Aphrodisias, an ancient city discovered by photographer Ara Güler

It is a unique story of how the ancient City of Aphrodisias, located in the southwest of Turkey close to the city of Aydin – Karacasu ( in Karya ), and the village of Geyre was discovered.

In April 2016 we are on the road in the Aegean region which is a treasury of ancient civilizations and archeological sites and world famous for its historical remains.

We have 4 days where we want to visit a range of historical places with our great guide Mr. Mehmet who is an expert of the region .

Within 4 days we are visiting 25 ! historical sites among which are Ephesus , Priene , Millet , Labranda , Stratoneika ,Nyssa , Hierapolis, Laodikea ,Mugla , Iassos and many many more .

It was unbelievable what we have seen and Mr Mehmet told us all about the differences and the historical background of all these sites . The weather is perfect spring weather , the sky is clear , the mood is great – it is wonderful to explore this region with such a great professional support as since ever many civilizations passed this region and settled down as it is very peaceful and has fertile soils , water and a good climate for farming .

This is also the reason why Anatolia is called “the cradle of mankind”.

During our tour we come to a impressively huge archaeological site with a well reserved historical richness but let me first tell the interesting story of the discovery of that ancient city.

The story begins in the year of 1958 when Ara Guler, a 30 year old photographer is invited to the opening of a dam close to Aydin to take pictures for the Menderes government.

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After he takes his pictures of the dam opening , his driver tells him that he knows a short cut to go back home but unfortunately they somehow lose their way . Wherever they drive with their car they are confronted with big rocks and cannot drive further . Meanwhile the sun is going down and they are totally lost in the dark when Mr Ara Guler all of a sudden recognizes a light in the gloom .They follow the light and arrive at a little coffeehouse . It is dark and the coffeehouse is enlightened by gas lamps. In the darkness Ara Guler remarks that there is no table in the coffeehouse but a head of an ancient pillar in mid of the room that the village people use to play domino on.

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He asks the people where they got this piece from and they just respond that there are hundreds of those outside in the fields.

Ara Guler spends the night in the village and on the next day he cannot believe his eyes when he walks around .He never has seen something like this in his life before and begins to take photos .The village is full of ancient Roman historical pieces and he is overwhelmed by the beauty that he is confronted with.

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The village people of Geyre were living in and on the ancient ruins of a city eg they were playing backgammon on the foot of some ancient pillars in front of their village coffeehouse or they were preparing their syrup of grapes in the tub of some sarcophages ( stone coffins decorated with some sculptures ) , they were sitting and relaxing on the ancient seat benches of the old theatre in the sun or they were riding their donkeys through the cobblestoned streets of the historical city .

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He saw many many sculptural faces in the historical ruins and therefore decided to name his related report “the Cry of Aphrodisias ” as he felt that the historical site somehow was raising its voice for some rescue .

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For the village people the ancient ruins were a part of their daily life . They were living their lifetime within the remains of the thousands of years old site . They were not aware that they were sitting on a jewel of archaeology . The village and the archaeological site were co-existing as one .

Nobody in the country was aware of these people and their ancient living space – for hundreds of years they were living in this way , forgotten and nobody recognized them until Ara Guler by chance came to visit this region . So he took as many photographs of them as his film rolls allowed him to.

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When he went back to Istanbul he did a lot of research but could not find any relevant information about the region.

He sent his unique and awesome photos and his reports of Geyre village to the government and the local authorities but nobody showed any reaction .

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Later he sent all those material to the ” Times ” and some other world famous foreign magazines to attract their attention . The “Times ” responded to him and asked him to take the same pictures in Geyre once again but not in black and white but in color this time . Ara Guler returned to Geyre and took the colored pictures as required by the magazine. These pictures became world famous and were finding an awesome feedback . Archaeologist professor Kenan Erim came from US to the region and finally found out that the village of Geyre was located in mid of the ruins of the ancient city of Aphrodisias that was part of the Roman Empire about 500 BC . It was named after Aphrodite , the Goddess of Beauty ,Eternal Youth , Fertility and Love in the Greek Mythology.

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Aphrodisias built as a city hundreds of years BC was the metropolis of the region . Sculptures and Facades made out of white and blue grey marble were built over here and became very famous in the Roman World .

