Hadrian's Temple.

Ephesus is as famous today as it was in the Greco-Roman world; the southwestern Asia Minor temples are engraved on the reverse of Turkey’s older 20 lira notes.  As noteworthy as this is, Ephesus’ ancient Chamber of Commerce fame included the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, and the largest library in its time, the Roman Library of Celsus (founded by Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus). 

All that remains of the Temple of Artemis (completed around 550 B.C.) are foundations, and the scrolls are long gone from the library which still stands at the end of the main avenue, the colonnaded Arcadian Way.

Our Insight Vacations tour guide, Oguz joked that the street was the Champs-Élysées of its day where expensive goods were sold as imports from around the Mediterranean and Aegean.

Before we entered the archaeological site of Ephesus, we visited the fabulous Ephesus Archaeological Museum in the small town of Selcuk, 3kms inland from the old port.  Most of the statues and inscribed sarcophagi in the museum were found within the ruins of Ephesus, which was named after the Amazonian queen Ephos, according to the Greek historian Herodotos (Herodotus). Many other statuary and art works are found in the Ephesos Museum in Vienna, Austria.

Artwork at the Selcuk Museum near Ephesus.

The Greek influence at Ephesus.

Alexander the Great had a dream on a mountain top across the bay from the third largest Turkish city, Izmir where our tour group spent the night before at the exemplary Hilton Izmir; he envisioned conquering the known world. Just as Izmir is the most important port in modern Turkey, Ephesus was the most important port in its heyday; but over the centuries the Kayster River has silted in the old harbor and Ephesus sits 6kms from the Mediterranean Sea.

Today the Turks call the site Efes, but the Greeks knew it as Ephesos, and it was one of the 12 cities of the Ionian League during the Classical Greek era. In the Roman period, Ephesus was one of the largest cities in their empire, at about 250,000, and even today only about 10% of the site has seen the light of day from the archaeologists’ spade. 

I had a good laugh because I had been imbibing thirst quenching Efes beer all over Turkey, but only after my visit to Efes did I attribute hops to this magnificent historic city.

The temples are wedged in a long valley.

Many ancient Greek cities are steeped in mythology.  About the 10th century B.C. Ephesus was founded in a long narrow gulch straddled by the hills of Ayasuluk by the Athenian prince Androklos, who conquered the local tribes and set up the Ionian League and reigned over his realm as an Attic-Ionian colony, all due to a mystic oracle from Delphi. Androklos and his dog are carved on the Hadrian Temple frieze at Ephesus, dating to the 2nd century B.C.

There is also a unique frieze freezing in time the female goddesses Artemis (Greek) and Kybele (Anatolian – Turkish). The "Lady of Ephesus" (Artemis), was venerated in the Temple of Artemis, according to teller of tales Pausanias.

In 498 B.C. the Ionian Revolt saw the Battle of Ephesus where the Greeks eventually pushed out the Persians from the region and the port town joined Sparta, Athens, and the Ionians in the Delian League, a sort of early era NATO. Our Insight Vacations tour guide is also the name of one of the modern 17 Turkish tribes — Oguz.

A carved pedestal.

The Ephesians were a modern and contemporary people and through the cult of Artemis women had many rights, including education, and they were encouraged in the arts and social relations. After the madman Herostratus burned down the Temple or Artemis in 356 B.C. a new and grander temple was erected by the citizens.

In 334 B.C. Alexander the Great defeated the Persians at the Battle of Granicus, and the cities all around were freed from the local yoke of the Syrpax family who were stoned to death. Alexander made a triumphal entrance into Ephesus.  The Temple of Artemis was still under construction and he vowed financial support, and like any benefactor, his name was carved into the temple entrance.

Alexander died in 323 B.C. and his general Lysimachus became ruler over Ephesus, but he was killed at the Battle of Corunedium and Ephesus came under the reign of the Hellenic king of Syria and Mesopotamia – Seleucus I Nicator - and the town was now part of the Seleucid Empire. The city came under Egyptian domination by Pharaoh Ptolemy III between 263-197 B.C. but in reality, the Ptolemaic era was a Greek installed lineage. The Egyptians waged an enormous sea battle off the coast of Ephesus and today underwater archaeologists are finding ship wreck artifacts from the siege.

