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How Ephesus, Turkey Launched Me Into the World of Travel

My writing includes my personal travel experiences, destination, history, and cultural information.

Ephesus Ruins, Selcuk, Turkey

Ephesus Ruins, Selcuk, Turkey

A Bit About Ephesus, Turkey

As I have mentioned in previous articles, I have been traveling since I was five years old. After that, I traveled a bit now and then, but as an adult, it approached epic proportions in 2010 when I came to find Ephesus, Turkey! It was a great stepping stone to years of future travel and is probably responsible for my junkie-like addiction to wandering the world!

Let's talk a bit about Ephesus (the real star of this article) and then I'll share with you my fabulous experiences there!

Ephesus has a long and turbulent history. Since its founding, it has been invaded, ceded, and victorious so many times that it is quite difficult to really put it all together.

The Legend of the Birth of Ephesus

The Greek prince, Androclus, who lived about 1100 BC, once asked a soothsayer where he and his troop of 1,000 from Argos should build a city. The reply from the soothsayer is said to have been, "A fish will show you the place and a wild boar will take you there.''

One day, Androclus was standing on the shore of the Aegean Sea while fish were being cooked over a fire. According to the legend, he then witnessed a fish leap from the flames. The fish, which had one live coal with it, landed in a bush that instantly caught fire. The flames sent a wild boar running for its life. Androclus quickly followed the boar to the northern slope of Mt. Pion by the Cayster River. He slayed the boar once he caught up to it. it. And, it is on that spot he founded the city of Ephesus.

If true, it's quite an interesting beginning to a city that would become infamous throughout history!

Then What Happened?

Today, Ephesus is no longer connected to the sea. The Cayster River silted up at the mouth and closed this connection between the city and the sea. According to excavators, the silting of the river has caused the location of Ephesus to be moved at least five times. Sometimes the relocation of the city came centuries apart. From Kusadasi, it is now about 10 miles.

Since the time of Androclus, Ephesus has fallen under the rule of the Persians, Romans, Goths, Byzantines, and Turks. Each culture has left a mark on the ancient city and has left us with a fabulous archaeological site. It is through the excavation of this site that we can piece together the complicated history.

The evolution of Ephesus includes such stars from history as Alexander the Great, Octavius, Antony and Cleopatra, Paul of Tarsus, and the Apostle John.

The City Today and What We Have Learned About Our Predecessors

To date, only 20 percent of the Ephesus sites have been excavated. If you've been there or if look at the pictures, it's hard to imagine that 80 percent is unexcavated. It's truly amazing and no wonder Ephesus is one of the Ancient Wonders of the World! There was a pause in excavations in 2016 but the dig resumed in 2018. Most of the excavation has taken place in what is referred to as Ephesus III.

Ephesus II

Ephesus II (a relocated site due to the river silting) is best known as the site of the Temple of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt. The Bible's Book of Ephesians claims that she was worshiped not only in Asia but the entire known world. Little is left of this temple today. The foundation stones and one towering resurrected column give us a clue of the size of the structure which is estimated to be larger than a soccer field. Over 100 years ago, two life-size statues of Artemis were uncovered and are now housed in the museum close to the site of ancient Ephesus.

The Temple of Artemis, Ephesus II

The Temple of Artemis, Ephesus II

Ephesus III

Alexander the Great relocated Ephesus in about the 4th century BC. This is referred to as Ephesus III and is located between Mt. Pion and Mt. Croesus. What's seen today is the result of the Romans conquering the city in the 2nd century BC. Apparently, life in Ephesus was quite grand and luxurious at the time. Today we see remnants of grand marble streets. Unearthed are magnificent statues of prominent citizens. Also present are canopied colonnades that shielded the people from sun and rain. The inhabitants of that time had the pleasure to walk along beautifully detailed mosaic sidewalks. The colonnades served as entrances to shops, restaurants, casinos, temples and churches, public buildings, and homes of the wealthy.

