Bruges: For a Sense of the Middle Ages

Houses on the grounds of the Bruges Begijnhof, now home to Benedictine nuns.

BRUGES, Belgium — I was so enchanted by Bruges, one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval cities, during a visit in the 1990s that I urged a travel companion to join me this year for a return visit.

The city, in the north of Belgium, was a major trading center in the Middle Ages until around 1500 when its access to the sea, the River Zwin, silted up. The resulting economic stagnation brought most development to a halt and thus left much of the medieval city intact.

Today close to a fifth of the city’s 105,000 residents live in the Old Town, an area that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site — and the natural destination for any tourist.

As I noted in my book, Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, Bruges is one of a few cities often called Venice of the North. This is because of Bruges’ many canals.

Scenic view of one of Bruges’ 43 bridges and the canal that passes under it.

The starting point for getting to know the center of town, aside from a good map, is a cruise that typically follows about three miles’ worth of these canals. My friend and I boarded a motorized boat to sample the experience. This provided a preview of many points of interest and a chance to see things we would never find on our own. The cruise lasted about 40 minutes.

Our guide, a fast talker in two languages, pointed out a few houses where the windows have been bricked up. There was a time, he said, when homeowners were taxed based on the number of windows in their houses.

Therefore, some taxpayers closed off some windows with bricks to

reduce their taxes, and this was called “daylight robbery,” our guide wisecracked.

Aside from the canal cruises, Bruges is noted for the horse-drawn carriages that ferry many tourists around town.

A horse and carriage, a popular way for tourists to get around Bruges.

Almshouses from the 17th century, now the setting of a folk museum.

However, before and after the cruise, my friend and I walked from one end to the other of the compact, near-perfect medieval city center (which includes some reconstructions and post-medieval treats, too). The highlights included:

The Bruges Begijnhof, one of several such sites in the Low Countries. These establishments, dating from the 13th century, allowed women to retreat into convent-like living, usually with a service focus, but without taking life-long religious vows.

In Bruges, the begijnhof (or beguinage) is now home to Benedictine nuns.

Just the same, tourists can enter the walled complex and stroll among the white, gabled houses that in most cases face a broad central green that is dotted with tall trees that leaned noticeably. The begijnhof, it turns out, also is a charming and peaceful place to take a break from the rigors of a tourist’s life.

The central Markt, a market square that shows its age, so to speak. The Belfort, or Belfry, a striking tower overlooking

A sweeping view of the Markt, Bruges’ central square. The houses remind visitors of Holland.

the square, is as old as the square itself, dating from the 13th century. The vigorous can climb its 366 steps for great views of Bruges. The tower sits atop an old market building, the cloth hall.

Two sides of the Markt are lined with medieval gabled houses, mostly of red brick and looking ever so similar to houses on streets in Dutch towns. Bruges, in fact, is in the section of Belgium where the first language is Flemish, a Dutch language.

The Provincial Court Building, which is the central attraction on one side of Markt, Bruges’ market square. The red building at right is the Post Office, and the building at left is an attraction called Historium, which promises visitors an experience of 15th century Bruges.

However, the Markt’s piece de resistance — in my opinion — is the large and ornate Provincial Court Building, which faces the fourth side of the square — and dates from the 19th century. It was designed to harmonize with the medieval city.

The good news is, as noted, the square is an eye catcher — and I certainly stared at it a lot. The bad news is that, often, scores of other people are doing the same thing, sometimes arriving by the busload — with the buses parked right in front of the Provincial Court Building. It is better to visit Bruges in spring or fall, slightly outside the high season.

Burg Square, site of the historic Town Hall, a few steps away from the Markt. The Town Hall is another stunner, dating

The 14th/15th century Town Hall in Bruges.

from the 14th/15th centuries, with a stately building and nice older houses on two other sides of the square. An odd little park with a kind of slate-gray metallic, out-of-place shelter sits on the fourth side.

The medieval Church of Our Lady, said to have Belgium’s tallest church spire.

