The town of Kuşadasi (Koo-sha-DA-see) on the coast of Turkey is very close to the island of Chios. We could therefore have as early a start as desired to tour the nearby ancient city of Ephesus, which, next to Athens’ Acropolis, was the most spectacular archeological site of the tour.
Like Troy, Ephesus was once close to the ocean, but due to silting of the river Cayster (after Caystrus, god of the river) the ruins are now more than three miles from the shore.
In its heyday – from roughly 600 B.C. to 500 A.D. – Ephesus was one of the most important cities of the world: at certain times the second largest city of the Roman Empire and of the world; the location of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; the home of up to 500,000 people; the location of a theater seating 25,000, and many other astounding features such as a hospital, street lights, and a communal toilet facility with running water. Today the remains are intact and extensive enough to provide one a sense of what it was like to live there.
Ephesus was founded in the 10th century B.C. by the Athenian prince Androclus, a strong warrior who formed the Ionian League, an alliance of 12 cities. Later Greek historians, including Herodotus, attributed the city’s mythological origin to Ephos, the queen of the Amazons – hence the name Ephesus.
Of the ancient temple of Artemis – at one time the largest temple on earth – only a single column remains. The temple was destroyed once in 650 B.C. by invaders, and again in 356 B.C. by a maniac who burned it down apparently as an attention-getting stunt. Alexander the Great wanted to rebuild it with his name on the front, but the citizens did not support the idea, and the temple was never to be seen again. The original statue of Artemis, however, was buried for years and successfully excavated – the only significant remnant of the original.
The statue of Artemis during excavation
A tour of Ephesus leads one along the long main road of the city, which leads from the Agora above down towards what was the port, passing along the way, the temples of Serapis and Hadrian, the Terrace Houses, the famed Library of Celsus, the Greco-Roman Theater, and the Gladiatorial Graveyard. Lining the ancient road are hundreds, probably thousands, of beautiful remnants of the ancient city, including columns, capitals, mosaic floors, inscribed stones, etc.
The beginning of the city’s main road, with the Agora on the left and theater and temples on the right
Heading down, with the Library of Celsus in the distance
Mosaic floor alongside the road, probably once under a porch
Monumental fountain, 1st-4th centuries A.D.
Possibly a kind of hospital; medical instruments were found inside
The visit to the Terrace Houses, which have been protected by a 3 million Euro roof funded by companies from many nations, was truly breathtaking. The advanced features of these residences of wealthy citizens are still in evidence, including piping for hot and cold water, heating, and stunning mosaic floors and frescoed walls.
One can witness the careful, ongoing work of experts who are reassembling the homes and their artwork.
The exquisite decorations on the walls and floors are remarkably well preserved, especially considering their exposure to the elements for so many years.
Looking down the hill through the remains of a single dwelling
The centerpiece of the remains of Ephesus is indisputably the magnificent, reconstructed facade of the library of Celsus, built in honor of the Roman consul who was governer of Asia and a local citizen.
Built to house some 12,000 scrolls, it was also intended as the tomb for Celsus. It is practically an icon of Turkish culture, appearing on the 20-lira banknote. The library was built facing east, encouraging early morning readers. The facade combines two signature column styles, Ionian on the bottom and Corinthian on the top.
With rain impending, we headed towards the monstrous theater. A glance back at the library afforded another spectacular perspective.
The impressiveness of the theater is severely compromised by the reality of its use, under the Romans, as a gladiatorial arena. Even worse than the agonies and deaths of the combatants is the enjoyment of it all by the public, an unfathomable and unforgivable transgression of human principles.
A horrendous downpour sent what must have been two thousand tourists, including us, running for our buses.
The chaos in the parking lot was largely harmless and rather fun.
However, upon returning to Kuşadasi we saw up close the destruction an intense and largely unseasonal rainstorm can bring.
The return to the Corinthian II was always a pleasure, as we were greeted by the ship’s gracious staff with either hot or cold towels, and a refreshing assortment of specialty cold drinks, spiked to taste.
A typical sunset on the Aegean is capable of interrupting any rehearsal.
For many more photos of Ephesus on Flickr, click here.