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Aspendos Theatre

Aspendos Theatre

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Antalya Perge Antique City and Aspendos Theatre

Perge Ancient City, situated within the boundaries of Aksu, a town 17 kilometres east of the Antalya city center. The city believed to be in existence during the Hittite Period and known as &ldquoParha&rdquo became one of the most orderly cities of Anatolia during the Roman Period. The city became famous for its architecture and marble sculpting, and the statues unearthed during the excavations of the ancient city have rendered the Antalya Museum one of the most important collections of its type in the world. The 15.000 seat theatre is quite well preserved. The two storey elaborately decorated stage building across the cavea was built during the 2nd century AD. Another principal structure of the ancient city of Perge is the stadium, which is one of the best preserved antique stadia in Turkey. The stadium was built in the 2nd century BC. Spectators section has a capacity of about 12.000 seats.

Aspendos, located about 48 km east of Antalya, within the boundaries of Serik County, Aspendos is renowned for its architectural structures such as aquedacts, temples and the stadium. It was also renowned during Antiquity for its manufacture of decorative items and furniture, as well as for horse breeding and trading.

The Aspendos Theatre, praised by the famous travellers as one of the most magnificent and well-preserved buildings in the World, and it is the best surviving example of the theatres built by the Romans in Asia and Africa. It was built during the reign of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius by the architect Zeno, son of Theodoros. The scene building, stone paved orchestra, and the cavea with a seating capacity of approximately 15-20.000 spectators are the main components of the theatre. The building is one of the pinnacles of ancient architecture and it has an excellent plan and superb acoustics.


The name Pamphylia comes from the Greek Παμφυλία, [2] itself from Ancient Greek: πάμφυλος (pamphylos), literally "of mingled tribes or races", [3] a compound of πᾶν (pan), neuter of πᾶς (pas) "all" [4] + φυλή (phylē), "race, tribe". [5] Herodotus derived its etymology from a Dorian tribe, the Pamphyloi (Πάμφυλοι), who were said to have colonized the region. [6] The tribe, in turn, was said to be named after Pamphylos (Greek: Πάμφυλος), son of Aigimios. [7] [8]

The Pamphylians were a mixture of aboriginal inhabitants, immigrant Cilicians (Greek: Κίλικες ) and Greeks [9] who migrated there from Arcadia and the Peloponnese in the 12th century BC. [10] The significance of the Greek contribution to the origin of the Pamphylians can be attested alike by tradition and archaeology [11] and Pamphylia can be considered a Greek country from the early Iron Age until the early Middle Ages. [12]

There can be little doubt that the Pamphylians and Pisidians were the same people, though the former had received colonies from Greece and other lands, and from this cause, combined with the greater fertility of their territory, had become more civilized than their neighbours in the interior. [ citation needed ] But the distinction between the two seems to have been established at an early period. Herodotus, who does not mention the Pisidians, enumerates the Pamphylians among the nations of Asia Minor, while Ephorus mentions them both, correctly including the one among the nations on the coast, the other among those of the interior. [1]

A number of scholars have distinguished in the Pamphylian dialect important isoglosses with both Arcadian and Cypriot (Arcadocypriot Greek) which allow them to be studied together with the group of dialects sometimes referred to as Achaean since it was settled not only by Achaean tribes but also colonists from other Greek-speaking regions, Dorians and Aeolians. [13] The legend related by Herodotus and Strabo, which ascribed the origin of the Pamphylians to a colony led into their country by Amphilochus and Calchas after the Trojan War, is merely a characteristic myth. [1]

A treaty between the Hittite Great King Tudḫaliya IV and his vassal, the king of Tarḫuntašša, defined the latter's western border at the city "Parha" and the "Kastaraya River". [14] The river is assumed to be the classical Kestros (Turkish Aksu Çayı) Parha, the future Perge. West of Parha were the "Lukka Lands". [15] The Pamphylian language was likely a late Luwic dialect, related to Carian, Lycian, Lydian and/or Milyan.

