Ephesus ancient city is one of Turkey’s top visited attractions, competing yearly with the natural landmark and UNESCO site Pamukkale for a record amount of visitors. With 1,800,251 tourists passing through the gates in 2013, it now adorns prime place in most international travel magazines and rightly so.As one of the most famous cities of antiquity, Ephesus is a marvelous relic from the past and a testament to thousands of hours of painstaking excavation work to restore much of it to its former glory.
Luckily, I have the fortune to live just a couple of hours away from it, on the Aegean coast of Turkey, and my third visit was just as exciting as the first two due to restored landmarks and city structures that had been opened to the public after months of work by historians and excavators.
Reasons to Visit Ephesus Ancient City in Turkey
- It was one of the Seven Churches of Revelation as mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible
- It was the most fruitful and prominent Roman city in central Anatolia
- Saint John, Saint Paul and the Virgin Mary all spent time in the city
- It was historically significant in the world of science and art having homed people such as the philosopher Heraldeitus and the artist Parrhasius
- Ephesus is a marvelous step back in time to see exactly how citizens lived during Roman rule.
History of the City of Ephesus
History records show the first human settlers in the area were during the Neolithic period and following that, the Hittites called it Apasas. Various civilizations settled in the area over thousands of years including the Carians and Leleges, but its most successive and lucrative years came after the Oracle at Delphi, told the son of the Athenian King Kandros to build a city where the fish jump and the boar will flee.
From there, the Ionian town of Ephesus was established, and huge financial success and international celebrity status began. It joined the Lycian league and was captured by the Lydian King Croesus who also started the construction of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis.
Years passed by before it was conquered by the Persians and became a close ally with the Spartans. In 334BC, Alexander the Great came to rule and 50 years of wealth and success ensured. After his death and of the King of Pergamum, Ephesus was left to the glorious empire of Rome.
Life settled into a slow pace when the rebellions stopped and extensive construction work boosted its status as a major trading port of the region. Eventually it also embraced Christianity, but invasion by the Goths in 262 AD marked the beginning of its downfall. It didn’t help either that by the start of the Middle Ages, the seabed started edging away, vastly diminishing its status as a major international sea trading port.
By the 14th century, it was completely abandoned and left to the forces of Mother Nature. In the later half of the 19th century, excavation work started to uncover the city and it still continues today because even though, it is a huge, sprawling site of ancient ruins, covering many kilometers, historians estimate that only a small section of the city has been uncovered.
Visiting the Ancient City of Ephesus: Major Landmarks and Buildings
As mentioned before, with a little bit of imagination, visitors are instantly transported back to how life was in the city during its most prominent era of Roman rule. Detailed signs sit outside all the major structures, or you can buy an audio guide or written book from the entrance gate or souvenir shops.
Most people, however, go with a tour guide ( I prefer to as well) because Turkish guides study historical sites for many years before sitting a test to gain their licence. They, therefore, become marvelous storytellers of ancient Ephesus. Before visiting, you can also take a look at this interactive map to see exactly how extensive the city and its ruins are.
After entering via the main entrance to walk down the slope, visitors view the upper gymnasium baths, small Odeon, and the temple of Domitianus before passing through the gates of Hercules to reach curates street. The 210 metre stretch of marble paving was a major social landmark and site of shops and small stores.
At the end of the Curates street are the..
- The quirky public latrines used by rich Roman citizens
- The love house otherwise known as the brothel
- My favourite site that is the Roman terraced houses owned by wealthy citizens and with marvelous intact Roman mosaics
By now, visitors will also be standing in front of one of the most glorious structures that is the two-tier Celsus library. Discovered during excavations in 1905, it took nearly 70 years of restoration work to try and repair as much of its original status as possible. Named after the governor of Asia Minor Celsus, whose sarcophagus was discovered underneath, it initially held 12,000 scrolls making it the third largest library in the ancient world. The entrance is marked by four statues representing wisdom, knowledge, intelligence and valor, although the originals are in the Ephesus Museum in Vienna.
Finally, turning right and walking down Marble Street, we reach the impressive last structure that is the Grand Theatre. Accommodating 25,000 people, it was the scene of the Artemis riots against Saint Paul. Nestled into the hillside in a typical Hellenistic fashion, gladiator and animal fights took place here as well as social gatherings and political discussions.
For many years, it was also a nightly concert venue hosting the likes of the great Luciano Pavarotti and Elton John. In 2007, historians uncovered the scene of a gladiator graveyard nearby. This and other discoveries, as well as ongoing excavation work, gives people a valid reason to return. I will certainly go back because I look forward to more historical discoveries that will be made in this impressive ancient Roman city.
Ruins of the Ancient City of Ephesus: Need to Know Information
How to get there: Ephesus is within the Selcuk district on the Aegean coast of Turkey. From the local bus station, many small buses drop visitors directly outside the gate or alternatively, sign up for an official tour or overnight excursions that are sold all throughout Turkey, from Istanbul as well.
Opening hours and entrance fee: Ephesus is open every day from 08.00am and closes at 7 pm from April to October or 5 pm from November to March. According to the official website, this admission fee is 40 Turkish lira although there is an additional fee to enter the Roman terraced houses.