Among numerous churches, the Church of Our Lady. Built in the 13th to 15th centuries, it is billed as having the tallest church spire in Belgium.

A charming spot called Wijngaard Square. It is the site of, among other things, a red-painted building housing a restaurant called Vivaldi and a fountain with a horse’s head emerging from each of two sides. I particularly liked this piece of real estate.

Finally, in Bruges, it seemed possible to buy just about everything one looks for in

The bright red Vivaldi restaurant on Wijngaard Square in Bruges.

Belgium. Countless shops sell chocolate, tapestries, waffles (as street food) and lace, a thing Bruges is particularly noted for.

We opted not to tour a lace-making factory, ditto for a folk museum housed in almshouses. It was sunny at the time and it was more satisfying to stay outdoors and move about.

The article and photos are by Nadine Godwin, the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, which was published by The Intrepid Traveler.

Disney Magic Sails To Dry Dock

Editor’s note: This is the third of a series of articles from Intrepid Traveler publisher Kelly Monaghan as he makes his way from Galveston to Barcelona on the Disney Magic (and beyond).

After 15 years at sea, millions of martinis and untold vats of vino and barrels of beer — not to mention the intense partying of a whole menagerie of costumed characters — the Disney Magic is going into rehab. Make that refurbishment.

The Magic has been prettied up before, the last time just five years ago during a two-week or so dusting and cleaning. But this time the overhaul will be much more extensive, lasting more than a month.

Word is the “new” Magic will be much different. The stylish and sedate décor that harkened back to an earlier era will give way to a more modern, colorful, contemporary look. Parrot Cay, which one cast member told me was rated the least favorite restaurant by passengers, will be replaced with a Brazilian-style churrascaria. Animators Palate will be redone to take advantage of the latest technology, so the transformation that has wowed so many passengers in the past should be even more amazing. And the Topsider casual dining venue will be completely overhauled and extended out over the stern of the ship.

I was fortunate enough to join the Magic for its last transatlantic crossing prior to entering dry dock in Cadiz, Spain. From June to September, the ship will ply the western Mediterranean out of Barcelona. So if you want to see the Magic as she used to be, this is your last chance.

Truth to tell, the Magic can use a little TLC, even short of a major revamping. Carpets have faded, paint has chipped, and rust pops up here and there. What hasn’t suffered the ravages of time is the incredible Disney service, which has made the line so successful in an era where gigantism and overkill seem to be the watchword for cruise ships.

A transatlantic sailing offers many contrasts to the shorter 3-, 4-, and 7-day itineraries most guests are used to. For a start, the large number of sea days (10 on our crossing from Galveston to Barcelona) offers a chance to get to know the ship intimately. It’s also possible to enjoy the luxury of dining at Palo two or more times!

Another noticeable difference was the relative absence of children. There were 400 on our voyage, as opposed to the 2,000 that throng the shorter Caribbean itineraries. Of course, the Disney characters were still kept busy, since it seemed every adult on board wanted their picture taken with the whole lot of them. I couldn’t help thinking that the profits from

Docking at Castaway Cay (Photos by Kelly Monaghan)

photos alone make these sailings a sure-fire money mill.

As you might suspect, Disney doesn’t stint on the entertainment. Rather than recycling the same performers and shows, the Magic flew in a dazzling variety of specialty acts to keep things fresh during the long stretch from Castaway Cay to Madeira. All this in addition to the Broadway-style spectacles put on by the ship’s core company.

Speaking of Castaway Cay, during the stop there, the Dream dropped by to salute the Magic on its voyage to dry dock. It offered guests the rare chance to see two Disney ships at Castaway Cay at the same time.

Of course, a long open-ocean voyage can have its drawbacks. Rough seas have been a problem on some trips, but ours was smooth as glass. The only choppy patch, interestingly enough, was between Madeira and Gibraltar.

It was hard to leave the ship after 14 days, but we made new friends whom we will surely see again. Indeed, this is one of the nicest souvenirs any Disney cruise has to offer.