When the region returns to history its population is "Pamphylian", that is Greek-speaking. On Cyrus's defeat of Croesus, Pamphylia passed to the Persian Empire. Darius included it in his first tax-district alongside Lycia, Magnesia, Ionia, Aeolia, Mysia, and Caria. [16] At some point between 468 and 465 BC, the Athenians under Cimon fought the Persians at the Eurymedon, and won thus adding Pamphylia to their "Delian League" empire. Toward the end of the Peloponnesian War, the Athenians were weakened enough that the Persians were able to retake it. [17]

Upon Alexander the Great's defeat of Darius III, Pamphylia passed back to Greek rule, now Macedonians. After the defeat of Antiochus III in 190 BC they were included among the provinces annexed by the Romans to the dominions of Eumenes of Pergamum but somewhat later they joined with the Pisidians and Cilicians in piratical ravages, and Side became the chief centre and slave mart of these freebooters. Pamphylia was for a short time included in the dominions of Amyntas, king of Galatia, but after his death lapsed into a district of a Roman province. [1]

As of 1911, the district was largely peopled with recently settled Ottoman Muslims from Greece, Crete, and the Balkans, as a result of the long-term consequences of the Congress of Berlin and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. [1]


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Aspendus, Greek Aspendos near modern Belkis, ancient city of Pamphylia (modern Köprü), near the mouth of the Eurymedon (modern Köprü) River in southern Turkey, some 3 miles (5 km) from modern Belkis. It is noted for its Roman ruins. A wide range of coinage from the 5th century bc onward attests to the city’s wealth. In the 5th century bc Aspendus was a member of the Delian League and under Athenian influence. In the 4th century it was under Persian rule until it was occupied by Alexander the Great (333). In the Hellenistic Age it was dominated at various times by the Seleucids or the Ptolemies, until 189, when it passed to the Romans. The hilltop ruins of the city include a basilica, an agora (marketplace), and some rock-cut tombs of Phrygian design. A huge theatre, one of the finest in the world, is carved out of the northeast flank of the hill. It was designed by the Roman architect Zeno in honour of the emperor Marcus Aurelius (reigned ad 161–180).

More than a theatre

A path leads up from the right of the theatre entrance to the acropolis, built on a flat topped hill. The site is a little overgrown but some substantial buildings are still in place. Foremost among them are a nymphaeum (fountain shrine), an agora (market-place) and a bouleuterion (council chamber) and the remains of the village street, all of them invisible from the theatre below.

The acropolis at Aspendos -Photograph by Nichola Chapman


One side of the agora was entirely occupied by a gigantic fountain. It is similar to that at Side and to fountains recently discovered and reconstructed at Sagalassos, not far from Aspendos. In general these facilities are dated between the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117-138) and that of Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211). The niches housed statues of deities or emperors (with their wives) or of wealthy citizens who had financed the construction of the fountain.

Exploring Aspendos – images from a wealthy city of Pamphylia

The second place I visited during my recent trip to Turkey was Aspendos (see itinerary map here). Aspendos is one of the most popular historic sites in the Antalya region. It is located beside the river Eurymedon (Köprüçay) and is renowned throughout the world for its magnificent ancient theatre. During ancient times, the central region of Antalya was known as Pamphylia and Aspendos was one of the most impressive cities in the region. According to Greek legend, the city was founded by Argive colonists who, under the leadership of the hero Mopsos, came to Pamphylia after the Trojan War. Aspendos was one of the first cities in the region to strike coinage under its own name (5th century BC).

In 547 BC, Aspendos came under Persian domination. In 467 BC the Athenian admiral Cimon and his fleet of 200 ships defeated the Persians. After the conquests of Alexander the Great, Pamphylia became Greek.

During the Roman occupation, the town became an important center of the trade in salt, oil, corn, wine, and horses. With its fertile plains and export trade, Aspendos became one of Pamphylia’s richest cities as can be seen from its monumental structures like the Aspendos Theatre. The ruins we can visit today, date from this period.

Many tourists come to Aspendos to see its impressive Roman theatre, said to be one of the best-preserved of the ancient world. The building, faithful to the Greek tradition, is partially built into the slope of a hill.

We know from inscription in the southern parados that the theatre was constructed during the reign of Marcus Aurelius by an architect named Zeno and that it was a gift to the city by two brothers, Crispius Crispinus and Crispius Auspicatus.

