The Incredible Ephesus

Trip Start Oct 21, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Flag of Turkey  , Turkish Aegean Coast,
Sunday, December 27, 2009

12.27.09               The Incredible Ephesus

Last night, Murray went online and looked up the train schedule for today's trains from Izmir to Selcuk (the town closest to Ephesus).  So, we were up early this morning in order to eat breakfast at our hotel, walk to the train station, and catch the 9am train to Selcuk (tail on the "c", pronounced like a “j”) for our day trip to Ephesus.  [It also must be noted – for Baby Boo’s reference – that once again, something changed with my belly last night; I woke up this morning with an even bigger belly that was pushed even higher up my stomach!  Wowee.]

When we got to station at 8:40am, we (of course) found out that the train schedule had changed from what was posted online; we had already missed the 8:10am train to Selcuk, and the next train wasn’t until 10:30am!  So, we decided to walk around Izmir for a while and visit Culture Park.

The Kultur Parki, or Culture Park, is a quiet, serene bit of greenery in the middle of busy, polluted Izmir.  In late August and early September, it hosts the popular Izmir International Fair.  At this time of year, however, the vast park was pretty darn quiet!  Still, we enjoyed walking through the relaxing space, counting the kitty cats and viewing the flowers that still were in bloom.  (PS – I made “friends” with an adorable, tiny kitten by “meowing” at her; she proceeded to follow us around for several minutes afterward.  She was so little, and so alone – it totally broke my heart!  Murray keeps telling me to stop befriending all of these stray animals that we see, but I can’t help it…)

Eventually, we meandered back to the train station, and our trip to Selcuk took just over an hour.  When we got there, we met two Australian university students from Melbourne, who were talking to a Turkish man outside the station.  The Turkish man, Villi, waved us over and asked if we, too, wanted to take a taxi to Ephesus together with these Australians.  Villi told us that his hotel was a few blocks from the station, and suggested we all go there for a cup of tea and then he’d get us in our taxi.  Clearly, all four of us were skeptical of this guy, but he quoted a very reasonable price for the taxi ride there (only 3km) and back for all four of us, so – what the heck – we followed him.  (Again, all four of us were 100 percent suspicious, but at least we were in it together…)

In the end, it all turned out fine.  Villi was just trying to garner some good word of mouth for his hotel; he served us some delicious Turkish apple tea (we’ve had it in Izmir and now Selcuk – it’s like watered down hot apple cider – very light and refreshing!), and soon the taxi arrived and we all shared a ride there. 

Ephesus (Ancient Greek: Ἔφεσος; Turkish: Efes) was an ancient Greek city on the west coast of Anatolia (again, near present-day Selcuk, Izmir Province, Turkey).  Today, it is the best-preserved classical city on the eastern Mediterranean – even with only an estimated 15 percent of the city excavated!  The city has an extremely interesting history, dating back to 6,000 BC.  However, it is the ruins of Roman Ephesus that people visit today.  During the Roman period, Ephesus was the second largest city of the Roman Empire, ranking only behind Rome.  At its height in the 1st and 2nd centuries, it had a population of at least 250,000 (perhaps as high as 500,000), which also made it the second largest city in the world.

Notably, Ephesus also was an important center for Early Christianity from the 50s AD.  From 52-54 AD, Paul lived here, working with the congregation there and organizing missionary activities into the hinterlands (his dispute with local artisans is written about in Acts 19:23–41).  Also, between 53-57 AD, Paul wrote the Book of 1 Corinthians from Ephesus.  Further, Anatolia was associated with John (one of Jesus’ chief apostles); the Gospel of John might have been written in Ephesus.  Finally, Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia that are cited in the Book of Revelation (2:1–7).

We spent nearly two hours exploring Ephesus!  The ruins gave us some idea of the city’s original wealth, power, and splendor.  Ephesus is approximately 2km “long,” with an upper gate higher up on the hillside, and a lower gate at the bottom end.  We entered through the upper gate of Ephesus and walked down.  Immediately upon entering we saw the Basilica, the Fountain of Pollio, and the State Agora.  The Tomb/Fountain of Pollio was erected by a grateful city in 97 AD in honor of C. Sextilius Pollio, who constructed the impressive Marnas aqueduct (the city had one of the most advanced aqueduct systems in the ancient world!).  Also, there were two agoras in Ephesus – one for commercial use (the Commercial Agora) and one for state business (the State Agora).