Mtskheta: Polishing a Historic Jewel

Overview of Mtskheta, a museum town outside of Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. The town sits at the confluence of two rivers. The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and its walls are clearly visible at the heart of town.

MTSKHETA, Georgia — This town of only 9,000 was the capital of the kingdom of Iberia from the third century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. Now considered a museum town, Mtskheta is only 12 miles north of Tbilisi, the capital of modern Georgia in the southern Caucasus Mountains.

The town is particularly important locally because a Mtskheta-based king and queen were the first Georgians to adopt Christianity. That was in the fourth century.

Its historic religious structures also are sufficiently appreciated internationally to appear on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. [Read more…]

Pages: 1 2

Tbilisi: The Capital With Many Lives

The undulating glass-and-steel pedestrian Bridge of Peace, which crosses the Mtkvari River in Tbilisi, opened in 2010.

TBILISI, Georgia — When I came through Immigration at Tbilisi this past fall, the agent stamped my passport then handed me a small bottle of wine.

Officials gave wine to all arriving air passengers who carried foreign passports. The gifts bespeak Georgia’s eagerness to welcome tourists and, in particular, to promote wine tourism.

I was entering Georgia (the country, not the state), which is one of three former Soviet republics in the southern Caucasus Mountains, which puts them just south of Russia. The other two are Armenia and Azerbaijan. All gained independence in the early 1990s.

There are no nonstop flights from the U.S. to Georgia. For the press trip I had joined, travel was via Kiev, which got us into Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, in the late afternoon. [Read more…]

Pages: 1 2

Antwerp: Home to Painters and Printers

A statue of a Roman soldier, Silvius Brabo, said to be Julius Caesar’s nephew, atop the Brabo Fountain, at the center of the Grote Markt, or Great Market. Guild houses and other traditional-style Flemish houses form the backdrop.

ANTWERP, Belgium — This Flemish city is a sizeable commercial center, and it was the home of one of the world’s best-known artists, Peter Paul Rubens.

Interior of the Antwerp train station.

Those are wildly different reasons for coming to town, but both come to the tourist’s attention fairly quickly.

A friend and I arrived in Antwerp by train, where the station is next to the city’s Diamond Museum and the diamond district.

However, we had other priorities and walked toward the historic city center, passing through some rather dark and drab streets under overcast skies.

Soon enough, we were at the Rubens House, which the artist designed and built in the early 17th century.

Now a museum, it sits on the amusingly named Wapper Square. Part

Garden at the Rubens House, which is now a museum.

of the square is given over to a glass-sided building with a sizeable room accommodating ticket sellers, books and other printed material, storage space for backpacks (which are not allowed in the house) and a shop with a separate entry.

The house — a mansion, in fact — featured many large fireplaces in various rooms, a kitchen that did not seem big enough to me, a serving room next to the family dining room plus bedrooms with short beds, set up in a way that allowed Rubens and his family to sleep in a partial sitting position, a custom of the times.

Rooms included the artist’s large studio, now effectively an art gallery. One of Rubens’ students was Antwerp-born Anthony van Dyck.

Aside from its reflection of obvious affluence and evidence of how the fortunate minority lived in Rubens’ time, the house was compelling for the opportunity to see many Rubens paintings.

But, in time, my friend and I set off for something more.

Our wanderings, always ultimately pointed toward the city center, took us to a square named for the writer, Hendrik Conscience (seriously).

It was the city’s first spot of conviviality on our day’s rounds. I refer to the restaurants in charming small buildings with seating outside. There was plenty more of this to come.

The full length of the Antwerp Cathedral, seen from Groen Square, with numerous small houses abutting the side of the building.

From here, we walked down a narrow, and equally charming, street past the back of Antwerp’s cathedral. Small buildings were set against the side of this big church with several outdoor eateries at hand.

Then, suddenly, we were in the church square, lined with still more little houses and outdoor eating/drinking spots.

Visitors could enter the back of the cathedral without paying an entry fee and see the whole interior quite well — and hear the organ music that entertained us all. The brick interior is a bright (if that is the right word) creamy white, which apparently had been cleaned recently.

