Ephesus – history in wonderland
"By far the most exciting structure in Ephesus is the Celsus Library. Not just because of its unique beauty but because it shows that Ephesus must have been the hub of academic activity in Roman Asia Minor." © The Commons
Ephesus – history in wonderland
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Last updated: November 8, 2013

Ephesus – history in wonderland

Banner Icon With the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean, Ephesus is a most mysterious collection of myths and legends, rituals and real life, writes Macidegül Batmaz.

Located near a town called Selcuk in the Turkish coastal city of Izmir, Ephesus dates back to the times of the Dorian invasion of Greece. According to the legend, Androclos, the son of Athens’ king established this city after consulting an Apollon oracle. Under the Lydian rule the city thrived but later, along with many other Greek cities in Anatolia, Ephesus had to give in to the mighty Persians. It was with the victory of Alexander the Great over the Persians, that Ephesians could become independent once again. After the Hellenistic period, Romans, Byzantine and finally Turks took control of this ancient place.

Once a busy trade centre, the city got further away from the Agean Sea as its harbour silted up by Cayster River, today known as Kücük Menderes. And that marks Ephesus’ transition from glory to oblivion.

To me it is a most mysterious collection of myths and legends, rituals and real life. And you never know where to start! But don’t worry, I won’t start counting down all the artefacts there, just a few magical places you have to see once you are in Ephesus.

"It shows that Ephesus must have been the hub of academic activity in Roman Asia Minor"

Be prepared to see a real melting pot of religions here: named one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Temple of Artemis was built to worship the Greek goddess of fertility and patron of women in labour. In Ephesus, Artemis was almost unified with her eastern counterpart Cybele. Today all that remains from the once very large temple is a single column.

During excavations, no remains of the synagogue mentioned in the New Testament have been discovered yet. However, there is an elaborate menorah carving found on the steps of the Celsus Library.

The House of Virgin Mary, or as Turks call it The House of Mother Mary, is no doubt the most famous religious site in Ephesus. Christians, who believe this place to be where Mary spent most of her last days, make pilgrimage here. Consisting of a small stone house and a church, this site was also been visited by the last Pope in 2006 and is recognised as a holy place by Muslims who revere Mary as Jesus’ mother as well. Another site held in esteem by both Christians and Muslims is the Cave of Seven Sleepers. According to the legend, seven young men were prisoned in the cave because of their faith in God and they were still alive and wandering in the city of Ephesus hundreds of years later. Finally, Isa Bey Mosque built by Seljukian Turks, the new settlers of the region, dates back to 14th century and represents a graceful example of the Seljukian art with its deliberate asymmetry.

By far the most exciting structure in Ephesus is the Celsus Library. Not just because of its unique beauty but because it shows that Ephesus must have been the hub of academic activity in Roman Asia Minor. Built in 117 A.D. to honour Celsus Polemaeanus, the governor of Asia, the library had the capacity of more than ten thousand scrolls which were kept with diligent care. The library has two floors whose facades are decorated aesthetically with columns and three entrances between them. The statues at the columns, which are copies of the original ones preserved in Ephesus Museum in Vienna, remind visitors of the importance of episteme ‘’knowledge ‘’, sophia ‘’wisdom’’ , ennoia ‘’intelligence’’ and arete ‘’valor’’    

Ephesus Archeology Museum was founded in an attempt to stop ancient relics found in and around Ephesus from being taken to Europe as was the case before. The artefacts are presented in separate rooms with a theme which makes it easy for you to find the section of your interest. There is an entrance fee of 8 Turkish liras (around 4 dollars).

Last but not least, you should not leave the town of Selcuk without taking a look at Sirince. Once named Cirkince ‘’Ugly’’ to keep foreigners away, the effort proved to be in vain as this small village was renamed Sirince ‘’Cute’’. Greek style houses, handcrafts peculiar to Sirince, delicious olive oil and wine are just some of the attractions which make Sirince deserving of its new name.

Macidegül Batmaz
Macidegül Batmaz is a writer, graduate of literature and language, and a student of history from Izmir, Turkey.
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