Today was our last day in Selcuk and the day we had dedicated to Ephesus. We’d saved what we thought was the biggest highlight of the trip for the end. Emre was good enough to give us a ride to the gate of the site.
I had purchased tickets to the site online which I highly recommend. It allowed us to bypass the lineup and go straight to the entrance. We’d also purchased entrance to the famous terrace houses of Ephesus (you have to pay extra but don’t even think about skipping it).
Ephesus was a very important city. It eventually became the capital of the eastern half of the Roman empire. It was also an important Christian center since Virgin Mary was supposed to have moved here after Jesus’ passing. It is tough for me to avoid comparing Ephesus to Pompeii. Ephesus was different from Pompeii in a big way – Pompeii is a massive site while Ephesus basically has only one main street running through it.
We started at the top of the site. There was a flood of tourists which I wanted to avoid. Clearly Epehsus is massively popular among tourists. Maybe Saturday is when all the cruise ships come in. Regardless, the poor site was overrun by people. According to what I’d read, most people don’t shell out the extra entrance fee for the terrace houses. So the guidebook recommended that we go straight to the terrace houses to avoid the mad rush at the rest of the site.
Accordingly we skipped most of the site and headed straight for the terrace houses. Clearly the guidebook was out of date because we saw tour group after tour group swarm the terrace houses. We sat around for half an hour hoping for the rush to die down. But there was no respite. So, we gave up and decided to walk down to the far end of the site and wait for the madness to die down and then walk back up to the starting point later in the day. On the way down, we stopped at the magnificent Library of Celsus. The reconstructed remains of the library must be the definitive image of Turkey.
We walked past the library and stopped at the massive theatre. The view from the top of the theatre is magnificent. After that we went and hid under the shades of the remains of a later era church waiting for the crowd to die. We hung around there till almost noon. At that point, the crowds slowly started dying down and we started to climb back up the site. We noticed that the terrace houses were pretty quiet and went into that section.
If you go to Ephesus, please do NOT skip the terrace houses despite the extra fee. The terrace houses are AMAZING. These houses were built by/for rich locals and were built into the face of a hill with the houses built on top of each other (hence the terrace houses). The site has been covered over by a protective building. A lot of restoration work is still going on. It is a very complicated site to walk through but the walkways through the site help. The mosaics in some of the houses are still in great shape. It took us about an hour to walk through the site.
There is another very interesting monument right next to terrace houses. It is a conical monument which is supposed to be the tomb of Arsinoe. Arsinoe was Cleopatra’s younger sister and rival. Arsinoe took the throne before Cleopatra snatched it back with Julius Caesar’s help. Naturally Arisnoe was taken prisoner and was eventually paraded in one of Caesar’s triumphs and exiled to Ephesus. After Caesar’s death, Cleopatra took up with Mark Antony (who doesn’t know that story) and convinced him that Arsinoe must die. So, she was killed on Antony’s orders in a very scandalous manner. Apparently she sought sanctuary at the temple of Artemis and was granted it. But she was killed regardless. This conical structure is supposed to be her tomb.
The crowds had thinned out by now. So, we climbed back to the starting point. At the start of the site, there is a odeon – basically a small theater for musical performances. The odeon would be big enough to the main theatre for most cities but considering this was a Roman capital, everything here was bigger.
We walked down and saw the temple of Domitian to our left. Domitian was the younger son of Vespasian and the last of the Flavian emperors. This temple was dedicated to him. Domitian unlike his father Vespasian and his brother Titus was despised and considered a tyrant. Eventually he was killed in a conspiracy that even included his own wife Domitia. After his death, the Ephesians celebrated by toppling the massive statue of Domitian and tore it down.
The next stop down was a monument built to Sulla, his son and grandson. It’s not a very noticeable structure but I was intrigued by it because Sulla himself was such a fascinating character. I didn’t expect to find him in Ephesus of all place. Sulla was basically a Roman general and dictator. In a way, he set the precedent that Caesar followed later except Caesar was not as bloodthirsty. Sulla’s story can’t be told without the story of Marius. Marius was a Roman hero and incredibly successful general. He changed the character of the Roman army by recruiting soldiers on fighting ability rather than net worth as was the trend before him. He became a titan of the Roman republic. But then as happens to every great man, Marius got older and started to be eclipsed by Sulla who had served under him in the army. Eventually this rivalry turned into a full blown civil war. The balance of power swung back and forth between Sulla and Marius. Eventually Marius and his supporters took the city while Sulla went to the East to fight Mithridates. Marius died soon after and Sulla returned to wreak a blood vengeance on his enemies. Julius Caesar was related to Marius through his aunt’s marriage to him. Sulla nearly had Caesar killed but spared him after an intervention from powerful interlocutors. Though they belonged to different factions, surely Caesar must have learned some of how to overthrow the republic and impose one man rule from Sulla’s dicatorship.