The cathedral square is minutes from the Grote Markt, or Great Market, site of the Town Hall and the goal of any self-respecting sightseer.

The market square is encircled by old houses, with their de rigueur cafes, and many former guild houses, now used for

Some of the many outdoor cafes that dot the heart of Antwerp.

A corner of the Grote Markt, or Great Market, showing part of the Antwerp Town Hall at left and a selection of the city’s guild houses at right.

modern purposes behind the historic facades.

Pages: 1 2 3

Cruising the Aegean Sea

The Louis Cristal awaits the return of passengers at Kusadasi in Turkey.

ATHENS, Greece — I sailed on a regularly scheduled cruise out of Athens that took me to several Greek islands.

Independent travelers have the alternative of traveling to the islands by ferry, but the structured cruise has the advantage of allowing the first-time island-hopper to sample several choices in a fairly short time.

I had seen Athens a few times, but never the islands. So I agreed to sail with a small press group aboard the 1,200-passenger Louis Cristal, operated by the Cyprus-based Louis Cruises.

The Louis Cristal awaits the return of passengers at Kusadasi in Turkey.

The weeklong trip in the Aegean also included three port calls in Turkey, which were not new to me, but I especially love revisiting Istanbul.

Ours was a well-rounded itinerary of the type that is typically available each year in the cruising season, which generally runs from mid-March to early November.

We boarded the ship at Piraeus, the Athens port, in the morning. This process involved a security check much like that for getting on an aircraft. Also, the cruise line held our passports for the duration of the journey, which I found a little unsettling.

Our embarkation day offered quite a bit of time for getting to know the ship. I first became acquainted with the spa by having an hourlong massage and then, as if determined to undo the relaxing benefits of that, I carried my laptop to the only Wi-Fi

The quieter section of the Rendez Vous Lounge on the Louis Cristal.

hotspot known to me, in the Rendez Vous Lounge, an activity and entertainment hub.

Aboard the Louis Cristal, the Rendez Vous Lounge, setting for live entertainment, trivia quizzes and a Wi-Fi hotspot.

I checked e-mail against the background of singers who offered their “dancing and listening melodies.” On another occasion, I checked e-mails with a trivia quiz in the background, resisting the temptation to shout an occasional answer.

Pages: 1 2

Crete: Where Minoans Roamed

An open courtyard in the center of the Knossos Palace site.

HERAKLION, Greece — The most famous site on the Greek island of Crete is Knossos Palace with remains that date from about 2000 B.C. to 1380 B.C., in the Bronze Age. Now, even as a huge ruin (“enhanced” by a few examples of controversial reconstructions), it is amazing.

A fountain in the center of Heraklion, the capital of Crete.

But, first comes Heraklion, the island’s capital and the port city where cruisers first see Crete. Our ship, Louis Cruises’ Louis Cristal, docked there early one spring morning, affording us a quick look at old fortifications, mountains in the background and not much else, as we drove straight on to the Knossos site with the idea of beating the crowds.

In summer, that would be a good idea, too, for beating the heat, but during our March visit, temperature was not an issue.

En route, our guide advised that Crete, a fertile island, is the largest in Greece (3,189 square miles; 160 miles long) and the third largest in the Mediterranean. Its population is 600,000, and 160,000 of those residents are in the capital.

A fort in the harbor at Heraklion, built by the Venetians who they controlled the island between the 13th and 17th centuries.

We could see snow-capped mountains even before leaving the ship. The mountaintops are white from December through May; the tallest, Mount Ida, is a bit more than 8,000 feet above sea level.

The island, also known for seismic activity, moves a few centimeters each year and, our guide said, its west side is 23 feet higher now than it was in the Bronze Age, whereas the east side has sunk.

We had come to visit a site associated with the Minoans, a people whose modern name was taken from a legendary king, King Minos. The word might actually have been the title for any king, our guide advised, rather than a specific ruler.

