Calling all history buffs, archeology buffs, photography buffs, and people watchers! You all would have a field day at Ephesus. It’s one of those heavily touristy places that is heavily touristed for an actual good reason. It’s incredible. One thing about Ephesus, though, is that it isn’t fully excavated – you will see blocked places that are loudly calling your name but you can’t go there for now (normally). So in other words, Ephesus will leave you wanting more – but that isn’t always a bad thing!
Location: 3 kilometers southwest of Selçuk, Turkey. It seems that the Ephesus site today and the town of Selçuk both make up what was the historical “Ephesus”. People come here on day trips from Izmir, Kusadasi, and even Istanbul.
Cool Facts About Ephesus
Ephesus was founded as an Attic-Ionian colony in the 10th century BC.
One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis (built by 550 BC), was here. In the 3rd century AD, the Temple was destroyed by Goths. The ruins were used as building blocks for new homes; in fact, even marble sculptures were ground to make lime for plaster. Stuff of an archeologist’s nightmare.
Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia that are cited in the Book of Revelation.
The Gospel of John may have been written here circa AD 90–100.
From AD 52–54, Paul (yes, “the” Paul) lived in Ephesus. He pissed off local artisans, whose livelihood depended on selling statuettes in the Temple of Artemis (Acts 19:23–41, Bible). He also wrote 1st Corinthians (a letter that is now a Biblical book) from Ephesus between 53 and 57 AD.
A legend, dating back to the 4th century AD, purported that Mary spent her last years in Ephesus.
Ephesus holds the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. And not all of it has been excavated as of yet – not even 20%! Ephesus is also the best preserved classical city of the Eastern Mediterranean.
What to See in Ephesus
Library of Celsus: Originally built circa 125 AD and once held about 12,000 scrolls. The Library of Celsus was the third richest in ancient times after the libraries in Alexandria and Pergamum.
The Gate of Mazeus and Mythridates: This gate is next to the Library of Celsus and was built in 40 AD by the slaves Mazeus and Mythridates for their emperor, Augustus, who gave them their freedom. Me, I just saw Caesar’s name written on the gate and promptly geeked out.
Theatre: Was capable of holding 25,000 spectators. It was originally used for drama but gladiatorial combats were later added to the repertoire of “exciting local events”. This theatre is believed to have been the largest outdoor theater in the ancient world.
Streets: Several streets have been excavated for your viewing pleasure. The most famous of them is Curetes Street and is the street everyone photographs.
Latrines: Built in the 1st century AD, these public toilets required a person to pay an entrance fee to use them. The toilets are aligned along the walls with a drainage system underneath. However, there was no partition in between each toilet. How to lose friends and alienate people, eh.
The Temple of Hadrian: It was built by 138 AD and was dedicated to the Emperor Hadrian.
Terrace Houses: These were the homes of the rich and are an interesting peek into Roman family life, Beverly Hills style. There are six residential units on three terraces but only two units are open to the public. The oldest building dates to 1st century BC and was used until about 7th century AD.
Tips on Visiting Ephesus
Tip I: A visit to Ephesus should take place in mid- to late afternoon for two reasons: First is that many of the giant tour groups, especially ones from cruise ships, would be gone by then. The second reason is sunlight – bright overhead sunlight is utter crap for photos so the later you go, the better the light.
Tip II: It costs extra to get into the Terrace Houses but it is worth a look. It is also a good way to escape the sun and crowd as not many people take the time to visit (or have the time as tour groups bypass this normally). There is a set path around the units, allowing you to see various mosaics and frescoes as well as the work stations of restorers who have to piece the tiny tiles back together.
Tip III: Read up on what to see beforehand – signage is a hit and miss, here. And the ones that are there, you may not even see due to the sheer mass of humanity at this place.
Tip IV: Take a hat and water – everything is overpriced in the site and with all that bright light bouncing on the white stone and marble, it is a recipe for heat stroke.
Tip V: Give yourself 3-4 hours to see Ephesus if you are a photography or history buff. Also gives you time to eavesdrop on a few tours if you so choose.
Tip VI: If you don’t want to walk to Ephesus, the dolmus (minibus) from Selçuk leaves from the main bus station at the back – pay, wait for the bus to fill, and off you go. The return dolmus departs from the parking lot of Ephesus. Minibuses go and depart in intervals of about 15 minutes.