The Celsus Library was the largest in the world.

View down the Arcadia Way.

Ephesus came under Roman domination after the Greek king Pergamon Eumenes defeated another Greek king Scipio Asiaticus at the Battle of Magnesia in 190 B.C.  Pergamon, who sided with the Romans, was granted land holdings and constructed the world’s first hospital at Pergamon, which we also visited on our Insight Vacations tour. 

But Pergamon’s grandson died with no male heir and the region reverted to the Roman powers. And of course the Romans raised the tax on the populace, and Ephesus fell into arrears.  But Augustus became emperor in 27 B.C. and made Ephesus a seat of Asian power and so its prosperity once again grew, along with its population, second in size only to Rome.

As a Roman garisson, there must have certainly been gladiator fights in the huge Ephesus Amphitheatre, which is undergoing decades of reconstruction; a nearby necropolis is dedicated to the battle hardened warriors – I wondered how many actually died in the bloody arena. Before there was Ephesus, the seafaring Mycenaean culture set foot in the small valley around 1,500 B.C. Excavations have turned up their exquisite pottery, and the erudite scientists speculate they founded their settlement atop the Bronze Age Hittite city of Apasa in the land of Abbiyawa.

Over 25,000 spectators cheered gladiator duels in the stadium.

Arches hang on precariously.

Under the Romans the people were a clean lot, new baths were constructed and cold spring water from the mountains flowed to the sea by way of four aqueducts, capable of supplying water to all points within the city. Water mills provided power to a marble sawmill that hewed new material for columns and buildings. But all that extra water had to go somewhere, and it hastened the silting of the harbor which turned into marshlands and malaria broke out.  With no navigable harbor the citizens packed up and moved into the mountains.  Temple stones saw new life in hill town homes; sculptures were ground down to limestone plaster.

Ephesus had religious significance, it is mentioned in the Book of Revelation, and it is speculated that St. Paul and St. Mary, mother of Jesus, visited the port. Since the 19th century the House of St. Mary sits in a beautiful and serene mountainous park setting above the ruins where the birds are atwitter.  Many Popes have visited the small sacred nave, based upon the visions of Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich; upon my visit a monk was praying and women sat transfixed with their rosaries beneath small slat windows.  St. Paul lived in Ephesus for two years from 52-54 B.C. and wrote the letter 1 Corinthians during his sojourn. The local craftsmen and merchants had him thrown in prison because he spoke out against their selling their Artemis cult trinkets and statuettes to the tourists. While in Rome St. Paul penned the Epistle to Ephesians in 62 A.D. Ephesus continued as an early center for Christianity.

The House of St. Mary, mother of Jesus.

A tribute to Artemis.

Over time Ephesus was bypassed by other historical events, earthquakes, wars, disease, and tyrants.  During its cultural zenith painters (Zeuxis and Parrhasius) and poets (Manuel Philes, and Callinus, and Hipponax) and philosophers (Heraclitus Presocratic) and sculptors (Agasias) and grammarians (Zenodotos) and physicians (Soranus and Rufus) put their intellectual shine on the city as bright as the sheen on the paving stones of the Arcadian Way which has seen the sandals of the generations buff the rocks slick and smooth. Emperor Constantine I rebuilt the city and erected public baths, but after the Goth and Arab invasions the city had reached its apogee.

What is great about an Insight Vacations motor coach tour is the quality and depth of their guide services.  Each of their splendid and comfortable buses has its own dedicated historical harbinger and ours, Oguz, was truly exceptional. He brought his wry humor along for the ride with his heavyweight knowledge and enthusiasm to light a beacon onto a magnificent past. 

The once powerful Ephesus.

We had many side tours near Ephesus, including a leather factory with a fashion show displaying the latest styles on the runway while we were served clear complimentary Raki wine, made from a special anise raisin. We also visited the largest steam train museum.

Visit Insight Vacations at www.insightvacations.com   Each evening we were bedded down in superb and luxurious surroundings. A camaraderie sprung up like the spring time tulips and poppies. Breakfast and dinners are included and each lunch stop was filled with a bounty of Turkish cuisine treasures.
— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.