Archaeological and Rural Heritage Coexistence: a Case Study on Ancient City “Geyre”, Aphrodisias

Theme: Management of Tangible Rural Heritage

by Ms. Münire Nurgül Büyükgüllü
HeritageForAll Intern (Call 2019) from Istanbul, Turkey
Internship Program “Rural Heritage and Traditional Food”
Masters Candidate in Restoration (Conservation) program, Istanbul Technical University (ITU)



The coexistence of different types of heritage is a significant subject. Especially, when it is the coexistence of architectural and rural heritage, which makes the heritage management of the site even more necessary. These management issues and their effects will be explained thoroughly.


Geyre is considered as one of the extraordinary examples that match with the heritage management issues. Geyre heritage is formed by its history, people, buildings, and many elements of both tangible and intangible. In many cities, the layers of the previous settlements are discovered and after that, the relationship between the settlements are unraveled. The settlements could be occurred one after another in the same area or they could be near each other. This depends on the people who lived around during that time and the sources of the area that they built a life in. In each case, it has been observed that they reused the historic settlements. They have either continued their way of living or have built their dwellings accordingly. Although this is usually the case that happens, there are various examples of different settlements and their journeys throughout time.

In this case, the word “Spolia” is encountered. Spolia are the materials which were reused from the previous buildings. In Turkey, there are numerous examples of Spolia, Geyre is one of these examples. These materials are mainly used in the newly built dwellings that are somehow contradictory. Generally, when a material is reused, there are two ways to get the material. For instance, considering the Spolia usage in the Ottoman architecture, the materials can either to be used as one unit without changing them or by carving them again to acquire the material actually needed.

Spolia are usually observed in the archaeological sites. However, the new settlements could be near the archaeological sites as well because in Turkey, the archaeological sites are connected and mixed within the cities. When a new settlement occurs, it is a common fact to reuse of the old materials. To mention the reasons of using Spolia in the buildings; accessibility and effective cost can be given as examples (Tanyeli & Tanyeli, 1989, p. 30). Since it is more complicated to run marble quarries and there are many available sites around the area, people took advantage of it as expected.

Figure 1: Aphrodisias (©Ara Güler 1958. Source: NTV)
Figure 2: Spoila in Geyre, (©Ara Güler, 1958. Source: NTV)

Using the materials is a critical topic. It requires the new dwellings to be coherent with another one. The ruined columns are the most common ones to be reused, especially in the mosques which were built from the 16th to 18th century. Thus, the columns, which are used both inside and outside, were brought from several places around the world or were taken from the ruins in the surrounding area. On the other hand, these alterations have been estimated in the rural areas, since the people need to use the local materials in the rural areas. Yet, what happens when a new dwelling forms around an archaeological site? This is where the “Spoila” comes in. The columns from the archaeological site form the structural systems of the new buildings with the local materials which can be easily found in the surrounding area. As a consequence, this is what happened in Geyre, Aphrodisias.

History of Geyre

The city takes its name from Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love in the Greek civilization. Thus, the name of the city was Aphrodisias but the area was also once called as Kayra. Geyre and Aphrodisias are nearby settlements, the village was built on the city itself. That is the reason why Geyre had a close relation with the ruins.

Geyre is located in the southwestern Turkey, in Aydin province, Karacasu. The city dates back to the Neolithic period. Firstly, the Anatolians and then the Carians have lived there. After the Hellenistic era, the city expanded in the Roman era (Güçer, 2004). On top of these civilizations, the last one was the Turkish village to be built. To understand the relationship between the old settlements and the village, it is necessary to mention how the city was founded.

The discovery of the city “Geyre” is a unique example due to the fact that it was based on a coincidence. Ara Güler, a photojournalist from Turkey, has found the ancient city Aphrodisias in 1958 when he was in Aydin province and got lost on the way back. Later on, he found out that the whole village was built on ruins. Pictures of the city were taken by him and published in the Times magazine. The first excavations were actually done in 1904 by Paul Gaudin, a French engineer. Later on, Gustav Menden has continued the excavations. After that, the excavations were continued by both Italian and French missions. And in 1961 the excavations have been started by the help of Kenan Erim from New York University. In 1976, 1 km from the city walls, the area was declared as the 1st degree archaeological site and 250 m from there, was declared as the 3rd degree archaeological site which lead most of the area to be in the protected area. In 2017, Aphrodisias was added to UNESCO WHSs List under the criteria II, III, IV and VI. Before that, the site was in the World Heritage Tentative List since 2009.

Figure 3: Geyre Village and Aphrodisias, (Source: Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism)

The City and the Materials

Along with a span of time, the city was affected by the river nearby and the local quarries were a factor of the city’s development. The city walls were built after the earthquake in 360 AD, before that the city did not need any barrier to keep it as one unit. The city is also very important for its marble workmanship of the archaeological ruins. The architecture of Aphrodisias was mainly from the Roman and Hellenistic periods. Due to the marble quarries nearby, there were many high quality sculptures.

The city consists of the temple of Aphrodite and Tetrapylon, the Bouleuterion, the Stadium, Roman and Byzantium residences, Acropolis, North and South Agora, the Baths of Hadrian, Sebasteion, Stadium, Theater and many other artifacts representing the Roman and the Hellenistic period. Aphrodisias was built between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD. In the 15th century, the village was found over Aphrodisias. Although, after the earthquake, the village was moved to a nearby area from its original location (UNESCO WHC). Before, the village was located where the archaeological museum and ruins are nowadays.

