This ancient civilization wasn’t actually civilized in the modern sense of the word until 850 BC when those from Egypt, Hittites, and Assyrians began to migrate here.
Once these people began living civilized lives invention, innovation and scientific reasoning made this into a major trading city,
Entering the City:
Entering through the Magnesia gate into the site you will see the State Agora and the Temple of Isis in the center of the Agora, with the Stoa on the North side. The Odeion (Bouletarion or Parliament) this building alone could hold up to 1,400 members of the community could attend the city council meetings. This is also where musical gatherings took place.
The State Agora and Temple of Isis (the Egyptian Goddess) were located in the center of the Agora. If you look on the east side of the Odeon (Council Building), you will find the Baths of Varius (Four Arched entries with Mosaics inside), the Monument of Memmius and the fountain of Sextilius Polio circa 93AD, and 1st century BC.
The Monument of Memmius is one of the few architectural monuments which has survived from the late Hellenistic Period. Built by Memmius (one of the prominent people of Ephesus) to honor the Roman Dictator Sulla.
Fountain of Sextilius Polio:
The fountain of Sextilius Polio is hard to miss, a massive arch can be seen throughout different parts of the city. This fountain was covered with marble slabs over a rubble base. Two doorposts on either side merged with a grand niche. There were branching systems of clay baked pipes that provided water to this fountain. A number of statues decorated the facade of the fountain including the head of Zeus. The statues that once decorated this fountain are now exhibited at Ephesus Museum.
The Curetes Street:
The Curetes Street will start you down a relatively steep incline towards the main thoroughfare. You will notice how wide the street is, and columns sectioning the side portions into perfect partitions for shops. This is where local merchants would set up shop, and sell various items to politicians.
After passing through the Curetes Street you will see the fountain of Trajan built in 112 AD, on the right-hand side of the road.
The Scholastica Baths (4th Century AD) are behind the Temple of Hadrian, the houses of all those rich people were built directly in front of it. These terrace houses filled with beautiful mosaics and decorative arts have been restored, protected and are now on display.
Traveler Tip: It is an extra fee and requires special permits to enter the Terrace Houses, to help preserve them so take some extra change with you.
The Corder of Curetes street and Marble Road you will find the House of Love (aka a Brothel). With the famous Celsus Library directly across from it, facing the Terrace houses.
The Celsus Library:
This Library held the remains of Tiberias Julius Celsus Polemaeanus who was the governor of Asia. The scrolls contained within this library were the crowning jewel of this city, with more than 12,000 scrolls contained in cupboards that were protected by double walls behind them to protect from humidity and the extreme temperatures in this area. This was the third wealthiest library in the world (after Alexandra and Pergamum).
If you stand back and look at the columns on the facade, the side columns are shorter columns. This gave it an appearance of being a larger building than it truly was. The statues that occupy the spaces within this facade all symbolize something. Wisdom (sophia), intelligence (ennoia), knowledge (episteme) and virtue (arete); these were all represented as these were the characteristics and virtues many believed Celsus exhibited.
This was by far my favorite part of the entire city, to think of how much knowledge was contained within those walls. How quickly their working knowledge was progressing, innovation, learning etc….. I could have stayed in there all day reading personally. Then I remembered….the limitations of women in that time period to hold rank. It made me grateful to be in the country, time and modern city that I live in today. Despite this line of thinking, it still broke my heart that in 262 AD the library was destroyed by fire during a Gothic invasion.
The Great Theater:
Imagine walking down the marble road, the street packed tightly with your friends and neighbors of the city and strangers from the surrounding area. The roads, lit by oil lamps, putting a warm glow around the city while the sea breeze blew into the city cooling down the marble, granite, and stone within the city. What was playing at the Great Theater tonight? Was it a gladiator game? A dramatic play about the Emperor again? Was it a love story with a happy ending?
The Great Theater would have had the capacity for 24,000 people, with the port avenue extending out in front of it.
The Story of Paul in Ephesus:
For my Christian friends, this is where Paul was dragged into the theater for sending a letter to the Ephesians (See Acts 18-20). His time in Ephesus was quite fruitful for the Christian religion a significant number of Jews and Greeks were converted, the Christian gospel was spread throughout Asia. There was a significant decrease in the purchasing of the silver Diana statues, which made the silver merchants go into a panic.
The mob gathered there to accuse Paul of hurting the Artemis and her temple. Paul continued to preach to them calmly, despite the peril to his life. Ephesians chapters one through four epistles are commonly known as the Prison Epistles. few hearts in the crowd changed and are the reason Paul survived that onslaught. Funny enough it was the security corps that rescued him from certain death.
Timothy became the head of the church in Ephesus and was there when Paul wrote to him (I and II Timothy). Later the Apostle John made the city his headquarters and was one of the seven churches of Asia Minor addressed in Rev 2:1-7.
