Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.
Located in southwestern Turkey, just a few kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea is the ancient Greek city of Ephesus. First settled in the 10th century BC by Greek colonists, Ephesus became one of the most historical and important cities of the ancient Roman Empire.
Ephesus reached its peak during the first and second century AD, while it was part of the Roman Empire, and many of the most celebrated and well-preserved structures here were built during this era.
One of the things that makes Ephesus so revered from an archaeological perspective is the fact that much of the ancient city is still buried and well preserved. Experts estimate that just fifteen percent of the city has been uncovered, which gives visitors an idea of just how vast Ephesus was for its time.
In its heyday, Ephesus was the second most important city in the Roman Empire behind Rome. Historians are uncertain of the exact population of Ephesus during this period, but estimates range from about 50,000 to as high as 250,000.
For visitors today, a walk through Ephesus is an incredible journey and a glimpse into life centuries ago. The site has two entrances and the preferred method of touring is to start at the upper Magnesia Gate and walk downhill to the lower Harbor Gate.
Ephesus was built on a hill that at one time descended down to a harbor. Time and Mother Nature have reclaimed the harbor and today Ephesus sits a few kilometers from the sea. The distance from the upper gate down to the lower gate is about three kilometers so come prepared for some walking. Plan on a minimum of two to three hours to visit Ephesus. A half a day is sufficient to do the site justice and see the Terrace Houses.
Upon entering the site the first notable structure you will come to is the Odeion Theatre. This theatre, which could seat about 1500 people, was where the Congress of Councilors would meet to conduct their business in addition to hosting concerts and plays.
In addition to the theatre, the upper part of Ephesus contains municipal buildings and the State Agora. Although the term “agora” is commonly used to represent a marketplace, the State Agora was used more as a meeting place for government officials to conduct business.
Just to the south of the State Agora is the Pollio Fountain. Water was brought to the fountains of Ephesus through a system of three aqueducts and clay pipes. Amazingly, the aqueducts brought water from over 25 miles away and this was instrumental in the development of Ephesus. The fountains of Ephesus, including the Pollio Fountain provided water free of charge to the citizens.
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Temple of Hadrian
As you continue down Curetes Street, the main thoroughfare of Ephesus, you will come to the remains of the Temple of Hadrian. Built in 138 AD the temple honors the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who did visit Ephesus during his rein. This area of Ephesus has several notable sites including the Roman Baths and the Public Toilets. The baths were not just for bathing but were a common venue for socializing and philosophizing. The Public Toilets were actually quite sophisticated with a drainage system and running water. It’s amazing to think how developed they were over two thousand years ago.
Across from the Temple of Hadrian is one of the highlights of Ephesus, the Terrace Houses. Excavated in the 1960s this area requires a separate entrance fee and the area is now covered with a protective roof to limit the erosive effects of the weather. The Terrace Houses are a “must see” and will give you an excellent look into life here over two thousand years ago. The Terrace Houses contain the remains of six residential houses spread out over three terraces. The oldest of the homes is thought to date back to the 1st century BC.
These houses were not your average homes for this period and were actually the residences of the well to do. The homes contain some amazing frescoes on the walls and the mosaics that cover most of the floors are stunning. The level of technology for this period is unbelievable and these homes not only had hot and cold running water but were also heated. The Terrace Houses contain dining and living rooms as well as bedrooms, guestrooms, and even a basilica. If you have come all this way to see Ephesus make sure you go the extra mile and see the Terrace Houses, you will not be disappointed.
After touring the Terrace Houses you will exit to the area directly in front of the centerpiece of Ephesus, the Celsus Library. Constructed in 117 AD, the Celsus Library contained more than twelve thousand scrolls and was the third largest library in its day. The library was originally built as a monument to honor the Roman Senator, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, and he is entombed beneath the floor of the library that bears his name. The façade of the library was reconstructed in the 1960s after earthquakes over the centuries destroyed it. The elaborate two-story structure is certainly the most photographed and most famous icon of Ephesus.
Just to the right of the Celsus Library is the Gate of Mazeus with its three arched passageways that lead to the Lower Agora. Built in a square and surrounded by columns the Lower Agora measured about 110 meters on each side. This was the commercial hub of ancient Ephesus and at that time the harbor extended to the Lower Agora as goods came and went from this market area. Today the harbor is about six miles to the southwest in Kusadasi.
Great Theatre of Ephesus
As you continue through the Lower Agora you are now walking on what is known as the Marble Road. This road leads from the Celsus Library and the Lower Agora and takes visitors to the Great Theatre of Ephesus. This magnificent theatre was built into the side of Panayir Hill and has a seating capacity of 25,000. Used for entertainment, political gatherings, and religious events the theatre contains sixty-six rows of seating with the lower levels made from marble and reserved for the important people of the day.
As you climb to the upper reaches of the stadium you realize what an incredible vantage point it offers and can imagine how the view out over the harbor must have looked hundreds of year ago.
Whether you are on an extended tour of Turkey or in the Port of Kusadasi or Izmir on a cruise for just a day, please be sure to visit Ephesus. I’ve been fortunate to visit ruins in Rome, Pompeii, Siracusa, Agrigento and Athens, and in my opinion Ephesus is one of the best-preserved examples of the ancient Roman Empire and should not be missed. I hope you enjoyed this tour of ancient Ephesus.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is it economical to go to Ephesus without booking a tour? My friend and I plan to visit Ephesus this coming June. Can you advise please?
Answer: You can certainly visit Ephesus without doing a tour. Depending on where you are coming from you can take the bus there. If you are coming into the port of Kusadasi as part of a cruise you can definitely catch a bus to the ruins for a reasonable fare. I will say that having a guide to explain the ruins and the history of Ephesus was a big plus. Personally, unless I knew the complete history of Ephesus I would utilize a guide. They really add so much to the experience. Instead of just looking at ruins you get the history behind it.
© 2014 Bill De Giulio