Oct 102016
 
Me at Ephesus by the 1,900-year old ruins of the ancient library.

Me at Ephesus in front of the 1,900-year old Library of Celsus from Ancient Rome.

Some of the best ancient Greek and Roman ruins aren’t in Greece or Rome at all. The Greco-Roman empire stretched across Europe, over western Asia, and into northern Africa, so I shouldn’t have been so surprised to arrive in western Turkey and learn that one of the region’s top tourist attractions is Ephesus: the site of a vast city dating back over 2,000 years.

The Great Theater could hold 25,000 spectators!

The Great Theater of Ephesus could hold 25,000 spectators!

There is a reason that tourists from around the world flock to Ephesus. Touring the ruins provides an entire day of gasp-inducing vistas, notable history, and architectural delights. What particularly shocked me was how hands-on the archeological site is. Visitors are allowed to caress, jump on, and dance atop many of the ancient structures, despite the age and fame of the stones. You can literally walk in the footsteps of ancient Greeks and Romans!

The Temple of Hadrian.

The Temple of Hadrian has such pleasing lines.

The other fabulous part of Ephesus is its location. Nestled amid soft green hills dotted with wildflowers, the ancient columns resemble a movie set. The Aegean Sea used to lap right up against the city (how pretty that must have been!), but the waters have since receded due to ancient deforestation and erosion. There is still swimming nearby, however. Just a 24-minute drive away is Kusadasi: a town with a sparkling azure beach which boasts lovely accommodations, such as the waterfront hotel in which we stayed. To reach this region via air, the flight from Istanbul is just over an hour.

Bright red flowers in front of the rolling green hills around Ephesus.

Bright red flowers in front of the rolling green hills around Ephesus.

Let’s dive into the long, layered history of Ephesus. Humans first began settling the area over 8,000 years ago, and the actual city was founded — according to legend — around 1000 BCE, when a prince from Athens named Androklos followed the Oracle of Delphi‘s instructions to “let the fish and boar show you the way.” (I’m imagining these all-knowing animals in fancy clothes, singing and pointing as the Greek prince followed dutifully behind…) A second legend about the founding of Ephesus is even more exciting, though less substantiated: It was created by Amazon warrior women, spearheaded by their queen, Ephos!

Ionic columns are the best. Me, taking a rest against one.

Ionic columns are the best. Me, taking a rest against one.

So, have you heard of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World? It turns out that one of them, the Temple of Artemis, was located in Ephesus! The temple was rebuilt three times (the third time under the direction of Alexander the Great, whose birth coincided with the destruction of the second temple by arson) before being almost completely demolished in 401 CE. 2,000 years ago during the heyday of the temple, the creator of the Seven Wonders named Antipater of Sidon, gushed: “I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon […] and the status of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.'” 

The public toilets of Ephesus were ahead of their time!

The public toilets of Ephesus were ahead of their time!

Though almost nothing remains of that temple, many other wonders of Ephesus remain… such as its remarkable ancient public toilets! As you can see by the photo above, visitors can actually sit on these marble latrines, though please do not pull your pants down and do your business therein. Ancient Ephesians using these 36 holes could enjoy a flowing stream of water near their feet into which they could dip a sponge on a stick that they’d use to wipe their bottoms. Since the stone of the thrones could get chilly in winter, rich citizens sometimes had their minions sit on the potty to warm it before they arrived!

I love these arches next to the Library: the Gate of Augustus.

I love these arches next to the Library: the Gate of Augustus.

Women’s rights flourished in the city, partly because of the cult of the goddess Artemis. Ephesus changed hands numerous times after its founding (Persian, Egyptian, then Greek again), and in 133 BCE, became part of the Roman Empire. Emperor Augustus named Ephesus the capital of preconsular Asia in 27 BCE, and the city flourished. The historian Strabo declared the city was only second to Rome in importance and size. So, how many people lived in Ephesus during that time period? Current estimates put the population at 56,000 people, though other calculations posit much higher. Why, the Great Theater alone could hold 25,000 spectators, and is theorized to be the largest outdoor theater in the ancient world! Good thing Ephesus had one of the most high-tech sewer and aqueduct systems of the time to support all its humans…

This carving of the goddess Nike has lasted almost 2,000 years.

This carving of the goddess Nike has lasted almost 2,000 years.

Alas, the decline of Ephesus began in 263 CE when Goths attacked, destroying the city. An earthquake smashed buildings in the year 614, and Arabs pillaged in both the mid 600s and 700s. The once grand metropolis reverted to a quiet village, eventually becoming integrated into the Ottoman Empire.

Looking up at the Library, green hills in the background.

Looking up at the Library, green hills in the background.

Archaeologists began excavating Ephesus in 1863, and it is now of the biggest Roman archaeological sites of the eastern Mediterranean. We have these intrepid workers to thank for reconstructing many of the buildings that make Ephesus so notable, most famously, the breathtaking facade of the Library of Celsus, pictured above and in the first photo of this article.

