Build me a road and pave it in marble….
Our adventures today took us to Ephesus, a ruined Greco-Roman city here in Western Turkey. These ruins are incredible – with its clearly identifiable marble-paved roads, agora, public bath, amphitheatre, library and temples, Ephesus is spectacular. We had a great day exploring the ruins and learning a bit more about the ancient city that once stood here.
Legend has it that Ephesus was founded in 750BC by a prince of Athens named Androklos, who had to leave his country after the death of his father, King Kadros. He founded Ephesus based on instructions from the Oracle of Delphi. Due to its fertile soils, temperate climate and good position on the Aegean coast, the city prospered and soon grew to include a population of more than 50,000.
In 550BC the Temple of Artemis (later called Diana by the Romans) was built at Ephesus. Through the cult of Artemis, the city also became a bastion of women’s rights. Once proclaimed to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, there is unfortunately not much left of the temple today.
Ephesus came under the rule of the King of Pergamon around 200BC and then under Roman rule shortly after. It was during its years as a Roman city that Ephesus really flourished. During its 800 years as a Roman city Ephesus was designated as the capital of Roman Asia Minor and grew to a city of 250,000 inhabitants – a virtual metropolis for its time!
As befitted a Roman capital, the city had a huge amphitheatre with a seating capacity of over 25,000. This open-air theater was used for dramatic performances and gladiatorial combats. It was enormous – we felt very small as we walked around it and climbed its many tiers of seats.
Ephesus also had several major bath complexes and a huge public latrine (it’s a good thing, we think, that going to the toilet isn’t a social thing any more!). The city had an undergound sewer and one of the most advanced aqueduct systems in the ancient world, with multiple aqueducts of various sizes supplying different areas of the city. Very civilised – much better than emptying your chamber pot out the window, as Europeans did for centuries after the collapse of Rome (eeeeew!).
The city’s book repository was also famous; named after its founder, the Library of Celsus was the third largest library in the ancient world (after Alexandria and Pergamon). The facade of the library has been carefully reconstructed and is seriously impressive. Designed with an exaggerated entrance, so as to enhance its perceived size, speculate many historians, the building faces East so that the reading rooms could make best use of the morning light.
Beside the library was the large agora or market place (like the ancient Roman version of a shopping mall really). Built as a giant square, the agora was the hub of the city where citizens went to buy their bread, fruit, vegetables, clothing and other necessities. Seeing things like the agora really helped bring the daily life of Ephesus alive for us – we could almost picture people shopping and chatting in the marble-paved streets.
Such was the size and grandeur of Ephesus that even when Rome collapsed, the city remained an important Byzantine centre – second only to Constantinople. Then, in 614AD, a large earthquake destroyed much of the city and what the rumbles didn’t knock down, the Arabs destroyed during 7th and 8th centuries. The ruins of the Ephesus then remained buried until 1863 when they were rediscovered.
Ephesus is one of the world’s finest surviving Greco-Roman cities and exploring it today was great fun. A great way to spend the day! Even better coming home to our hotel here by the Aegean Sea and sitting on our balcony, watching the beautiful sunset. Turkey sure is amazing!