Kütahya’s Ephesus: Aizanoi

The Ancient city Of Aizanoi in Kütahya’s Çavdarhisar township boasts the world’s first stock market building, Anatolia’s best-preserved temple Of Zeus and a stadium-theater complex unmatched in the world and the stones continue to harbor secrets even today.

You can get some idea of how big Aizanoi was from the size of the area the ancient ruins cover. The population of this city with a 5,000-year past exceeded 100,000 at the height of the Roman Empire. Prospering during this period from grain and wool production, the city was decked with magnificent buildings.  Becoming a sacred center in the Byzantine period, it spread over the two banks of the Kocaçay River. A full day is sufficient for seeing Aizanoi, but if you want to take photographs and wander in the mysterious gardens of history, then you should set aside an entire weekend.

The First Stock Market
We reach the ancient site by following the signs for Aizanoi at Çavdarhisar 54 kilometers from Kütahya. Anatolia’s best-preserved Temple of Zeus stands in all its glory on a broad plain immediately at the right of the road. Built in the 2nd century A.D., it rises on a platform 53 meters in length. Covered with gardens and vineyards, the nearby area is chock full of quintessential Anatolian rural scenes: wheat blowing in the wind, crowing roosters, the tinkle of cowbells…

The friendly local people don’t hesitate to give us a warm welcome. After passing the Senate Building we reach the arched Roman bridge. To the right of the bridge is the Çavdaroğulları Etnografya Sergi Evi (Ethnographic Exhibition House of the Sons of Çavdar). Children are fishing on the riverbank. The world’s first stock market building stands in the middle of a square some distance ahead. Inscribed on the walls of this edifice, built in the 4th century A.D., are the prices of goods sold in the markets of imperial Rome. The price of everything is specified here, from grain to a leopard. Indeed even of a man. The price of a good strong slave, for example, was apparently equal to that of two donkeys at the time. We stroll around the galleries that made up the ancient marketplace, where the ruins lie cheek by jowl with local life without any wire restraining fences. Opposite the Stock Market Building, Çavdarhisar Old Market Mosque and an old fountain next to it immediately catch our eye. Southwest of the city meanwhile is a colonnaded avenue that reflects the majesty that was Aizanoi. This is the start of the ceremonial way leading to Meter Steunene, the sacred cave some two kilometers outside the city.

An Unparalleled Complex
It is impossible not to be awed by Aizanoi’s baths, which are richly adorned with mosaics. After a long, pleasant walk, we take a break in one of the rustic coffeehouses nearby, where a glass of well-steeped tea makes the perfect accompaniment to a Turkish-style pancake (gözleme) stuffed with poppyseed, cheese, potatoes or herbs. Our guidebooks tell us where the city’s name comes from. According to a widespread belief, it was named for Azan, a mythological hero.

The name Çavdarhisar meanwhile is more interesting. Surrounded by defense walls in the Middle Ages, the city was transformed into a castle. The Tatars, who settled in the region during Seljuk rule, were known for producing rye (çavdar in Turkish) and in time the region became known as Çavdarhisar (Rye Castle). The history of archaeological digs in the area goes back to the early 19th century and has continued at intervals right up to the present. According to the dig team, the richness of Aizanoi will not end even if it is excavated for another hundred years. Finally it’s time for one of the most exciting parts of our trip.  After a 15-minute romp through fruit orchards, we arrive at the city’s sports and recreational center. This stadium-theater complex which shares a common wall is without a match in the world. The entrance to the ancient stadium, noteworthy for its extensive rows of seats, is on the west side. The stage section of the amphitheater, part of which lies in ruins, is encased in rich marble decorations.  And the view from the giant windows of the theater, high on a green hill, is spectacular: vast, endless fields, hills of yellowed grass, poplar trees soaring to the sky, tiny mud-brick houses and the splendid columns of the ancient city. Its legend told from generation to generation, Aizanoi stands waiting to whisper its secrets in your ear.

Land Of Aesop
Did you know that the originator of the world-famous Aesop’s fables was from Kütahya? There are many places worth seeing in Kütahya, Anatolia’s leading center of tile and pottery production. Kütahya Castle, the Valley of the Phrygians, the Tiled Mosque, the Old Government Mansion, Germiyan Street, Kütahya Archaeological Museum, the Tile Museum, Dumlupınar Cemetery and Tavşanlı Pyramidal Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra) Forest are just a few of them.