Ephesus is 3km (1 3/4 miles) south of Sel√ßuk
A highlight of any visit to Turkey, Ephesus is one of the best-preserved ancient cities on the Mediterranean and a major player in the birth and evolution of Christianity. Allot at least a half-day for just an overview of the archaeological site and a full day for a comprehensive visit. In the heat of the summer, it’s best to avoid the midday sun when the reflection off the stones becomes unbearable.
The ancient city of Ephesus extends beyond the confines of the museum gates, and heartier (and well-watered) types can be seen walking single-file along the road between the Main Gate and the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. Meryemana is about 7km (4 1/3 miles) up the hill from the Upper Gate, and therefore (at least for me) too far to walk.
The House of the Virgin Mary (Meryemana)
Admission to park and house 11YTL ($8). Site parking 8YTL ($6)
According to the oral tradition of local villagers of Sirince (or Kirkince, descendants of Christians at Ephesus), Mary finished out her days in this house after migrating to Asia Minor with John. The location was “discovered” in the 19th century by Sister Anna Catherina Emmerich, a German invalid who had never left home. The discovery was in the form of a dream, from which the nun awoke with a stigmata. The site was later found as described and was visited by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, who both verified its authenticity. The validity of the site is also supported by the oral tradition of the villagers who inhabited the village in the 19th century, as they were descendants of the early Christian inhabitants.
The house is a church nowadays, with the main altar where the kitchen was situated; the right wing was the bedroom. The site, now a national park, is a requisite stop on the itineraries of Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike, and therefore always crowded. In fact, in their religious fervor, pilgrims won’t think anything of elbowing you out of the way. If you get there by 7:15am you can participate in the morning Mass (10:30am on Sun); and every year on August 15 there is a Mass celebrating the Assumption.
The park is also home to healing springs said to cure all sorts of ailments. On the way back up the path, make sure to avail yourself of the free and clean WC.
The Archaeological Site of Ephesus (Efes)
Second only to Pompeii, a visit to Ephesus is as good an introduction as one can get to ancient Roman civilization. Almost as astonishing as the site itself is that only 20% of the ancient city has been excavated.
The visit begins inside the Upper Entrance and basically follows a straight trajectory through the ancient city. You can get a fairly decent overview of the site by following the main street, but with so much of interest located in toppled buildings lining the route, you will definitely want to scramble around a bit to get a closer look. Plan on at least 2 hours for the basic overview, and double that if you’re planning to really absorb all of the main sites. Add another 30 to 45 minutes in the Terraced Houses, and still more time if you’re dedicated enough to trample through every last weed to the “secondary” sites off the main street. If you’re visiting during the heat of the summer, begin as early as the ticket gates will allow, and bring bottled water and perhaps a snack. There are no public toilets inside the museum, so avail yourself before entering, preferably in one of the on-site restaurants, rather than in one of the overpriced and underserviced public restrooms outside the site.
Inside the entrance immediately off to the right is the East Gymnasium and what’s left of the Magnesia Gate, built by Emperor Vespasian. Rather than tap into your reserves this early in the game, head straight to the Upper Agora, specifically to the Odeon. To provide some context for your visit, the Upper Agora, also known as the State Agora, was the administrative center of the city and was constructed between the reigns of Augustus and Claudius. The foundations of an early temple dedicated to the goddess Isis indicate that the site was also used for religious ceremonies. Clustered around the State Agora were the Various Baths, attributed to Flavius Damianus. To the south of the Agora is a monumental Fountain, which was fed by the River Marnas (now, Dervent), via an aqueduct about 5km (3 miles) east of Ephesus.
The Odeon, also known as the Small Theatre, functioned as a bouleuterion (place for meetings of the boule, or council), although it’s reasonable to believe that it served as a venue for concerts and theatrical performances as well. The structure was built in the 2nd century A.D. by Publius Vedius Antoninus, according to an inscription, and was probably covered. To the north are the remains of a covered arcade, converted, according to an inscription found on an architrave, into a Basilica during the reign of Augustus. Excavations beneath the basilica have revealed a single-aisle colonnade. The juxtaposition of the Basilica next to the Prytaneum and Odeon lead historians to believe that even the basilica, in addition to religious purposes, held some state function. Next to the Odeon are the ruins of the Prytaneum or Town Hall, constructed by Lysimachos along with the Altar of Hestia Boulaia, upon which burned an eternal sacred flame. The two famous statues of Artemis now on exhibit in the Ephesus Museum (in Sel√ßuk) were found in this building. Part of the Prytaneum was scavenged in the 3rd century A.D. by a woman named Scholastikia, for building materials for her baths.