The Bathhouses

There were six public bathhouses. Today as you walk through the ancient site, you can see Scholastica. Its design is pretty incredible and resembles a modern-day club. In the center, each bath had a frigidarium (cold bath), tepidarium (lukewarm bath), and caldarium (hot bath). Honestly, I'm not quite sure how they knew the baths were cold, lukewarm, and hot! Maybe a description has been unearthed with that information provided? Surrounding the baths were changing rooms.

Library of Celsus

On the ground floor of this enormous library stand the statues of Wisdom, Virility, Goodwill, and Knowledge. The library is a two-story building and was erected in 135 AD. There were an estimated 12,000 papyrus scrolls in the library during this time. Even in ancient times, the people understood the climate would destroy the scrolls and they designed a humidity control system. This system was basic in that it simply consisted of air channels that ran behind the areas where the manuscripts were stored. Basic as it was, it did the trick!

Library of Celsus

Library of Celsus

Traveler Tip: The statues in the library are plastic replicas. The originals are housed in Vienna's Museum of Ephesus.

The Great Theater

This structure by far is the most intact of everything available to view in Ephesus. Built in the 3rd century BC, it held about 25,000 people! The architects of this structure were spot on as it—to this day—has perfect acoustics!

It was in this theater that Paul urged the people to worship only one God. Artemis was in control at the time and out of reverence for him, the people demanded that Paul be imprisoned. He was, and today that prison is referred to as "St. Paul's Prison".

The Great Theater

The Great Theater

Arcadian Way

Connecting the theater to the former site of the harbor is the Arcadian Way. Lined with columns, it is about 35 feet wide and about half a mile long. Considered somewhat of a promenade, this pathway was home to the shops and other businesses of the time. Lanterns lit the walkway at night and welcomed the residents along.

Arcadian Way

Arcadian Way

And Then?

After centuries of invasion and conquests, Ephesus was no longer a thriving city. The silting of the river played an antagonistic role in this reduction of importance as well. New trade routes in Asia Minor replaced the business seen by Ephesus and the city became forgotten.

With a few people left, Paul was released from prison. As a result of his steadfast preaching, most of the remaining people converted to Christianity.

The House of the Virgin Mary

The House of the Virgin Mary is located about seven kilometers from the current site of Ephesus. Religious pilgrims of all faiths visit the house as it is believed that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was taken to this stone house by Saint John and lived there for the remainder of her earthly life, some 60 years. There is no denomination that has sanctified this home as the house where the Virgin Mary spent her last years. A Roman Catholic nun, Anne Catherine Emmerich, reportedly had visions of the Virgin Mary in this house. These visions led to the discovery of the home in the 19th century.

When and How was Ephesus Discovered?

In 1863, the British Engineer John Turtle Wood began looking for the temple of Artemis. It wasn't until 1869 that he found it. He spent another five years excavating. In the later 1800s, German and Austrian archaeologists took over the dig.

What Happened to Me in Ephesus?

Alrighty, now it's time for my personal story about Ephesus!

How Did I End Up There?

Visiting Ephesus was somewhat of an accident. Maybe "fate" is a better way to describe it. We were in the process of booking a Mediterranean cruise that would have included Egypt and Israel when I found a different option that included Ephesus. It turns out that the original trip ended up being canceled because of the upheaval in Egypt at the time. I had heard of Ephesus but didn't really know much about it. As it turns out, I was in for a real treat!

Was I in an Alternate Universe?

The trip started off in Athens and Kusadasi was our first port of call. Disembarking the ship, we decided to walk through the harbor to the city center. Bad Choice! The port in Kusadasi was closed to foot traffic and the next thing we knew, we were surrounded by armed port police who spoke no English! My God, what was happening? I had seen shows like "Locked Up Abroad" and my mind went to the worst-case scenario! Somehow we were able to explain, we didn't know the rule and the guards escorted us back to the ship. I have a feeling we were not the first or the last tourists to make that mistake! Back at the ship, we got into a taxi that promised to get us to Ephesus and explained we would be able to get on any number of tours. And, right, the driver was!

