When pondering world history, does Turkey come to mind? It should. The legendary city of Troy, both real and mythological. The shrines of Çatal Hüyük. The imposing presence of the Acropolis of Pergamum. The ancient city of Ephesus.
And when it comes to Ephesus, I’m not just tossing around the word ancient here. Established more than 12,000 years ago (that’s 7,500 years before the pyramids, folks!), the biblical city of Ephesus has a long and storied past.
Once a major port for ships plying the Aegean Sea, Ephesus was second only to Rome, in size and populace during its’ heyday. Needless to say, prime location and immense riches made Ephesus the target of marauders for eons; from the Greeks to the Persians to the Romans and (even) the Egyptians, not to mention the Byzantines and Ottomans. In short, throughout its’ formidable history Ephesus was continually wracked by war, burned to the ground many times over and decimated beyond recognition by earthquakes (and overzealous home builders).
Completely abandoned in the 1400s Ephesus, as it stands today, is a true testament to human ingenuity. Greek and Roman styled pillars line the interconnecting stone streets leading to such places as the (Medusa adorned) Temple of Hadrian and the ethereal beauty of the Library of Celsus. There are grand homes with mosaic tile floors still beautifully intact and most importantly there is the infamous Roman Baths.
You see, what really set Ephesus apart from the average city in the region was… water. Running water, to be exact. When Alexander the Great conquered Ephesus way back in 100 A.D. he brought with him the knowledge (and convenience) of Roman aqueducts which meant that the ancient city of Ephesus was soon riddled with clay pipes transporting water both in and out.
Midway through the city on the crest of a hill sits the Roman Baths of Ephesus. Originally built as a three story structure, what remains is the ground floor (so to speak) and the manmade tunnels below. In those days, a bath wasn’t just a bath. It was a social event, where gossip was passed, deals were made and intrigue ensued while slaves stoked the fires in the pits below. One of the more peculiar parts of the Roman Bath is the communal toilet area. Hole after hole carved into a marble shelf, one right next to the other and another and another, I didn’t actually count them but would estimate around 30 in all. I will leave the rest of this one up to your (vivid) imagination.
Speaking of the Romans, they really were a brutal bunch, making murder and mayhem the theme of any given day. Their time spent in Ephesus was prosperous for the most part but along with the prosperity came a taste of Roman brutality. The Gladiator Games. Which (if you were a Gladiator) weren’t games at all but rather a forced fight to the death, as evidenced by the nearby grave yard. And lest you think that the locals’ doth protest – know that the Romans took over the 25,000 seat cultural theatre to host the events such was the popularity of the sport.
As for religious history, Ephesus is right in the thick of ancient Christianity. Prominently mentioned in the New Testament — Book of Revelation, it is believed to be where John the apostle is buried and where the Virgin Mary lived until her assumption.
I was surprised to learn that the (sight believed to be the) Virgin Mary’s house is both a Christian and a Muslim shrine. Repeatedly referred to as a righteous woman, St. Mary the Holy Virgin, was so beloved by the Muslim faithful she is the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur’an.
I really could go on and on about the ancient city of Ephesus. But in truth it is the ancients themselves that have me mesmerized. To know that I am walking the same streets and pathways that have been trod upon for thousands of years and by millions of people both humbles and excites me. I can almost hear the conspiratorial whispers… and the roar of the crowds.
That’s the spirit of Turkey — Ancient and Alive.
Here’s a tidy tip for ya – When heading over to Ephesus be sure to arrive early so that you can enjoy the site at a nice leisurely pace. Oh, who am I kidding… You really just want to get there before the huge crowds of people coming off of the cruise ships. (No offense to you cruise shippers, but you’re going to be in a huge crowd no matter how you play it.)