Ancient Cities of Aegean Turkey

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10 Ancient Cities you can't skip in the Aegean Turkey

pergamon-theatre-turkey ancient cities
photo: twitter @HellenisticPod

There are 8 cities in the Aegean region of Turkey today: İzmir, Aydin, Manisa, Kutahya, Usak, Afyonkarahisar, Denizli, and Mugla. (Half of Mugla is considered in Mediterranean region of Turkey). Thousands of years of history these cities have can only be seen by visiting ancient cities in them. 

Some Aegean ancient cities were established by the sea as harbors and some others were in fertile plains and became the backbone of trade at the crossroads of historical trade routes. These rich Aegean cities used the geographical advantages for their benefit thus succeeded incredibly furthermore they broke the new ground. 

You’ll be seeing imposing monuments, cities with double giant theatres, stadiums for many flashy events, enormous public baths, gymnasiums, flamboyant streets, luxury houses, and many more. 

The prosperity attained, the architectural masterpieces, the artistic peaks are “Wow”. Of course, wars, slaughter and even earthquakes that this wealth will bring together sum up the ruined situation of the ancient cities. 

One more tip to remind the visitors is that many giant pieces from ancient cities in Turkey were stolen by westerners during the 19th Century under the name of “archeological excavation”.

map of turkey ancient cities // photo: ancientcitiesturkey.com/
map of turkey ancient cities // photo: ancientcitiesturkey.com/

Although there are many ancient cities in the Aegean Region(I’ve listed all of them below), in this article, I will only discuss the 10 most popular ancient cities that are better preserved with their impressive structures and potential. 

Here are 10 ancient cities that you must see in the Aegean region: 

Ephesus Ancient City(Izmir, Selcuk): An aegean Classic

Mentioning Aegean we got to start with Ephesus of course. Ephesus is one of the most well known and visited ancient cities in the world. It has been on the Unesco World Heritage List since 2015. 

celsus-library-in-ephesus turkey ancient cities
Celsus Library, Ephesus Ancient City // photo: herkesebilimteknoloji.com

Established 4 times thru history, today’s Ephesus is the 3rd city founded by a commander of Alexander the Great; Lysimachos. The imposing structures in the city should definitely be seen.

Ephesus, which has magnificent monumental buildings like the Celsus Library, was home to one of the first 3 libraries of the Ancient World. The 24,000-seated theater of the city is the world’s largest ancient theater and Ephesus hosts one of the 7 Holy Churches of the Christian world mentioned in the Bible: Book of Revelation.

Pergamon Ancient City (Izmir, Bergama): A new writing material called "parchment"

Capital of Pergamon Kingdom. City was heritaged to Roman Empire by last king Attalos III. When Egyptians prohibited papyrus export to Pergamon to restrain Pergamon Library’s overgrowth citizens of Pergamon invented a new writing material from goatskin called pergamont (parchment). 

Pergamon is a magnificent city with the biggest healing center called Asclepion, aqueducts, the steepest theater of Anatolia, and the world. It also hosts one of the 7 Holy Churches of the Christian world. And many more features are the reason why the ancient city of Pergamon took its place on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2014.

Priene Ancient City(Aydin, Soke): Pioneer of the Planned City System

Priene is around 60 km from Ephesus. Once the port city of Priene was located on the seashore. The city, which has a history of 2500 years, couldn’t resist the alluvium brought by the Meandres River and gradually began to lose its importance by the filled port moving away from the sea. It was built with a grid plan by Hippodamos, the pioneer of the Hippodamian plan.

Priene was one of the 12 important Ion cities in the Ionia region. Priene was included on the Unesco Tentative List in 2018. 

The city owes too much to its high location. You’ll be climbing up several stairs during your visit and tidy planned houses and monuments will be welcoming you in every corner. 

Miletus Ancient City (Aydin, Didim): City of Philosophers and Intellectuals

Miletus is just 20 km to Priene. This is the homeland of Hippodamos, the inventor of hippodamian (grill) city plan. This urbanism, emerged in Anatolia for the first time in the 5th century, has been an example for many European and world countries even today.

Miletus was one of the leading cities in Ionia but it shared the same fate with Ephesus and Priene. Due to stuffed alluvial in the ports cities got away from the sea by time. 

Thales, who is considered the first truly philosopher of the world, was born in this city. Moreover, philosophers like Anaksimenes and Anaksimandros got their fame in Miletus. That is why I call this city as ” City of philosophers”.

Fabolous theatre, agora, stadium, baths, Delphinion, Nymphaion, Bouleterion, and so on.. Don’t forget to visit the Milet museum during your visit. 

Aphrodisias Ancient City (Aydin, Geyre): Masters of Sculptures

The city was discovered by the famous journalist and photographer Ara Guler in 1958. Included in the Unesco World Heritage List in 2017 and accepted in “10 best ancient cities” in 2004.

