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Exploring Ephesus

A Brief History:Ephesus Turkey

Ephesus (“Efes” in Turkish – same as the popular beer brand) is an ancient Greek city famous for its  Temple of Artemis, recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  The city itself is also renowned for its extensive and majestic ruins from the period of Roman rule and its role in biblical history.

The site became a Roman city in 133 BC and subsequently the capital of  Asia Minor under Augustus in 27 BC.  The population boomed to 250,000, attracting immigrants, merchants, scholars, and a great civil society.  Every year the capitol hosted the month-long spring festival of Artemis/Diana, which further drew thousands of visitors from across the empire. Jewish and Greek Christian settelers also flocked to the city, and St.Paul lived there tending his flock for several years in the AD 50’s.  According to tradition, St. John wrote his gospel here and the Virgin Mary also settled in the city until her death in the AD 30’s.

Ephesus TurkeyAt it’s peak, Ephesus was a major Roman port city second in importance and size only to the empire’s capital. By 100 AD Ephesus had an estimated population of 400,000.  Today you can still see the terraced homes of the nobles, grand stadiums and temples, and Library of Celcus (built in 123 AD) along the wide stone road that stretches across the city.

However, Ephesus slid into decline starting in 200 AD.  The once great harbor started to fill with silt and create malarial swamps, thus decreasing both population and trade; the Artemis/Diana cult diminished, shrinking the number of annual pilgrims and associated commerce; and finally the Germanic Goths sacked the city in 263 AD.

Ephesus lay largely forgotten on the hills above Kusadasi until European archaeologists rediscovered and began excavating the area in the 1860’s.  Excavation is still far from complete, as the ancient city is the largest excavation area in the world.

Basic Info: 

Open Times:
Summer (April-October): 08:30 – 19:00
Winter (November-March) 08:00 – 17:00
Admission: 30 TL
Car Park: 8 TL

Top Ten Spots:

Ephesus Archeological Museum Located at the entrance, the museum houses both the statue of Artemis retrieved from the temple and many other artifacts from the ancient settlements.

Temple of Artemis The Temple of Artemis (Turkish: Artemis Tapınağı), also known  as the Temple of Diana, was a Greek temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis, and is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  The temple was the size of a modern-day soccer field and had columns 30 meters tall.  It was rebuilt three times before its destruction in 401 AD at the hands of the Germanic Goths.  Today only foundations and sculpture fragments remain.  During Greek and Roman times, the temple was the center of a yearly spring festival that attracted thousands of worshipers from near and abroad.

Ephesus Library of CelcusThe Library of Celsus: The third largest library in the ancient world, the library of Celcus was built in honor of Roman Senator and General Governor of the Province of Asia Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus by his son in 135 AD.  The library was built to hold 12,000 scrolls – and the mausoleum for Celsus, who is entombed in a crypt below the foundations. Though the library was destroyed by successive earthquakes over the centuries, the facade was re-erected by archaeologists in the 1970’s.  You can still see many of the book niches and fanciful sculptures extolling the four virtues.
church of  mary ephesusThe Church of St. Mary:
This ancient christian cathedral dedicated to the “Birth-Giver of God” dates back to the 5th century.  The church itself is built on the ruins of the temple of the muses, and may have been built specifically for the third Ecumenical council (431), which gives rise to it’s second name,  Church of the Councils.  Councils held at the Church of St. Mary were of great importance in deciding the uniform theological underpinnings of Christianity.

The House of St. Mary:  Some believe that Mary mother of Jesus followed St. John the Baptist to Ephesus and spent the last few years of her life at this abode.  The home is treated as a sacred site, as is the fountain outside, which some believe has the power the heal even incurable diseases.  The house, which is located on Mt. Koressos, was discovered by Pere Poulin and Young in 1892. Visitors can see the restored house, the fountain, and a functioning chapel.
0133529321578018cd555a3ad491be49d69cdd70bcThe Cave of the Seven Sleepers: 
Legend has is that seven young men (Christian in some stories, wrongly prosecuted civilians in others) hid themselves and their dog in these caves when fleeing the emperor’s wrath.  One story tells that they were  found and murdered during the reign of the Roman emperor Decius in the middle of the 3rd century, and resurrected 200 years later during the reign of Emperor Theodosius II.  A second tale tells that they went to the caves to pray and fell into a 200 year long slumber, during which time the caves were sealed off by the emperor’s latchkeys.  During the reign of Theodosius II (408 – 450) a local farmer decided to open the sealed cave and use it as a cattle pen.  Inside he found the seven sleepers, who awoke believing they had slept but one day. The bishop was summoned to interview the sleepers, who then recounted their miracle story and died praising God.  In the Muslim world this legend is known as “Eshab Ul-Kehf”, and tells of seven men and women who hid in the caves with their dog and fell into a deep God-given slumber.  Centuries later they awoke, again unaware of the passage of time.  Felling hungry, one of their members went down to the village to buy bread, and was discovered only when he took out a centuries-old coin.

ephesus basilicaThe Basilica of St. John The basilica was constructed by the Christian emperor Jusitian I in the 6th century as part of his drive to revive the Roman Empire.  The basilica encompassed a small chapel that originally stood on the site and was believed to stand over the burial site of John the Apostle, about 3.5 km from Ephesus proper.  The basilica was modeled after the now lost Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), in the shape of a cross covered by six domes, with the tomb of St John under the central dome. The basilica was re-appropriated as a mosque in the 14th century, but shortly after mostly destroyed by earthquake.

marble street ephesusThe Marble Street: The main avenue of the ancient city stretches up the hill for several kilometers.  It was once flanked by columns 8 meters high and sculpted with graceful friezes.  While most of the columns are now broken, the broad avenue is still an impressive site.


