The Road to Ephesus

In front of the Library of Celsus

Located on the coast of Turkey where the Aegean Sea meets the former estuary of the River Kaystros, Ephesus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has a long history. Inhabited since the Neolithic Age, the site has gone through successive rulers–Greek, Persian, Lydian, Selucid, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman just to name a few. Mentioned in the Book of Revelations as one of the seven churches of Asia, Ephesus was also an important centre for early Christianity.

While staying in Izmir we rented a car for a few days to visit Pammukale and Ephesus. Unlike our trip to Pammukale, the trip from Izmir to Ephesus was straightforward and took just over an hour. It mostly followed major highways and aside from some aggressive drivers it was an uneventful trip.

Once out of the Izmir city limits it was all highways

After walking in the main entrance we passed a tree-lined walkway with maps and general information about the site. We had two choices–left or right. Most of the sights seemed to be on the left side so we did them first and came back at the end to do the rest.

At the entrance
This area was roped off as they were doing excavation or repair work. I believe it led to the ancient harbour

With a seating capacity of 25,000 the theatre at Ephesus is believed to be the largest in the ancient world. It even held gladiatorial combats in Roman times as a gladiator graveyard was found behind it just a few years ago.

The other direction on the main road led to the theatre first
You can see workmen behind me doing repair in the theatre so that side was out of bounds
In the distance you can see the road we were walking on. The main entrance was to the right
Back on the road
An ancient footprint? This block was roped off so people couldn’t walk on it

Probably the most recognizable ruin at Ephesus was the Library of Celsus which was popular with the tourists. Completed in Hadrian’s time around the second century AD, it was destroyed either by earthquake or invasion a few hundred years later and only the facade remained. Eventually even the facade came down during a subsequent earthquake. It lay in ruins until the facade was restored in the 1970s. The rest of the library has not been rebuilt.

Estimated to have held around 16,000 scrolls, reading material in those days couldn’t be borrowed because of scarcity and the difficulty of replacing them. Instead, there was once a reading room where people could look them over.

After going behind the library we walked into a large open space that used to be for public gatherings.

This was the view behind the library from a spot near the main road

Moving up from the library the crowds got thicker, likely because many of the tour buses park at a different entrance closer to the ruins. There were still lots of places off the main road to visit and avoid people when the tour groups became too much.

More people coming down the road
Even the cats came out!

There were even examples of ancient latrines the locals would use when nature called.

If you look closely at the back arch in the above image, you can make out a figure. You can see below that the figure was of the snake-haired Medusa.

This viewpoint gave a nice panorama of much of the ruins
Not much left of the archways
Writing in ancient Greek could be found on a number of the stones, and a few had Latin inscriptions as well.
Some say this statue of the goddess Nike was the inspiration for the famous logo of the sportswear company, and the trademark swoosh is in her flowing robes

We eventually moved towards the less visited part of Ephesus, where the tombs, early churches and other ruins were scattered. There were only a few tourists going this way and by the time we reached the furthest ruins we rarely saw anyone.

After passing by the tombs, we made our way to the Church of Mary, one of the early Christian churches. There wasn’t much left of it but it was a quiet spot away from the crowds.

No idea what this depression in the floor of the building was used for. It was large enough to walk down but was only about 5 feet deep\

After finishing up in Ephesus we had one more stop to make. An important site nearby was the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. We couldn’t miss seeing one of the original wonders so we went to find it. Although close to the Ephesus ruins, the entrance is easy to miss along a divided road with a narrow entrance for cars to get in. After a short drive in we were in front of the temple, or what remained of it.

Here’s how it originally looked
And here it is now. The Temple of Artemis once stood 418′ by 239′ with over 100 marble pillars each 56′ high. So obviously we had to use our imaginations a bit here
The only pillar standing, and it looks like it’s been heavily restored. In the background you can see a 14th century mosque and a Byzantine Fortress

Even though the Temple of Artemis was a bit of a let down, Ephesus was worth the drive from Izmir. A lot of tours arrive from the nearby port, making it very accessible by car, bus or boat tour. Turkey has a wealth of ancient ruins that are well preserved compared with many ancient sites in the West, and Ephesus is one of the better examples to visit.

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