Turkey (Part 6) – Temple of Artemis

Today’s plan was to hit two important sites in/near Selcuk – the Temple of Artemis and the Ephesus Museum. I figured each would take about half a day. The weather was overcast with the threat of rain ever present. I love that kind of weather. So I was pretty happy.

But before ancient history, a bit of contemporary history… I asked Emre (apologies for getting his name wrong in an earlier post) about something he had mentioned the night before which made me curious. He had mentioned that he once lived in Istanbul and still had many friends there. So I asked him why he moved to Selcuk. He said he came back to take care of the family property. After seeing the confused look on our faces, he explained further. Basically his grandfather was part of the Turkish population that was settled in Greek territory but had to move back to Turkey during the Greek-Turkish population exchange of the early 1920s. The government gave his grandfather land in Selcuk to compensate for his losses except he had no experience with farming. He was a woodworker in Greece. So, he eventually left for Istanbul and that’s where the family lived. But due to the increased tourism business in the Selcuk region, Emre decided to come back and build a couple of hotels on the family land. He mentioned that this was a trend. This also explained why the neighborhood was a combination of brand new buildings and abandoned/dilapidated shanties. People were coming back to take over abandoned family properties and rebuild hotels and inns.

The Temple of Artemis was barely a 10 minute walk from our hotel. It’s a pretty sad sight now. You probably wouldn’t even notice it today if you didn’t know what to look for. But it was once considered one of the wonders of the ancient world and looked probably something like this.

What the Temple of Artemis might have looked like

What the Temple of Artemis might have looked like

And now all that remains is this. That’s the modern town of Selcuk in the background:

Remains of the Temple of Artemis

Remains of the Temple of Artemis

The temple has a pretty interesting history (it was after all one of the 7 ancient wonders). It was initially built in 550 BC and was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times. According to tradition, it was once set on fire by a madman who wanted his name to be immortalized for this outrageous act. Incidentally this was the same day Alexander the Great was born. Later in his life, Alexander offered to pay for the rebuilding of the temple provided it was jointly dedicated to Artemis and him. The townspeople realized they were in a tricky situation. It was probably not a good idea to offend an all-conquering king by telling him that his gift was unwanted or that they did not want to dedicate the temple to him. So, the Ephesians came up with a clever response and told Alexander something like it was not right for gods to build temples to other gods. This clever and diplomatic response seemed to satisfy Alexander and a potential crisis was averted.

Entrance to the temple

Entrance to the temple

History of the temple

History of the temple

Artemis (Diana to Romans) herself has a pretty interesting history. She was the goddess of fertility, childbirth and hunting. Her statues are pretty unique because of the huge number of bulls’ testicles that cover her body. Apparently, once Christianity spread in the area, Virgin Mary assumed Artemis’ place and her traits for the local believers. So much for monotheism…

Back to the temple… the temple was reconstructed and after several attacks was eventually destroyed by Christian fanatics around 400 AD. The temple’s building material was reused in other buildings including Hagia Sophia.

More remains

More remains

Now back to the future… we sat around the temple for a while. We always seem to have a lot of turbulence in our professional lives which we tend to bitch about when we get together. For most of the trip so far, we were still stuck in Toronto mentally and whining about our careers (Greg being the exception). But sitting there at the site of the Temple of Artemis was an eye opener. We truly are insignificant in the grand scheme of things and our pesky little problems which we take so seriously are completely meaningless. Who is going to remember me and why I felt I deserved a bigger bonus 50 years from now – forget about a 1000 years from now? Much greater people with truly monumental achievements die and are barely remembered. History is cruel that way.

Broken remains of the columns of the temple

Broken remains of the columns of the temple

Having spent a few hours realizing how meaningless our existence and insignificant our problems were, we were ready to move on to the next part of the trip which was the Ephesus Museum – basically the museum which houses the finds from the site of ancient Ephesus. We headed back to the hotel for a quick break and directions. And good thing we did. Turns out the museum was closed for restoration and had been for the last several months. Now I had read something about that online but I thought it would be open by the time we got there. Regardless, it was a major oversight and poor planning on my part. So here we were with half the day spent and no idea of what to do next. It was too late to go to Ephesus or any ancient site.

This walkway leads to Ephesus

This walkway leads to Ephesus

But Mansoor came up with a good idea and it was to visit the nearby village of Kirazli (Turkish for cherry valley). Apparently Kirazli is well known among locals for good food but isn’t well known among the marauding tourists who swamp Ephesus and region. Its specialty is restaurants which serve organic food from local farms. We were sold. The next question was how to get there. There were two options. One was to hire a cab but that was too expensive for our cheap blood. The other was to get a bus which would be cheaper but obviously the challenge was to figure out which bus and how.

Regardless, we headed for the bus station where Mansoor figured out which van we were supposed to take (he’s very good at making friends on the fly). He somehow communicated with the driver too and got him to understand where we wanted to go. After a pretty pleasant 30 minute ride, the van stopped in front of a restaurant in Kirazli. And now the fun truly began…

We wanted to know how to get back. The driver also understood what we were asking except he didn’t speak any English and we didn’t speak any Turkish. The driver passionately laid out what our options were – in Turkish. In response, Mansoor equally passionately explained what we wanted – in English. Both of them had a very enthusiastic conversation with a lot of affirmative head shaking with neither party having a clue of what the other was saying. Greg and I took a step back and generally laughed our asses off at the comedy of the situation.

Eventually the driver realized what the issue was. So, he went into the restaurant and grabbed one of owner’s kids to help with the interpretation. The poor kid wasn’t much of an improvement over the driver. He tried but got nowhere. After another 15 minutes of enthusiastic “conversation”, somehow it was understood that the driver would swing back around 5 pm on his last round and would pick us up provided we got the restaurant to call and let him know. This process took a solid 20 minutes during which a small crowd of locals gathered around to enjoy the circus.

Having secured our transportation for the way back, we finally went into the restaurant. The weather was incredibly beautiful with the rain and a bit of chill in the air. We ordered some food and on my insistence ate outside. The food was pretty good and much better than what we had had in Selcuk. The highlight was freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. We bought some fresh fruit for later which turned out to be amazing.

The driver showed up around the promised time after the restaurant called him. All in all, it was a pretty pleasant day despite the fact that I got very little of what I was after – the historic sites. Mercifully that would be remedied over the next couple of days.

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