Calling all history buffs, archeology buffs, photography buffs, and people watchers! You all would have a field day at Ephesus. It is one of those heavily touristy places that is heavily touristy for an actual good reason. It’s incredible. But as an introverted loner who wishes she had the power to temporarily clear out the crowds while she is visiting an area, I had to carefully plan my Ephesus visit in order to make it enjoyable. And I was fairly successful! One thing about Ephesus, though, is that it isn’t fully excavated – you will see blocked places that are loudly calling your name but you can’t go there for now (normally). So in other words, Ephesus will leave you wanting more – but that isn’t always a bad thing!
Location: 3 kilometers southwest of Selçuk, Turkey. It seems that the Ephesus site today and the town of Selçuk both make up what was the historical “Ephesus”. However, people come here on day trips from Izmir, Kusadasi, and even Istanbul. Silly people.
Foundation: Ephesus was founded as an Attic-Ionian colony in the 10th century BC, so I believe it qualifies as one of the oldest places I’ve ever visited. It has two mythical founders. One was Athenian Prince Androklos who made the colony in the place where the oracle of Delphi directed him. Of course, he killed/banished the ones already living there in order to do so. The other possible mythical founder was Ephos, an Amazonian Queen. The reality probably is something less cool but one can dream.
History: Ephesus saw wars, growth, sackings, prosperity, revolts, and even Egyptian rule. During the Roman era, Ephesus had a population of 33,600 to 56,000 people and in 27 BC, Emperor Augustus made it the capital western Asia Minor, making Ephesus second in importance and size only to Rome. Ephesus remained an important city during the Byzantine era but by 1090, it had dwindled in size – it was a small village by the time the Seljuk Turks came around. The area changed hands back and forth between the Seljuk Turks and the Byzantines until finally, it was decidedly conquered by Sasa Bey in 1304. But even that didn’t last long – Ephesus was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1390. By the 15th century, Ephesus had been completely abandoned. Considering this history, I say Ephesus was tired and cranky and so kicked everyone out.
One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis (built by 550 BC), was here. In the 3rd century AD, the Temple was destroyed by Goths (did they sport black eye-liner?). The ruins were used as building blocks for new homes; in fact, even marble sculptures were ground to make lime for plaster. Stuff of an archeologist’s nightmare.
Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia that are cited in the Book of Revelation.
The Gospel of John may have been written here circa AD 90–100.
From AD 52–54, Paul (yes, “the” Paul) lived in Ephesus. He pissed off local artisans, whose livelihood depended on selling statuettes in the Temple of Artemis (Acts 19:23–41). He also wrote 1st Corinthians (a letter that is now a Biblical book) from Ephesus between 53 and 57 AD.
A legend, dating back to the 4th century AD, purported that Mary spent her last years in Ephesus.
Ephesus holds the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. And not all of it has been excavated as of yet – not even 20%! Ephesus is also the best preserved classical city of the Eastern Mediterranean.
What I saw:
Library of Celsus: The Library of Celsus was originally built circa 125 AD in memory of Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus (TJ for short), a Greek who served as governor (105–107) for the Romans. It was built using his family’s wealth and it once held about 12,000 scrolls. Celsus Library was the third richest in ancient times after the libraries in Alexandria and Pergamum.
The Gate of Mazeus and Mythridates: This gate is next to the Library of Celsus and was built in 40 AD by the slaves Mazeus and Mythridates for their emperor, Augustus, who gave them their freedom. A Latin inscription is still visible, stating: “From the Emperor Caesar Augustus, the son of the god, the greatest of the priests, who was consul twelve and tribune twenty times; and the wife of August Livia; the son of Lucus, Marc Agrippa who was consul three times, Emperor, and tribune six times; and the daughter of Julio Caesar Augustus, Mazeus and Mythridates to their master and the people.” Me, I just saw Caesar’s name written and promptly geeked out.
Theatre: Was capable of holding 25,000 spectators. It was originally used for drama but gladiatorial combats were later added to the repertoire of “exciting local events”. The Theater is believed to be the largest outdoor theater in the ancient world.
Harbour Street: Runs from the old harbour up to the Theatre. When I was there, it was roped off at the entrance of the street…but not really along the sides which was accessed down a small hill… Oh plausible deniability – what would life be like with out you??
Latrines: Built in the 1st century AD, these public toilets required a person to pay an entrance fee to use them. The toilets are aligned along the walls with a drainage system underneath. However, there was no partition in between each toilet. How to lose friends and alienate people, eh.
Temple of Artemis: One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. All that is left is one lonely column. Fans of Egyptian history would be intrigued to know that this is where Arsinoë, Cleopatra’s younger sister, spent the last few years of her life before she was murdered on the temple steps on the orders of Cleopatra and Mark Antony.
The Temple of Hadrian: It was built by 138 AD and was dedicated to the Emperor Hadrian. The façade of the temple has four Corinthian columns supporting a curved arch, in the middle of which contains a relief of Tyche, goddess of victory.
Terrace Houses: These were the homes of the rich and are an interesting peek into Roman family life, Beverly Hills style. There are six residential units on three terraces but only two units are open to the public. The oldest building dates to 1st century BC and was used until about 7th century AD. It costs extra to get into the Terrace Houses but it is worth it if you enjoy mosaics or even using your imagination to picture a different lifestyle. It is also a good way to escape the sun and crowd as not many people take the time (or have the time as tour groups bypass this normally). You follow a set path around the units, allowing you to see various mosaics and frescoes as well as the work stations of restorers who have to piece the tiny tiles back together. While I was visiting, there was a woman working to restore one of the frescoes which was pretty neat to see.
Curetes Street: It is one of the three main streets of Ephesus and is THE street that everyone photographs.
Brothel: You wouldn’t know it is a brothel if it weren’t for the signs. But for those of us who don’t get out much, it was still fun to visit as now I can say, “I’ve been to a brothel!” The building dates to the 1st century AD. There is a myth that there is a secret tunnel leading from the library to the brothel but unfortunately, that bit of juicy gossip isn’t true. Apparently.
Tip I: A visit to Ephesus should take place in mid- to late afternoon for two reasons: First is that many of the giant tour groups, especially ones from cruise ships, would be gone. The second reason is sunlight – bright overhead sunlight is utter crap for photos so the later you go, the better the light.
Tip II: Read up on what to see beforehand – signage is a hit and miss. And the ones that are there, you may not even see due to the sheer mass of humanity at this place. Also, the site is huge and confusing so you’re guaranteed to miss something – I know I missed several things. Ah well. Just gotta go back!
Tip III: Take a hat and water – everything is overpriced in the site and with all that bright light bouncing on the white stone and marble, it is a recipe for heat stroke.
Tip IV: Give yourself 3-4 hours to see this place if you are a photography or history buff. Also gives you time to eavesdrop on a few tours if you so choose.
Tip V: If you don’t want to walk to Ephesus, the dolmus (minibus) from Selçuk leaves from the main bus station at the back – pay, wait for the bus to fill, and off you go. The return dolmus departs from the parking lot of Ephesus. Minibuses go and depart in intervals of about 15 minutes.
Question: Has anyone seen Arsinoe’s (Cleopatra’s sister) tomb? There is a possibility that an octagonal structure here may be her resting place – but I couldn’t find it!