Kusadasi & Ephesus, Turkey
We arrived in Kusadasi (pronounced Koo-zhya-da-see, with the rhythm of “Who’s your daddy”) on April 14. Yet another resort town, Kusadasi has a normal population of about 50 to 60,000, but in August it swells to a million. Fortunately for us, it wasn’t near August yet.
But the action around here is about 16 miles away at the archeological site of Ephesus (pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable). Those of you who have read the New Testament will be familiar with this name, since St. Paul spent a couple of years here trying to convert Ephesus’s large Jewish community and I believe he wrote an Epistle to the Ephesians after he left. He also wrote his first Epistle to the Corinthians here. Ephesus was the second largest city in the Roman Empire in the first 200 years AD, with a peak population of about 250,000 people. It was founded around 1000 BC, according to local lore by the Amazons (our guide assured us with a straight face that this is true). More likely it was by the Greeks, who did most of the founding in this region at that time (there is a legend about this version of the founding as well, but I won’t include it here). It was also a major port located on the Meander River (from which we derive the word, reflecting the river’s twists & turns). The river slowly silted up the harbor to the point where the city was abandoned (the decline had been helped along by a barbarian sacking in 263 AD). Today Ephesus is about 3 miles from the seacoast. Buried over the centuries by earthquakes, etc., Ephesus was not rediscovered until 1860 by British, German & Austrian archeologists (and many of its early treasures are in the British Museum and the Ephesus Museum in Vienna). Mark Twain visited 7 years later and was not impressed (at that time excavation had just begun so it was mostly pieces of marble strewn around the ground). Even today only about 15% of the city has been excavated. (Note: I have to give kudos to Rick Steves here; I would never have remembered everything in these pictures more than 2 weeks later, not to mention the official names of and information about everything, without his guide).
We had arranged for a private guide, Alex, to take us through Ephesus (no more expensive than the ship tour & much more interesting and uncrowded). Alex told us that in August Ephesus often gets 250,000 visitors a day, so we were pretty glad to be here in the off season. Ephesus is on a hill so most tours start at the top and go downhill, as ours did. At the top is the State (or Upper) Agora, a large open courtyard surrounded by covered shopping arcades. At one side was the Stoa Basilica. A basilica is a building with a large central hall and narrower side halls. Today we think of a basilica as a church, but before Christianity such buildings were meeting houses or merchant houses.
Ephesus had one of the most sophisticated waterworks systems in ancient times, with water directed from the hills to cisterns at the top of the hill, then distributed through the city with clay pipes. Next to the Basilica is the Odeon, an indoor theater (it had a wood roof) seating about 1500 for plays and concerts. It also was the meeting place for the city council. When found in 1860 all but the top seats were under ground.
The Prytaneion was the seat of city administration by a committee of six priests. The remaining pillars of this building contain a lot of ancient Greek writing which I can’t read, of course (maybe some of you can). Not far away were two pillars with reliefs on them looking in different directions. This was a directional sign in polyglot Ephesus; on the left is Hermes, god of merchants (among other things) looking toward the market, and on the right Asklepios, who symbolized medicine, facing a pharmacy. I should note here that many of the statues & reliefs here are reproductions of items that have been removed to a museum, but the copies are good enough that I couldn’t tell which were real and which were not.
Soon we came to the Temple of Domitian (a Roman Emperor in the 1st Century AD). This was a huge two story temple, but little remains today beyond the two levels of two columns with statues on the top ones, although archeological work continues in this area. Across Domitian Square from the temple is a frieze of Nike giving a wreath of victory to the Romans, which once topped a gateway. There is a restored archway that once topped a public water fountain (rich folks had indoor plumbing, but ordinary people got their water from the fountain). From this area was a dramatic overview of most of Ephesus.
We passed through the Hercules Gate, with pillars on both sides displaying relief statues of Hercules. And we saw Trajan’s Fountain, which once had a large statue of the Emperor Trajan in the center. There were a lot of cats around here, including one sitting on a pedestal as if he were part of a Roman artifact.
Near the bottom of the hill were some large and elaborate mosaics that were part of a sidewalk by an upscale shopping mall.
Nearby is the Temple of Hadrian (yet another Roman Emperor, whose works we have encountered before). It has friezes of Medusa & Hadrian’s boyfriend Antinous who died young.
Remember I mentioned that ordinary people did not have indoor plumbing? Well, this is where they gathered (yes, gathered) to eliminate their bodily wastes. It was something of a social event, like gathering at a tavern, and the men were in no hurry to leave. Water constantly flowed beneath the seats to flush the waste & also flowed in the trough in front of the seats to wash with. There was a wooden roof covering the 40(!) seats, but the courtyard was open.
Now we come to the fabulous Terrace Houses. This is an active archeological dig at a block of 7 houses of relatively wealthy citizens. You walk through on a scaffolding walkway with glass floors that enable you to look at the work being done below. We were there on Sunday and no one was working (not sure why, since this isn’t a Christian country) but we could see the work that was in progress. This area is full of mosaics, frescoes & ancient rooms. There is a separate entry fee so a lot of visitors don’t go here, but it seems to us they are missing one of the best parts of Ephesus.