Getting out of the taxi, we were bombarded with a number of offers. A particularly, friendly, yet assertive salesman, promising the best tour at the best price grabbed our attention! Once we agreed, he led us through these narrow alleys, making us feel like we were about to be punked! Seeing the apprehension on our faces, he was quick to reassure everything was OK.

Up some steps and we found ourselves in this magnificent showroom!

The Carpets!

As with most tours, there is a sales element for your buying pleasure.

We had the opportunity to hear about and watch the looming process of Turkish rugs. The tradition of handmade rugs goes back to prehistoric times. Made of hand-dyed sheep's wool, cotton, and silk, each thread is hand-tied and knotted four times. The dyes are made from plants, insects, and minerals. One rug can take years to complete and most do! At the particular shop we visited, they had three people assigned to each loom. Working in shifts, the process is literally a 24/7 project. Some of the workers spend their entire working life on one rug! While I am not a proponent of a 24/7 work schedule, the rugs are absolutely stunning. It's an absolutely incredible craft!

The Courtyard

After the carpet demonstration, we were seated in a beautiful courtyard and served fabulous Turkish coffees and pastries whilst being entertained by belly dancers! Did we step into an alternative universe? Were we in a movie? This was turning out to be an incredible tour and we hadn't even gotten to the ruins in Ephesus yet!

On to Ephesus!

It was a beautiful, sunny spring day in April. The temperature was about 70 F.

Driving to the ruins, we learned the importance of Mary in the area and saw many devotionals to her along the route. We were also told about her home, where it is storied that she spent her last 60 years along with the apostle, John.

Arriving at the ruins, and seeing the spectacular sight of the ancient city is a feeling that really escapes all words. I was amazed, that after thousands of years, how intact the buildings were. The aqueducts run alongside the wide marble promenade with most of the Mosaic tiles still in place. How had these structures withstood time? Weather, earthquakes, war? How had the people of that time designed and constructed these buildings without the technology and tools of today? My head was blurry.

We met the two most amazing women. They were sisters in their 80s and Ephesus had been a dream for them! We wandered the site with them and learned about their travels. Both had never been married and were completely devoted to one another. They had amazing stories and became part of the experience at Ephesus! I imagine they are still traveling someplace in this glorious world of ours.

Mary's House

Back in the van on the way to the tiny house, we were told the story about Mary and her last years spent in Ephesus.

The house was tiny. People were lined up to walk through.

I noticed a heavy military presence providing protection of the home. No one really knows if this is truly the house that Mary spent her last years in. What I can tell you is that it was one special place! There is just a feeling when you're inside that represents a connection to spirituality. It's an unseen presence.

I've talked with several people since my initial visit and they claim that same gut feeling when inside. They can't really describe it either; most have told me, "You can just feel 'something.'" It's pretty awesome!

My Impressions and How Ephesus Kickstarted My Travels

As mentioned, I began traveling at a young age and a bit throughout my early adulthood. This initial trip to Ephesus in 2010, gave me a whole new outlook on travel. The wonders of the world were out there waiting to be explored and experienced. The history of mankind and culture awaited. Meeting the two 80-plus-year-old sisters and witnessing their wonderment as they navigated the ruins was inspiring. At their age, with all the combined life experience they had, to not only still be traveling but traveling with child-like curiosity, hit me between the eyes!

Something inside of me went off! This might be the first trip in a while but regular travel was going to be placed on the front burner. I felt positive that seeing the world was going to be a huge part of my next chapter in life. And since then, it has been!

Since that initial trip, I have been traveling on a very regular basis and at one point became an American expat. Soon, I will be returning to the United States for the first time in a long while. It will be my home base, again.

Until next time friends, remember "To Travel is To Live!"

© 2022 Dee Nicolou Serkin