Temple of Aphrodite and Church


What remains today of the Temple of Aphrodite is really the Church into which it was converted in late antiquity. Both the Temple and the Church were imposing monuments whose separate forms can be reconstructed in detail.

The sanctuary of Aphrodite was the heart of the community, and its central focus was a traditional Greek-style temple surrounded by columns and built entirely of marble. The temple was the house of the goddess and accommodated her cult statue. It was an Ionic temple and designed in the hellenistic manner of the architect Hermogenes. In technical terms, it was pseudodipteral, octostyle, and pycnostyle. That is, the temple chamber (cella) was surrounded by a wide colonnade (pseudodipteral); it has an eight-column facade (octostyle); and its columns are set close together (pycnostyle). The long sides had thirteen columns. Its outside dimensions were 8.5 X 31 m.

The chronology of the temple is secured by inscriptions. The first phase, dated to the 30s BC by a dedication of C. Julius Zoilos inscribed on the door lintel, probably included the cella with a columned porch. Around this the outer columns were added during the first century AD, as recorded in individual donor inscriptions on the columns. In the second century AD, the temple was enclosed in an elaborate colonnaded court, framed by a two-storeyed columnar façade on the east side, and by porticos on the north, west, and south. Soundings beneath the temple have revealed archaic pottery and some early structures on a different orientation, including a large piece of early Hellenistic pebble mosaic, but nothing to demonstrate an archaic predecessor of the Roman temple.

Around c. AD 500, the temple was converted into a church. It was a thoughtful, thorough, and economic conversion, and it was a colossal undertaking. The temple was literally turned inside out and back to front. The lateral columns were left in position to form the nave, while the columns from the ends were moved to extend the length of the nave both east and west. The cella walls were dismantled and remounted outside the columns to form the handsome exterior walls of the church that are partly preserved today. The entrance was changed to the west and an apse built at the east end. Finally, the architecture of the surrounding colonnades of the sanctuary was re-used to make a narthex and forecourt. In this way, the Temple of Aphrodite was converted into the Cathedral of St. Michael, a church of basilical plan and one much larger than the columnar pagan temple it replaced (28 X 60 m). The manner in which this change was effected is unique among known temple-to-church conversions. The church remained in use until the Seljuk conquest of the region around Aphrodisias in c. AD 1200.

The Temple-Church is a superbly preserved monument that has been standing in its present state since the medieval period. It was destroyed by fire, and the burning of its massive roof timbers created an intense heat that badly fractured the columns of the nave on their inner faces but did not bring them down. Fourteen columns and large parts of the outer walls and the apse remain standing. Some architraves are still in position on top of the columns but shifted by earthquakes.

Composite plan of Temple of Aphrodite (shaded grey) and later Church

 

A Collaboration:

Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism New York University University of Oxford

 

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Ioannou Centre for Classical & Byzantine Studies
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Sevgi Gönül Hall, 2008