I think the easiest way to do this is to look at things by category. One of the most interesting things being done here is piecing back together the small pieces of marble and stone found in the various rooms. In the first house we visited there were slabs of marble on the wall that had been pieced back together & several large tables filled with pieces currently being worked on. It was like a giant jigsaw puzzle, but with no picture of the finished product to guide you. It seems impossibly complicated, but the finished pieces prove it can be done. This room was a marble dining room, and more than 120,000 fragments of marble have been found.
We saw quite a few frescoes on walls (original I think, but perhaps restored like the marble, I’m not sure). One wall with a duck & a fish was a kitchen. I will show a bunch of them here & label them with what little I know about them.
There was a large variety of floor mosaics in decorative patterns, some of which look like something you could see in a modern rug or upscale kitchen.
Even better than the patterned mosaics were the mosaics on floors and walls with pictures. I will use the same approach with these, putting them all together with information in the captions.
There was a stone table with a game board etched in the top in one of the houses. I think the guide might have said this board was for Backgammon, but Mary doesn’t think so.
Then there were several other views of rooms I thought were interesting, even if I don’t remember their importance.
Leaving the Terrace Houses we came to another big item for library fans: the Library of Celsus. It was originally built as a mausoleum to (who else?) a guy named Celsus in 123 AD by his son. It was the third largest library in the ancient world with 12,000 volumes, after the libraries of Alexandria & Pergamon (but since we learned earlier that Marc Antony gave Cleopatra the Pergamon library, perhaps that made this one number 2). The library facade was restored in the 1970’s, mostly by piecing the rubble back together again.
The columns on the first floor are 40 feet tall. There are three large doorways & 4 statues in niches surrounding them (these are copies of the originals, which are in museums). It must have been quite beautiful in its day. On one of the top steps a crude menorah is etched into the marble, now protected by a metal box frame. Ephesus had a large Jewish community that apparently lived peacefully with the Romans.
Right next to the library on its left is a triple arch gate that was once part of the library complex & led to a lecture hall (rebuilt in 1989, you can see part of this gate on the right in the first 3 pictures of the library above). It was built by Mazaeus and Mithridates, two slaves who became wealthy after being freed by their master Emperor Augustus. Their names are inscribed in bronze on the gate.
Next we come to one of the oldest structures in Ephesus (so far, since much is yet to be uncovered), the Great Theater. Originally built by the Greeks between 300 and 100 BC (and expanded much later by the Romans), this is one of the largest amphitheaters yet found, holding about 25,000 people. The acoustics are good enough that performers don’t need microphones. Many modern concerts have been held here (Pavarotti sang without a microphone) but now work is being done to protect the theater from being damaged from vibrations. The New Testament relates a story about St. Paul that takes place here (Acts 19). Next to the bottom of the stairs into the theater on the left is a fountain where theater patrons could refresh themselves.
Finally, here is the Harbor Road. This was a wide thoroughfare lined with covered sidewalks with street lamps & shops selling goods from all over the known world. This was the main thoroughfare, where processions were held & people went to see & be seen. It ran from the theater to the harbor, which was on an inlet from the sea but is now long gone as the seacoast has receded some three miles.
Leaving Ephesus, we drove to nearby Selcuk, which is essentially the spot where the Ephesians built their new town when they abandoned Ephesus. There is a museum here that contains many of the best artifacts removed from Ephesus, but sadly it was closed for renovation. But in Selcuk we saw a ruin that Alex told us was the first bathhouse built by the Turks in Anatolia (ie. the original Turkish Bath). And we also visited what is left of the ancient Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. This temple, built by the Ephesians who worshipped Artemis before their conversion to Christianity, was the largest building erected by the ancient Greeks: five stories high and three times the size of the Parthenon in Athens. Built in 550 BC, this was a place of pilgrimage and a valuable source of tourist income for the Ephesians. But the temple was destroyed for good in 401 AD on the orders of Christians trying to eliminate paganism, and its marble parts were scavenged to build Christian buildings, including the Basilica of St. John that stood nearby. Scavenging finished marble pillars & stones from ancient buildings for Christian churches was pretty common in this period; we will see some of the pillars from the Temple of Artemis in Istanbul. All that is left of this once great temple is a single, lonely looking, reconstructed pillar in an open field.
We had time after returning to the dock for a pleasant walk through Kusadasi. As is usual in tourist ports, the area around the dock is full of touristy vendors & shops but if you walk even a few blocks into the town you can encounter a real city. We walked up a steep hill and on the other side of it was a more real shopping and restaurant district. Among the things we saw were the Caravanserai (now a hotel) and a statue of a “world famous” jazz trumpeter named Maffy Falay I had never heard of, who came from Kusadasi. As elsewhere in Turkey, water pipes were seen in local cafes.
And so we left Kusadasi & fascinating Ephesus & set sail for our last Turkish stop: Istanbul.