We took a cruise to the Eastern Mediterranean last summer (July 2015) and one of the most interesting stops was Ephesus (Efes in Turkish).
Your first question (you’re going to have a lot more): What the hell is Ephesus and if I’ve already seen Pompeii, why would I want to go there? Gather ‘round studly, well-traveled men of the world, and glamorous, sophisticated ladies. Glamorous ladies, feel free to find a spot on my knee, while your husbands tremble with jealously.
The ancient city of Ephesus has many ties, not only to antiquity, but to the Bible. Yes, it’s in Turkey, just below Izmir, but it was a Greek city, founded a thousand years before Christ, and it may have been a Hittite settlement even earlier. Then came the Romans. The Middle East is like that. A wedding cake with too many layers to count. You can only take a bite at a time and in the limited time we were there, about a six-hour tour, all you could do was lightly nibble, like a tiny, sunburned mouse on a 30 second diet.
Hot? Oh lordy! Talk about needing some slaves with fans. I should have brought a Camel Pack, or a six pack of Efes Beer, brewed in Istanbul.
But, enough about my dehydration. How big was Ephesus back in the Greek/Roman days? Some 300,000 people. It was often referred to as the Gateway of Asia. In fact, back in the shadows of antiquity, it was the fourth greatest city of the world, after Rome, Alexandria (Egypt), and Antioch (Syria).
We walked in, marveling at rubble, reconstructed edifices, and cobbled streets. Recognizable names sprang out of our guide’s mouth and we chewed on those for a bit. St Paul probably wrote here and he certainly preached in the great amphitheater more than once. He had a close call when merchants who made their living selling magic charms of The Goddess Diana (Artemis in Greek) thought he was cutting into their business and took it personally.
It is believed that St John wrote his Gospel here. (see the following photos)
|The Ruins of the Church of St John|
The amphitheater at Ephesus offers one of the best microcosms of Greek and Roman life. How do archeologists know the size of an ancient city? A rule of thumb: Take the number of people the amphitheater held and multiply by ten. Not exact, to be sure, but the amphitheater was in many ways the focus of social life. Discussions, political and philosophical, athletic contests, gladiator fights, live theater, and executions all took place here.
Not into the Biblical and historic aspects? Ok. Sting and Elton John played the ancient amphitheater and after one raucous performance, when powerful speakers the size of tanks threatened to make the walls come tumbling down, the government put a limit on volume. Other cities could take a lesson.
|The Arcadian Way. In the distance is the Library of Celsus|
Cleopatra and Mark Anthony strode the flagstone-covered main street, the Arcadian Way. At one time it was a hundred feet wide and even today it’s impressive. It's startling to realize your Nikes are striding along exactly where famous Roman sandals trod.
Onward, with far more to see. There are elaborate terraces where the rich lived, and even now many of the delicate tiles and frescoed walls survive. For a long time, these homes were not excavated because archeologists hadn’t devised a means of protecting them from the weather. Now the whole area is tarp covered and digging continues. A walkway allowed us to wander up the side of the digging and permitted a god’s eye view of the wonders from top to bottom. Below us, archeologists in ones and twos dusted and cleaned, reclaiming the past. Much more activity here than in Pompeii.
(see the following photos)
|Note the archeologists at work.|
One thing you will not see is the Temple of Artemis (Diana), which was four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens, and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Goths destroyed it in 268 A.D. It may have been rebuilt, but another John, St John Chrysostom (a noted anti-Semite) led an angry mob in 401 A.D. to finish the job.
Immediately, you find yourself asking: What were the other six Wonders of the Ancient World? Second question: Where the hell is my guidebook? Gotcha covered, bro. The Great Pyramid of Giza (still standing), The Colossus of Rhodes, Lighthouse of Alexandria, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (all three destroyed by earthquakes, Statue of Zeus (like The Temple of Artemis purposefully destroyed), and The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which may or may not have existed.
|The Library of Celsus|
Back to Ephesus’ stone streets. A most impressive structure is the façade of the Library of Celsus, built to hold some 12,000 scrolls. Completed around 135 A.D., 130 years later earthquakes and fire wrecked it, and a thousand years after that, a similar catastrophe completed the destruction. Archeologists reconstructed the face of it in the mid 1970s.
I’ve given you just a few tidbits, a small hors d’oeuvre at a banquet of archeological and historical delights. If you enjoyed Pompeii, you’ll suck up Ephesus like an alcoholic historian. Both cities lead you back thousands of years, into the still beating hearts of lost civilizations.
Applause follows. Light kisses on the cheek from the glamorous, sophisticated ladies. Boisterous slaps on the back from the well-traveled men of the world.
|The Temple of Hadrian as it looks today|
|The Temple of Hadrian as it once looked.|
|Remains of the Roman (and Greek) baths.|