Ephesus, Capital of Roman Asia (Part 1)

Turkey > Ephesus

February 2013

Some 50km south of Izmir lies the ancient Greco-Roman city of Ephesus (Efes), said to be the finest Roman ruins in the Mediterranean region, even better than those in Rome.  It’s very close to the famous Aegean seaside resort town of Kusadasi.

Like yesterday, Mehmet the Guide (right) and Muhammet the Driver (left) pick us up at the hotel, together with three Korean-Americans who have just arrived at Izmir Airport from Istanbul. From there, a brief stopover at Selcuk to collect a couple more people and soon we are on our way to Ephesus.

It’s drizzling as Mehmet does his best to give us an overview of this large Roman city, which was also a key port in the Mediterranean region. Ephesus was founded as an ancient colony way back in the 10th c. BC by the Ionians, one of the four original ancient Greek tribes. At its peak it had 250,000 inhabitants in the 1st c. BC, a very large number for a period 2,000 years ago. Alexander the Great was here in 4th c. BC, while Mark Antony visited with Cleopatra in 41 BC, and I arrive in 2013 AD.

For orientation, please refer to the following graphic — we start at the Second Entrance, extreme right, and walk from (28) all the way to (1) and exit.

This is a rendition of Ephesus in its hey-days — what a grand place it must have been. Again our walk starts at extreme right, go all the way to the left, then go up past the amphitheatre, towards the harbour (no more there now) and exit. Ephesus was ravaged by earthquakes and pestilence — the Seljuks (forerunner of the Ottomans) finally abandoned it in the 14th c. when the harbour was silted up.

We begin to explore the ruins in earnest, but I detect a distraction.

Yes, free-ranging independent cats, mostly cuddly and friendly, but looking healthy and well-fed. I shall call them Cats of Ephesus.

Imagine if you will, some 2,000 years ago, a big city to the right, with promenades and porticos and walkways and arches and pillars, while to the left, houses of the common people stacked up the hill-slope all the way to the top, where a protection wall stood.

Marble pillars of a colonnade line this outer path, and to the right, the wall of a building from the Greek period. It’s a common theme with these ruins — founded by the Greeks (or their predecessors), to be taken over by the Romans, Byzantines and finally the Ottomans.

While Hierapolis owed its existence to the therapeutic spas of the Cotton Castle, Ephesus came into existence because of a splendid natural harbour at the Aegean Coast, which was also the end-point of the Silk Road from China.  This is Bath of Varius, built 2nd c. AD, with cold, warm and hot water supply.

This theatre is Odeion, the meeting place for the city council and politicians.

Built in 150 AD, it could seat 1,500 people, and was also used for social events, concerts and plays. It had a roof.

See, another distraction!

Ionic and Corinthian columns, from the Greek period.

Truly amazing, this living museum, as we walk down the path, observing and visualising how things were some 2,000 years ago.

Yet another distraction!

This is the original Hermes — Olympian god in Greek religion and mythology, son of Zeus and the Pleiade Maia. In Roman mythology he is known as Mercury … and yes, a planet is named after him. Note his staff and winged sandals.

Another engraving of Hermes, minus the winged sandals.

Nearby, a fellow VIP — Nike, the Roman Goddess of Victory — left hand holds the laurel wreath, a symbol of victory, right hand a stalk of wheat, and she’s flying … and that’s why we have shoes called ‘Nike’.

Next to Nike, Monument of Memmius, built during Augustus’s reign in 1st c. AD, to commemorate a Roman commander’s major battle victory in 87 BC.

This area is Domitian Square, with Temple of Domitian to the right, and Fountain of Pollio to the left.

Fountain of Pollio, built 97 AD by a wealthy Ephesus citizen, Mr Sextilius Pollio, supplied fresh water to the city.

A 2,000-year-old marble pillar, almost as good as new.

Temple of Domitian, in honour of Emperor Domitian, who ruled 81-96 AD.

Another view of Domitian Square, full of rubble. Still a lot of work to reconstruct this part of Ephesus. It is said up to now only 15% of the city has been excavated and reconstructed.

