The colourful timeline of Turkey’s history means that the country is awash with historical sites dating from many civilizations. Out of all of them, Ephesus ancient city ruins are probably the most well-known, attracting thousands of visitors every day.
Ephesus ancient city is to Turkey what the pyramids are to Egypt or the Colosseum to Rome and in 2014, 3 million people walked through its gates. Sitting on the Aegean coast of Turkey, near to the towns of Kusadasi and Selcuk, this was my third time of seeing it.
My first visit, 13 years earlier was uneventful. I was a newbie expat in Turkey and more preoccupied with adapting to daily life here, than concentrating on the history of a Greco-Roman city that had fallen nearly roughly 12 centuries before.
The fact that it was one of the Seven Churches of Revelation did not faze me either since I had long given up on religion and the study of the Bible. My second visit, 4 years later was to go with a friend and while I felt a little more appreciation, it was not until my third visit this year that I threw myself into the ambience and vibes of the place.
When was Ephesus Built?
The city has an interesting and extremely diverse timeline but historians have dated the first construction and signs of habitation back to the 10th century BC. It’s most prominent era however was when it came under the control of the Romans in 129 BC. By this time, it was a successful sea trading port and centre of excellence for politics and philosophers. It was also destined to be historically known as one of the seven churches of Revelation as mentioned in the Bible.
Visiting Ephesus Ancient City Ruins
The downside of walking through Ephesus ancient city is the crowds. Some of the largest cruise liners in the world dock into the nearby port of Kusadasi simply to take their passengers to Ephesus and when combined with 42 seater tour buses from all surrounding holiday resorts, the result is masses of people, wandering about in awe, paying no attention to where they are going or who they bump into. The urges to photobomb are too great but if you don’t like crowds or hundreds of people in your holiday photos, visit Ephesus early in the morning as soon as they open at 08.00am.
The other downside is that if you go there independently, you have to walk Ephesus twice, and in the midday heat this is not a gentle stroll. This is because the walking route runs starts at the upper gymnasium bath and ends at Marble Street, or vice versa. It is not a complete circle so if you are driving, this poses a problem. Alternatively, if you hook up with a guide (which I strongly recommend), they arrange for the transport to meet you at the other end.
Highlights of Ephesus City and Ancient Ruins
At every excavated structure, a signpost gives a brief description, along with relevant dates and some of the most impressive include….
The public latrines were situated on three sides of a small courtyard so doing business became a social affair. It is said that the wealthy and rich used to get their slaves to sit down and warm up the latrine for them! At one stage, you could sit down on them but they have now been cordoned off.
Statue of the Nike Goddess
The statue is not a large size but kind of a novelty for those of us who grew up thinking Nike was just a brand of sport shoe! Turns out she was the winged goddess of victory!
Another quirky novelty of Ephesus ancient city because this is not just any old engraved footprint. It showed the way to the whorehouse, or as it was called in those days “the bordello” meaning the “love house.” We shouldn’t be surprised really, since it is the oldest profession in the world
To see Marble street from this view, go to the exit of the Roman Terraced houses. The street leads to the grand theatre and was also the main path for ceremonial and religious purposes
Bouleuterion or Odeion
On my first visit to Ephesus, I was told the Grand theatre seating 24,000 people would be the highlight. My knowledge of history and Roman living was nothing, so I expressed disgust at the small, half circle collection of stones, sitting next to the Royal walk. Turns out, I was actually looking at the Odeion, used by the wealthy and political citizens to discuss the future of the city
Temple of Hadrianus
Constructed in roughly 138AD, the murals on this temple tell the story of Ephesus including how it was founded after Androklos, son of the Athenian king Kadros, received a message from the oracle of Delphi
My original plan was to write about Ephesus ancient city in one article, but this did not do it justice so I have taken the most prominent and magnificent structures and dedicated an article each to them, which you can read at the following links.
Library of Celsius
It held 12,000 scrolls and was one of the largest collections of literature in the ancient world. Explaining the history of the Celsus library is straight forward. It was built in 135 AD by Gaius Julius Aquila who wanted to honour his father, at that time a general governor for the province of Asia and aptly called Celsus, hence the name of the library. More here
Grand Theatre of Ephesus
Where gladiators fought and died and social functions were the highlight of living in Ephesus. Estimations are that it could seat 24,000 people, which is roughly half the amount of today’s modern football stadiums. This seems unbelievable since Roman citizens didn’t have the modern technology that we do but if you look down on the theatre from the top steps, the size becomes more prominent to the human eye. Read more here
Roman Terrace Houses
Six houses with marvellously intact ancient mosaics. Most of the houses were constructed in the 1st century by extremely rich citizens. Such was their wealth, they could afford luxuries such as underfloor heating, clean water, and lavatories, inventions which at that time, were not available to the mass public. Find out more.
Cats of Ephesus Ancient City
Lastly, with its label as an ancient city, it would be easy to assume that Ephesus has no citizens but it does. Cats! Loads of them.
Sitting like kings and queens on ancient stones with Roman inscriptions, the feline creatures calmly spend the day sleeping while hundreds of people pass them by. I am not sure where they are getting their food sources from because there is no canteen within the boundaries of Ephesus but something keeps them coming back. Do they know something we don’t?
Should you go on a guided tour?
Ephesus ancient city does not let unqualified guides in who will just tell you a load of crap. Licensed tour guides in Turkey have studied and sat exams, therefore their knowledge is valuable and as you walk around with them, the information given does enhance the visit and make it more interesting, especially if your knowledge of history is limited.
If you don’t like guided tours, buy the audio guides sold at the entrance or invest in a good book. Do not go into Ephesus blind with no knowledge of what life was like for Ephesus citizens during Roman rule, the most flourishing time for the city.