|Ephesus (Efes) is the best preserved classical
Anatolian Ancient City of the Eastern Mediterranean, and amongst
the best places in the world enabling one to genuinely 'soak in' the atmosphere of Roman
times. Needless to say, it is a major tourist destination.
Ephesus (Efes) is located on the western coast of Turkey near the modern city of Selcuk
in Izmir (Smyrne). The ancient site of Ephesus has been almost continuously settled for the past 5000 years
and was an early center of worship for Kybyle, the Anatolian mother-goddess who
evolved into the Greek Artemis. A bustling commercial port in antiquity, the
coastline has receded and it is now about 6 miles (10 km.) inland. Among its
famous sites in ancient times were the great Temple of Artemis (Diana) at
Ephesus (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), the Library of Celsus
(considered second only to that in Alexandria), the Basilica of St. John the
Evangelist and a house reputed to be the home to which Mary retired after
Ancient Anatolian city of Ephesus proudly houses one of the seven
ancient wonders of the world; the Temple of Artemis. The Ancient Anatolian city
of Ephesus is dedicated
to her and has many fascinating buildings. The precise date of the city's
foundation is not known but legend said that the first Ephesus (Efes) was founded by
Women Warriors of the Amazon in the 14th century BC and later inhabited by
lonians in the 11th century BC after the first settlement of the Anatolian's
natives, the Lelegians. In a short time the city became very important.
After 133 BC it became a Roman province and during the reign of Augustus it
became the trade center of Asia.
With all these civilizations passing
through Ephesus, the remains take one or two days to visit fully. The city
still retains its importance, but this time as the most important
archaeological and historical city in Turkey. One of the very amazing ruins
in (Ephesus) Efes is the huge amphitheatre with a 24,000 seat capacity and superb
acoustic effects. Seljuk is close to Efes and is crowned with a Byzantine
citadel and the basilica of St. John. Next to the basilica is the Seljuk Isa
Bey Mosque. The Seven Sleepers' Cave is another historical place near Efes.
The archaeological museum is significant with its striking collection of
items gathered from the excavations in Ephesus. Every May there is an
International Festival in Efes.
On Bulbuldagi (Mt. Nightingale) one can
find the small house built for the Virgin Mary (9 kms from Seljuk) when St.
John brought her to Ephesus after Christ's death. She spent her last days in
that house. Today it is a place of Pilgrimage for Christians and also
visited by Muslims, and is officially sanctioned by the Vatican. Every year
on August the 15th, a commemoration ceremony is held there.
Around 1000 BC, colonists from Greece arrived on these shores, fleeing an invasion by
the Dorians. The Ionian culture flourished, and its cities exported these cultural
refinements back to Greece.
The history of Ionia is much the same as that of Izmir, with the original Ionian league
of cities being conquered by the Lydians of Sardis, then the Persians, then Alexander.
They prospered until their harbors silted up or until the predominance of Izmir siphoned
off their local trade.
According to a legend related by Athenaeus, Androclus, son of King Codrus of Athens,
consulted an oracle as to where he should found a settlement in Ionia. The oracle
answered, in typically cryptic style, `choose the site indicated by the fish and the
Androclus sat down with some fishermen near the mouth of the Cayster River and Mt Pion
(Panayir Dagi), the hill into which Ephesus Great Theatre was later to be built. As
they grilled some fish for lunch, one of the fish leapt out of the brazier, taking with it
a hot coal which ignited some shavings, in turn igniting the nearby brush. A wild boar
hiding in the brush ran in alarm from the fire; the spot at which it was killed by the
fishermen became the site of Ephesus' temple of Athena.
For many years thereafter the wild boar was a symbol of the city. Until the 1970s it
was still common to see wild pigs in scrub thickets near Ephesus.