Turning onto the main Curetes Way, we climbed up and into the ruins of the Brothel and the Baths of Scolastika, eventually winding our way to the small Odeum Theatre (dating from 1500 AD and used for lectures, musical performances, and meetings of the town council)

Continuing down Curetes Way, we saw the Fountain of Trajan, named after the Roman emperor who ruled from 98 to 117 AD, as well as some of the original marketplaces, which still display the remains of their original, beautiful mosaic floors.  From the marketplaces, we walked onward to the main Temple of Hadrian.  This Temple dates from the 2nd century, and a number of figures are depicted in the reliefs, including the emperor Theodosius I with his wife and eldest son (the Temple also is depicted on the reverse of the Turkish 20 lira banknote of 2005-2009).  After Hadrian, we just had to check out those famous Public Toilets (and get the obligatory “sitting on the ancient public loo shots”) – where design definitely demonstrates functionality!

Curetes Way ends at Embolos, or central Ephesus, where the Library of Celsus and the Gate of Augustus are located, and from which the Sacred Way continues.  I thought that the Library of Celsus was the most impressive structure remaining at Ephesus.  Built circa 125, it has an incredible façade designed with an exaggerated entrance, so as to enhance its perceived size (still, the Treasury at Petra in Jordan remains the most impressive ruins façade I’ve seen on this trip!).  The Library also once held nearly 12,000 scrolls, and the building faces east so that the reading rooms could make best use of the morning light.

Further down the Sacred Way, we climbed around the Great Theatre, which had an estimated 44,000 seating capacity and is believed to be the largest outdoor theater in the ancient world.  Before leaving Ephesus, we also walked along the Arcadian Way; viewed the Sarcophagi of Ephesus, located on the Palaestra of Verulanus; and viewed some Ephesus milestones (ancient roadside mile/km markers!). 

Overall, our visit to Ephesus was incredible!  Afterward, we met up again with Emma and Daniel (the Aussies), but after waiting at the small post office near the lower gate (as instructed) for our return taxi to Selcuk, we finally gave up and grabbed another cab instead (of course, we hadn’t paid Villi’s guy anything yet – so nothing lost there).  Back in Selcuk, the four of us grabbed lunch together (mushrooms baked in the oven and covered with cheese, and a vegetarian Turkish pide for me; and a chicken salad and meat Turkish pide for Murray).  It was great having some new people to talk to (no offense, Bubby)! 

After lunch, we said goodbye to our new Aussie friends, who were catching the mid-afternoon train back to Izmir, and went on to explore the neat little town of Selcuk.  Once a modest farming town with a sideline in tourism, Selcuk now is the driving force behind the local economy.  During the afternoon, it started drizzling a bit, but despite the rain, we found the town a very quaint place, still influenced by its agricultural roots (the town is surrounded by fields of cotton and tobacco, and orchards of apples and figs, providing a gorgeous overall setting – especially framed by those mountains!). 

Eventually, we climbed up Ayasoluk Hill to St. John’s Basilica, a part of the original site of Ephesus that now is surrounded by Selcuk.  This site was incredibly interesting, and so beautiful – we ended up spending a great deal of time here.  And, from the hilltop Basilica, we saw beautiful views of the entire town, with the mountains framing the Aegean Sea in the distance.  [We also saw great views of the famous Mosque of Isa Bey, as well as the Artemesion.  The latter, also referred to as the Temple of Artemis, is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  Today, this Temple has only one lonely column remaining, but after its completion in 550 BC, Ephesus was made famous by this magnificent Temple of Artemis, which was dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of fertility.]  In the end, I believed I liked our visit to St. John’s Basilica even more than our visit to Ephesus!  

