Ephesus was founded in ancient times. One of the ancient seven wonders of the world, a temple devoted to the goddess Artemis (also called Cybele) was built here around 330 BC. By 600 BC, Ephesus had become an important port town. After Jesus’ death, the apostle St. John settled in Ephesus with the Virgin Mary prior to his exile to the nearby Dodacanese Island of Patmos towards the end of his life. It is believed that John wrote his gospel (his account of Jesus’ life which is now part of the bible) while in Ephesus. Ephesus was included as one of the seven churches that the book of Revelation was directed to (Revelation was written from Patmos). St. John and Mary are both buried in Ephesus. St. Paul spent three years in Ephesus, and while there wrote a letter to Christians in Corinth that was canonized in the bible as 1 Corinthians. During his later imprisonment in Rome, Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Ephesus, which became canonized in the bible as the book of Ephesians.
In the early Christian days, the city was home to 250,000 people and the Romans had put a lot of energy into making it aesthetically beautiful. The problem with Ephesus’s location was that the bay would silt up. Throughout history, every time there was a war or natural disaster, instead of rebuilding as it was, they would build closer to the new shoreline. The location of the early Ephesus was actually drastically different from the Ephesus that was eventually abandoned around the 6th century in favor of harbors that didn’t silt up.
We left Izmir right after breakfast, heading south the way we came. In Selcuk, we followed the signs to Ephesus and pulled into the parking lot. Christi had been to Ephesus about 12 years ago with a tour group and distinctly remembered walking from one end of the ancient town to the other, down a hill, and the bus picking the group up at the bottom of the hill.
Outside the entrance was a line of vendors. One of the vendors suggested we take a free shuttle to the other entrance on the opposite side of the ruins, that way we would be at the correct parking lot when we were done instead of having to turn around and do the walk back. Christi asked if we were at the top or the bottom of the hill. The guy convinced us that the hill went down and back up, and that the parking lots at both ends were at the same level. Christi was dubious, having no recollection of walking uphill at any point, but it was 12 years ago and maybe she wasn’t remembering it right.
There was a catch to the free shuttle, and that is you had to stop by a hand made carpet school to learn about carpet making and look at rugs to buy. Christi had also been to one of the facilities the last time she was in Turkey, and knew it was going to be a high pressure sales pitch. The shuttle pulled up to the school and we were greeted by a well dressed man who spoke perfect American English. The school consisted of one room where three women were weaving beautiful designs on the looms, similar to the fabric weaving we had seen in Indonesia (link), except they were knotting each thread as they put it on the loom. He quickly explained to us how the thread is spun and that the dyes are naturally made from plants indigenous to the area. He showed us the special Turkish double knot style that makes their rugs superior to Persian and other similar rugs. The rugs are intricate and beautiful. One girl was making a silk rug with amazingly vibrant colors.
Once his tour was done, they took us to another room where they pulled out carpet after carpet after carpet in all sorts of colors, shapes and sizes. They started at several hundred dollars and the prices went up from there. He plied us with compliment after compliment, especially Christi, then launched the high pressure sales maneuver. We had a hard time getting out of his grip, but we finally escaped to the shuttle van, which delivered us to the other entrance, as promised.
This entrance area was a zoo. Hundreds of people were milling about. There were many more vendors on this side, all aggressively pushing their wares. The ticket booth had no real line, so you had to shove your way forward. It was chaotic. There was supposed to be a booth offering audio tours for hire, but we couldn’t find it. There were supposed to be tour guides for hire, but we didn’t see any. As we walked in, hundreds of people, obviously part of several different tour groups, were making their way out. We looked at the incline. The guy had lied to us about the hill. Oh well. We still were only walking one way, instead of both.
The first thing we noticed is that the main road, called “The Sacred Way” is paved with blocks of stone and lined with pillars. The street is wide for the time period, which is a blessing given the number of tourists here today. If the road was narrow, it’d be a traffic nightmare, like Santorini. There are bits of ruins in neat rows on both sides of the walkway, patiently waiting on the dead grass to be put back together with their missing halves. It turns out that the left side of the walkway was once a gymnasium, but there is little there that is recognizable as such.
Next to the gymnasium is The Great Theater that holds 25,000 people, still mostly intact and used today for concerts and shows. It appears fairly similar to the other theaters we have seen previously, but apparently there is an important design difference. Rather than each level being uniform in height, each level up gets a little steeper than the one below, improving the view and acoustics the higher up you go. Last time Christi was here, the guide said that in the early days of Christianity this stadium was where the Romans would throw a captured Christian and a lion together in the ring in front of a crowd of spectators. Since Ephesus was something of a center for Christianity in the early days, they had many such lion shows.
Dead ending at the theater entrance is another pillar lined main walkway that intersects at a 90 degree angle with the Sacred Way that we stood on. This street was called Harbor Street, and was the grandest street in Ephesus, with 50 streetlights illuminating the colonnades. It was lined with shops, and there was a bathhouse near the end. It runs to what was the shoreline in their day, and under the pavement were water and sewage channels. Now it just dead ends into dirt, quite far from the water. It is closed to the public, but you get great views of it from the theater.
To be continued”¦