Visiting the cave of the seven sleepers near the ancient ruins of Ephesus, (one of the biggest cities of the Roman Empire) was a disappointment. I had previously read many websites describing graves, a church and ancient inscriptions on the wall, yet I was stood looking at three walls of rusty colored bricks that could resemble an old village house.
My guide with an “I told you so” smile confirmed we were in the right place yet I could not feel any excitement despite the Biblical importance of this place.
About the Cave of the Seven Sleepers
In Christianity, the Bible tell the story of seven men during Roman times who were imprisoned in a cave because of their religion.(The Quran also tells the story but does not mention how many sleepers there was and that a dog was included in the group.)
They woke nearly 200 years later without realizing how long they had slept and walked into the nearby city of Ephesus only to be amazed at how openly their religion had been accepted and was practiced. When they eventually died from natural causes, they were buried in the cave they had originally been imprisoned in.
The history books then say it became a place of pilgrimage but eventually, fell to ruins until excavation work in 1927 when it was cleaned up and opened to the public.
Mark Twain and his Visit to the Cave
In chapter 40 of his book, The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote about his visit to Ephesus and the cave, although his version of the story is different. He says they fell to sleep after drinking strange liquor.
Re-reading the chapter now, he describes hardly anything of the structure so I realize now he was mocking local legends.
“Such is the story of the Seven Sleepers, (with slight variations,) and I know it is true because I have seen the cave myself. Really, so firm a faith had the ancients this legend, that as late as eight or nine hundred years ago, learned travelers held it in superstitious fear.
Two of them record that they ventured into it, but ran quickly out again, not daring to tarry lest they should fall asleep and outlive their great grandchildren a century or so. Even at this day, the ignorant denizens of the neighboring country prefer not to sleep in it.”
My Visit to the Seven Sleeper Cave
Called Yedi Uyuyanlar in Turkish, the first indication of how disappointing the cave would be was the lack of coaches in the car park. The nearby ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus are one of the top visited attractions in Turkey, receiving hundreds of coaches every day, yet we were the only people there.
To use the toilets in the empty restaurant, I crossed the main road to enter the one cubicle port-a-cabin dumped at the edge of a large green field. Obviously, they were not expecting masses of visitors either.
Any hardcore atheist would smirk and say I told you so, but walking up the path and through green grass to the rock area hidden from sight, the ambiance was non-existent. If I wanted to drag my visit out, I could have made it last 5 minutes, yet I was feeling guilty at having pestered the rest of my group to visit this place.
Later research revealed that apparently a large area of it has been fenced off so maybe I did not even see the highlights. One website advised climbing through a hole in the fence, but I have a strong interest in keeping my criminal record in Turkey squeaky clean.
I also learned there is a cave of the seven sleepers in Jordon so that rather makes a mockery of the whole story. Go to the cave if you are in the area but otherwise, don’t make a special trip.