The city, where sculptor schools were established and the art of sculpture peaked, gained a privileged status with the words of the Roman emperor Augustus, “I chose this city for myself from all of Asia”. 

Aphrodisias took its name from the goddess of beauty Aphrodite. Aphrodite temple, theatre, the best preserved ancient stadium in the world, bouleuterion, bath, agora, tetrapylon are all admirable.. 

One of the most beautiful ancient cities of Turkey… You definitely need to see it! 

Hierapolis Ancient City (Denizli, Pamukkale): Sacred City

Almost everyone knows about cotton castle and thermal waters around it. Hierapolis and Pamukkale share the same location, and the ancient city is just behind the white calcium terraces. Hierapolis has been included on the Unesco World Heritage List since 1998. Pamukkale and Hierapolis, which have double Unesco titles in both natural and cultural heritage fields, are our two inseparable values.

hierapolis-rose-the-guide- turkey ancient cities
Hierapolis Theatre // photo: photo: hurriyet.com.tr

Hierapolis name is derived from the legendary king of Pergamon ancient city, Attalos, and his wife Hiera. It basically means Hiera’s city. Healthy water springs of Hierapolis got the city famous and wealthy through time. It was one of the richest textile cities of the Roman Empire. 

Today Hierapolis has the best preserved necropolis of ancient times, in addition, it is the city where Saint Philip, one of the apostles of Jesus, came and was martyred. His graveyard is still in Hierapolis. Another extraordinary monument of Hierapolis was “Gate of Hell” or “Plutonium” where people believed the entrance of hell used to be. 

Hierapolis was devastated by earthquakes a few times and abandoned eventually. 

Some Tip: The ancient pool, where Cleopatra was believed to have bathed, is open to the public today. Enjoy your swim! 

Laodicea Ancient City (Denizli, Pamukkale): Textile Capital

Laodicea is estimated to be the largest ancient city in Turkey once the excavations are completed. The city is 15 km to Hierapolis. 

It gained a worldwide reputation for the fabrics produced from the soft wool of the raven-colored sheep. They exported their goods to royals of Rome and many other parts of the world thus the city turned into “the capital of fashion” in the ancient world. It also hosts one of the churches mentioned in the Bible: Book of Revelation. 

Sardes(Manisa, Salihli): The Lydian capital where the money was minted for the first time in history

Kroisos, the legendary king of Lydia, got his fortune from the gold deposits of Paktalos River. Thus, his wealth reached the top with the invention of money. This superpower was unfortunately defeated by Persians. Kroisos’ fortune is exhibited in the Usak Museum today. 

Like Laodiceia, Sardes city has one of the churches mentioned in the Bible: Book of Revelation.

Sardes is on the Unesco Tentative List since 2013.

Knidos Ancient City (Mugla,Datca): Science and Art Center of Caria

Knidos, which was a trade center for centuries due to its strategic location, was the science, culture, and art center of the ancient Caria Region. Knidos made a reputation for its naked Aphrodite statue, boldly blazed a trail at that time, and tons of people came from far away to see this naked statue.

Knidos Ancient City was advanced a lot in the field of science, culture, and art. The most famous observatory of its time was here, and Eudoksos was studying stars and also doing lots of studies in mathematics, physics, and astronomy. Moreover the architect of Alexandria Lighthouse, Sostratos was born here. 

Aizonai (Kutahya, Cavdarhisar): World's Oldest Stock Exchange Center

The city has the world’s best preserved Zeus temple along with a Macellum which is the world’s first known stock exchange building. The 20.000 capacity theatre proves how big and rich the city was already. It has been on the Unesco Tentative List since 2012.

List of all ancient cities in Aegean Turkey according to their location:

  • Aegae
  • Amyzon
  • Arpasa
  • Ephesus
  • Erythrai
  • Clazomenae
  • Cyme
  • Magnesia ad Meandrum
  • Mastaura
  • Metropolis
  • Miletus
  • Notion
  • Nysa
  • Orthosia
  • Pergamon
  • Perperene
  • Phocaea
  • Piginda
  • Priene
  • Sardes
  • Smyrna
  • Temnos
  • Teos
  • Tralleis

Inner Aegean region

  • Celaenae
  • Laodiceia
  • Philadelphia
  • Tripolis

Southwestern Aegean region

  • Alabanda
  • Alinda
  • Amos
  • Didyma
  • Euromos
  • Halicarnassus
  • Hyllarima
  • Iassos
  • Castabos
  • Caunos
  • Cedrai
  • Cnidus
  • Cyon
  • Labraunda
  • Lagina
  • Latmos
  • Mylasa
  • Stratonicea

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