Further down, we found the famous open air communal toilets that Romans loved so much. We had seen them in Ostia Antica and Pompeii as well. So, perhaps they weren’t as fascinating for us as they seemed to be for other tourists.
The next stop was the library of Celsus. The library was built by Celsus’ son to honor the memory of his father who was a Roman governor. It is a stunning structure. Right next to the library on the right hand side is the agora (aka the market place). It is a massive square. The gate to the agora is gorgeous. It has a beautiful inscription on it which dedicates it to the emperor Augustus and his wife Livia. It was apparently commissioned by a couple of Roman freedmen to show their gratitude to the first emperor of Rome.
Halfway between the library and the theatre, we saw the famous engraving in the footpath of a woman’s head and a foot next to it. Supposedly it was an ancient ad that pointed the way to the brothel. Much to my disappointment, we didn’t find the brothel. If I had to guess, it was behind the library in a closed off section. But I’ve seen the brothel of ancient Pompeii. So, can’t say I was too disappointed.
Opposite the theatre is a massive pathway which led to the ancient harbor. Like most ancient sites, the harbor here silted up too and now the city lies well inland.
There were other structures along the way such as the gymnasium except not much remains of them except column fragments, etc.
We were done with Ephesus and it was about 4 or 5 pm by now. The next stop was the cave of seven sleepers. The site is on a hill which is a couple of kilometers from Ephesus. But after a whole day of walking up and down, we were in no shape to hike up to the site. So, we hopped into a cab and went to the site. For anyone who doesn’t know the story, the Quranic version of the story goes that some Christians hid in this cave during the era of emperor Diocletian who persecuted christians. Apparently the refugees slept for hundreds of years and woke up centuries later when Christianity had become the state religion of the Roman empire. Obviously, the site turned into a major pilgrimage site owing to this story. Not much of the site remains now. Regardless, we hiked up there to have a look. After 30 or so minutes here, we were done. We took the cab back to our hotel and pretty much collapsed for the day.
That was pretty much the end of our stay in Selcuk. The next morning, we checked out early and took the airline bus to the Izmir airport at 5 AM. We reached Istanbul around 8 or so. Our flight back to Toronto was around noon. So, we stowed our luggage at the airport and headed into the city for a brief stay.
Our last stop in Turkey was the Great Palace Mosaics Museum in Istanbul which we checked out before heading back to the airport for the flight out. The Blue Mosque is built on top of the great palace of Byzantine emperors. A beautiful mosaic pathway was discovered behind the mosque which was clearly part of the destroyed palace. Archaeologists instead of digging up the mosaics and moving them to a museum built one right on top of the mosaics. The mosaics are unbelievably beautiful. It’s a pretty tiny museum (basically two tiny rooms) and can be dealt with comfortably in an hour. I recommend that you lump it together with your visit to the Blue Mosque.
That was pretty much it for us in Turkey. We headed back to the airport and took the flight back home after a great trip.
The resources I used to plan for the trip are as follows:
1) I bought a Lonely Planet guide. It was alright. Difficult to give it a resounding recommendation. Basically pick up A guide book (any one).
2) I bought “Innocents Return Abroad: Exploring Ancient Sites in Western Turkey” by Jack Tucker. I HIGHLY recommend you buy this book and take it with you. It not only highlights the various historic sites in Turkey but also gives you some background history of every site and the famous characters associated to the site. Reading this book and taking it with you will REALLY add to your trip.
3) Use http://www.turkeytravelplanner.com. The website is run by a gentleman who wrote some editions of the Lonely Planet guide. It’s a great website. Not easy to navigate but is full of great information.
4) Saved the best for last. Get your hands on the video lectures by Prof John Hale titled “Great Tours: Greece and Turkey, from Athens to Istanbul” produced by “The Great Courses” company.
Professor Hale is an archaeologist who acts as your guide to the various historic sites of Turkey. Not only is Prof Hale very knowledgeable, he is an excellent and inspirational presenter. If you have to choose one thing to take with you, take Prof Hale’s videos with you. I threw the videos on my Playbook and took them with me to all the sites we visited. So, imagine standing in the magnificent Aya Sofia and have Prof Hale be your guide to this magnificent building. You won’t need to hire any guides. Prof Hale is a 100 times better than any guide you can hire in Turkey. So, if you do ONE thing for to plan for your Turkey trip, get your hands on Professor Hale’s videos!!!
Hope you go to Turkey one day. It’s a great country. I’ll be going back one day to see everything I missed with Troy being at the top of my list.