Out of all the Roman ruins throughout the Mediterranean, the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey is one of the most exciting and intact city ever to be discovered. Turkey in ancient times enjoyed a valuable and strategic position within the Mediterranean and with this came many foreign conquests. Throughout Turkey you can see many influences from both the Greeks (Hellenistic period) and the Roman Empire and in particular, the city of Ephesus displays these styles within it’s structures. In fact it’s a general consensus amongst the Turks, that there are more Roman ruins in Turkey than there are in Rome.
The sheer scale of Ephesus is still yet to be unearthed and it is estimated that they have only uncovered around 10% of the city so far. Archeologists have been actively working on Ephesus for over 100 years.
I visited Ephesus as part of a four day tour of Turkey with Road Runner Tours, which I can highly recommend as they organised everything like clockwork. On the day of the tour, I was picked up from my hotel in the seaside town of Kusadasi and was to be escorted for the day with a group tour guide. The drive from Kusadasi to Ephesus took approximately one hour via a short visit to the House of Virgin Mary on the way to Ephesus.
To get the most out of this visit, I would go with a guide as there are lot’s of interesting things to discover about this site and having a guide can not only let you in on what Ephesus is all about but to answer any questions you have. Then when your tour is over, have a walk around yourself, you could literally spend hours at this site – it truly is a wonder of the world.
A Brief History
The ancient city of Ephesus was originally a Greek city and came under Roman rule after the conquest in 133 BC. It became one of the largest major cities outside Rome and at the height of it’s popularity it is thought to have had around 40,000 people living within the city walls. Due to it’s harbour position it became the centre of commerce and an important trade route. The city had come under siege many times and consequently was destroyed and rebuilt at least three times. It had also been damaged by earthquakes and floods. Despite this the city remained prosperous and a centre of not only trade, but technology and knowledge. Ephesus is famous for it’s Celsus Library and for the great Temple of Artemis – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
After the effects of earthquakes the city lost it’s coastline. This was due to the main river port silting up over time and therefore isolating the main city from the harbour. The lack of a harbour in turn ruined the trade route and thus signified the decline of Ephesus. The river no longer exists and has been replaced with swampy fields.
In 123 AD, the Library of Celsus (third largest library in the ancient world, after Alexandria and Pergamon) was built in honour of councillor Celsus and works were completed by his son. It housed over 12,000 scrolls and serves as a tomb for Celsus, who is buried underneath. The library had been partially destroyed in an earthquake around 262 AD and further destruction occurred by another earthquake sometime later leaving the facade in ruins around the 10th century AD. It was then restored in 1978 and rebuilt with it’s original materials.
The Temple of Hadrian in Curetes Street was erected in 138 AD in honour of the Emperor Hadrian. The temple has many decorative sculptures carved into the arches and toward the back, is what appears to be a depiction of Medusa.
The Temple of Hadrian is largely intact having been restored with both it’s original pieces and replicas of missing pieces. As you can see from the above photo, just above the left pillar is a section that is new, in order to be able to stabilise and display the original arch on top, a replica piece was installed.
The Great theatre of Ephesus could hold around 24,000 people and is still used for performances today.
Harbour Street is 500 metres long and 11 metres wide laid with marble tiles. It was reserved for pedestrians and was lined with marble columns that formed a portico. The street stretched from the harbour to the Great Theatre. The marble streets of Ephesus are very slippery, so you may have to watch your step in some parts, particularly in Curetes Street as it’s on a slope.
The Odeion theatre, once had a wooden roof and was a council chamber built around 150 AD.
The winged angel of Victory, Goddess Nike. This is where the sports brand Nike have taken inspiration for their logo.
The ancient Roman toilets were a highly advanced system for the time. After we were explained how the running water worked, I couldn’t help but ask about how they managed their personal hygiene after using the toilet. There was no provision for a toilet roll holder, so I was curious! The answer is that each person carried their own sea sponge and after use, they would wash them out in the trough. You can see the trough in front (pictured above) which had continuously running water.
The Terrace Houses
The Terrace Houses or houses on the hill, were reserved for the wealthy residents only. It’s an insight into how the rich lived during these times. The largest house has a reception room and a chapel. The details in these houses are amazingly preserved, where you can see the original mosaic tiled floors and how walls were painted. The Terrace Houses are easily navigated via platform walkways with stairs. It’s well worth having a look inside these terrace houses and get a glimpse into life of the wealthy Roman.
Intricate wall details of the Terrace houses.
Archeologists feature throughout the site, as it’s a work in progress.
The Celsus library.
This was an interesting aspect of my tour of Ephesus. You can see the carving of a woman’s head, a heart and a foot, indicating the direction the visitor should take towards the brothel. This is believed to be an advertisement for a brothel and possibly the first evidence of advertising.
The Temple of Artemis
The Temple of Artemis (also known as the Temple of Diana) has a fascinating history in itself. It was originally built as a tribute to the goddess Artemis and was once part of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Above is what remains of the Temple of Artemis, a single lonely column that is the only clue to what magnificence once stood on this site. The Temples exact position was discovered in 1869 with the identification of the buildings foundation and fragments, some of which were transported to the UK. The swampy site was apparently chosen by architects of the time to protect it from earthquake damage.
During it’s time it had been rebuilt 3 times after floods, raids and then in 356 BC a crazed lunatic by the name of Herostratus, burnt the temple down in an act of gaining fame and notoriety. The Temple of Artemis came to it’s final demise some 600 years later after another lot of raids and was set on fire again, never to be rebuilt.
Little is known about the original structure but the second restoration was constructed around 350 BC of wood and marble and measured 115 m long, 46m wide and it’s columns were 13 m high with a wooden roof. In 323 BC it was rebuilt again even bigger, with it’s length 137 m long, 69 m wide and 18 m high, making it grander than ever. It then survived another 600 years until it’s final permanent demise. Anything that was salvaged from the Temple was used to repair or construct other buildings in the city at that time.
Tourists still come to gaze upon this site and you will need to use your imagination for this one. After hearing about all the history from my tour guide, it’s a tragedy that this building survived earthquakes but eventually was destroyed not by mother nature like so many other sites but during battle.
Ephesus is located 3 km from the city of Selcuk in the Izmir Provence of Turkey.
I stayed in the coastal town of Kusadasi which is about an hours drive from the ancient city of Ephesus.
Entry into the large archaeological site is 30 TRY. The Terrace Houses are an optional extra and can be purchased once inside the site. Entry into the Terrace Houses are 15 TRY.