In ancient times the sea came much farther inland, almost as far as present-day
Selçuk, even lapping at the feet of Mt Pion. The first settlement, of which virtually
nothing remains, was built on the hill's northern slope, and was a prosperous city by
about 600 B.C.. The nearby sanctuary of Cybele (Artemis), the Anatolian Mother-Goddess,
had been a place of pilgrimage since at least 800 B.C. and may have had more to do with
the selection of the site than the fish and the pig.
Croesus & The Persians
Ephesus prospered so much that it aroused the envy of King Croesus of Lydia, who
attacked it around 600 B.C.. The Ephesians, who had neglected to build defensive walls,
stretched a rope from the temple of Artemis to the town, a distance of 1200m, hoping thus
to place themselves under the protection of the goddess. Croesus responded to this quaint
defensive measure by giving some of his famous wealth for the completion of the temple,
which was still under construction. But he destroyed the city of Ephesus and relocated its
citizens inland to the south side of the temple, where they rebuilt and continued to live
through classical times.
Neglecting again (or perhaps forbidden) to build walls, the Ephesians were tributaries
of Croesus' Lydia and later, of the Persians. They then joined the Athenian Confederacy,
but later fell back under Persian control.
In 356 B.C. the temple of Cybele (Artemis) was destroyed in a fire set by one
Herostratus, who claimed to have done it (like so many modern-day lunatics) in order to go
down in history. He certainly did!.
The Ephesians planned a new, even grander temple, the construction of which was well
under way when Alexander the Great arrived in 334 B.C.. Alexander, much impressed by the
plans, offered to pay the entire cost of construction on the condition it be dedicated in
his name. The Ephesians declined his generous offer, saying that it was not fitting for
one god to make a dedication to another. When the temple was finished, it was recognized
as one of the seven wonders of the world, together with the
at Halicarnassus (Bodrum) the Egyptian pyramids, the Colossus of Rhodes, the statue of
Zeus at Olympia, the lighthouse at Alexandria, and the hanging gardens of Babylon.
After Alexander's death, Ionia came under the control of Lysimachus, one of his
generals. As the Cayster brought more silt into the harbour, it became clear that the city
would have to move westward or die a commercial death. Lysimachus, unable to convince the
Ephesians to budge blocked the sewers of the old city during a downpour. Their houses
flooded, and the Ephesians reluctantly moved to a site on the west side of Mt Pion, where
the Roman city now stands.
Little survives of Lysimachus' city, though it finally got a defensive wall almost 10
km long. The following centuries were turbulent as Lysimachus allied himself first with
the Seleucid Kings of Syria, then with the Ptolemies of Egypt, later with King Antiochus,
then Eumenes of Pergamum and finally with the Romans. Long stretches of the wall survive
atop Bülbül Dagi (Mt Croesus), the high ridge on the south side of Ephesus, as does a
prominent square tower nicknamed `St Paul's Prison', on a low hill to the west.
Roman Ephesus, the ruins of which you can visit today, boasted that it was the first
and greatest metropolis of Asia', with a population approaching 250,000. It became the
Roman capital of Asia Minor, honored and beautified by succeeding emperors. With its brisk
sea traffic, rich commerce and right of sanctuary in the precincts of the temple of
Artemis, it drew many immigrants of various nations and creeds. As a large and busy Roman
town with ships and caravans coming from all over, it had an important Christian
congregation very early on. St John came here, it is said with the Virgin Mary, followed
by St Paul, whose Letter to the Ephesians was written to people he had known from his
three-year stay here.
its prosperity from commerce and temple pilgrimage was unrivalled, but the Cayster
continued to bring silt down into the harbor. Despite great works by Attalus II of
Pergamum, who rebuilt the harbor, and Nero's proconsul, who dredged the harbor, the
silting continued. Emperor Hadrian had the Cayster's course diverted, but the harbor
continued to silt up, ultimately pushing the sea back to Pamucak, four km to the west. Cut
off from its commerce, Ephesus lost its wealth.