The cavea is semicircular in shape and divided in two by a large diazoma. There are 21 tiers of seats above and 20 below. Beginning from the orchestra and going up, the first row of seats belonged to senators, judges, and ambassadors, while the second was reserved for other notable of the city. The remaining sections were open to all the citizens. The women usually sat on the upper rows under the gallery.

A wide gallery consisting of 59 arches and thought to have been built at a later date, goes from one end of the upper cavea to the other.

The capacity was about 12,000 people. In recent years, concerts given in the theatre, as part of the Antalya Film and Art festival, have shown that as many as 20,000 spectators can be crowded into the seating area.

Without doubt the Aspendos theatre’s most attractive and striking component is the stage building.

On the lower floor of this two-storey structure were five doors proving the actors entrance to the stage. The large door at the centre was known as the valva regia, and the two smaller ones on either side as the portae hospitales. The small doors at orchestra level belong to long corridors leading to the areas where the wild animals were kept.

In the pediment at the centre of the colonnaded upper floor is a relief of Dionysos, the god of wine and the founder and patron of theatres.

Aspendos’ other principal remains are on the Acropolis, behind the theatre. The first building is a Roman basilica. The basilica was originally used as a public and administrative building and then converted into a Christian church in the Byzantine period.

South of the basilica and bounded on three sides by houses and stores is the agora, the centre of the city’s commercial, social, and political activities.

The most magnificent structure of the Acropolis is the nympheaum (monumental fountain) of which only the front wall remains standing. It was built during the 2nd or 3rd century AD.

Other remains at Aspendos are the foundations ruins of a Doric temple with a peripteros plan located at the northeast of the basilica on a flat hill overlooking the stadium.

The other ancient remains at Aspendos that should not be missed is its aqueduct. This one kilometre long series of arches brought water to the city from the mountains in the north. The image below shows the well-preserved remains of the inverted siphon which made this aqueduct famous.

An inscription found in Aspendos tells us that a certain Tiberius Claudius Italicus had the aqueduct built, and presented it to the city. Its architectural features and construction techniques date it to the middle of the 2nd century AD.

Finally, located 4km southeast of Aspendos, is the Eurymedon Bridge, a late Roman bridge over the river Eurymedon. The foundations and several remnants (spolia) of the Roman structure were used by the Seljuqs to build a new bridge in the 13th century, the Köprüpazar Köprüsü, which stands to this day. The bridge is marked by a significant displacement of its course in the middle, following the ancient piers.

The exact date of the bridge’s construction is uncertain. The date of construction is closely connected with the Aqueduct of Aspendos, parts of which were re-used in the bridge.

Text source: Antique Cities Guide written by Archaeologist Kayhan Dörtlük

All at Aspendos - Pavarotti, Tarkan, La Traviata

Aspendos is the best kept ancient amphitheatre in Asia. Lots of people are lost for words when they see this giant site opening up in front of them. Tour and travel guides await the visitors, amongst them Zeki, a lively, curly-haired guy from Istanbul. ‘During the 13th century the Seldjuk’s changed the theatre into a caravansaray’, he explains, ‘that’s why it is so well preserved’. His words quickly rise high up into the last and highest line of seats – as mentioned before, the acoustics are still surprisingly good.

Some famous items from this year’s programme are a show featuring Thomas Gottschalk, a German TV star, and the “Fire of Anatolia”, a world famous dance performance.

Still today, many special events like concerts or ballets can be seen at Aspendos: Pavarotti, Tarkan, La Traviata….. For these they put pads and cushion onto the marble seats, and all the ice–cream and sandwich sellers of the area turn up.

The applause can be heard until late at night echoing in the Taurus Mountains. Programmes for the season at Aspendos are available at most hotels and at lots of travel agencies. If you are interested and it fits in with your travel arrangements, you should certainly try to book tickets for one of the events in the Theatre of Aspendos, whether you like to listen to things like classical music or whether you are a fan of rock music.


