From Istanbul we joined the backpacker circuit of Turkey and made our way down to Selcuk and the ruins of Ephesus. You can imagine our surprise when we arrived in Selcuk not to the hassle of a thousand touts, but rather polite offers of just a few.
Our expectations were high for the Ephesus ruins. Since the eastern Mediterranean is a seismic zone, most of the ancient Greek and ancient Roman ruins found in Asia Minor are piles of rubble. The draw to Ephesus is that much of the city has been recovered in decent condition and significantly reconstructed. The unfortunate side of this is that some of the areas have been very poorly restored with poured concrete that detracts from the grandeur of the architecture and design.
Ephesus was the capital of Asia Minor under the Roman Empire. That means it had a huge population, probably about 200,000, a large harbor and an immense amount of commercial activity. All of that translates to some very rich residents who built extravagant homes, and paid taxes to build an impressive library and theater. The terrace homes, covered in mosaics and frescoes are reminiscent of the homes at Pompeii and are being reconstructed and preserved as we speak.
The ‘piece de resistance’ in Ephesus is the facade of the library, which has been rebuilt on site. Not just the walls, but even some of the statues in the niches survived the ravages of time in decent condition. It’s a beautiful look at what public buildings may have looked like during the Roman empire. For me it was remarkable to see it reconstructed on site in stead of in a Museum. The scale of the theater is spectacular, although much of the decoration has been lost. Unlike the ruins of other theaters, you enter from the stage level, rather than from above, giving visitors the unique actor’s perspective.
A small city adjoining the ancient site, Selcuk is a lovely place to pass a few quiet days. Many of the hotels and pensions have quaint courtyards to pass away the mid-day heat and the downtown area is bustling with little restaurants and shops. In the evening, the local park is full of men drinking tea and having a late night snack. The whole town is understated, which is rather unusual for a touristy place. Most of the tourists seem to be on day trips from their cruise ships in Kushadasi, which might be why the place has maintained its small town charm.
Stopping into a textile shop to take a break from the sun, we were invited to tea, a rather common occurrence here in Turkey. Like in Istanbul, we were quickly in the midst of an unlikely discussion on politics in Turkey (specifically the eastern areas) and it was almost two hours later when we walked back into the sunshine having felt like we made a friend. Rather ironically, we later figured out that it was the same shop in which another travel blogging couple had purchased a kilim nearly a year ago!
If you go: Turkey’s cultural sites have rather steep admission fees and its not uncommon to have to pay additional for the “highlights” once you get in. The terrace homes for example, are an additional 15TL once you are inside Ephesus the 20TL site. As always, avoid the middle of the day. If you are spending the night in Selcuk, go in the late afternoon (2-3 hrs at the site is sufficient for the average traveler) to avoid the cruiseship tours which overrun the site in the morning. Marble ruins are gorgeous at sunset anyway! Most pensions and hotels in Selcuk have free transportation to the site, just ask to be dropped at the top. It’s a lovely and shady 3km walk back to Selcuk on the new bike path, which takes you passed the only column of Artemis’ temple, one of the Ancient World’s 7 wonders of the world. Buses connect Selcurk with all nearby cities and sites almost hourly and there is overnight service with several companies from Istanbul.
Pam Beloff says
Loved your Ephesus blog. Donn & I both loved that particular tour,especially the terrace houses. I spent today shopping w/Nikki & she claims U 2 want lots of kids – Is that true?
Had dinner last nite w/Nikki, B &B, Mike & Rita, &Donn & me. Nice impromptu rare get-together. Missed U both.
Gökhan Güney says
These gorgeous ancient sites, ruins are very common on the Aegeian and the Mediterrannean coasts in Turkey. One should start to his journey from ?stanbul and follow the line through Aegean and Mediterrannean coasts. Antalya is one of the main stages of these ancient civilizations. When you visit the museum, the towns like “Olimpos”, “Side” and several others, you feel like you are walking some hundred years back in the past. For example when I was visiting a section in the Antalya museum which includes nearly all the statues of the great mythological gods and goddesses, all the pages of my mythology book which I followed at the mythology classes at the university passed in front of my eyes 🙂 And I felt a kind of relationship similar to friendship against these gods. It was really something.
The last point of Turkey on the Mediterrannean coast is Hatay where I was born. It’s also a very rich city about ancient times. There are floors of civilisations of thousands of years, if I don’t exaggerate 🙂 The St. Pierre Church -which is still a pilgrimage destination for Christian pilgrims- is one of the first churches -if not the first one- in the world. The Antakya (Antakya is the center of Hatay) Archeological Museum is one of the most important ones in the world. The giant mosaic works are really magnificent.
In your post I surprisingly realized that the foreign people pay much more attention to the places they visit. I have been to Ephesus, too, when I was at the college in ?zmir, but didn’t know this much about there. It was only a joyful visit among friends, we had fun, we drank, we sang, we shouted but didn’t elaborate the historical depths, the sociological composition of the towns and whatever. From your post I derive something about “visiting somewhere”. Thanks for that.
I agree with you about the lack of care for the historical remainings. That’s something I grieve. But hopefully it’s getting better compared to the past. Thanks to the tourism incomes the historical places are a little bit more cared though far from being enough.
Take care you both.
@Gökhan- Thanks for commenting! Great to hear from you. Funny how around the world people always feel that tourists know their country better than they do! I feel like so many people don’t appreciate what they have at their own door step- it takes another set of eyes to open their own. Maybe we should start some sort of domestic tourism movement- bring a foreigner in to take you around you’re own country. The great part of traveling is that it makes you more curious about where you live. Maybe you’ll see Ephesus differently the next time you’re there!
Natalie - Turkish Travel Blog says
I liked your blog post on Ephesus Jillian. Extremely well written. I too am passionate about Ephesus and often go there every two years. Each time something changes. I declined to pay the extra fee to go into the houses. As you said the entrance fee was steep enough, however I suppose the more money they have, the more excavations they can carry out. I think they will still be uncovering Ephesus in 50 years time!
@Natalie- Thanks! I heard from another traveler that the houses actually are amazing, let me know what you think if you decide to go. It’s certainly an amazing and expansive site! Are you living on the coast?