Ephesus was renowned for its wealth and beauty before it was pillaged by Gothic
invaders in 262 AD, and it was still an important enough place in 431 A.D. for a church
council to be held there. By the 6th century AD, when the Emperor Justinian was looking
for a site for the St John's basilica, he chose Ayasoluk Hill in Selçuk, which became the
center of the city from then on.
Much of the city remains for you to see. As for the other Ionian ports, sometimes a
sleepy Turkish village rose among the ruins, sometimes not. Today several of those
once-sleepy villages are bustling seaside resort towns.
As you walk into the site from Dr Sabri Yayla Bulvan, a road to the left directs you to
the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers, this is on the northeast side of Mt Pion just over a km
According to legend, seven persecuted Christian youths fled from Ephesus in the 3rd
century A.D. and took refuge in this cave. Agents of the Emperor Decius, a terror to
Christians, found the cave and sealed it. Two centuries later an earthquake broke down the
wall awakening the sleepers, and they ambled back to town for a meal. Finding that all of
their old friends were long dead, they concluded that they had undergone a sort of
resurrection, Ephesus was by this time a Christian city. When they died they were buried
in the cave, and a cult following developed.
The grotto is actually a fairly elaborate Byzantine-era
with scores of tombs cut into the rock. You must pay an extra admission charge to enter
(at least in season), which many people feel is hardly worth it.
Gymnasium of Vedius & Stadium
Back on the entry road you pass the 2nd century A.D. Gymnasium of Vedius on your left,
which had exercise fields, baths, toilets, covered exercise rooms, a swimming pool and a
ceremonial hall. Just south of it is the Stadium, dating from about the same period. Most
of its finely cut stones were taken by the Byzantines to build the citadel and walls of
the castle atop Ayasoluk hill. This `quarrying' of pre-cut building stone from older,
often earthquake-ruined structures continued throughout the entire history of Ephesus.
The road comes over a low rise and descends to the car park, where there are
tea-houses, restaurants, souvenir shops, a PTT and banks. To the right (west) of the road
are the ruins of the Church of the Virgin Mary, also called the Double Church. The
original building was a Museum, a Hall of the Muses being a place for lectures, teaching,
educated discussions and debates. Destroyed by fire, it was rebuilt in the 4th century
A.D. as a church, later to become the site of the third Ecumenical Council (431 AD). Over
the centuries several other churches succeeded to the site, somewhat obscuring the plan of
the original church.
As you walk down a lane bordered by evergreen trees, a few colossal remains of the
Harbor Gymnasium are off to the right (west) before you reach
the marble-paved Arcadian Way, or Arcadiane. This, the grandest street in Ephesus, had
water and sewer lines beneath the marble flags, 50 streetlights along its colonnades,
shops along its sides, and near its western (harbor) end a
(fountain and pool) and triumphal columns. It was and is a grand sight. its builder was
the Byzantine emperor Arcadius (395-408).
At the east end of the Arcadian Way is the Great Theatre, of Hellenistic design,
skillfully reconstructed by the Romans between 41 and 117 A.D..
The first theatre here dates from the city of Lysimachus, and many features of the
original building were incorporated into the Roman structure. Among these is the ingenious
design of the cavea, or seating area, capable of holding 25,000 people: each successive
range of seating up from the stage is pitched more steeply than the one below it, thereby
improving the view and acoustics for spectators in the upper seats. Among other
modifications, the Romans enlarged the stage, pitched it towards the audience and built a
three-story decorative stage wall behind it, improving the acoustics even more.
The Great Theatre is still used for performances, though it is generally closed for
further restoration. Behind the Great Theatre is Mt Pion, which bears a few traces of the
ruined city walls of Lysimachus.
