And the Oracle of Delphi said, “the fish will jump, the boar will flee and there Androklos, son of the Athenian King Kadros, you will establish a city having a bright future.”
Then, one day, Androklos was frying a fish in a pan, the oil sputtered, the fish jumped from the pan, flames followed, a bush was ignited, and the boar behind the bush ran away. Naturally, Androklos chased it down on horseback, killed it and, prophecy fulfilled, established there the Ionian city of Ephesus.
Mythology aside, Ephesus is one of the most famous cities of antiquity. Although the area, in Turkey’s Izmir province, dates back to the Neolithic Age (6000 BCE), its heyday was during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Destroyed over time in turn by earthquakes and warring cultures, the ruins that exist today are from the location that was ruled around 300 BCE by Lysimakhos, one of Alexander the Great’s generals. With a population of over 200,000, it was the largest port city of the Roman Province of Asia. By the Middle Ages, however, silt from the River Cayster had filled the port, diminishing its importance as an international trade center.
The city was also famous for its Temple of Artemis (Diana in Roman mythology, the daughter of Zeus and Leto and twin sister of Apollo). One of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World, once it was discovered in modern times, the temple was only partially excavated before covering it over again for conservation reasons. It’s one of the oldest of the Greek temples with surrounding colonnades.
Another claim of importance, Ephesus is one of the Seven Churches of Asia mentioned in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation, when Jesus instructs John to write a letter to seven cities describing visions he has seen. Nearby is also the House of the Virgin Mary, a place of pilgrimage with its own special energy. This is where Apostle John, entrusted by Jesus to care for his mother, brought Mary after Jesus’ death. The colorful ruins of the Church of St. John are also close by.
But with all that fame and glory, the real reason to visit Ephesus is the visual feast of history. There are several amazing sites left to see as you walk along the city’s two main corridors:
- The Terraced Houses, built around 20 CE (Roman Imperial period) on the northern slope of Mount Bülbül demonstrate separate residential units graduating up to 27.5 meters above Curetes Street. Homes feature storied courtyards around which are living and work areas, reception rooms, luxurious upper-floor banquet rooms, toilets, bathtubs, kitchens, water supply, drainage wells and canal system, mosaics, wall paintings and marble furnishings on walls and floors.
- The reconstructed façade of the Library of Celsus, from the beginning of the 2nd century CE, was originally funded by Celsus, Governor of Asia Minor. Built by his son, Celsus had planned for the library to hold a treasure trove of scrolls, starting with a meager 12 thousand.
- First built into the slopes of Mount Pion in the 3rd-1st century BCE, then rebuilt twice more in the 1st century CE, the Grand Theatre was one of the greatest theatres of Anatolia, which could hold 25,000 people. Here is where theatre performances and assemblies were held, and later gladiatorial contests. The acoustics are fantastic. Stand on the stage and sing your heart out.
Also worth a peek:
- Stoa Basileios the Royal Colonnade, built in 11 CE. Imagine entering the city through here in days of yore.
- Odeion (Concert Hall), built around the 2nd century CE, is where members of the city council (wealthy people and priests), gathered to discuss the future of the city and listen to musical concerts for 1,500 people. Picture in your mind the red marble columns behind the upper seating and a fixed roof of wood and fired clay tiles to protect the audience from sun and rain.
- The public lavatory is impressive in its clever technology (channels of fast running water to whisk away waste and odor) and attention to detail (marble seats, washing channels, mosaics and waterworks). The adjacent brothel layout is also, naturally, a curiosity.
- Right next to the Library of Celsus, the Gates of Mazaeus and Mitridates were constructed in 3 BCE to honor Emperor Augustus and his wife, Livia. They were constructed by two of his slaves, whom he had freed and sent to Ephesus to watch over the Roman Empire properties.
- Now a field of columns, blocks and pedestals, walk through the Gates of Mazaeus and Mitridates to the Agora, which was a two story marketplace where merchants sold and traded goods, guilds met and political associations networked.
Since the late 90s Elizabeth Willoughby has been writing professionally about travel, food and wine, maintaining home bases in North America, South America and Europe. Hopscotching across the globe to gather stories and photos, she is the author of “Tales from the Road,” the adventure travel page at worldguide.eu, she designs the ultimate wine and cuisine road trips for writeshots.com, and for a time she wrote two regular columns for Brazil’s only bilingual newspaper, Sunday News, on South American travel and culture clash.