At the corner of Domitian Square is an edifice referred to by archaeologists as the Socle Structure, and whose function is unknown. Just to the right of this is the Pollio Fountain. The original structure was built in honor of C. Sextilius Pollio, architect of the Marnas Aqueduct; however, the fountain was actually added to the monument at a later date. Built in 97 B.C., the monument was ornamented with statues of the head of Zeus and the torso of Aphrodite, as well as the Polyphemos group of statues, narrating the story of Odysseus, now in the Ephesus Museum. At the far end of Domitian Street (below the southwest corner of the State Agora) is another fountain, built in A.D. 80 by Laecanius Bassus.
The Temple of Domitian, the first temple of Ephesus built in honor of an emperor (A.D. 81-96) is located next to the Domitian Square. Not much remains of the temple, and what little information is available comes from the ruins of the foundation. A colossal statue of Domitian, 5m (16 ft.) high in a seated position, 7m (23 ft.) if you include the base, was the altar centerpiece in a cella only 9m*21m (30 ft.*70 ft.). Remains of this statue can be seen in the Ephesus Museum, while the head is on display in the Izmir Archaeological Museum.
The Museum of Inscriptions takes up the underground substructure of the temple, and contains a collection of stone and marble tablets that provides a rich historical record of the official decrees, state rulings, bureaucratic matters, and civil punishments. The museum is closed more often than not, providing visitors with a good excuse to skip it altogether.
At the junction to the right stand the remains of the Monument of Memmius, built in the 1st century B.C. in honor of the grandson of the dictator Cornelius Sulla. The figures are those of Memmius, his father Caicus, and Sulla. Next to and opposite the Monument of Memmius are two fountains: One is semicircular with a long narrow rectangular pool; the one opposite was brought here from another part of the city in the 4th century. It is decorated with garlands and a winged Nike.
Leading away from the Upper Agora down a gently sloping street pockmarked by thousands of pounding hoofs is the famous Curettes Way. In mythology, Curettes were demigods, a name later used by the Ephesians to designate a class of priests at first dedicated to the cult of Artemis. In Roman times, the Curettes held a place in the Prytaneum. The main thoroughfare is paved with stone and marble remnants recycled from other parts of the city, added after a 4th-century earthquake; valuable architectural elements like Doric columns and ornamental capitals are now part of the city’s foundations.
About halfway down Curettes Way and blocking access to the aristocratic reaches of the Upper Agora is the Gate of Hercules. Two of the columns show Hercules wrapped in lion skin.Immediately on the right is the two-story Trajan’s Fountain, the point at which the star-studded section of the tour begins. Many visitors peter out because they’ve already spent a good portion of their time and energy before arriving at this point, so if you’re resigned to the fact that you can’t see everything, this is where you should begin the serious part of your tour, after having had a peek at the Odeon. Trajan’s Fountain was built in the emperor’s honor at the beginning of the 2nd century. The ruins have been partially restored, although only the base and a fragment of the Trajan’s foot have been recovered. The fountain was decorated with statues of Dionysus, a Satyr, Aphrodite, and others, now on exhibit in the Ephesus Museum.
Located after the Trajan Fountain and running perpendicular to Curettes Way past the Baths of Scholastikia is another street, paved in some places with marble slabs. The portion leading above the theater has been excavated.
The second sacred building dedicated to a ruling emperor was the Temple of Hadrian, one of the main attractions at Ephesus, marketed in tourist brochures almost as much as the Celsus Library. The Corinthian temple consists of a main chamber and a monumental porch; an inscription on the architrave of the porch facade indicates that the temple was dedicated to the emperor by somebody named P. Quintilius. Ornamenting the semicircular arch that rests on the two inner columns of the porch facade is a bust of the goddess Tych, protectress of the city. In the entablature over the main portal is a carving of a woman; some interpretations identify the figure as Medusa, symbolically keeping the evil spirits away. The temple was partially destroyed in A.D. 400, and it was during the course of restorations that the four decorative reliefs were added to the lintels of the interior of the porch. (The ones in place today are plaster casts of originals now on exhibit in the Ephesus Museum.) The first three panels from the left depict the mythological foundation of Ephesus, and show representations of Androklos chasing a boar, gods with Amazons, and Amazons in a procession. The fourth panel is unrelated and shows Athena, Apollo, Androklos, Heracles, Emperor Theodosius, Artemis Ephesia, and several other historical and mythological figures.
The bases in front of the porch facade are inscribed with the names of Galerius, Maximianus, Diocletianus, and Constantius Chlorus, indicating that at one time, the bases supported statues of these emperors.