Aspendos is located 48 kilometers (30 miles) 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. The theater has a capacity of 15,000 people and is still used today for performances and festivals. Its galleries, stage decorations and acoustics all testify to its architect Xeno's success. Next to the stage there is a small room which is used as a small museum where you can see some of the masks and clay tickets from the ancient times. Just above the theater there is the acropolis with a great view of the river from the top, where you can see a basilica, an agora, a nymphaeum and and a bouleuterion (council), all of them in ruins. About one kilometer north of the town there is one of the largest Roman aqueducts in Anatolia which supplied Aspendos with water.

The river passing next to the city is called Köprüçay (ancient Euromydon) and was navigable once upon a time. This was also the place where the Persians used to breed their horses between 6th-4th centuries BC during their rule in Asia Minor.

According to the legend, Aspendos was first founded by Greek colonists who came to Pamphylia region after the Trojan War. There are also possibilities that the city could be founded by the Hittites. Aspendos was one of the cities in this region to mint silver coins under its own name. Together with their neighbor Perge, Aspendos was also left under the Persian rule between 6th and 5th centuries BC, then became a member of the Attic-Delos Maritime confederation after its liberation by the Athenians. But later in the 5th century BC Persians captured the city again and stayed there until the arrival of Alexander the Great in 333 BC. After the death of Alexander, the city was controlled by the Seleucids, and then the Kingdom of Pergamum until 133 BC, when the Romans took over Pergamon.

Under the Roman rule, like other Pamphylian cities, Aspendos lived its heydays between 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. During the Byzantine rule the city continued to survive. In the 13th century the Seljuks settled in Aspendos and converted the theater into a palace.

The Theatre and Aqueducts of the Ancient City of Aspendos

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The ancient city of Aspendos is located in Southern Turkey, in the ancient Pamphylia region by the Eurymedon (Köprüçay) river. The acropolis lies about 60 m. above sea level and sits on a flat-topped hill with many surviving monuments including the Nymphaeum, Basilica, Market Building and Odeion.

The Eurymedon used to be a navigable river and gave access to the city. This was the main reason for the city‟s prosperity. Both the archaeological remains and the historical sources confirm that Aspendos had entered upon the stage of ancient world events by the 5th century BC with the arrival of the Persians to Pamphylia and that it continued to retain its importance until, and after, Alexander‟s control of Asia Minor.

The earlier archaeology is currently being investigated, and recent findings carried the history of the city back even further. Recent surveys and excavations brought up material cultures from the Early Iron Age. The monumental buildings are mainly from the Hellenistic and Roman Period. Currently, it is known that there was continuous settlement right through to the Byzantine and Seljuk periods.

The site is visited by approximately 400.000 people every year, mainly because of its magnificent Roman theatre. “This is not like anything that I ever saw before.” This is how the British archaeologist David George Hogarth had described the Aspendos Theatre in 1909 in a paragraph which continues as follows: “You may have seen the amphitheatres in Italy, France, Dalmatia and Africa temples in Egypt and Greece the palaces in Crete you may be sated with antiquity or scornful of it. But you have not seen the theatre of Aspendos.”

This description is still valid today, because the site of Aspendos houses the best preserved ancient theatre of the world. In addition, this richly decorated monument bears the traces of different historic periods including the Roman and the Seljuk periods. It was initially built during the reign of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, between 160-180 A.D. The inscription on the western entrance wall records that the architect was Zenon, son of Theodorus and it was the gift of two rich brothers A.Curtius Crispinus Arruntianus and A.Curtius Crispinus.

Like most theatres in Asia Minor, the majority of the cavea or spectator tribune is dug out of the eastern slope of the acropolis whereas the rest is supported by artificial subtractions, a stone-built arch and vault system.

The monument is among the biggest of its kind, with a façade of approximately 100 meters wide and 22 meters high. What makes it unique is the impressive level of preservation and the richness of its architectural decorations. The new investigations have revealed that the capacity of the theatre was 7300-7600 people (45cm seating width per person). This number could be up to 8500 people, if stairs had been used as seat places in crowded performances in Ancient Times. The cavea is divided in two parts by a horizontal passage called the diazoma. The lower section contains 20 rows of seat, while the upper one has 21 rows. The main entrances to the lower cavea are through two vaulted parodoi, linking the stage building to the cavea. The actual scaenae frons or stage is flanked by two towers, providing access to the seating rows situated higher up in the auditorium. In addition, a system of gates in the exterior wall of the cavea provided additional options to access the cavea. Unique also is the covered gallery raised above the whole perimeter of the cavea, offering shelter from the elements to those who wished to take a brake from the spectacles. Although partially reconstructed, it is the best preserved example in Asia Minor and beyond.

