The Anatolian sun, riding low in the circle of day, explodes in a riot of color on the west¬ern rim. Across the broad fertile valley, sun-rays wash with gold the scars of hillside quarries. Marble from them, transmuted into the living countenance through the art of its sculptors, brought the city fame from Julius Caesar’s day to the age of Justinian, from the first century B.C. to the sixth cen¬tury A.D. Shafts of sun strike autumnal fire in poplars that line the clear, cold stream watering the city and echo twin ranks of columns in its Temple of Aphrodite. This ardent patron deity drew pilgrims and wealth to her namesake city.
The scents of fig, thyme, and pomegran¬ate caress my nostrils. Birdsong fills the air, and from nooks amid the smooth white stones comes the cooing of doves, sacred to Aphrodite. A donkey’s bray splits the air. I hear the distant wail of the muezzin’s call to prayer and look beyond the ancient city, be¬yond the yellow stubble of harvest, the cop¬per vineyards, the returning amber flocks of sheep, to the relocated village of Geyre with its orderly rows of cinder-block houses.
Twenty years earlier I stood on this same mound in summer’s heat, full of anticipa¬tion—and apprehension. This western re¬gion of my native Turkey was, I knew, rich in the husks of vanished cities—Ephesus, Pergamum, Smyrna, Sardis, Priene. Aph¬rodisias’s highland valley drains into the Menderes—the ancient Maeander. That river meanders to the Aegean at Miletus, whose urban planner Hippodamus devised the grid street pattern that influenced an¬cient cities and New York City alike. A hun¬dred miles west of Aphrodisias lies Bodrum; its crusader castle looms over Halicarnas¬sus, birthplace of Herodotus, where the Mausoleum of King Mausolus rose, one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World.