Ephesus: A Wonder for Modern Eyes

These pillars, in Ephesus, stand in near isolation, having lost their reason for being.

KUSADASI, Turkey — A half-day sightseeing trip to the mostly Roman ruins at Ephesus starts very early. Some tourists make their journey to the abandoned city from Izmir, but my group made the trip from the Aegean resort city, Kusadasi (population: 60,000), which is closer. It is about a 30-minute drive away.

I was traveling with a small number of journalists on a Greek Island cruise that included a few stops in Turkey. Our

View of apartments and hotels that look out over the water at the Kusadasi harbor in Turkey.

ship docked at Kusadasi at 7 a.m. on a sunny spring day, and we disembarked into a pleasantly chilly morning.

An early start is worth the trouble when visiting one of the world’s most extensive examples of ancient ruins. The idea here is to beat the crowds and the heat.

I also don’t want to take my photos under midday sun when early morning or evening light is better. I was happy to discover that, for Ephesus, morning light shines at good or very good angles for photos of most points of touristic interest, with one exception. The exception is the city’s large and well-preserved Roman theater, which faces northwest.

The scale of Ephesus is hard to comprehend even when on site. The Turkish tourist office says it covers three square miles, and it is large for a couple of reasons: It was a big city with a population reaching 200,000 in the Roman era, and the city relocated a few times in a long history. It was taken over by Lydians, Persians and Greeks before the Romans turned up.

The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was in Ephesus although it is a little outside the typical tourist circuit, and there is almost nothing left standing. In its final iteration, it was a Greek temple.

Ephesus also is known as the city whose citizens St. Paul addressed in the Bible’s Ephesians chapter, and St. Paul preached at the city’s large Roman theater.

Over time, much has been destroyed by war (Gothic destruction, 260s), natural catastrophes (major earthquake, 614) and man’s depredations. By the early 14th century, the harbor had silted up and the city was abandoned. Its last site is today’s town of Selcuk (population: 30,000).

Despite the ravages of man and time, what remains at ancient Ephesus is astonishing. Sometimes the ancient city has benefited from a little reconstruction, too, using original stones.

With this mind, I walked the tourist route through Ephesus with my colleagues.

The most familiar image in Ephesus, the second century Library of Celsus. It was both a library and a monumental tomb.

Our progression began with the state agora (marketplace) and, more impressively on one side, the Odeon, a 1,500-person theater that once had a roof.

We then proceeded along the relatively wide, mostly stone

Remains of a basilica at left and, at right, part of the Odeon, once a covered theater in Ephesus. In antiquity, a basilica was a place of public assembly and for a court of justice.

Curetes Street, which takes visitors to the iconic second century Library of Celsus, the most-recognized building (or partial building) at the site. Along the way, we passed the remains of temples, fountains, public baths, municipal buildings and even housing for the well to do.

A few columns on each side are all that remain of what was a sheltered arcade for walking.

We lucked out for weather on the day of this visit, and the facade of the library looked glorious. We paused here, of course, and walked inside although there is not much to see there. The library is next to another agora, dating from Greek times.

Remains of a temple built in honor of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, on Curetes Street in Ephesus.

We returned to the main drag and turned right (there was no other way to go) onto Marble Street, named for its marble paving bricks, which were laid down in the fifth century. It, too, had been lined with a covered arcade; in fact, that was true of all three

Tourists walk Curetes Street on the approach to the most familiar image in Ephesus, the second century Library of Celsus.

streets we strolled.

Here, our guide pointed out the signage on a brothel. It involved a woman’s face carved into the stone at the entry to a house and, next to that, a life-sized foot. It is believed image of a foot indicated that this house served customers with foot fetishes.

Marble Street led to the open-air Roman theater, which accommodated up to 24,000 and is the largest theater in Turkey. It had Greek origins, but the Romans enlarged it. St. Paul is believed to have done his preaching here.

We were ushered to a fairly high point in the semicircular seating area for a sense of the structure’s size. It is 125 feet high and 518 feet from one end of the semicircular to the other.

Harbour Street in Ephesus once led to a harbor, but now leads nowhere.

At the theater, we turned left to walk the wide and pleasant Harbour Street, which leads to almost nothing. It once led to the harbor, which has long since been unusable.

We fleetingly viewed the ruins of a few more buildings, on Harbour Street, and saw what had been a cemetery for the rich, meaning there were sarcophagi sitting around that were, and in some cases, still are

Sarcophagi in a cemetery for the wealthy, seen on the grounds at Ephesus.

good looking.

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