The two-storied stage building, which is adorned with exquisite architectural ornamentation, still stands to its full height. The stage was accessed through five doors. The central gate is the largest one and is flanked by two doors of decreasing dimensions on either side. Projecting socles, separating the doors from one another, are still preserved. The formed the basis for the two-storied aediculated façade that formed the background of the actual stage for the actors, which is no longer preserved and was probably dismantled when the function of the building changed in post antique times. The façade itself was magnificently decorated and composed of highly decorated entablatures supported by monolithic columns. The friezes of the lower storey were decorated with garlands hung from bucrania, whereas a tendril frieze decorated those of the upper storey. They supported equally richly carved cornices, which were in their turn crowned by differently shaped pediments. In the middle over the central gate, the façade culminated in a large-scale relief. Although the fronts of the protruding elements of the façade are no longer there, the remaining elements still provide an excellent idea of the original monumental façade. The monument is also of extreme importance for understanding the use of acoustics in ancient theatres. The stage building of Aspendos Theatre was probably covered by a wooden roof, which has not survived. Seljuk restoration in the 13th century and the reuse of the monument as a palace for a short period during the time of Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat aided the preservation of this magnificent structure. The zigzag paintings in red, which are still visible today on many surfaces of the internal and external façade, are dated to this period. Additionally, some of the windows on the inner part of the stage building were converted into gates to provide access to the southern part of the structure from the north tower.

Although mainly known for its theatre by the general public and visitors, Aspendos‟ aqueducts, with their two unique siphons, have been a source of extreme fascination for researchers. The aqueducts brought water to the city from the mountains 15 km to the north. The water, which was carried by the arcades, and at some points by the underground pipe drains, was vital not only for Aspendos but for the whole of the Pamphylian plain. It was thanks to this water that the city and its rural surroundings were fertile and rich in grain. The water was brought to the city centre by means of this aqueduct from two sources, namely Gökçeler and Pınarbaşı at about 500 m above sea level and 19 km away. Bean suggests, after study of an epigraphic source, that the Aspendos‟ aqueducts were erected by Tiberius Claudius Italicus at a cost of 2 million Denarii in the second century AD. The inverted siphons of the aqueduct, which are approximately 30 m high, made it possible to cross the 1.7km wide valley between the mountains to the north and the acropolis. The inner dimensions of the water channels were 55-60 cm wide and 90 cm high. The water channels of the siphons are of stone. The siphons rise at an angle of 55 degrees and the 924 m distance between them is traversed by arches that are 5.5 m wide space. The arches are 15 m high in the deepest point of the valley.

This structure, with these measurements and in its current condition, is one of the highest Roman constructions. Aspendos‟ aqueducts are similar to two structures, which are already on the UNESCO World Heritage List: the Pont du Gard aqueducts, which are higher than the one in Aspendos with a height of 48.77 meters and the aqueducts of Segovia in Spain, which are 28.5 meters.

However none of these structures contain the siphons, which are extremely well preserved at Aspendos. Similar siphons can be found in Lyon (Mont d‟Or, Brévenne and Gier), however these do not provide any insight into their building technique or the use of these structures. The siphons in Aspendos allow researchers to make further discoveries on how it might have functioned. Moreover, the length of the still standing aqueducts of Aspendos is more than the ones in Segovia and Pont du Gard.

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionnelle

The Aspendos theatre is the best-preserved monument of its type from the Ancient World in Turkey, and one of the most intact in the world. The theatre of Aspendos is one of the rare examples of a Roman theatre, constructed as a whole with the combination of a multi-storied and richly decorated stage building and a semi circular shaped cavea. The level of preservation was mostly due to the Seljuk restoration of the 13th century, during the time of Sultan Alaeddin Keykubat. The restoration and reuse of the building as a palace have left important but subtle traces including geometric designs and blue-coloured tiles. Therefore the theatre not only gives the spectator endless inspiration to delve into the history, but also presents an opportunity to read the multi-layered architectural interventions in a critical manner thus the monument invites the contemporary visitor or expert to become actively engaged in picturing the theatre‟s use and critically questioning it based on the existing evidence.