Stray cats wander the ruins.

Stray cats wander the ruins.

In addition to its architectural and historical importance, did you know that Ephesus is known for its Biblical connections? The apostle Paul lived in Ephesus in the 50s CE, stories say the Seven Sleepers slumbered there for centuries, the Gospel of John may have been written in the city, and Ephesus is discussed in the Book of Revelations. Further, many think that Mary, Biblical mother of Jesus, spent her final days in the small house near Ephesus — a site that I found particularly moving and peaceful to visit, though I come from a different religious background.

The steep stairs of the Great Theater.

The steep stairs of the Great Theater.

Woo! That’s a lot of history! So what about the practicalities of visiting? As you might see from these photos, the sun shines powerfully down on the reflective white marble of Ephesus, so for summer touring, do bring a hat or sun umbrella. I would also highly recommend hiring a guide to explain the stories behind the many stones of the city. You might find some locally, though it’s calming to hire a well-reviewed one beforehand. Click here to browse Ephesus tours through the Viator tour search engine, a resource I like because of its helpful reviews and convenient booking system.

Me looking out at the city with the Library right behind.

Me looking out at the city with the Library right behind.

On a side note, if you enjoy the outfit I’m wearing in these photos, check out the full story behind the awesome Leota dress company that my friend from college started. It’s now one of the top women-owned companies in America… and the frocks are the top things I reach for every day in my closet!

Majestic ancient columns of Ephesus.

Majestic ancient columns of Ephesus.

Where to stay when visiting Ephesus? The closest town to the ruins is Selcuk (click to browse the best-rated Selcuk hotels), though we really loved staying in Kusadasi a few minutes further away so we could be right on the water.

Looking for flights? I’ve found great deals with Skyscanner recently, as well as the comically-named CheapOAir. There are some shockingly well-priced flights lately.

Finally, it is recommended now to look into travel insurance in order to secure your plans, so consider getting a quote for affordable trip insurance by clicking here.

The Gate of Augustus.

The Gate of Augustus makes my heart skip a beat with its grandeur.

Thus concludes our cyber tour of the famed ancient ruins of Ephesus, Turkey. So what do YOU think? Is this a place you have visited? If so, do tell us your experience and insights. If not, does it seem of interest? Comment away!

Ephesus, the Famous Ancient Greek Ruins in Turkey

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I was a guest of Turkish Airlines for this trip, but all opinions and embraces of ionic columns are my own. This article’s affiliate links support this site at no cost to you. Happy travels!

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  21 Responses to “Ephesus: Astounding Ancient Greek and Roman Ruins”

  1. I’m so glad you wrote this article, Lillie because Ephesus is one of my favorite places as well!

    I was quite skeptical before my first visit but Ephesus is certainly the best-preserved classical city on the Mediterranean. It’s even better preserved than ancient Rome itself!

  2. It’s been a while since we were last at Ephesus but we’re hoping to get back early next year to see what else has been excavated since our last visit. Great photos. Real tempters to make sure we return again soon. 🙂
    Julia

  3. Fabulous photos, Lillie! I love how you include the history of Ephesus in the post to give me (and other readers) a brief historical background of the once magnificent city. The ruins still look very impressive today. I can imagine how stately everything would have looked like if nothing were destroyed by humans and nature over the course of centuries. And you’re right, some of the best Roman ruins are not in Rome. Leptis Magna in Libya is one of them. Unfortunately the country becomes much safer in the years to come so people can marvel at its exquisite Roman ruins again.

  4. Hi, Lillie

    Library of Celsus look almost the same as Petra in Jordan!

  5. This ancient greek architecture always leaves me astounded. I just saw this on movies and I really love to visit this in person. Thanks for the glimpse.

  6. I like your blog and all your post. Waiting to see more from you.

  7. If I go there, I expect to see the Apostle Paul preaching at the synagogue to the Jews about our risen Saviour, Jesus Christ. #bornagain

    Thanks for this lovely imagery that encapsulates an important part of the New Testament (letter to the Ephesians).

  8. We were able to visit Ephesus while on a Mediterranean cruise. Such a beautiful place but our day there was a complete family travel fail – hopefully I get a chance for a do-over one day!!

  9. Very interesting, hope to visit Ephesus one day.

  10. What a fascinating read! Wow! I almost got to visit here this year but the trip fell through and I lost my opportunity, for now. I have long wanted to visit but even more so now that I read that the Temple of Artemis was located in Ephesus! How extraordinary!! I am a huge Wonders of the Ancient World fan and so now, Ephesus has rocketed to the top of my bucket of dreams list! Thanks for a great read!

  11. What an absolutely stunning place – and how amazing that it’s so hands-on. Reminds me a little of when we went to Petra.

  12. I was so bummed to miss out on Ephesus on my trip to Turkey – it’s stunning!

  13. What a fun trip. Thanks for posting. It’s definitely on my travel bucket list. 🙂

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