Behind the Temple of Hadrian via a stone staircase are the remains of the Baths of Scholastikia, constructed at the end of the 1st century and named after a rich Ephesian woman who enlarged them in the 4th. There were two entrances to the baths leading into a large main hall with niches; in one of these niches is the restored statue of Scholastikia, in its original position. During the 4th-century renovations, the original mosaic floor was covered over with marble slabs; some of these can be seen beneath the level of the current floor.
The original building phase of the baths included the construction of the adjacent brothel and the public toilets, which allowed a bit of discreet philandering.
Bizarre in its utility, the Public Latrine provides more of a mental image into our humbler functions than one really needs. Men would sit side by side on these narrow stone benches above open troughs hidden under their robes and discuss current events as their waste washed away beneath them. A fountain occupies the center of the atrium, where running water would drown out the, well, sounds.
On the opposite side of Curettes Way is a colonnaded street flanked by a row of 12 shops and covered in mosaic floor decorated with geometric patterns. The colonnade dates to the 1st century A.D.; however, the mosaics only date to the 5th century A.D. Staircases in several of the shops indicate the existence of an upper floor, probably used as sleeping quarters for employees.
However you prioritize your time at the sight, don’t miss the Terraced Houses. Set on the hillside of B√ºlb√ºl Dagi above the shops are five multichambered peristyle houses that have been uncovered in ongoing excavations. Since excavations of the site are ongoing, access is not guaranteed, so try to coax the caretaker to walk you through, and remember to tip. A separate ticket for entry is required (15YTL/$11). (Note to visitors with physical limitations: As terraced housing, access is via large exterior or interior stairways, making a visit to this exhibit somewhat challenging.)
The houses were inhabited from the 1st to the 7th centuries by the richest members of society and frequently remodeled. All of the houses had running water, sophisticated heating systems, large colonnaded inner courtyards, and rich decor. One had a private basilica. Overwhelmingly they reveal the best craftsmanship the city had to offer, in monumental arched colonnades, well-preserved mosaics, and layer upon layer of frescoes. The course of tourist visits is sure to change in the coming months; but on your way through the marked passage, keep an eye out for the spectacular collection of in situ 2nd-century frescoes and mosaics.
As the poster child for Ephesus, the Library of Celsus, whose two-tiered facade reaches us in a remarkable state of preservation, is immediately recognizable. The library was built between A.D. 110 and 135 by the Consul Julius Aquila as a mausoleum for his father, Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, governor of the Asian Provinces, whose remains remain surprisingly intact under the apsidal wall.
Three levels of niches indicate that the building had three stories, the upper two levels accessible via a horseshoe-shaped gallery. Scrolls or books were stored in the rows of niches, and reading materials were dispensed by a librarian.
In the lower niches of the facade are copies of four statues personifying wisdom, knowledge, destiny, and intelligence, the originals having been taken to Vienna. The library was abandoned after a fire of unspecified date destroyed the reading room, and around A.D. 400 the courtyard below the exterior steps was converted into a pool. The facade collapsed in an earthquake in the 10th century, but was restored and re-erected by F. Hueber of the Austrian Archaeological Institute between 1970 and 1978.
Back at the top of the steps above the library begins the Marble Way, a 5th-century street paved entirely with — you guessed it — marble. Chariot traffic on the road was high, calling for a raised lateral platform to be built for pedestrians. Carved into the marble at about halfway down the road is the imprint of a footprint, a heart, and a portrait of a woman, accepted by historians as an advertisement for the brothel next door. According to the rumor mill, a large underground sewage system running beneath the street — an example of how advanced city engineering was in those days — doubled as a secret passage between the library and the brothel.
The imperial arched Gate of Mazaeus and Mithridates to the right of the library was built in 4 or 3 B.C. by two emancipated slaves of Agrippa who, according to an inscription in both Latin and Greek, had the monument erected in honor of Emperor Augustus, his wife Livia, Agrippa, and Agrippa’s daughter Julia. The gate, unsuccessfully named the Gate of Augustus, was designed to provide southeastern access to the Lower or Commercial Agora, a space of almost 120 sq. m (400 sq. ft.) of shops and colonnaded galleries on prime waterfront real estate that is lamentably off-limits indefinitely. The Agora dates to the 3rd century B.C., was expanded and altered by Augustus and Nero, and attained its final form during the reign of Caracalla. In ongoing excavations, the original foundation of the Agora was discovered about 6m (20 ft.) below current ground level. The middle of the Agora was studded with statues of Ephesian notables, and at the center, a horologion, or sundial.