We entered the grounds of what had been a huge palace with 1,300 rooms and covering 8-1/2 square miles. I wonder how archaeologists can figure that out, especially the room count.

In any case, the archaeologists see evidence of three palaces, each of which was destroyed by earthquake or fire. After the third catastrophe, the palace was not rebuilt and the Minoan culture did not recover.

Our guide said this palace had Europe’s first paved road, dating from about 1800 B.C. to 1700 B.C., and that the road led to another palace, which had “only 90 rooms,” and so it is called Little Knossos.

The most photographed reconstruction at Knossos Palace on Crete. The structure is called the West Bastion, one of two such porches that flanked the palace’s north entrance. The fresco/bas-relief shows a red bull, an important animal in the Minoan religion.

Indeed, what is really remarkable is that Crete had more palaces than just Knossos and Little Knossos. These were administrative and religious centers as well as royal residences.

It also seems remarkable that the Minoans did not see a need to fortify these establishments.

The palace complex was really like a town. It boasted the oldest theater made from stone, our guide said, dating from about 1900 B.C. to 1800 B.C.

And from at least 1700 B.C., it featured indoor toilets with running water, meaning water was piped into and out of

A king’s hall at the Knossos Palace, called the Hall of the Double Axe.

the toilets systematically. We were shown an example of one toilet and the pipes in the ground. In addition, there were lots of open spaces in the palace complex.

The Throne Room in the Knossos Palace on Crete.

For our tour, we followed a set path that took us up and down among about three levels to see the central court, the Throne Room, the Queen’s Hall and an adjacent king’s space called the Hall of the Double Axe.

According to Greek mythology, this was the site of the fabled labyrinth that was built to accommodate the awful Minotaur.

Pages: 1 2

Santorini: A Sliver of Its Former Self

Houses in Fira and other Santorini towns are like frosting atop the crater wall that frames the island’s ancient volcanic caldera. The switchback road that takes visitors from water level to Fira is visible at right.

FIRA, Greece — Only 3,000 people live in Fira, the capital of the Greek island of Santorini. For that matter, the population of the entire island is only 15,000.

Santorini is a small place, but its 29 square miles are a fraction of what the island was, say, 4,000 years ago.

Estimated dates vary, but sometime around 1620 B.C., the Santorini volcano blew off its top big time, wiping out the greater part of a larger roughly circular island, creating the crescent-shaped island we see today with near-vertical walls that encircle part of the world’s largest water-filled caldera.

The volcano remains active and, since the big blowup, has produced a few small new islands that dot the caldera.

This spring, I traveled with a small press group aboard Louis Cruises’ Louis Cristal. To visit Santorini, we sailed right into the caldera, where the ship remained at anchor during our few hours ashore. Our tour guide assured us the volcano is not expected to stage another big one anytime soon.

The approach itself was impressive, to put it mildly. The island’s communities of mostly white houses look like

Tourists sailing into Santorini’s volcanic crater can easily see the switchback road (at left) that takes them from water level to Fira, the island’s capital, well above the sea. A pleasure boat idles in the foreground.

frosting on top of the striated rocks that remained standing after the historic eruption so many centuries ago. This cliff rises 700 to as much as 1,000 feet straight out of the water.

Once our ship dropped anchor, passengers traveled to and from a Santorini dock on tenders, meaning enclosed motorized boats that held dozens of passengers each.

There are three ways to travel up the caldera wall to the towns that sit at the island’s highest points. We rode buses up the side of that wall, on switchback roads, a route one would not want to study too closely.

Another option is a cable car, which we enjoyed for its expediency when returning to the ship. Donkeys are the third option, but they never would have been my choice!

A city view that makes clear where Fira, Santorini’s capital, is situated — at the top of a steep bluff overlooking the water-filled caldera left by a colossal volcanic eruption more than 3,600 years ago.

Once on top of Santorini, our small group headed immediately out of Fira, north and then west, to Oia, the village at the farthest tip of the island. We drove fairly close to the inside of the curve of the crescent-shaped island, and hence the highest part.

