Ephesus was an ancient port city whose well-preserved ruins are in modern-day Turkey. The city was once considered the most important Greek city and the most important trading centre in the Mediterranean region. Throughout history, the city survived multiple attacks and changed hands many times between conquerors. It was also a hotbed of early Christian evangelism and remains an important archaeological site and Christian pilgrimage destination. Exploring ancient Ephesus is definitely a archaeological site not to be missed!
For me Ephesus has always been a place I’ve wanted to visit. I love wandering around ancient sites and ruins imagining what they must of been like in their heyday. As I walk around these places I imagine who else walked the same footsteps and how life may have been for the inhabitants. There is really something about these historic places that really sets my imagination alive! Ephesus was no exception and it’s up there with the best historical sites I’ve ever visited, it was truly amazing!
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According to legend, Ephesus was founded by a tribe of great female warriors, the ‘Amazons’. The original city is thought to be the site of the Arzawa Kingdom’s capital city Apasa, the name meaning ‘city of the Mother Goddess’. Some scholars maintain that the sign of the labrys, the double-axe of the mother goddess which adorned the palace at Knossos, Crete, even originated in Ephesus.
Ephesus was inhabited from the end of the Bronze Age onward, but the location was changed due to floods and the whims of various rulers. Around 1200 BC migration from North West Greece began bringing Ionian colonists. The cities that were established after the Ionian migrations joined in a confederacy under the leadership of the city of Ephesus.
Under Greek rule, Ephesus became one of the wealthiest cities in the Mediterranean world. It was a centre of learning and the birthplace and home of the renowned philosopher Heraclitus. This thriving city was a place where women enjoyed rights and privileges equal to men, there are even records of female artists, sculptors, painters and teachers. At night the streets of the city were brightly lit with oil lamps, a luxury not many cities could afford.
Under the rule of King Croesus of Lydia between 560 – 547 BC, construction of the great Temple of Artemis at Ephesus began. Then In 356 BC, a crazed man called Herostratus burned down the Temple. The Ephesians rebuilt the temple even bigger. It was estimated to be four times larger than the Parthenon in Athens and became known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
In 546 BC, Ephesus fell to the Persian Empire; however the city continued to prosper as an important port of trade. When the Ionian city-states rebelled against Persian rule in the 5th century BC, Ephesus remained neutral and thus escaped the destruction suffered by so many other cities at the hands of the Persians.
In 334 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Persians and entered Ephesus. After his death, one of his generals, Lysimachus, took over the city and renamed Arsineia after his wife. In 281 B.C, Lysimachus was killed at the Battle of Corupedium and the city was renamed Ephesus again.
In 129 BC, the Roman Empire acquired Ephesus after King Attalos of Pergamon left Ephesus to the Roman Empire in his will. Under Caesar Augustus the city enjoyed its most prosperous time. Most of the ruins you see today such as the enormous amphitheatre, the Library of Celsus, the public agora were built or rebuilt during Augustus’s reign.
During the 1st century AD, Ephesus was visited repeatedly by early Christians.the most famous being Saint Paul who preached and was ‘booed’ and chased from the theatre. However, Ephesian officials, protected Paul and his followers and eventually Christianity became the city’s official religion.
In 262 AD, the Goths destroyed Ephesus, including the Temple of Artemis. Some restoration of the city took place, but it never regained its splendour.
The Ottoman Empire took final control of Ephesus in the fifteenth century; however, the city was in dire straits, its harbour practically useless. By the end of that century, Ephesus was abandoned, its legacy left to archaeologists, historians and the thousands of visitors like you and me to flock to the region each year to see these magnificent ancient ruins!
Exploring ancient Ephesus:
The Government Agora:
This is one of the first buildings you will see as you enter the Ephesus site. As you can see not all of the original building remains but you can still imagine how the area may have looked like.
The Odeion Theatre:
This building was located close to the Government Agora and was used as a theatre for concerts and council meetings. The theatre was thought to originally have a wooden roof and held around 1500 people.
The Prytaneion was what we would call a town hall. Inside the hall was a holly fireplace that would have been burning for hundreds of years. The governor of the town was responsible for not letting the fire burn out and was thought to be one of the most honourable jobs within the city. Many of the Artemis statues that are now displayed in the Ephesus Museum were found buried in this room. The building was once surrounded by large columns, some of which you can see in the picture above with the main building covered partly by the mountain side.
Domitian Square and Temple
As you walk down past the Prytaneion, you will find yourself in a small square. One the right hand side you will find the remains of the Memmium monument. The stone figures around the monument are those of Memmium, his father and also his grandfather.
On the opposite side of the monument you will find the Nike relief which is in the flying position, holding a garland in one hand and a date branch in the other,
This street is probably the most photographed street in Ephesus and it’s easy to see why. This street starts at the Prytaneion, passes Domitian square and leads onto the most fabulous views of the Celsus Library. One side of the street was used for vehicles and along the other pedestrians. Along the sides there was many shops which are still to be excavated. The street was lined will large columns with statues and busts of the people who had done great things for the city.
Towards the middle of the street there is a door called ‘Herakles Door’ made up of two columns. As you pass through it is thought to bring good luck if you can touch both sides of the column as you pass through.
This fountain, according to the inscriptions on the cornice was built in the years of 102-114 AD and was dedicated to the Emperor Traian. It once had two pools and had water flowing from one pool to a larger pool that housed the emperor statue. The statue is now housed in the Ephesus Museum.
