The Ancient City of Aspendos

Aspendos Yolu, 07500 Sarıabalı/Serik/Antalya, Türkiye


Aspendos is located to the east of Antalya and is famous for its best-preserved ancient amphitheater built in the 2nd century AD during the reign of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

In antiquity Aspendos was probably the most important city in Pamphylia. This glorious city reached its epoch during the Roman period when trade and commerce flourished here. According to tradition the city was founded by the famous Greek diviner Mopsos around 1000 BC and archaeologists have found evidence of a settlement here from the Hittite era (800 BC) onwards. Similar to the nearby towns of Perge and Side, the city’s eventual decline was due to the silting up of its harbour and the centralisation policies of the Byzantine Empire. By the time of Seljuk domination over this part of Turkey, Aspendos’ once great theatre was only being used as a caravanserai. Today the city is 15 km. from the sea. Aspendos Theater has survived to our day fairly undamaged and Aspendos became famous with this theater. This structure with an extraordinarily perfect acoustics hosts every year international and local concerts and festivals.

The king of Aspendos announces that he will organize a competition to see who will serve much for the city and says that the winner will marry with his daughter. The artisans who hear this immediately start studying. Finally when the deadline comes, the king analyses everyone’s effort one by one and chooses two candidates. First candidate successes to bring water to the city from far corners of the city by the help of water canals.

The second candidate builds a theatre. When the king is about to decide on the first candidate he wants to analyse theatre for the last time. While he is walking about the top floor of the gallery he hears a voice calling from deep and continuously saying: “the daughter of the king must be mine”. Amazed by the event he searches for the voice but is unable to find where it comes from. This person is absolutely the architect of the theatre who is so proud of the acoustic of his masterpiece and talking on the scene in a feeble pipe. At the end, the architect wins the beautiful daughter and the wedding ceremony is held on this theatre.
This story is about the most important antique work of Aspendos, Aspendos Antique Theatre.
Going to the eastward of Antalya, one can reach Serik Borough in 39 km, and from there to Eurymedon river in 7 km. Aspendos, situated near Eurymedon river is founded by Aka civilization in 10 BC. and is one of the richest cities of the antique age. The theatre in here is built up by Roman in 2 AC. The city is founded upon two hills one is small and one is huge.
The amphitheatre in Aspendos, that is wanted to be conquered by many for ages since being connected to Kucukcay river to the harbour is the one which is most secured till today and therefore is an important open-air theatre.

This theatre is the most ancient and solid sample of the Roman Theatres in Anatolia. On an epitaph on the south parados it is written that the theatre was built by the architect Zeno, the son of an Aspendian called Theodoros in the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AC). According to this epigraph, Aspendian people appreciated Zeno and awarded him with a great garden near the stadium.

The Theatre

Aspendos’ theatre is one of the largest ever built by the Romans in Asia Minor and today it is one of the best preserved examples of Roman theatre architecture. Located in the lower town area of the site, the theatre was built in the 2nd century AD during Marcus Aurelius’ reign. The enormous seating plan could fit an audience of between 15,000 and 20,000. It has been thoroughly restored and is now used for music and drama festivals including Turkey’s famous annual Aspendos Opera Festival.

The semi-circular auditorium, divided into two sections by a broad passage half-way up, has 20 tiers of seating with 10 staircases in the lower half and 19 tiers with 21 staircases in the upper part. Round the top runs a barrel-vaulted colonnade. At either end of the stage are vaulted passages giving access to the orchestra. The two-story stage wall was articulated by slender double columns with Ionic capitals on the lower order and Corinthian capitals on the upper one. The double column flanking the central entrance to the stage had a common broken pediment. The stage itself had a wooden roof suspended by ropes and the auditorium too was probably covered by an awning.


Immediately above the lower town of Aspendos rises the 40m acropolis hill. Beyond the remains of a small temple and the agora stands the nymphaeum (fountain shrine), once a monumental structure articulated by double columns but now represented only by a wall 32m long with 10 niches for statues. Adjoining this on the north are the foundations of another building, probably the bouleuterion or council chamber.


Just to the north of Aspendos’ acropolis hill are the remains of a rather magnificent ancient aqueduct and two linked water towers which would have originally provided water for the city.

april, 2019

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