Ephesus Turkey


The Light of Asia...

Ephesus (Efes in Turkish, Ἔφεσος in Greek) is a city of Mother Goddess located very close to Selcuk in Izmir, Turkey. Kybele, Artemis, Ephesia and Mother Mary... the legend mentions that it was established by the Amazon Warriors. On the other hand, popular mythology says that it was established by Androcles, son of Kodros in 11th century BC after Delphinion oracles advised him to settle a new city where the location would be determined by a fish and a boar. It is possible to think of the fish in the story as the seashore and the boar as fertile lands. You may witness the generosity of Mother Nature to Ephesus and the vicinity yourself when you visit the ancient city, one of the most important harbors of the time and today it is one the most popular ancient sites in Turkey with over 1.5 million visitors yearly. Archaeological evidence places the prehistoric existence of Efes to the 7th Millennium BC with Cukurici Hoyuk (mound in the pit) whereas the earliest settlement on the Ayasuluk Tepesi (Ayasuluk Hill) that the Selcuk Castle sits on dates to 3500 BC. The earlier settlement in the proximity of the sacred site of Mother Goddess from where Efes has expanded was named as Apasa of Arzawa Kingdom in the Hittite documents in 2nd millennium BC. The abundance of archaeological evidence starting from the 1st millennium BC and the later ages verify that Efes showed a rapid development after that point in history. This development depended on two basic reasons; the central location of the harbor on the Aegean shoreline made it a major focal point for trades for hundreds of years and in addition, the sacred land of Mother Goddess where the Temple of Artemis -one of the seven wonders of the ancient world- was erected had been a place of pilgrimage for thousands of years. Large numbers of people flowing to the area for pilgrimage contributed to the welfare in the region.

Where is Ephesus?

Ephesus is the only ancient mega city from the Roman Period and late Antiquity that was not covered by the buildings of the modern period. This gives us an unprecedented opportunity here to see the urban life in the antiquity. The archaeological site of Efes today is in Selcuk town of Izmir Province which is shown clearly on most of the tourist maps.

The History

It is not surprising that wealthy and prosperous city was a target for the Cimmerians in the 7th century BC who devastated the city and the Lydian King Croesus in the 6th century BC. But Croesus treated the city well and contributed to the reconstruction of the Temple of Artemis. Later in the same century, Persians defeated Croesus, got control of the area and its hinterland together with a large portion of Anatolia. The Pannonian League of 12 Ionian colonies in western Anatolia, of which Efes was a member, revolted against Persian rule in the early 5th century BC. Ephesians retreated shortly, foreseeing the unsuccessful result of the war, which in return saved the city from the cruel repression of the Persians. Thus, it had been an ally of Athens in the Peloponnesian War and later had sided with Sparta, was under Persian control once more. 334 BC is a milestone in the area and Anatolian history when Alexander the Great defeated Persians and took control over Asia Minor. After Alexander’s death, one of his generals, Lysimachus was in charge who laid foundations of Efes we walk today, by moving the city 2,5 km southwest and building a new harbor.

After fall of Lysimachus at the battlefield in 281 BC, it was ruled by the Seleucid Empire and later by Ptolemy of Egypt. It was incorporated into the Pergamon Kingdom in the beginning of the 2nd century BC. Pergamon King Attalus III left his kingdom to the Romans when he died and it became part of the Asian Province of Roman Republic that has been established in 129 BC. In 88 BC, Ephesus supported King Mithridates IV of Pontus which led to the Asiatic Vespers, the massacre of 80.000 Romans in Asia Minor in one night, and consequently the cities were severely punished by Cornelius Sulla with extremely high taxes.

Unfortunately, the wavering of Rome between peace and chaos with domestic turbulence in the 1st century was affecting the Asia Minor Province badly. After the assassination of Caesar by Brutus and Cassius; Octavianus was trying hard to stabilize west of Rome while Marcus Antonius was trying to establish order in the east.

