had succeeded in setting up a system that enabled water to be brought to the city from great distances via aqueducts. The second built the theatre. Just as the king was on the point of deciding in favour of the first candidate, he was asked to have one more look at the theatre. While he was wandering about in the upper galleries, a deep voice from an unknown source out saying again and again, "The king's daughter must be given to me" . In astonishment the king looked around for the owner of the voice but could find no one. It was, of course, the architect himself, proud of the accoustical masterpiece he had created, who was speaking in a low voice from the stage. In the end, it was the architect who won the beautiful girl and the wedding ceremony took place in the theatre.
We know from an inscription in the southern parados that the theatre was constructed during the reign of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.) by the architect Zeno, the son of an Aspendian named Theodoros. According to the inscription, the people of Aspendos, out of admiration for Zeno, awarded him a large garden beside the stadium. Greek and Latin inscriptions above the entrances on both sides of the stage building tell us that, two brothers named Curtius Crispinus and Curtius Auspicatus commissioned the building and dedicated it to the gods and the Imperial family.
No fee was charged for putting on a performance in the theatre. A portion of the necessary production costs were covered by civic institutions, but after the performance, part of the profits was turned over to these organizations. Generally one had to pay a fee or buy tickets to gain entry to plays or competitions. Tickets were made of metal, ivory, bone, or in most cases, fired clay, with a picture on one side and a row and seat number on the other.
Aspendos' other principal remains are above the acropolis, behind the theatre. The first building one comes to on the acropolis, which is reached via a footpath starting alongside the theatre, is a basilica measuring 27x105 metres. The basilica is an architectural from invented by the Romans. Roman basilicas were used for a wide variety of purposes, but these were all concerned with public affairs. Markets and law courts were set up in buildings. The basilica plan consists of a large central hall surrounded by smaller chambers. The central hall is separated from those at the sides by columns and its roof is higher. Ynside the basilica is a tribunal. During the Byzantine era the building underwent major alterations and lost much of its original character.
South of the basilica and bounded on three sides by houses, is the agora, the centre of the city's commercial, social, and political activities. A little further to the west are twelve shops of equal size all in a line at the rear of a stoa.
North of the agora is a nymphaeum of which only the front wall remains standing. Measuring 32.5 m. in width by 15 m. in height, this two-level facade has five niches at each level. The middle niche in the lower level is larger than the others and is thought have been used as a door. It is clear from the marble bases at the foot of the wall that the building originally had a colonnaded facade.
Behind the nymphaeum is a building of unusual plan, either an odeon or a bouleuterion where council members met.
Another of Aspendos' remains that should not be missed is its aqueduct. This one kilometre-long series of arches which brought water to the city from the mountains at the north, represents an extraordinary feat of engineering and is one of the rare examples surviving antiquity. The water was brought from its source in a channel formed by hollowed stone blocks on top of 15 metre-high arches. Near both ends of the aqueduct the water was collected in towers some 30 metres high, which was distributed to the city.
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 second century A.D.
Source: Ministery of Culture