We've been cruising up the Mediterranean coast on the western side of Turkey. Today's stop is at Ephesus, an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia near Selcuk in Izmir Province. We've had our share of adversity on this trip so far with diarrhea, lost bags, and cloudy weather; however, on this day there is not a cloud in the sky. We're ready to see this Classical Greek colossus that dates back to the 10th century BC, replete with ruins from the times of Attic. I have read that this site is one of the greatest outdoor museums in Turkey and perhaps in the world. I'm excited!
The first thing that strikes me as we enter this ancient metropolis is that it is big. During Roman times it has been estimated that its population was as high as 56,000 making it the third largest city in Asia Minor. In its heyday, Ephesus housed the Temple of Artemis dating back to BC 550, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This was destroyed by the Goths. Ephesus was damaged by an earthquake in AD 614. What I am seeing today are the remains of a once thriving commercial center.
My first goal is to get oriented. I see huge numbers of people descending the gradual decline of Cutetes Street. I know that we will eventually make it to the end where we will come to the Celsus Library, but I am in no rush. I want the tourists to dissipate and the sun to start going down so that I can photograph some of the timeless structures here.
I am entertained by the outdoor toilets we see along the way. These were built in the first century AD as part of the Scholastica Baths. They were public toilets where ordinary citizens were charged an entrance fee for use. In front of the toilets, I'm told, was a drainage system used by the patrons in which they used a sponge attached to a stick to wipe their behinds!
We amble into the famed Ephesus Terrace Houses. This is cool! What I'm seeing are really domiciles of the rich in the time range of the first century BC to the seventh century AD. This is where the equivalent of Trump or Rockefeller would have lived in this Roman Period. There are six residential units on three terraces on the slope of the Bulbul Mountain. I'm fascinated by two workers whose full time job it is to put together fragments of mosaics on the floor and frescoes on the walls in an attempt to recreate the beauty of this marvelous edifice.
It is now later in the afternoon. The sun is getting lower in the sky and many of the tourist buses have left. It's time to hit the facade of the Library of Celsus. This structure was built in honor of the Roman Senator, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, by his son in AD 135. It housed 12,000 scrolls and includes a sarcophagus in which Celsus is buried. This is one of the few remaining examples of an ancient Roman-influenced library. The interior of this monument was completely destroyed in the earthquake of AD 262 at which time all the scrolls succumbed to fire. A second earthquake hit in the late Byzantine period. The facade was rebuilt in a restoration project in the 1960s and 1970s and today serves as a prime example of Roman public architecture.
We continue on to the Great Theater on the Arcadiana Way, one of the most important archaeological sites in Ephesus. This is considered a sacred destination where St. Paul preached against the pagans. According to the Acts of the Apostles, this was the site of the "riot of the silversmiths" in which fighting occurred because Paul's preaching was bad for the silversmiths' business. Construction of the Great Theater probably began in BC 100 and required 60 years of digging into the mountainside for its development. It was expanded continuously until the 5th century AD. This structure is enormous, built to hold 25,000 people for activities such as concerts and plays as well as philosophical, political, and religious discussions. As I look around, I imagine watching a gladiator fight that might have taken place here 2,000 years ago.
The day is winding down and we pass along a street that has been extensively excavated. It is thought to have existed during the Archaic period at which time important historical figures including the elegiac poet, Callinus, and the philosopher, Heraclitus, lived.
We leave Ephesus, go to a bar, have a drink, and think about what we've seen today. This small city in the eastern Mediterranean is home to the largest collection of Roman ruins that we have seen on our trip. We can only imagine what the municipality's original splendor must have been like. Oh well! We get the map out and plan the next day's excursions to Birgi and Pergamon.