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.