From the theatre, walk south along the marble-paved Sacred Way, also called the Marble
Way. Note the remains of the city's elaborate water and sewer systems beneath the
paving-stones, and the ruts made by wheeled vehicles (which were not permitted along the
Arcadian Way). The large, open space to the right (west) of the street, once surrounded by
a colonnade and shops, was the commercial agora
BC) or marketplace, heart of Ephesus' business life, presently under restoration.
On the left as you approach the end of the street is an elaborate
with a rich mosaic of the Four Seasons in the main hall; the heads of Winter and Autumn
are still in good condition.
The Sacred Way ends at the Embolos, or `central Ephesus,' with the Library of Celsus
and the monumental Gate of Augustus to the right (west), and Curetes Way heading east up
Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus was the Roman governor of Asia Minor early in the 2nd
century A.D.. In 110, after the govenor's death, his son, Consul Gaius Julius Aquila,
erected this library in his father's honour; as says an inscription in Latin and Greek on
the side of the building's front staircase. Celsus was buried under the west side of the
library, where he rests to this day.
The library of Celcus held 12,000 scrolls in niches around its walls. A one-meter gap between the
library's inner and outer walls protected the valuable books from extremes of temperature
and humidity. Though it now stands alone, the library was originally built between other
buildings, and architectural legerdemain was used to make it look bigger than it is: the
base of the façade is convex, adding height to the central elements; and the central
columns and capitals are larger than those at the ends.
The niches on the façade held statues (now in Vienna's Ephesus Museum) representing
the Virtues: Arete (Goodness), Ennoia (Thought), Episteme (Knowledge) 'and Sophia
(Wisdom). The library was restored with the aid of the Austrian Archaeological Institute.
To the right of the library, the
Gate of Augustus,
also called the Gate of Mazaeus and Mithridates, leads into the 110-metresquare commercial
agora where food and craftwork items were sold. The monumental gate, dedicated to the
honor of the Emperor Augustus, his wife and son-in-law, was apparently a favorite place
for Roman ne'erdo-wells to relieve themselves, as an informal inscription curses `those
who piss here'.
As you head up Curetes Way, a passage on the left (north) leads to the
public toilets, design demonstrating function
unmistakably. These posh premises were for men only; the women's were elsewhere. In the
well nearby, right next to the brothel, was found the famous figure of Priapus (now in the
Ephesus Museum in Selçuk) with the penis of his dreams.
You can't miss the impressive
Temple of Hadrian,
on the left, in Corinthian style, with beautiful reliefs in the porch and a head of Medusa
to keep out evil spirits. It was dedicated in 118 A.D. to Hadrian, Artemis and the people
of Ephesus, but greatly reconstructed in the 4th century.
Across the street is a row of 10 shops from the same period, fronted by an elaborate
On the right side of Curetes Way across from the Temple of Hadrian, excavation and
restoration work is still in progress on the Yamaç Evleri
(hill-side houses). Several of the larger, grander houses with fine mosaics, frescoes and
marble work are periodically opened to visitors. If you have the opportunity, be sure to
see the rare glass mosaic in a niche off the atrium of one of the houses.
Further along Curetes Way, on the left, is the
of Trajan, who was Roman emperor from 98 to 117 A.D.. A huge statue of the emperor
used to tower above the pool; only the feet remain.
Curetes Way ended at the
Gate of Hercules,
constructed in the 4th century AD, a two-storey gate with reliefs of Hercules on both main
To the right is a side street leading to a colossal temple dedicated to the Emperor
Domitian (81-96 AD), which now serves as the Museum of Inscriptions, which may or
may not be open when you visit.
Up the hill on the left (north) are the ruined remains of the
municipal hall; and the Temple of Hestia Boulaea, in which the perpetual flame was
guarded. Finally you come to the Odeum, a small 1400-seat
theatre dating from I50 A1 used for lectures, musical performances and meetings of the
town council. its lower seat; of marble, show something of the magnificence of the
To the east of the Odeum are the
Baths of Varius
and, farther east, the East Gymnasium and the Magnesia Gate, of which virtually nothing