The Great Theater: 
The theater once had a capacity of 25,000 spectators – still less than 7% of Ephesus’s total population at it’s peak!  It was constructed during the reigns of  Emperor Claudius (41-54 A.D.) and Emperor Trajanus (98-117 A.D.). ephesus ampitheaterUnfortunately, many of the stone seats were later carried away for use in other construction. For Early Christians, this theater held great symbolic importance, as it was the scene of the theological combat between followers of Artemis and followers of Christ that ultimately resulted in the expulsion of St.Paul from Ephesus.

The Church of St. John Many believe that St. John resided in Ephesus while writing the fourth book of the New Testament, which itself was compiled in this very church.  Excavations here have discovered five small graves around the tomb of St. John

Isa Bey Mosque The mosque was erected in 1375 by Isa Bey from the Aydinogullari (Seljuk) dynasty. It is situated just outside of the town of Selcuk were it dominates the Ayasluğ Hills.

Check out a longer review of Ephesus on Turkey Travel Planner here.

Summer 2013 3396Fun Facts:

  • Some of the columns in Hagia Sophia originally belonged to the temple of Artemis.
  • Two of the seven wonders of the ancient world are located in Turkey’s Aegean region: The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus in Bodrum, and the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.
  • Ephesus is site of one of the ancient world’s largest public toilets (still visible today).
  • Though once a seaport, Ephesus is now located 6 miles from the sea.
  • The house of the Virgin Mary has been visited by both Pope the 6th Paul and Pope Jean Paul.
  • The Church of the Virgin Mary hosted The Third Ecumenical Council and  is known as one of the seven churches of the Apocalypse.  In fact, all seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation are found in Turkey: Ephesus, Smyrna, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
  • Ephesus wasn’t just a holy city; the first known advertisement of antiquity, which showed the way to a brothel, was found on Ephesus’ Marble Street.

Visiting Ephesus:

Ephesus is approximately 4 km from Selcuk, the nearest town.  Selcuk itself is situated on the road from Kusadasi, approximately 21 km from Kusadasi and 79 km from Izmir. From Kusadasi it is 72 km to Didim and 148 km to Bodrum. What this means is: if you have your own car, Ephesus is a very doable day trip from Didim or Izmir.  If you are residing further away, or plan to use public transportation, then consider the options below:kusadasi selcuk dolmus

  • Take the bus to Kusadasi, spend the day exploring the stone streets of the old quarters and enjoying the view of the harbor, stay the night (we highly recommend Villa Konak Hotel, which fully deserves it’s 9+ rating on Trip Advisor). The next morning, head to the Friday Market, and take the dolmus (R) to Selcuk.  Tell the driver to stop at the road to Efes, and walk 1 km to the gates.
  • Take the bus to Selcuk (direct bus from Bodrum is 3 hours, from Didim 1 1/2-2 hours; from Izmir 1 hour) and spend the night in either Selcuk or one of the surrounding villages.  The next morning walk, borrow a bike from the hotel, take a local bus, or take a ltaxi to Ephesus.
    • Selcuk: A small but bustling residential town of about 30,000 Selcuk is home to several guesthouses, winding old stone streets, a busy square, and lively farmer’s market.  Selcuk can be quite crowded in peak tourist season but, as an ancient Greek settlement and the 14th century capital of the Emirate of Aydin, has plenty of historic attractions of its own.
    • sirince ephesusŞirince: a quaint village nestled on the hills, famous for its wine and traditional Greek architecture.Sirince is 8km from Ephesus, and can be reached by dolmus (3TL).  Highly recommended is the traditional Gullu Konaklari B&B
  • Take the train from Izmir to Selcuk (4TL, train table here), visit Ephesus, and either head back on the train (last train leaves Selcuk at 20:44) or spend the night at Selcuk or in one of the surrounding villages.
  • Book a guided tour from Kusadasi.  These will generally pick you up at your hotel, drive you to Ephesus, and provide a half-day or full-day tour of Ephesus, House of the Virgin Mary, Cave of the Seven Sleepers, surrounding traditional villages or other sites before dropping you back off at your hotel.  Costs are usually 30-60/person.
  • From Istanbul: fly to Izmir, and take either the train or bus to Selcuk.  While you can make this a day-trip, you will probably enjoy yourself much more if you stay overnight in Selcuk, see Ephesus, and head back the next day.
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Filed under Ancient Ruins, Day Trips, Exploring, Weekend Excursions