The Temple of Serapis, located at the southwestern end of the Agora, is also closed off due to ongoing excavations. The temple was probably built by Egyptian traders, and used as a church during Christian times.
For thespians and laypeople alike, the Great Theatre is a dramatic spectacle to behold. Built into the slopes of Panayir Dagi (Mt. Pion), the 30m-high (100-ft.) theater (actually, 30m/100 ft. above the level of the orchestra) required 60 years of digging to clear out a space large enough to accommodate 25,000 people, estimated at only one-tenth of the city’s population. The theater was begun during the Hellenistic times (some say during the reign of Lysimachos), and was later altered and enlarged by emperors Claudius, Nero, and Trajan. Even more monumentally, St. Paul delivered his sermon condemning pagan worship from the proscenium. Even if you think it’ll take an additional 60 years to hoist yourself up the steps to the upper cavea, do so, or you will be missing one of the most stunning views around.
The Arcadian Way (or Harbor Rd., also closed for excavation) is the name for the triumphal marble road leading from the harbor to the base of the Great Theatre. At 600m (1,968 ft.), the promenade was flanked by two colonnaded streets paved with mosaics and lined with elegant shops that reflected the prestige of a city of the stature of Ephesus. In fact, in the ancient world, only the wealthiest cities were lit at night, a privilege enjoyed by Ephesus, as well as Rome and Antioch. The Theatre Gymnasium is opposite the Great Theatre, at the junction of the Arcadian Way and the Marble Road. Complete with a bathhouse, palestra (gymnasium), and classrooms, the Theatre Gymnasium is the largest of its type in Ephesus. You can cut through here to rejoin the path out of the site (this leads to the Lower Entrance); just before reaching the path, turn around to face the theater, and take advantage of one of the best photo ops in the region. If you’ve still got any blood sugar left in you (and if this portion of the site is open to visitors, which currently it is not), you can wander around the Verulanus Sports Arena, the Harbor Gymnasium and Baths, and the Church of the Virgin Mary, located between the path heading out of the site and the old harbor. The arena was built during the reign of Hadrian, and extends all the way to the Harbor Gymnasium, also built at this time.
The Harbor Gymnasium and Baths sits at the port end of the Arcadian Way and is the largest building complex in Ephesus. The building of the gymnasium is thought to have taken place during the reign of Domitian while the baths date to Constantine II. The complex has yet to be excavated.
Before exiting the Lower Entrance, follow a path and signs for the Church of the Virgin Mary (Meryem Kilisesi) to the left. Originally, the building was used as a Roman mercantile center, but was converted to a basilica in the 4th century. The church played an important role in the evolution of Christianity, as the first one to take Mary’s name, and as the site of two important ecumenical councils in 431 and 449, in which the natures of Christ and of Mary were hotly disputed. It’s a little out of the way, especially at this stage in the game, but worth the energy it’ll take to trek over here (again, assuming it’s not cordoned off).
A well-paved road heading east of the Vedius Gymnasium leads to The Cave of the Seven Sleepers, about .8km ( 1/2 mile) away. According to the legend, seven young local boys (and a dog, according to one interpretation), refusing to submit to the persecutions of Emperor Decius (A.D. 249-51), fled to these caves with a group of Roman guards in hot pursuit. In characteristic Roman fashion, the guards mercilessly sealed up the cave, putting an end to yet another heretical episode. When the boys were awakened by an earthquake that also broke the cave’s seals, they wandered back into town to buy some bread only to find themselves in the 5th century and 200 years older. Evidently, times had changed and Christianity was now the state religion. After their deaths, the “sleepers” were re-interred in the cave, and it wasn’t long before the site became a sacred destination for pilgrimages.
This site, one of the many caves used by Seven Sleepers throughout Anatolia (there are others, located in Akhisar, Manisa, Sardes, Tarsus, and Antakya, to name a few), is actually a grouping of small churches dating to the time of the persecutions, superimposed in the rock and containing crypts carved into the walls. The actual cave site has been fenced off, but remains a draw to die-hard pilgrims. (At the time of this writing, a hole in the fence provided access.)
No phone. Admission to archaeological site 15YTL ($11); admission to Terraced Houses 15YTL ($11) (currently under restoration). Summer daily 8am-6:30pm; winter daily 8am-4:30pm. Follow the road from Sel√ßuk to Kusadasi, turn left following signs for the archaeological site; the official entrance (Lower Entrance) is immediately to the right; follow signs to the Cave of the Seven Sleepers and Meryemana for the Upper Entrance.