World famous sculptors from allover the Roman Empire were brought to this region in ancient times to build an extremely beautiful and outstanding site , much nicer then Ephesus ( Efes ) or Pergamon ( Bergama ) which were huge ancient cities very close by. Aphrodisias was aimed to become the most beautiful among all and this was the reason why it was named after the highest Goddess of Beauty .

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The fact that Aphrodisias was not located on the mainroads made the city remain well preserved . In the ancient times it was a medium size city with a population of about 10.000 people and it was decorated with the grandeur of architectural excellence and became a beautiful city of marble in those days .

Starting in 1960 Prof Dr Erim , a Turkish archeologist who was a scholar at Princeton University in New York, became very interested and started the initiative for official excavations in Geyre village. Those excavations took 3 decades. He and his team excavated one after the other historical remains of unpayable richness- an amphi theatre , a huge stadium ( 260 m long , 50 m wide and a place for 30.000 visitors ) which was totally well preserved , Roman baths ,a sebastion ,a rich agora , pillars , sculptures, the Tetrapylon ( special gate with 4 x 4 pillars – Tetra in Hellenistic language means 4 ) which is the symbol of Aphrodisias with unique beauty to name just some of them. Most important is certainly the temple of Aphrodite where 14 pillars are still standing there and reminding of the old temple .It is also reported that this place under the temple also in much earlier times was place of a Pagan temple where people were looking for some protection.

After the excavations started the village of Geyre was removed to another location close by .The people were forced to leave their homes to open space for the archaeological teams to work .

The old colored wooden Geyre houses of the village people meanwhile became the museums sales- and coffeehouse or some administrational buildings of the museum.

Mr Prof Erim put his whole life, his enthusiasm and energy into this site and after his death in 1990 he was modestly buried next to the Tetrapylon in the archaeological site which is also a unique thankful tribute to him . It is said that finally he found his eternal peace at the breast of his everlasting darling ” Aphrodisias ” .

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What a story … and what a great person he is – due to his efforts the World got to know this beautiful location and history through his awesome photos ! But that’s not the only reason the whole world is familiar with his photographs…

Born in August 1928 in Istanbul, Ara Guler always told himself to become a world photojournalist and citizen. Graduated from the University of Istanbul of Economics, he started to work as a journalist and photographer. He became a photographer for Time -Life , Paris Match , Sunday Times and Stern magazine in his early years .

The English ” Photography Annual Anthology ” declared him one of the best 7 photographers in the World .

He had reportages with people like Winston Churchill , Indira Ghandi , Willi Brandt , Alfred Hitchcock , Salvador Dali , Picasso , John Berger , Maria Callas and many others and took their photographs . One of the most famous ones became his reportage with Picasso as he usually always refused to pose for any photos .

Ara Guler put a lot of importance onto people and their real life in his photos and described himself as a visual historian. Due to his philosophy photos could never lie . During his lifetime he got many national and international awards for his photographs.

Having heard this unique story about Ara Guler and his way of discovering this location we arrive at the entrance of the archaeological site of Aphrodisias and the words and explanations of our guide are ringing in my ears .

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The site is huge , really huge and the ruins are so vivid . You don’t have the feeling that they are coming from thousands of years back in time . Everywhere you see the faces that Ara Guler mentioned – the Cry of Aphrodisias – yes, they are there and they are looking at you. Now they should be happy to be rescued and reached out to their real value . The site became a UNESCO Heritage site in 2017.

However, in a later speech of Ara Guler he just mentions that the site today is totally different then what he found 60 years ago .

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Today the site is somehow dead – well reserved and a museum to be visited and a huge part is excavated but of course there is nobody left from the local people while the site that he discovered was vivid in the 1950s and a part of peoples real life today. The historical site was naturally integrated into their daily rhythm and the way of living was more then unique and impressive !

On the 17th of October 2018 , just few days ago , this great photographer Ara Guler died in the age of 90 leaving a treasure of photos , books , artistic works, personal and professional memories, talks , speeches vs behind – an awesome artist and man !

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This blog is herewith a tribute to him and to all the people in the World who make a positive difference and bring positive added value to mankind .

May he rest in peace !

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