The Basilica of St. John (St. Jean Aniti) was a great church in Ephesus that stands over the believed burial site of St. John, who is identified as John the Apostle (beloved disciple of Jesus); John the Evangelist (author of the Fourth Gospel, or the Gospel of John); and John the Prophet (author of the Book Revelation).  Ayasoluk, the hill in Selcuk upon where the Basilica of St. John is located, means “Divine Theologian” in honor of the Apostle.  (By the way – how many Apostles’ tombs have we seen on this trip?  Saints?  I should add them all up…)

As you may know, after the crucifixion of Jesus, the followers of Christ were subjected to persecution.  John’s own brother, James, was the first martyr amongst the Apostles.  To avoid persecution, John left Jerusalem and fled to Ephesus (Asia Minor).  It is believed that he brought the Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother, with him (the House of the Virgin, called “Meryemana” in Turkish and believed to be the last residence of the Virgin Mary, is located in a nature park between Ephesus and Selcuk, although we didn’t have the time to visit it today).  Except for the time when St. John was exiled to the nearby island of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation, he lived the remainder of his life in and around Ephesus. 

Upon his death in Ephesus, St. John's grave was marked by a memorial and enclosed by a church of modest proportions in the 4th century.  In the 6th century, however, Emperor Justinian (527-565 AD) believed that a tomb dating from the 300s was John’s, so he built a magnificent church on the site dedicated to the saint.  The traditional tomb of St. John, located under the main central dome, elevated the site to one of the most sacred sites in the Middle Ages, and over the years, thousands of people have made pilgrimages here.  Today, the brick foundations and marble walls of the Basilica have been partially reconstructed; if they were fully restored, the cathedral would be the seventh largest in the world!

[Side note: the Citadel on the top of Ayasoluk Hill, to the north of St. John’s Basilica, originally was constructed by the Byzantines in the 6th century, rebuilt by the Selcuks, and restored in modern times.  A mosque and a church lie inside the fortress.  Unfortunately for us, the citadel is closed for renovations until 2012, so we couldn’t tour the inside.]

As we left St. John’s Basilica and descended Ayasoluk Hill, the rain began to pick up, so we thought it would be a good time to visit the Ephesus Museum.  It is a beautiful museum – and actually, one of the best museums we’ve been to so far on this trip.  It has a very impressive and significant collection of statuary, mosaics, and artifacts, and its galleries have such wonderful names as the “Hall of Fountain Finds” and the “Hall of Emperor Cults and Portraits”!

After the museum, we stopped at a local café for more apple tea and chocolate cake before continuing our walk around Selcuk.  One thing that both Murray and I noticed was that the entire city smelled really pleasant – like a wood-burning fire, with hints of lavender and maybe hazelnut (no joke!).  At one point, too, we saw MASSES of birds flying overhead, and we had to stop and watch them for a while – going this way for a while, and then changing to that – all the while making the most wonderful racket!  The birds were fascinating to watch. 

Even after all that walking, we still had another hour to kill before catching the train, so we stopped at yet another little café for our third and fourth cups of apple tea of the day (and we watched the Izmir horse races with a bunch of older Turkish men)!  We had a good train ride back to Izmir, although the train was crowded (a wonderful woman was nice enough to offer me her seat).  We got back to our hotel around 9pm, and decided to order cheese and tomato toasties to our room for dinner.  While eating, we watched some TV and relaxed before (yet another) late bedtime.  After today’s long day, and a lack of sleep over the last few days, I definitely am sleeping in tomorrow!

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carol saad on

Happy New Year! We wish you all the very best for 2010 - enjoy the new chapter in your lives! Your blog on Greece and Turkey (especially Ephesus) brought back many happy memories of my trip there in the '80's.
We're currently in the throes of packing and moving back down under. Look forward to catching up with you then. Love Carol, Ray and familyx

Mom Schmidt on

Great memories from a year ago. Wanted to leap back into the pictures and remember with you. Good to see you and baby boo today ( on skype, of course, but so thankful for that option for communication!)

mom again on

Oh yes, happy birthday AGAIN! May your celebraton tomorrow be a wonder-filled one!

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