Due to its proximity to the famous site of Ephesus, it can be tempting to treat Selcuk only as a stepping stone to those ruins. However, I think that there are several reasons why the city is definitely worth some of your time, even if it is just a day. Unfortunately, the giant fortress that you see on Selcuk’s horizon is not one of them – it isn’t open to the public. Nevertheless, besides wandering around the town taking in the atmosphere, including having a meal practically under a Byzantine era aqueduct, here are three things to see in Selcuk:
Temple of Artemis
“Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.” – Antipater of Sidon (compiled list of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World)
This Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was first built in the Bronze Age, rebuilt about 550BC after destruction by flood, and then rebuilt a second time after destruction by fire in 356BC. This fire was set by some fool named Herostratus – we know who it was because he set the fire and then told everyone about it. He was looking to have his name go down in history*. And it did – as the guy who burned down a temple and got tortured/executed for it. The temple was rebuilt but was then destroyed for the final time in 401 AD. I think by then people probably got the hint not to rebuild for a fourth time… In 1869, the Temple of Artemis was rediscovered by an expedition sponsored by the British Museum. Today, all that is left marking the location of a Wonder of the Ancient World is a single column which was put together from pieces of the long-gone temple.
Basilica of St. John
This basilica was built by Justinian I in the 6th century. Legend has it that the basilica stands on the burial site of John the Apostle. As such, it was believed to be one of the holiest churches of its time. You may have heard of John…after all, he’s only the guy who wrote a little book called Revelation. It’s full of doom, gloom, and kaboom…
There isn’t all that much left of the basilica but there is definitely more than there is at Artemis. Many marble columns and partial walls made of brick are still standing, a large octagonal baptistery still remains, and some of the floor mosaics are intact. You can’t really tell that the church was originally cruciform shaped with many domes but if you try hard enough, you may be able to see it in your mind’s eye. Well, not really, but half the fun is trying! I recommend that you visit the site during the late afternoon – you’d probably have the site to yourself at that point and focused imagining is key to a successful ruins site visit. That sounded rather New Age-y didn’t it…never mind…
Isa Bey Mosque
This mosque was completed in 1375 and is still in use today. While not as gorgeous as other mosques I saw in Istanbul, this one is pretty special to me as it is the first mosque I have ever visited. Isa Bey is a pretty mosque with a small courtyard that has many Ottoman tombstones lining the outer walls. Inside the mosque itself, the walls are made from stone and marble and are decorated with the famous Iznik tiles. Again, a visit in the late afternoon means you’ll probably have the place to yourself, something that you’ll probably never have at the mosques of Istanbul.
Question: Apparently there is an annual camel wrestling competition in the Selcuk area – has anyone been?
*The term Herostratic fame basically means “fame at any cost” and is used to describe someone who commits a criminal act so that they could become famous/notorious.