Domitian Square done, we pass by Hercules Gate, which marks the start of Curetes Street. One can see Hercules on the left column — it’s him alright because he’s holding the skin of a fearsome lion. In Greek mythology this lion had been terrorising Nemea, but nobody could kill it due to its thick, tough skin. Hercules pinned it to the ground, and thrusted his arm into the lion’s throat, thus choking it to death. Always my hero, Hercules!

Curetes Street goes all the way downhill, from Hercules Gate to Celsus Library. The marble surface is gouged out to form little holes — to provide grip to the Roman’s footwear on a wet day like today’s. This is one of the three streets of Ephesus, and was lined with shops, temples, monuments, public amenities and houses of rich citizens.

An ancient grafitti, most probably.

Statues of important leaders line the street. Interesting that whenever any leader was ousted or gone, they lopped off the head, to be replaced by a bust of the new guy — sort of recycling the statue.

What a grand view it would have been in the old days — these are pillars for covered collonades lining both sides of the open-air Curetes Street.













3 thoughts on “Ephesus, Capital of Roman Asia (Part 1)

  1. adding the story on Ephesus from the other entrance. btw we entered a different entrance too for Hieropolis-Pamukkale!

    Fasting during the month of Ramadhan 1433H (2012 AD), I walked alone very early in the morning from the hotel I was putting up in the town of Selcuk to the main entrance of Ephesus, a distance of about 3 kilometres. Along the way I passed the closed gate of the nothing much left to be seen site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

    I entered the main entrance gate of Ephesus when the gate was opened at 8:00am and made my way visiting the site walking leisurely towards the second entrance. On exiting the site, I looked at my watch and I decided to skip visiting the House of Virgin Mary. It is quite a far walk up the hills to that place and I have other places that I want to visit too.

    I started walking back to Selcuk using another route about 3 kilometres too but from the second entrance and managed to catch a bus departing immediately for Pamukkale to visit Hieropoils-Pamukkale on the same day.

    On the way back to Selcuk, I decided to stay put on the bus that I took back to Selcuk which was heading onwards to Kusadasi. I wanted to break my fast at the seaside resort city. I than took the dolmus (minibus) back to Selcuk.

    I managed to do a return trip by bus to visit Pergamon on the next day because I skipped visiting the House of Virgin Mary the day before and instead squeezed Ephesus and Hieropolis-Pamukkale in one day. I wanted to visit the last of the three places where the great libraries of ancient times are located, after having visited two of them at Alexandria and Ephesus. Legend has it that Mark Anthony gave Cleopatra all of the 200,000 volumes at Pergamon for the library at Alexandria as a wedding present.


    1. Very interesting, bro Moslim. When you passed by what’s left of Artemis, did you notice a mosque and some ruins atop the hill (with the Seljuk fortress)? Seems that the mosque is very historic – Isa Bey Mosque, built 1375. I wonder how it survived the quakes. The ruins are St John’s Basilica, built 6th c. in honour of the holy man. He was thought to have brought Mary here after Jesus was crucified or taken to heaven. This very basilica supports the theory that the House of Mary atop the hill is genuine.


  2. I was happy to get Malaysia Airlines great value one way fare KUL-IST but their several hours departing delay slightly ruined my tight itinerary to visit Turkey on my way to London!
    Yes indeed, Selcuk has quite a few historical attractions and my plan on day of arrival wa to visit the Isa Bey Mosque, House of Virgin Mary, The Basilica of St. John, Artemis etc using a bicycle to be borrowed from my hotel.
    Unfortunately I could not connect with my original AtlasJet morning flight from Istanbul to Izmir despite allowing about 4 hours for the connection. I arrived Selcuk very late afternoon because of the delays and I was also tired due to the fasting in the month of Ramadhan.
    I had to skip going to all these terrific places despite some of them are just within walking distance from my accommodation.
    I can only consoled my myself to the fact that the House of Virgin Mary was only located through the religious visions of a nun who apparently saw Mary leaving Jerusalem with St John and headed for Ephesus and there is no other literary or archaeological evidence backing the house. But nevertheless it would have indeed been nice to visit the places like Pope Benedict XVI and you did bro hehe 🙂


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