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For sheer scale alone the ruins of ancient Ephesus are a jaw-dropping marvel; and it easy to conjure up scenes of life here in one of the most important cities of the classical Greek period (the Ionian League).
A vast library, theatre, colossal columns, artisan shops and even communal toilets, can be explored though you need to be a bit of mountain goat hopping up and down stone steps and rocky paths to reach it all.
One of the world’s great wonders
Ephesus is one of the world’s great wonders, the best preserved classical city in the Eastern Mediterranean, and should be on the itinerary of every first time visitor to this region of Turkey. If possible, arrive early in the morning before both the temperature and the numbers of tourists soar.
This outdoor museum, the world’s largest, has a heritage dating back to the 10th century BC. It is even said Ephesus was founded by infamous female warriors, the Amazons. Under the rule of the Lydian King Croesus, who gained power in 560 BC, it assumed a position as one of the wealthiest cities in the Mediterranean world which made it quite a prize for Cyrus, the King of Persia.
During the 5th century BC Ephesus distanced itself from Ionian cities that rebelled against Persian rule, and hence survived their fate. In 334 BC Alexander the Great arrived and ruled until his death when one of his 12 generals took over, constructing a new harbour and defence walls and moving the city a few kilometres (reputedly blocking the old city’s sewage system when residents refused to move with it)!
In 129 BC Ephesus was brought into the Roman Empire but a revolt against heavy taxes led to a mutiny and a subsequent massacre in 88BC, with the Roman army under Sulla storming the city. The reign of Augustus (who became emperor in 27 BC) saw the beginning of the architecture we greatly admire today, although an earthquake of 17AD caused serious damage.
An important centre for trade and commerce, ancient Ephesus was also noted for political and intellectual activity and from the 1st century as a focus for early Christianity. St Paul lived and preached here for 3 years, much to the anger of the followers of Artemis – the largest temple to the goddess established here in around 550 BC. St John the Apostle is believed to have brought the Virgin Mary to the city and the house where she is said to have ended her days lies close by, it is often included when doing the Ephesus tour.
The cradle of civilisation
This fragmented historical synopsis leaves many gaps for the scholarly minded visitor to fill, though for most it is enough to appreciate, photograph and experience the stunning architecture that was the cradle of civilisation and a place of immense religious importance. Archaeological research began in 1863, undertaken by John Turtle Wood with the sponsorship of the British Museum. He discovered a pavement of the famous Temple of Artemis, but excavations halted without further significant finds until 1895 when German archaeologist Otto Benndorf had them resumed.
Although ravaged by Goth invasion during the 260s AD, and various earthquakes, much of the vast city had survived, including the Library of Celsus; an enormous amphitheatre; and the Temple of Hadrian. Later excavation revealed hillside mansion houses, with murals and frescoes incredibly well preserved, and discovery continues.
The incredible ruins of Ephesus are a place of pilgrimage for endless thousands of tourists to this part of Turkey, as well as the many cruise passengers that disgorge at Kusadasi. They create a stirring set for local major festivals, including the Seljuk Ephesus Culture and Art Festival held each September, while local actors stage pageants at various times for day visitors.