Temple of Artemis:
Built in the 8th Century BC was another one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. To put the size of the building into perspective, it is double the size of the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens. The massive columns reached 180 feet (55 meters) into the air, with the roof reaching 377 feet (115 meters) long. Two marble statues of the God Artemis can be seen in the archaeological museum near this site.
Who was Artemis? She is a lot more important than you would think, as she is the daughter of Zeus (or the CEO of all the Gods). Surprisingly she was the most respected of all the Greek Gods, even more so than her twin brother Apollo. She was considered to be the Goddess of the Hunt, Forests and Hills, protector of children and virginity, goddess of wild animals, the Moon and Archery —
The Bear is said to be the most sacred animal to her, and it remained so until Orion won her heart.
Artemis remained one of the patron Gods of this flourishing city, with dense forests that surrounded the area – perfect place for legends to be told. The Temple of Artemis was eventually destroyed by a deranged man called Herostratus who wanted to have his name written into history books, and believed destroying this building was the only way to do it.
The House of the Virgin Mary:
When Christianity took over, the House of the Virgin Mary, where it is believed that Mary spent the last years of her life is now worshiped still to this day. This sacred place is variously referred to as Meryem Ana Evi. It is said that she came to Ephesus with John around 37 AD in order to flee the persecutions of Christians in Jerusalem. Many Christian pilgrims believe that Mary died here, or near here and was taken up to heaven rather than experiencing a standard death around 45 CE.
While there are many arguments surrounding where the Virgin Mary died, this site has been declared a Shrine and visited several times by Catholic Popes. While some say it is a highly commercialized area, there is a quiet sense of reverence and peace when you come to this place. Not many Christians know of this Shrine to Mary in Turkey, but of those who do, it is regarded as a place of healing, miracles, and where many can tie kerchiefs with prayers on them to a wall near Mary’s home.
I was moved by the white kerchiefs that were hanging from the Wishing Wall. I thought of the Western Wall (aka the Wailing Wall) in Jerusalem, and a part of me could feel the pleading and grateful words written on those kerchiefs. As you make your way down the wall, and around the area surrounding Mary’s home, there is a small spring. Many pilgrims believe that this spring has healing powers and would splash the water on themselves as if being baptized again, or take a small drink of water and make the sign of the cross over themselves.
I am Christian, but I am not a worshiper of sacred sites – only to the point of, I enjoy the feeling of reverence that surrounds them. No matter what religion it is, there is something inspiring, moving, and triggers a soulful reflection of how I can be better — because of the example of their devotion to what they believe in.
The Final Verdict:
When I first came to Ephesus, I thought ‘oh brother, not another broken down ruined Romanesque overcharged place’. I was with my family, so it wasn’t really an option to NOT choose to visit. After getting an audio guide so I wouldn’t be completely bored, learning about the history of the place, seeing the Shrine to Mary, learning of the Goddess of the Hunt, and being able to walk up the Great Stadium Steps and going down Curates Street – I have to say I was quite impressed with this place. The Celsus Library was heartbreaking to hear of all that knowledge that was lost to the world at that time. Walking down Curates Street with all the other tourists, was one of the few times I was glad there were crowds because it helped me imagine what it would have been like in ancient times with hoards of people headed to the stadium.
So is it worth it to see and explore Ephesus? I will give a resounding YES, I am not that into ruins strewn about on the ground haphazardly – this is not that kind of place. I would say the awe that it inspired was close to the awe and wonder I felt the first time I stepped in the Coliseum. For my religious friends, witnessing the wall of kerchiefs, the feeling at Mary’s Shrine is well worth it. It is not just the shrine that will inspire you but imagining Paul in the Great Stadium. Go stand in the middle of the Great Stadium floor and imagine people jeering and calling for your death for writing a letter – it will send chills down your spine.
Ephesus certainly has a right to be on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. With how well preserved the town is (compared to so many others), it will give you one of the best examples to imagine yourself in the time of the Ancient Greek/Roman life in one of the greatest cities of that time.
Other Activities around Ephesus:
Isa Bey Mosque built in 1375
Archaeological Museum of Ephesus where the ancient remains found in the ruins of Ephesus are beautifully displayed.
Sirince village represents an interesting mixture of past-Greek existence with today’s local Turkish people producing homemade wine and delicious olive oil.
Where to Stay:
Kusadasi to Ephesus Sightseeing Tour with Historian and Lunch
Private Tour: Ephesus Day Trip including Terrace Houses
Ephesus and Pamukkale Hot Springs Express from Istanbul (2 days, 1 night)
Other Tours in Turkey that include Ephesus
What to Pack:
Favorite Walking Shoes: Keen Sandals (Never got a blister with these EVER)
Sony RX10 IV Compact Camera with 600mm zoom, 4k video, and 120fps shooting – (This is the Camera I use)
Canon EOS 80D DSLR Creator Package- (everything you will need- starter photographer package)