Hadrian’s temple is one of the few fully restored buildings within the Ephesus site. According to its inscriptions it was built in 138 AD and was dedicated to the Emperor Hadrianus from Athens. This was one of my favourite buildings, as a lover of architecture I was amazed by the level of detail on the friezes along top of the temple as you can see below:
Celsus Library is what everyone wants to see at Ephesus! I was extremely lucky to be there before the crowds and get to see this beautiful structure in all its glory without hundreds of people walking around it. This place is what exploring ancient Ephesus is all about! It is such an amazing structure and you can really imagine what it must of been like before it was destroyed, definitely one of my favourite historic buildings!
The library was built over the tomb of Roman senator T.Iulius Celsus Polemaeanus as a tomb monument. The building has three doors with now copies of statues in the niches. The original statures were taken to Vienna after excavations in 1910.
In order to make the building appear larger and to give a perceptive illusion they built the columns 15 cm higher in the middle than on its sides, the columns on its sides were also built lower. However this building is still huge! Its only when you are up close and personal that you can really appreciate the size!
The Commercial Agora:
Next to the Celsus Library you will find the commercial agora. Most of this part of the site has been destroyed; however you can still imagine how the square would have once looked surrounded by all the huge columns. Behind the columns would have once been shops and other commercial outlets as well as a south gate opening up into the harbour. Unfortunately this part of the site is yet to be excavated.
Leading the way between the Celsus Library and the great theatre was Marble Street, so called due to being covered entirely with white marble. Along the street would have been many dwellings and commercial buildings. Halfway down the street you will find a marble square with carvings of a female bust, a foot and a heart pierced by an arrow. This carving is thought to be an advertisement, giving directions to the ‘house of love’.
The Great Theatre:
Towards the exit of the city you will find the great theatre, the scene where Saint Paul was ‘booed’ and chased whilst trying to teach Christianity. You can still go inside the theatre, however as they are still in the process of restoring, you can only walk along a small section.
Other areas to look out for whilst exploring ancient Ephesus are the beautifully preserved mosaics along Kurets street, the public toilets, some interesting inscriptions and if you are from the medical profession keep an eye out for some familiar friezes.
How to get to Ephesus:
Ephesus is located 19 Km from Kusadasi in Turkey, about five miles inland from the Aegean coast. Most visitors take a trip to Ephesus from either Kusadasi or Izmir which is about an hour’s drive from the ancient site.
Travelling from Kusadasi:
If travelling independently, you can take a taxi to Ephesus from Kusadasi for around €20 one way. If taking a taxi always make sure to agree a price first, most taxi drivers will wait and take you back to Kusadasi, cost should be no more than €50. Regular buses also leave the Kusadasi bus station and can drop you off in Selcuk, from here you can grab a Dolmas or walk to Ephesus, cost should only be a couple of euros.
Travelling from Izmir:
From the bus terminal in Izmir you can take one of the many tourist buses straight to Ephesus. It takes approximately 1.5 hrs and costs about €2. It is also possible to get the train from Izmir airport or Izmir Basmane station straight to Selcuk. The journey takes about 1.5 hrs and costs about €3.
Travelling from Istanbul:
At a push you could explore ancient Ephesus as a day drip from Istanbul but you would have to rely on flights. I would suggest staying overnight in Kusadasi giving you more time to explore the area. Turkish Airlines and Pegasus offer daily flights to Izmir with prices starting from as little as €40 return! To check out these prices and see more great flight deals use Skyscanner.
Private and group tours:
If you aren’t comfortable visiting Ephesus independently then there are various tour companies that can take you and even offer guided tours of Ephesus giving you a more detailed insight into the history of the area. If arriving into Izmir or Kusadasi via cruise ship, then you will probably have the option to take various excursions, usually for a over inflated cost. One way to get around this is to take local excursions which help the local economy and usually cost a lot cheaper! I recommend using Get Your Guide, here are just some of the options available:
Ephesus Visitor information:
Ephesus – €10
If you are going to visit other sites besides Ephesus in Western Turkey, there is a 7 day Museum Pass which provides multi visits to many sites without waiting in lines and you can make great savings. Valid for Ancient city of Ephesus, Basilica of St. John, Terrace Houses in Ephesus, Archaelogical Museum of Ephesus, Ancient city of Aphrodisias, Temple of Didyma, Ancient city of Smyrna, Ancient City of Miletus, Ancient City of Priene, Ancient City of Sardis, Ancient City of Pergamon, Asklepion of Pergamon and many others. You can buy the pass at any of the ancient sites at a cost of 185 Turkish Liras (approx €28).
April – October
Opening Time: 8.00
Closing Time: 19.00
November – March
Opening Time: 8.00
Closing Time: 17.00
When to visit:
Ephesus can be visited all year round; however it can get busy in the summer months. If like me you don’t like crowds then I recommend visiting in the shoulder season. I personally visited in May 2019 and there where hardly any people about at all. It felt like the perfect time to wander around this archaeological wonder!
Tips for visiting Ephesus:
- Getting a guide will defiantly make the experience more enjoyable, our guide was able to point out some of the things you wouldn’t normally notice, as well as being extremely knowledgeable about the whole area and its history.
- If you want to take lots of fabulous photos, make sure you bring a wide angle lens as a lot of the buildings within the site are very close together making it difficult to get some good shots.
- Make sure you wear comfortable shoes as the ground can be very uneven.
- If visiting Ephesus in the summer months make sure you bring plenty of water and a sunhat. The site has hardly has any shade at all!
- Be sure to have a little haggle with the shop owners selling souvenirs as you exit the site, lots of bargains to be had!
If you are the slightest bit interested in history or architecture then I fully recommend a trip to Ephesus. The site itself is so well-preserved that you can really imagine what it must of felt like to live during this time. Nothing can prepare you for how amazing this place really is!
Have you visited Ephesus and the surrounding area? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below.
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