Ephesus is so loaded with history that only a history enthusiast will have the patience to go through this post. So I will try to keep it short and graphic – with links for the knowledge-thirsty ones.
I went to Ephesus by the night coach and almost got lost in the process when I got dropped off at a HUGE coach terminal (around 8.30pm) by the van I boarded at Istanbul. Later, I learnt that the shuttle van had taken me to Istanbul’s gigantic Main Bus Terminal or Otogar (auto+ghar =coach terminal) in Esenler where all long distance coaches start/end their journey. Nobody had informed/warned me of this imminent van -> coach transfer when I bought my ticket! And then it started to drizzle. Cold and alone in a non-English speaking country, that too on a wet night, it was quite a desperate situation. Almost reminiscent of a scary midnight abandonment in the middle of train tracks in Indonesia.
No one understood a word of English and I had no clue about which coach to board as none of them had Ephesus written anywhere – instead, they all indicated destinations I had never heard of. Around 9pm, an elderly bus driver took pity on my plight and told me in a mixture of broken English and sign language that I was standing at the wrong place and also that I should get up on a coach going to Selçuk.
The Selçuk coach arrived around 9.30 and I got up, hoping for the best. It was a very comfortable bus ride but I found no one waiting to pick me up, next morning. After some time, a frantic looking man arrived, saying that the bus to Ephesus had already left but he will intercept the bus somewhere and put me on it. And so he did, although I missed one sight as a result of that. So in the middle of the road, I got up, bag and baggage, onto a big bus which had just one seat left. Not a great start to a journey I was very keen on.
My first stop was the House of the Virgin (Meryemana in Turkish), located in a nature park between Ephesus and Selçuk. It is believed to be the last residence of the Virgin Mary and so sacred to both Christians and Muslims. Photography is not allowed inside.
According to predominant Christian tradition, Mary was brought to Ephesus by the Apostle John after the Resurrection of Christ and lived out her days there. This is based mainly on the traditional belief that John came to Ephesus (see St. John’s Basilica) combined with the biblical statement that Jesus consigned her to John’s care (John 19:26-27). Archaeologists who have examined the building identified as the House of the Virgin believe most of the building dates from the 6th or 7th century. But its foundations are much older and may well date from the 1st century AD, the time of Mary.
Ancient Ephesus was a great trading city and a centre for the cult of Cybele, the Anatolian fertility goddess. Under the influence of the Ionians, Cybele became Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt and the moon, and a fabulous temple was built in her honour. When the Romans took over, Artemis became Diana and Ephesus became the Roman provincial capital, the fourth largest city in the empire after Rome, Alexandria and Antioch.
Of Turkey’s hundreds of ancient cities and classical ruins, Ephesus is the grandest and best preserved. Indeed, it’s the best place on the Mediterranean to get a feel for what life was like in ancient times. (Source: Lonely Planet)
The street was lined with flowering trees, fountains, monuments, statues and shops on both sides. Walking this street is the best way to understand how the Ephesians led their daily life. Due to frequent earthquakes, many structures including the Curetes Street had been damaged. Circular depressions and linear grooves were made into the marble to prevent pedestrians from slipping on the smooth marble street.
Under the shade of the flowering trees that lined the street, sometimes there were ‘stone abutments adorned with 12 circular depressions – boards for games of chance that ancient Ephesians would play for fun and even bet on: the contest was known in Latin as Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum (Game of 12 Markings), the predecessor of backgammon.’
THE GREAT THEATRE
The Great Theatre was built in the 1st century AD. Later, it was renovated by several Roman Emperors. It is considered to be the most imposing and the most impressive structure of Ephesus city. It could host up to 25,000 spectators.
Its cavea (sitting section) consisted of 66 rows of stone seats which were divided into 3 horizontal sections by 2 diazomas (walkway between seats). The seats at the bottom of the cavea had marble backs and were used by the most important personalities of the city. Its skene (structure at the back of the theatre) consisted of 3 storeys with the 2nd one decorated with pillars, statues and carving by Emperor Nero. The 3rd storey was built by Septimus Severus in late 2nd century AD. The ground floor consisted of a long corridor with 8 rooms. The semi-circular constructure between the cavea and the skene, known as the orchestra, is the place on which the choruses were singing.
Columns with niches, statues and windows adorned the façade inside the theatre (opposite the spectators) and there were 5 openings (the middle one wider than the others) to the orchestra, which made the skene looking imposing.
There is a street on the upper part of the theatre which connects it with Curetes Street.
The Great Theatre of Ephesus was destroyed due to an earthquake in the 4th century AD and only a part of it was repaired.
Apart from the theatrical plays and the music performances that took place in the theatre, political and religious events were carried out in it as well. Among the most important of them is the conflict between Christians and the followers of Artemis during which Saint Paul was judged and sent to prison as he was accused of hurting Artemis.
TEMPLE OF HADRIAN
This Corinthian-style temple honours Trajan’s successor. Its main arch is supported by a central keystone, which remains perfectly balanced, without any need for mortar. Note its intricate details and patterns – Tyche , goddess of chance, adorns the first arch, while Medusa wards off evil spirits on the second.
FOUNTAIN OF TRAJAN
HERACLES or HERCULES GATE
Only the two side of the columns remain today – the other parts of it have not been found. The relief of the flying Nike in the Domitian Square is also thought to be a part of this gate.
THE CELSUS LIBRARY: The crowning jewel of Ephesus
This early 2nd century library is the best-known monument in Ephesus and has been extensively restored.
Facade niches hold replica statues of the Four Virtues: Sophia (Wisdom), Arete (Goodness), Ennoia (Thought) and Episteme (Knowledge).
What remains (above) and the reconstructed original (below)
Some more of these magnificent ruins.
Ephesus is undoubtedly the grandest and best preserved ancient city and classical ruins on the Mediterranean side.
Temple of Artemis
We next stopped to see the sad remains of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The ancient temple was built around 650 BCE to the cult of Artemis, on a marshy ground to protect it against earthquakes. In 356 BCE, supposedly on the same day Alexander was born, a crazy young arsonist called Herostratus burnt the temple down to gain instant immortality. It is said that Artemis was too busy with the birth of the future monarch to save her own temple. When Alexander came to Ephesus in 333 BCE, he offered to finance the reconstruction of the temple only if the city credited him as the builder. Ephesians did not want his name on their temple and so he was then famously refused with the tactful line: ‘It would not be right for one god to build a temple to another god’.
Basilica of St John
Built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527–65 CE), the once-grand basilica is not even a pale shadow of its former self. However, it has a peaceful ambience and fantastic views.
The church was dedicated to the Apostle John, who reportedly visited Ephesus twice. His first visit (37-48 CE) was with the Virgin Mary; the second (95 CE) was when he is thought to have written his gospel on this very hill.
St John’s tomb (4th century) marked by a marble slab, supposedly contains his relics
A full-immersion baptistery also dating from the 4th century AD.All good things must end with food.
After a hearty meal, I made my way to the airport to catch a flight to Cappadocia for the last leg of my tour.
P.S. Couldn’t keep the post short, could I? Too many magnificent sights to share with you!