The aqueducts, on the other hand, have come even more to the attention of scholars because of their unique hydraulic siphons and very well preserved original conditions. They are important structures for the history of technology since they still survive in such a condition that raises and answers many questions regarding their construction and use. The level of preservation gives the spectator a sense of the monument's "eternal" nature when viewed from the high and rather isolated point on the northern side of the flat-topped acropolis.

Criterion (i): Both the theatre and aqueducts of Aspendos are the products of an advanced thinking and imagination with the highest quality of workmanship and technological input. Both monuments present a platform for modern scholars to grasp ancient populations and their thinking through studying such well- preserved masterpieces.

Criterion (ii): The aqueducts of Aspendos shed light on the technological advancements of the era while the theatre provides an opportunity to see the architectural interventions of a 13th century civilization that was not part of the existing local culture. Indeed, the Seljuk‟s meticulous effort to use and adorn the monument shows that they too must have found this monument especially amazing. Aspendos offers a unique case in the sense that the city continued to be an important center during the late classical period, had an important place in the Christian world and was overtaken by new comers. Unlike many other monuments in different ancient cities, the theatre survived very well and was even embellished with more stories by its new owners.

Criterion (iv): The theatre of Aspendos could be taken for its monumentality and astonishing preservation alone, though one of the most distinctive features of it is the fact that the monument offers an opportunity to study different historical phases.

The use of the theatre as the Seljuk palace in the 13th century makes it a unique case. Owing its amazing preservation level to this rather unconventional use, the theatre can shed light on different historical layers. The spolia material that can be spotted on the window frames (i.e. animal figured stones) may reveal Achamenid traces, while the use of tiles (some of which are on display in Antalya Museum) and the presence of Seljuk designs on the stage building give even more historical depth to the monument.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité

The site and its surrounding is protected by the Turkish Legislation for Preservation of Cultural and Natural Property, Law No.: 2863 amended, as the 1st degree archaeological and the 3rd degree natural site since 08.09.1994.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

The first example of a similar Roman theatre, constructed as a whole with the combination of a multi- storied and richly decorated stage building and a semi circular shaped cavea, is the Pompeius theatre in Rome dated to 55 BC. This theatre has unfortunately not survived to the present day. However, there are two other theatres which were built with the same technique and are still standing. One of them is the Roman theatre in Orange, France, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and the second one is the Aspendos Theatre, which consists of more original building material compared to the former. Both being fascinating monuments, Aspendos theatre differ from them especially in its richly decorated façade as well as of differing multi-cultural historical layers. It gives a chance to the contemporary viewer to read these layers and mediate tolerance between cultures. The use of the theatre as the Seljuk palace in the 13th century makes it a unique case. Owing its amazing preservation level to this rather unconventional use, the theatre can shed light on different historical layers. Unlike many other monuments in different ancient cities, the theatre survived very well and was even embellished with more stories by its new owners.

Aspendos' aqueducts can be compared to the two structures which are already on the UNESCO World Heritage List: The Pont du Gard aqueducts and the aqueducts of Segovia in Spain. The length of the still standing aqueducts of Aspendos is more than the ones in Segovia and Pont du Gard and the siphons of the Aspendos aqueducts are higher than the Segovia aqueducts themselves.

Moreover, what makes the Aspendos Aqueducts unique is the presence of two very well preserved hydraulic siphons, which enable us to investigate their structural and technological achievements. This in turn helps us to gain a deeper understanding of the sophisticated physical elements of Roman Architecture. Neither Pont du Gard nor Segovia contains the siphons, which are extremely well preserved at Aspendos. Similar siphons can be found in Lyon (Mont d‟Or, Brévenne and Gier), however these do not provide any insight about their building technique or the use of these structures. The siphons in Aspendos allow researchers to make further discoveries on how it might have functioned.

One of the most interesting features of Aspendos‟ aqueducts is the great variety of material used in its construction including brick, squared stone and mortared rubble. Since brick is not a usual construction material in Asia Minor, the structure represents a clear break from the norm.



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