I’ve always had a fascination with ancient places such as Knossos, Pompeii, Delphi and Ephesus and we are slowly but surely ticking them off, on our travel wish list. As yet, we’ve not holidayed in Turkey and haven’t had any plans to do so, so I thought Ephesus would have to be put on hold. However, when we visited the Greek island of Samos, in the eastern Aegean, we realised we were very close to Turkey and that we could take a boat over. Result! Although a 7am departure was a bit difficult – to ensure we could visit the site before the intesne heat of the afternoon – it was made a whole lot easier as we had dolphins swimming along with us 😉 The crossing from Pythagorio (or Samos Town) to Kusadasi is just over an hour and then another 30 minutes (on a transfer) from the port to the ancient site. We chose to leave the guided tour once we arrived, as we prefer to do things under our steam.
It was already very hot by the time we arrived (mid morning) – so one piece of advice would be, don’t forget water. You can buy bottles just outside the site from trinket stalls but you will pay a premium, so just remember to pack a few bottles.
We literally spent the whole time we walked aroud, just repeating “Wow!” It is really is one of the most astonishing ancient sites I’ve ever visited. It’s big – but do-able – and in places, is so remarkably preserved that you can palpably imagine what it was like in its hey-day. So, here we go – Ephesus…
Ephesus was established by the son of a Greek king in 10 BC, changing hands many time during history. A series of rulers over the years left their mark – from the Greeks and Romans to the Byzantines and Ottomans. But when its port silted up, Ephesus was abandoned and fell into ruins. It was rediscovered in 1863 by a British archaeologist and ongoing excavations continue, but less than 25% of the whole site has been uncovered so far. However, you’ll be left in no doubt of its scale as you wander through a mix of ruined temples, public buildings, dwellings, colonnaded streets and theatres.
Dedicated to the Roman Emperor Trajan, this marble fountain was about 10 metres high, dominated in the middle by a statue of the man himself. Today, only one of his feet remain. As well as the emperor, the fountain also housed other statues – during the excavation, two statues of Dionysus, one in the nude and one clothed, and one statue of a Satyr, in a lying position were found beside the statues belonging to the Trajan family. It’s a pretty impressive structure as is now, despite earthquake damage – so you can only look in awe at what it might have looked like…
It’s amazing that you can walk on these mosaic roads – they’re not roped off in any way. Perhaps, abroad, it is just assumed that visitors will be respectful and won’t cause damage or behave like louts. Whatever the reason, it feels a real privilege to be able to walk these roads, and just imagine whose footsteps you might be following.
Being able to get up so close to these monuments reveals just how detailed and intricate they actually are. Built before 140AD, The Temple of Hadrian on Curetes Street, above, is one of the best preserved and most beautiful structures, and therefore one of the most visited parts of the site. The detailing on the facade is just stunning – you can still clearly Medusa, for example.
For me, one of the main reasons for visiting Ephesus, was to see The Library of Celsus, close-up. And I don’t think I was quite prepared for just how amazing it is. It’s probably the site’s most iconic structure, with its very recognisable colonnades and two story structure. The interior of the library, dating from the early 2nd century AD, was destroyed by fire, but which left the facade undamaged. It is not known what exactly happened, but by about 400 AD the library no longer functioned, and the area in front of it was turned into a pool, which reflected the beautiful facade, and the whole structure then had a purely decorative function.
We were seriously lost for words when we finally got to see this structure – built in 117 AD as a monumental tomb for Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, the governor of the province of Asia. Housing over 12,000 scrolls, it was one of the richest libraries in the ancient world. A clever optical illusion – the columns at the sides of the facade are shorter than those at the center – means that it looks bigger than it actually is.
Curetes Street, one of the ancient city’s most important thoroughfares, runs through the heart of Ephesus, from the Hercules Gate entrance all the way to the Celsus Library. The marble flag stones and mosaics evidence the wealth that existed, and the columns lining the road would have stood between the houses and shops, none of which have unfortunately stood the test of time. It is said that this marble street was walked by Cleopatra, Mark Antony, Caesar, St. Paul and St. John.
Advertising was apparently quite a big thing in Ephesus.This footprint (along with other symbols) are what people believe to be one of the oldest advertisements in the world – advertising probably the oldest profession, as it points way the way to the *Private House*. Or, the brothel. Although there isn’t much left of this building, the idea that this house was a brothel is probably supported by the fact that a statue of Priapus with an enormous phallus was found here 😉
With a capacity to seat 24,000 people, the theatre is seriously impressive. Built into the slope of the Panayir Hill, and built of marble, it’s one of the largest surviving Roman structures in the world. The theatre is always associated with St Paul’s visit to Ephesus, but there’s no concrete evidence he was actually ever the star of the show. It is a staggering structure, and again, so well preserved – and when you actually sit on the marble steps, you feel so small and so insignificant inside this imposing edifice, which just breathes history.
We’ve been lucky enough to also visit Pompeii, Knossos, Delphi, The Acropolis, and have walked our feet off in Rome and various Italian cities with similar history, Ephesus was something special. Maybe because it was a bit further away. Maybe because we were accompanied by dolphins there and back. Or maybe because that was just it – it is something special.
- The best time to visit, if you can, is out of season, preferably in the winter. Winter keeps the crowds at bay, is perfect for exploring the ruins, and is the off season for cruises, which also helps keep crowds small and makes it easier to appreciate Ephesus’ ghost town-like ambiance. But, most people will probably visit in warmer climes, so BE PREPARED. Make sure you have plenty of suncream, water and a hat. It may seem like a lot to lug around with you, but believe you me, when that sun starts to get higher, you will need them
- The ruins of Ephesus, including the Terrace Houses (which have been recently renovated), are open daily throughout the year. Opening times are 8am-7pm in the summer and 8.30am-5pm in the winter.
- 2019 admission prices are 10 Euro per person (60 Turkish Lira) – additional fees of 5 euros per person (30 Turkish lira) apply if you also wish to visit the Terrace Houses.
- Allow a good 4-5 hours to visit.
We arrived by boat into Kusadasi and had a coach transfer – but then we went solo, as we preferred to discover the site by ourselves. Buses (dolmuses) run from Kusadasi, as do taxis – but obviously check return times for the buses and agree a price (and a return time) with your taxi driver, so you’re not stranded. Or ripped off. Talking of which – unless you like to spend money on overpriced tat, avoid the stalls by the entrances. Yuu may be entranced and want to take back a memory of Ephesus, but we’d advise sticking to your photographs. They generally won’t fall apart soon after purchase 😉