Aspendos Theater: The marvel of the Ancient Roman World

The semi-circular amphitheatrical seating area and the vaulted arcade at the top of the Roman Theater of Aspendos in Turkiye

Aspendos theater is one of Turkey’s greatest treasures. The ruins of the ancient city of Aspendos can be found at about 50 kilometers east of Antalya, in Southern Turkey and 500 km away from Cappadocia. The Aspendos Theater is one of the best-preserved theaters of antiquity in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The theatre of Aspendos was built in the 2nd century ad during the reign of emperor Marcus Aurelius. It has impressive acoustics and still hosts performances today.

History and significance of Aspendos Theater

In ancient times, Aspendos was a thriving port city on the Mediterranean coast in Pamphylia, one of the most important trading centers of the Roman Empire in the ancient world. According to legend, the city was founded around 1000 BC by a Greek soothsayer named Mopsos. The archaeological evidence found attests to the existence of a settlement on the site from around the 5th century BC.

Like the nearby ancient cities of Perga (Perge) and Side, the eventual decline of the city was due to the decline of its port as a result of the centralization policies of the Byzantine Empire.

One of the best-preserved Roman theaters in the word with the semi-circular seating area and the two-story stage decorated with columns and numerous capitals.
Aspendos Theater, Turkiye

The Theater of Aspendos is an ancient Roman theater built between 161-180 AD under the reign of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius as one of the largest theaters built by the Romans in Asia Minor. The theater was an important cultural and entertainment center where various performances were held, including plays, music, and even gladiatorial contests. It is remarkable how well the amphitheater has been preserved over time.

According to a local myth, Aspendos’ ruler once held a contest to see who could best improve the city. The prize? His daughter’s hand in marriage. Two finalists emerged: one built water canals and aqueducts, nearly winning. But then, the ruler visited the other finalist’s creation, a theatre. Standing at the top, he heard a voice whisper, “Your daughter must be mine!” It came from the builder on stage, showcasing the theatre’s incredible acoustics. Amazed, the ruler chose the theatre’s builder as the winner.

Today it is one of the best preserved examples of Roman theater architecture. In the 13th century, during the Seljuk periods, it was used only as a caravanserai.

Architecture and design of Aspendos Theater

The architecture of the Aspendos Theatre is dazzling. The magnificent structure is built into a hill. The natural slope of the hill was used to create the amphitheatrical shape. The spectator tribune is divided into two sectors. The lower section, which was closer to the stage, was reserved for the elite, and the top rows for the mob.

The theatre seats between 15,000 and 20,000 spectators. The acoustics of the Aspendos theatre are amazing. It is said that the softest sound can reach every corner of the theatre.

The Aspendos theater two-story stage with columns and numerous capitals.
The Aspendos theater two-story stage

The top of the theater is a vaulted arcade.

The two-story stage building is decorated with columns and numerous capitals.

Preservation and restoration efforts

Conservation and restoration efforts at the Aspendos Theatre have played a crucial role in maintaining its excellent condition. Various restoration projects have been undertaken over the years to ensure the longevity of this ancient wonder.

One of the most significant restoration projects was carried out in the 20th century under the direction of the Turkish government.  In the 1930s, on the orders of the first president of the Turkish republic Atatürk, a complete restoration and repair of the theater was begun to protect it from the elements and prevent further deterioration.

In the present day, the Aspendos Roman theatre is used as a stage for music and drama festivals, including the famous annual Aspendos International Opera and Ballet Festival.

During my visit, a young girl, a fellow tourist, took the stage.  She sang a famous opera aria while spinning in a circle and waving a silk scarf behind her. I wish I could put the experience into words. The beautiful voice, the haunting music, the stunning acoustics, the fairy colors of the scarf.

Well preserved parts of the Nymphaeum at Aspendos Antique City Turkey, consisting of several brick walls with niches and capitals.
The Nymphaeum at Aspendos Antique City Turkey

How to visit Aspendos Theater

 A visit to the Aspendos Theater is a unique experience that should not be missed. The theater is located in Antalya province, Turkey, about 50 kilometers east of the city of Antalya. Antalya airport is well connected to both Istanbul airports. Many European airports also offer flights to Antalya, especially during the summer season.

Aspendos can be reached by the minibuses (Dolmus) that run between Antalya and Side. Get off at the junction for Aspendos and from there, it’s about 4 kilometers on foot. Or you can choose to rent a car which is well more comfortable. Almost every hotel in Antalya has a rental car service.

 Once you arrive at the Aspendos Theater, buy your ticket at the entrance and explore at your own pace. Take at least a few hours to fully appreciate the beauty, history, and architecture of one of the best-preserved ancient theaters.

If you want to learn more, join a guided tour. The tours also include Perge, Side and the Manavgat waterfall, and will show you the best of Antalya region in just a day

When to visit Aspendos Theater

The best time to visit the ancient site of Aspendos is spring to early summer and autumn. Summers in Southern Turkey can become extremely hot. 

Nearby attractions and activities

The impressive theater is surrounded by picturesque scenery, with Mount Taurus serving as a stunning backdrop, creating a truly picturesque setting for patrons.

While the Aspendos Theatre is undoubtedly the main attraction, there is much more to see and do in the surrounding area.

A stone path leading to an ancient stone gate and the stone walls of the Basilica at Aspendos Ancient City
The Ornamental Gate and the Basilica at Aspendos Ancient City

The Aspendos Theatre is located in what is known as the Lower City. Just above it is the Upper City with the ancient ruins of the city of Aspendos. You will find on the hill the Acropolis, remains of a small temple, the agora, and the nymphaeum, of which only a wall about 30 meters long with 10 niches for statues remains.

For nature lovers, a visit to Köprülü Canyon National Park is a must. Here you can enjoy hiking trails, go rafting, or simply soak up the breathtaking natural beauty of the park. 

The nearby city of Side, apart from being a Mediterranean Sea resort,  also offers a wealth of historical sites and Roman ruins: a well-preserved ancient city with a Roman amphitheater, remains of a hospital, a library, and residential and public buildings.

Remnants of antique Apollon Temple consisting of several columns with capitals at the Medirranean coast.
Side Turkiye, Apollon Temple

In conclusion, the Aspendos Theater in Turkiye is an amazing Roman landmark. It’s beautifully built and full of history, making it a great spot for people who love old civilizations. The theater is really well-preserved, letting you feel like you’re in ancient times. If you’re interested in archaeology or just want to see something incredible, Aspendos Theater is definitely worth a visit.

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