In 2007 we took a family trip to Turkey and as part of our stay we went to the ancient city of Ephesus, which is located on Turkey’s western coast near Selcuk, a small town 30km away from Kusadasi.
Ephesus is where you can walk amongst the ruins and get a feeling for what life must have been like in its heyday, when it was the fourth largest city in the eastern Roman Empire, famous for its Temple to Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, the Library of Celsus and its medical school.
Ephesus, over its 400 year history, was ruled by Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, so there is a rich history to explore and apparently only 25% has so far been excavated
Legend has it that Androklos, son of Kodros, the King of Athens, and his friends could not decide on a location for a new settlement. They went to the Oracle of Apollo to seek guidance. The oracle told them in typical cryptic fashion that the correct spot for a new settlement would be indicated by a fish and a boar. Mystified by this they set off, and on their first night made camp and proceeded to cook fish for their dinner. The fish inexplicably jump out of its frying pan, thereby scattering flames, which in turn set fire to nearby dry bushes. Out of the flaming bushes ran a boar, which Androklos chased, caught and killed. Thereby the location of the settlement, which became Ephesus, was settled upon.
In ancient times, Ephesus was famous for its Temple to Artemis, also known as the Temple of Diana, which was first built around 800 BC. The temple itself had to be rebuilt at least three times due to fire, flood and a mob that was determined to destroy it. With every rebuilt it became larger, more impressive and more beautiful. The author of the list of the Seven Wonders, the Antipater of Sideon, described the Temple of Artemis as being more marvelous than any of the other six wonders. It was made of marble and had 127 60-foot high columns.
The temple was last destroyed in 262 AD by the Goths and it was never rebuilt, probably due to the high cost of construction. It is said that some of the columns of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul were originally part of the Temple of Artemis.
Today the site of the temple is a swamp and remnants of it can be seen in the British Museum in London.
Today tourist flock to see its Library, which in fact was originally built as a mausoleum for the region’s Proconsu Celsus in around 117 AD. The building used marble and was decorated with statues of Eros, Nike, rosettes and garlands in relief. The builders used an optical illusion to make the building look larger than it was by making the columns at the side shorter than those at the center. Another quirkiness of the building is that the outside shows a two-storey building, but the inside reading area was surrounded by three floors.
The Library of Celsus
The library’s capacity was between 12,000 to 15,000 scrolls and made it one of the largest libraries of the ancient world. The scrolls were kept in niches on the walls; the walls were double walls in order to protect the manuscripts from extreme temperatures, humidity and pests.
The interior of the library was burned during the Goth invasion of 262 AD, and in the 10th century an earthquake brought the façade down. The building you see today was restored by the Austrian Archaeological Institute.
Leading down to the Library is a street that to this day gives a glimpse of what it might have looked like in its day – Curetes Street, named after the priests that took care of the flame of the Prytaneion. This street was once full of fountains, monuments, statues and shops, which on the south side of the street, were two-storey buildings.
One of the main streets leading down to the Library
At the top end of this street stands the Gate of Hercules; named so because of the reliefs of Hercules that adorn the columns, which date from the 2nd century. Today only the two sides of the gate remain, other parts having been lost in time. This gate narrowed access to the Curetes Street, preventing vehicles to pass and thereby creating a pedestrian area. It is said that if you walk through the gate with your arms outstretched and are able to touch both columns as you walk through, it will bring you good luck.
The Gate of Hercules
The other incredible structure in Ephesus is the Theatre, which could seat 25,000 people. It was built during the third century BC during the reign of Lysimachos and was enlarged during the Roman Period to the size you see today. The Theatre has a total of sixty-six rows of seats, divided by two walkways between the seats. Seats are divided into three sections; the Emperor’s Box was in the lower section, together with the important citizens, who had the luxury of seats with marble backs. The Theatre was not just used for concerts and plays, but it also features religious, political and philosophical discussions, and gladiators and animals also fought in this arena.
Ephesus has many great examples of mosaics; they come in all sizes, shapes and colours, and some of them are very well preserved and show what wealth there must have been in this metropolis.
One of many mosaics in the city
This site really does bring history alive. There are communal toilets showing the advance drainage system invented by the Romans. Near the Library you can see road markers in the form of a left foot with a woman’s head next to it, giving you directions that the nearest brothel is on the left side of the road.
Ephesus is also known for one of the many places St. Paul the Apostle preached and where the Virgin Mary lived her last years of her life.
Outside of Athens, this is probably one of my favourite archeological sites and makes me wish I lived closer to be able to visit it again, and again, and again.
A very good example of the ornate Library building