Marcus Antonius met Cleopatra in the city of Tarsus and fell for her immediately. It wasn't long before Cleopatra made him have her sister Arsinoe murdered in Temple of Artemis in Ephesus where she was in exile. Marcus Antonius, then, announced himself as the supreme king of the East and Cleopatra as the supreme queen but it was the limit for Octavianus. They prepared for war; Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra spent the winter of year 33 BC in Ephesos and they even attempted to assemble a Senate against Rome. However, Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra were defeated by Octavianus, first in the Battle of Actium and later in Alexandria in Egypt. On returning to Rome in 27 BC, Octavianus was entitled “Augustus” and was able to gradually transform the Republic into an “Imperium Romanum”, thus starting the era of “Principate”. This transformation would have positive effects on Asia Minor Province of the Roman Empire just the same as the whole of the empire.

During the “Pax Romana” that started with the first emperor Augustus (Octavianus) and lasted for 300 years, it was impossible for the cities of the empire to fight with each other. Therefore, all the cities advanced to a higher level of wealth and prosperity as the result of the decrease in the war expenses and rise in commercial life due to peace and comfort of the era. Simpler, smaller buildings were replaced by larger, long-lasting flamboyant ones, which is the reason why today we mostly encounter structures from the era of Pax Romana during a visit to an ancient Roman city within the boundaries of the empire. Cities that had fought with each other for hundreds of years were now encouraged to compete in athletic activities. The extent of attention paid to sports and the athletes is seen in the stadiums all over the ancient world. Wealthy citizens financed the public buildings in the most extravagant and flashy styles possible and in return gained immortality in statues with their names in the inscriptions. We see how lucky Efes was with these upscale beneficiaries when we see the impressive monuments today that take us to the glorious old days of the Roman Empire.

Plan of Ephesus Map

The city enjoying the advantages of its privileged location at the junction of East and West and the large harbor, had a population over 200.000 when it was the capital of the Asian Province of Roman Empire (Metropolis Asia), excluding the slaves, legions stationed in the region and temporary visitors like traders, priests, etc. You may easily imagine the plots of the lobbyists that went on in the State Agora, the Bouleuterion and the Basilica courthouse that were part of the daily life in this grand city built in the valley between Mt. Pion (Panayir Dagi) and Mt. Koressos (Bulbul Dagi) by orders of Augustus. Prytaneion, on the other hand, was a tribute to the sacred flame of the city which had its roots in Anatolia in the furthermost age of the megarons and ancient cults and was never allowed to go out. It was dedicated to the goddess Hestia and shows the importance of fire for the civilizations that took humanity thousands of years to acquire from the time of the Ice Age.

On leaving the administrative section from where the city of Mother Goddess and the whole of the Asian Province of the Empire was governed, you take the Curetes Street by passing through the Heracles Gate and immediately see the Trajan Fountain on your right. A colossal statue of Emperor Trajan used to decorate the central niche of the fountain and the remaining spherical part of the statue symbolized the world at his feet. You may ask yourself whether it was known at Trajan's age that the Earth was spherical and the answer would be affirmative. The circumference of the Earth and the distance to the Moon had been calculated almost accurately in Alexandria, also verified by writings of Claudius Ptolemaeus. But unfortunately, knowledge from Alexandria where the first simple steam engine was also invented, could not become widespread in the ancient world.

The Hadrian Temple a little further, displays the only known example of the apotropaic Medusa depicted nearly entirely unclothed. The multistory peristyle Terrace Houses across the street are covered with present-day protective roofing and can be visited with an additional fee. Terrace Houses display perfect examples as to the plush lives of the elite in the city; decorated with mosaics on the floor, frescoes and marble slabs on the walls, enhancing indoor fountains and hypocaust underfloor heating system. These multi-storey villas on terraces at the skirts of Mt. Koressos were in use with alterations and repairs until the city was abandoned.

It had baths close to the harbor like all the other harbor cities, for the sailors to clean up before entering the city after having sailed for a long time. On the other hand, Scholastica and Varius Baths in the city center were built for social purposes. A bath consisted of a dressing room (apodyterium), then cold room (frigidarium) with its pool, the warm room (tepidarium), finally the hot room (caldarium, sudatorium/ laconicum) and resting, reading and sitting rooms. Citizens would dress in accordance with their social status in their daily life but use the same kind of loincloth in the baths as everybody else. Still, it would be easy to differ the high-class who had slaves and handymen to do their jobs outside under the sun while they enjoyed the shades, from the tanned ordinary people. White skinned looks continued to be popular among the European aristocrats from time to time in the following centuries.

