Any visitor to CLC Kusadasi Golf & Spa on Turkey’s western coast has to decide when – not if – to visit the ruins of a city that was once so important it is mentioned in the Bible.
Ephesus lies just half an hour away by car. Whether you’re seeking evidence of its Ancient Greek past, its Roman ruins or its importance to early Christianity, you won’t fail to be impressed by the abundance of archaeological wonders on display.
One of its lesser known links is to Egypt’s most famous queen and her lover, a Roman general, whose lives, and deaths, featured in a 1963 sword and sandals epic that nearly bankrupted a Hollywood studio.
The lavish sets of 20th Century-Fox’s ‘Cleopatra’ were the backdrop to the launch of the tempestuous on and off-screen romance of legendary thespians, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
While Taylor played the title role, Burton played Mark Antony who becomes her lover and would-be protector after the assassination of Julius Caesar, played in the film by Rex Harrison.
But their liaison, the historical one – not to mention the one played out on set – is doomed to failure.
Pursued relentlessly by Caesar’s adoptive son, Octavian, Antony and Cleopatra muster their forces for the final military showdown.
In the days before this last confrontation, the sea battle of Actium that would see their combined fleets destroyed, they spent their time together in Ephesus.
It is probably doubtful the Egyptian queen and her lover went walkabout à la today’s royals. Cleopatra’s ruthless streak had led her to order the murder of her half-sister and rival, Arsinoe IV. This killing, which appalled the Roman world, was carried out where she had taken refuge for several years – in Ephesus.
A young woman, she was murdered in the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the site of which is still visible in the city.
The House of the Virgin Mary
Although not officially sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church, the house where Jesus’s mother is said by some to have spent her last days, has been visited by several popes, most recently in 2006.
The Cave of the Seven Sleepers
On the slopes of a mountain near Ephesus is a cave which is said to have housed seven young men who refused to recant their Christian faith during persecution by a Roman Emperor. He ordered their cave to be sealed but they awoke 200 years later when it was unsealed. The story is also incorporated in the Inspector Montalbano story, The Terracotta Dog, by Italian author Andrea Camilleri.
The Library of Celsus
Built in honour of a Roman and Greek senator and paid for primarily out of his own pocket, only the giant façade is left now and this had to be reassembled from fragments. A library that was intended for the general public, which was rare in those times, it was once said to have contained 12,000 scrolls.
The Great Theatre
The theatre could seat at least 25,000 and took 60 years to construct. It hosted plays, religious events and gladiatorial combat. The theatre is mentioned in the Bible when a riot starts initiated by craftsmen who are angered because Christianity threatens to stop them making idols – statues of the Greek goddess, Artemis. If you’re visiting the region in September be sure to take in the annual Selçuk Ephesus Culture and Art Festival. There are processions, dancing, classical concerts and much more. And at the end of a long day you can retire to the resort’s Soke Restaurant for traditional Turkish fayre!