A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
The South Agora of Aphrodisias, located in southwestern Turkey, was one of two public squares within the ancient city. It was built during the first century A.D., and had been previously interpreted as a commercial complex. However, recent archaeological work has shown that the space functioned in quite the opposite capacity, and was instead an urban park, equipped with a monumental pool, fountains, promenades, trees, and other greenery. “It had the grandeur of public city architecture and design, but was intended for relaxation, strolling, and some retail,” says University of Oxford archaeologist R.R.R. Smith. The enormous pool at the complex’s center measures 575 feet long and 82 feet wide and was bordered by marble benches, some even inscribed with gaming boards. Excavations and archaeobotanical analysis of plant remains revealed that rows of palm trees (likely Cretan date palms) and other plants once flanked the pool, providing not only a decorative element but also ample shade. These palms were not native to Aphrodisias, but would have been transported from coastal locations in southwest Asia Minor. This 3.7-acre park would have been very expensive to build and maintain. With its shaded walkways, flowing water, and lush vegetation cared for by an association of professional gardeners, it seems to have been designed for no other purpose than to provide the city’s inhabitants with a place of leisure. “It was highly unusual for its time,” says Smith.
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