Figure 4: Geyre, (©Ara Güler 1958. Source: NTV)

The village was based on the archaeological ruins. When Ara Güler firstly came to the village, he was very surprised. The local people used the ruins as a material to built their houses. For instance, they used different parts of the marble columns to strengthen the structural system of their settlements and dwellings or they reused them together with wooden columns. They were using the capitals and bases of the columns as objects such as tables, sitting on the ruins as chairs and sarcophagi were used for pressing grapes for drinks and many other examples could be given. It can be said that the city was living within history and the locals accepted the ruins into their lives and were living together as they were a part of them.

Apart from that, many of the ruins were seen to be buried in the soil and some of them were on the ground without any protection. Therefore, the city and the ruins needed protection which eventually lead its inscription to UNESCO WHSs List. However, the inscription to UNESCO WHSs List List is one thing to start with. The actual difficulty is what will be done after the inscription.

The Management Plan

The site management plan was formed by MSGSÜ Research and Implementation Center of Urbanism team, signed by the Republic of Turkey – Ministry of Culture and Tourism, General Directorate for Cultural Property and Museums, and the Geyre Foundation in 2011. The first phase was to document, collect the data and research. The second phase was to do field surveys and photographing the area, leading the expert team to start the plan. The last phase was to do expert meetings and participatory conferences (Aphrodisias Ancient City Site Management Plan 2014-2018).

The Management Plan with several conditions covers the topics: protection of the city’s identity, constantly understanding the spirit of place by restoring, protecting the heritage both excavated and under the ground and providing strategies to support it, contributing to the economic development of the area by supervising the visitor capacity, developing methods for education and awareness about the area, integrating local communities (public, private and non-governmental organizations) into an action plan, taking the sites tourism potential into consideration etc.

Figure 5: Aphrodisias Ancient City Management Plan prepared by MSGSÜ, (UNESCO, 2017).

The Difficulties of Heritage Management

Since this is an unusual situation, the faced problems were also unusual. To start with, the materials could be discussed. As it is stated in the Article 6 of “the Venice Charter” (1964), the location of the monuments should not be changed or altered and there should not do any changes on the materials as well. Therefore, collecting the materials from the archaeological sites is obviously not the right way to build a settlement. Although they are somehow preserved within the settlements’ structures because the local owners of these settlements could repair them from time to time and took care of them but they were also damaged due to the inappropriate usage of the materials. However, this brought another question. What should be done to the materials which were reused in the settlements? The settlements in the village are mostly representing the examples of built vernacular architecture. In this case, the marble columns are now a part of the architecture itself in the village. They form the rural heritage in the village and therefore cannot be removed or altered.

Figure 6: Inappropiate usage of the ruins, (©Ara Güler, 1958. Source: NTV)
Figure 7: Ruins and the village, (©Ara Güler, 1958. Source: NTV)

Due to the fact that the village was built on the ruins both above and under the ground, made the excavations difficult to continue. Therefore, the houses in the village were purchased and expropriated by the Ministry of Culture. The local people were moved to a nearby area and the village was completely empty. When they moved, they took some elements of their settlements such as doors or windows and that also damaged the houses as well. It was as they have took the lives out of the houses. It also brought up the problem with the locals agricultural activities because they were not able to carry them on. As declared in the Council of Europe’s “On the Protection and Enhancement of the Rural Architectural Heritage” (1989), during the safeguarding of the rural heritage, both architectural and social factors should be protected, which defines the heritage itself . Thus, this situation affected not only the site but the people also.

Another problem was due to the site being declared as the 1st degree archaeological site. A part of the site was stayed in the 1st degree archaeological site which means that all construction work was absolutely forbidden. The Antiquities and Monuments Committee had came up with a solution for this part of the site. In line with their plan, the site was considered as a sub-region. However, it did not turn out to be the solution and the prices of the area had risen up and they realized that there were some constructions in the area. Thus with a different approach, they have allowed the construction work in the area and sold them to the people from the surroundings villagers. Then, Geyre municipality was established in 1995. Before, it was easier to construct the new settlements, but it was changed after the municipality. In 1996, the maps of Geyre were drawn and in 2002, the conservation plan were produced not including the 1st degree archaeological site (Güçer, 2004).

Overall, this is a controversial situation because it is unconditionally forbidden to construct a new building in the 1st degree archaeological site according to the Decision no. 658 of 5. 11. 1999 by the High Commission for the Preservation of Cultural and Natural Property. In addition, even in recent years there are still ruins found near the borders of Geyre which makes it more important to consider the area and its value before any modification is made.


In the areas which the rural and the archaeological heritage are both present, all of the elements of the area should be taken into consideration. As it is stated in “the Declaration of Amsterdam” (1975), the heritage consists of both the buildings and their surroundings. Due to the fact that they form a unique example of heritage, both must be protected. One value should not be over the other or else the heritage could be harmed or even lost. In order to prevent this to happen, the local people should be educated about the subject to raise awareness to heritage issues. If possible, the local people should not be forced to remove from their settlements and if that is necessary, they should be relocated nearby their settlements as it was in Geyre.



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