The historic city of Ephesus, just 5km from modern day Selçuk, is one of the best-preserved ancient cities in Turkey. In addition to being the Ephesus that was referenced in the biblical books Ephesians and Revelations, it is also historically the city near which St. John and Jesus’s mother Mary spent their last days. As such, it has become a major tourist attraction, with bus loads of tourists arriving everyday. Still, we didn’t let ourselves be deterred from visiting it — we packed our bags and headed out, since it was a short walk from our guesthouse in Selcuk.
Originally we were planning to visit just the ruins of Ephesus, but then changed our minds and decided to see the house of the Virgin Mary as well. Since that was too far to walk, being at the top of a steep hill, we took a cab from the entrance to Ephesus. It was quite a reverent place, as you’ll be able to tell from our photos below.
After visiting the house of the Virgin Mary, we took shelter from a sudden downpour, and worked up the courage to head into the ruins, with nothing but our raincoats to protect us from the inclement weather. Thank goodness it soon cleared up somewhat!
Having never seen any extensive ruins before, we were quite impressed with what we did see. Ephesus, Efes in Turkish, is located near the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Apparently there is evidence of a prehistoric Hittite settlement in the area, and evidence of Greek settlers as early as 1050 BC. The Ephesus we saw was founded in 300 BC, had its peak in the Hellenistic and Roman times, and during its heyday, had a population of more than 200,000. It turns out it was one of the biggest port cities of its time!
Although most of the loose statues were relocated to the museum in Selçuk, there were so many other things to look at: houses, an amphitheater and a small theatre to fit ‘just’ 1500, several gymnasiums, monuments, two agoras, a library, and even a cemetery for the gladiators. Here are just a few photos:
We could have spent so much longer, and probably would have, if the weather was nicer. We enjoyed walking through the site at roughly the same pace as one of the American university student tours, so we picked up some interesting commentary along the way too.
But since we are not experts on ancient ruins or any kind of Greek or Roman symbolism, we decided not to tire ourselves out too much by walking past every rock in the place…
… Though there literally was history under every single stone!
So we decided to stroll back towards our guesthouse via the long route, and tuck into our half-kilo of fresh cherries as we walked.
Along the way we encountered another historical site, the caves of the legendary Seven Sleepers, a group of people, considered saints by the Catholic church, who during their lives were persecuted for their faith. To escape the persecution they came to these caves and fell asleep for several centuries, until, when they woke up, Christianity was the accepted religion in that area. Since then, the area has also been used as a cemetery. At first we were quite excited to have discovered this sight, but then, after we saw it, we saw why most of the tour groups skipped it — it was just a bit small and anti-climactic compared to the House of the Virgin and Ephesus, since there was a big fence around the place and you couldn’t really go in to explore. But since it was free anyway, it wasn’t a big deal, and since it was on our way anyway, we just peeked in, and then continued on our way back to Selçuk.
We really enjoyed our time at Ephesus and were pleasantly surprised to discover so many other historical things in the area. In addition to the House of the Virgin Mary, the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, and historical Ephesus, we made plans for the next day to find out more about visiting the Temple of Artemis, the historical mosque nearby, the Basilica of St. John which was also in ruins, and the remains of the fortress on the hillside over Selçuk. We had come to Selçuk with the intent of visiting Ephesus, and were ending up discovering a whole lot more!