Monday, 28 April 2014

Ephesus - the jewel in Turkey's "ancient cities" crown

Looking down the main street of Ephesus
You would think that after nearly three weeks in Turkey and countless visits to ruined cities we would, by now,
be getting "all ruined out" but this was not the case.  Each ruined city we had visited had something fascinating and unique to offer and so it was with a great sense of anticipation that we set out for Ephesus.

 Dating back to the 7th century BC Ephesus was a vital link on the great trade route. Originally built beside the sea it was moved up onto the slopes of Mt Pion when silt filled the bay. The site of battles, revolts and conquests, including being claimed  by Alexander the Great, the city had a long and colourful history.  It was a glorious place during the Hellenistic period and was ceded to Rome by the Pergamese in 133BC.  The Anatolians revolted against the rule of Rome,  killing many Romans and in retaliation were punished with heavy taxes. During the reign of Augustus, Ephesus became the most important and powerful city in Asian Rome.  Christianity spread rapidly into Ephesus.  St Paul, who preached there, was despised by the Romans and imprisoned in the nearby lighthouse.  The Virgin Mary lived nearby with St John until her death. The Goths destroyed Ephesus and the Temple to Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, in 262AD.  The city's glory days were over.  With the port of Ephesus completely silted up the city was no longer a centre of trade and gradually declined until, in the 14th century it was abandoned.  I am no historian and many great scholars have written about the history of Ephesus.  It is a fascinating history and well worth a read.

Nike, Goddess of Victory

So, as a simple tourist, what did I think of Ephesus?  Well it is simply marvellous, far and away the best ruined city we had seen.  So much of the bones of the city are still in place and one can only marvel at how magnificent and glorious it must have been.  The marble paved main street falls gently down the hillside passing remnants of, but still clearly discernible, the baths, the Agora (market place), temples, fountains, a particularly beautiful carved relief of Nike, the goddess of victory among other things.

The Temple of Hadrian

The public latrines are an example of how society has changed.  Apparently men would meet at the latrines and sit communally discussing politics, life, etc while going about their, not so private, business.

 Houses of the rich Ephesians, from around 1st century AD, are on the slopes above this street.  They are currently being restored by archaeologists and are richly decorated with mosaics and frescoes.

The Celsus Library

At the bottom end of the main street is the spectacular centre piece of Ephesus today, the Celsus Library.  A centre of learning and debate the library contained 12,000 books, written on scrolls, until it was burnt and ruined by the Goths in 265AD.  The front of the library was restored in the 1970s. Across from the Library is the brothel, yes indeed the world's oldest profession!, and further along the road, carved into the marble street, is one of the earliest known advertising signs, an advertisement for, and directions to, the brothel.

The 24,500 seat Grand Theatre

The road  makes a right angle at the library and heads straight towards the vast 24,500 seat Grand Theatre.  This was used for everything from plays and  orchestral music  to gladiator fights with wild animals and is still used today for outdoor concerts.  High on the hill, overlooking Ephesus is the light house where St Paul was reputed to have been imprisoned.

The pillar is all that remains of the Temple of Artemis

A  short bus ride took us to the Temple of Artemis, which I mentioned earlier.  Archaeologists have found remnants dating back to the 8th century BC on the site, however the temple was rebuilt several times after being burned and ransacked on separate occasions. With the rise of Christianity the temple gradually lost its importance and over the centuries its materials were looted as building materials. Sadly, today, there is just one pillar remaining of this colossal wonder of the ancient world.

On a separate day I travelled to the house of the Blessed Virgin.  There is some scepticism that this is the house she lived in, (only the foundations remain) but the fact remains that she lived in this area and recorded historical details all point to it as the location.  Regardless, it is a beautiful, leafy, mountain location and a site of pilgrimage for both Christians and Muslims alike.  I found it to be a serene and peaceful place.
All that is left of Mary's House

So, there you are, another ruined city, another unique and fascinating place. If you go to Turkey Ephesus is a "must see".  It truly conveys the wonder of these magnificent ancient cities.  It has also whetted my appetite to read up on  the rich and colourful history of the city.