Latrines were also among the important Roman civil buildings but the adjacent building was mistakenly identified as a brothel in some books. Though it would be only natural for Efes to have a brothel as a harbor city, it wouldn't be realistic to think the neighborhood of the upper-class facing a brothel and the elite having to come across the seafarers all day long. The idea of having a brothel for the upper-class usually comes from being ignorant of the hetaera tradition.

The Grand Theater built in Hellenistic style during the rule of Lysimachus was under reconstruction in year 55. Two diazomas divided the 22,000 holding cavea into three segments, each of which was higher than the one in the front and the sides of the cavea were shortened 1,5 m. each forming a semi-circle to provide a better view of the audience. Workmen constructing the skene must have welcomed the unplanned break in astonishment when thousands suddenly entered the theater screaming “Great is Artemis Ephesia”. It is a common belief that one of the New Testament authors, Apostle St. John and Virgin Mary came to Ephesia and Virgin Mary lived here until she passed away. Ephesos is also known as being home to a considerable Jewish community besides being the largest center of commerce in Asia, according to historian Aelius Aristides. St. Paul had preached in the synagogue of Ephesus on his second missionary journey. He came to Ephesus once again a year later and presumably stayed here between years 52 and 55. But the Ephesians, whose income largely depended on the pilgrims to the Temple of Artemis, were worried that St. Paul's preaching would put them out of business. Demetrius the silversmith who was in the business of selling models of the temple and the goddess cult statue raised a riot against St. Paul, thousands joined him instantly. The angry upheaval was in no way close to the pleasing tones at the concert of Sting of the legendary “The Police” in 1993 at the Ephesos theater. St. Paul has left the city after the riot.

It was understood during the 1970s restorations that the facade was meticulously arcuate to have a more imposing effect when facing the library and was accented more by making the lower rows of columns wider than the upper ones. On the way from the library to the theater, the graffiti in the Lower Agora is the public complaints about the inflation and rise in the price of bread. Do you think Parmenides of Elea was right in his argument “nothing changes”?

As Heraclitus quoted: "everything flows" (Panta rhei). Just like the eternal fire of Ephesos went out one day…

Rome started to lose control of its borders when its enemies started to show up again in the 3rd century. People began leaving the cities, not feeling secure anymore because of the robbers and the looters. There wasn't enough finance to repair the urban areas after the earthquakes and other natural disasters. The importance of the city as a commercial center relied upon the harbor. In the 1st century, it had to be dredged off the silt carried by the Cayster River but it proved to be a temporary solution, therefore Ephesians tried to change the river bed in time of Hadrian. Sadly, the harbor was silted up repeatedly after the 3rd century and Efes lost its access to the Aegean Sea. Today it is 6 km inland.

Nevertheless, Temple of Artemis continued to be a major attraction for the pilgrims until paganism was totally banned and Christianity became the official state religion of the East Roman Empire. When the Roman Empire was divided into two permanently in 395, temples began to be replaced by churches in the area which shortly became a part of the Eastern Rome. Ephesus, the site of the Seven Sleepers, housed the 3rd Ecumenical Council in 431. Although it maintained its importance for some time as archbishopric of the region, it was inevitably losing its glory with time. Nearby Ayasuluk Hill was chosen to build the Basilica of St. John in the 6th century to avoid the diseases caused by the swamps in the old harbor area. This settlement had last of its brilliant days in the 14th century during the rule of the Aydinids Dynasty as seen in the artifacts from the era like the Isa Bey Mosque. In time, Scala Nuova, today's Kusadasi, replaced Ephesus Harbor and became the new commercial center which is one of the busiest cruise ports in the Aegean today. After the region was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, other settlements like Izmir gained importance.

Finally on UNESCO

Being one of the most famous antique sites on the globe which experienced non-stop excavation activities (except the World Wars times) for more than 200 years so far, it is finally included in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2015. During the 39th reunion of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO in Bonn, Germany, the Ephesus dossier of Turkey is registered as a “World Heritage Site”. Different from many of other dossiers which were granted the same status, it has acquired this title together with his 4 components. Besides the antique city, Ayasuluk Castle, The House of Virgin Mary and Cukuricihoyuk are also registered as World Heritage Sites. With this result, the number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey increased to 15.