At its narrowest, the island is only one mile across. On one side, we could see agricultural activity. There is no such activity down the sheer cliff that faces the ancient volcanic caldera. Both Fira and Oia overlook that precipice.

Our guide described how a building is typically built here to deal with Mother Nature’s foibles. Vaulted roofs are meant to provide some resilience in the event of quakes in this quake-prone area. And, due to a

shortage of fresh water, other roofs are flat, to collect water that drains into cisterns.

Almost all houses have been white since the late 1930s, when locals were instructed to disinfect houses with whitewash. People now use real paint, and, conveniently, the white makes for cooler houses, as well.

Before the 1930s, buildings were the color of the rocks (dark, volcanic) to be less visible to approaching pirates. In fact, some homes were, and are, in caves, which would be cool and

certainly less visible to any pirates.

One of the more than 400 churches on the island of Santorini, this one in the town of Oia.

There are more than 400 churches on the island, but many are quite small.

It is very windy on Santorini, too. Hence, we saw a smattering of windmills, of the type

Two windmills amid houses, churches and shops on the side of the hill at Oia, at the tip of the crescent-shaped Santorini.

we had seen previously on other Greek islands. Also, because of the wind, at least some winegrowers have coaxed their vines to grow in circles close to the ground, thus producing a kind of basket to protect the grapes.

You can’t make this up. We saw such grapevine baskets.

It would seem Mother Nature is always going to extremes here. In 1956, a mighty earthquake wiped out the majority of buildings so the towns have been basically rebuilt in the last 50 years or so.

Once in Oia, we were turned loose to walk up and down the narrow lanes that passed for streets, to photograph the white houses (and residents’ backyards) that stream down the side of the Santorini cliff.

From a ruined Venetian fort on a spit of land, I got my best photos of a stunning collection of houses, restaurants, churches and windmills. It was a photographer’s paradise, and I felt I was shooting photos for tourist posters.

One of the businesses, often shops or galleries, seen during a stroll through Fira, Santorini’s capital.

There was not a lot of time for any of this — we were off the ship less than four hours — so we soon returned to Fira for a very short walk along what were, again, narrow pedestrian streets and onto restaurant terraces with sometimes startling views down into the caldera.

It was windy in Fira, and as the sun was setting, it became chilly, too. I guess that was our clue that it was time to leave.

There is always something to come back for in places like this. In Santorini’s case, that would be the ruins of a Minoan city called Akrotiri, described by boosters as “beating anything on Crete.” I don’t know if Akrotiri beats the Knossos Palace and would like to find out some day.

But I was interested to learn that when archaeologists excavated this city, which predated the volcanic eruption of more than 3,600 years ago, they found no bodies. Apparently, before the Santorini volcano did its worst, it had given enough warning that Akrotiri residents realized they should seek refuge elsewhere.

A souvenir shop located near the cable car in Fira, Santorini’s capital.

Other ports of call included Istanbul, Izmir and Kusadasi for Ephesus in Turkey and Mykonos, Patmos, Rhodes, Athens, and Crete, in Greece.

The article and photos are by Nadine Godwin, the author of Travia: The Ultimate Book of Travel Trivia, which was published by The Intrepid Traveler.


Cardiff: A sunny day in the Welsh capital

The entrance gate to Cardiff Castle, with adjacent crenulated towers plus artfully displayed posters that, at a distance, are suggestive of medieval banners.

CARDIFF, Wales — Even with fascinating modern developments in Cardiff, the Welsh capital, the city’s focal point for the sightseeing tourist remains the oldest thing in town, a castle.

Cardiff Castle, with roots in the Roman era, has a Norman keep high on an earthen mound, an empty moat that also dates from the Middle Ages, and a residence that was last updated in the 19th century.

That’s not to say that modern Cardiff, and particularly the scene on the constantly changing Cardiff Bay, has nothing to offer the visiting tourist. It does, and I will get back to that. [Read more…]

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.

Pages: 1 2