If the story of the Trojan war would be true, so if Agamemnon got home in victory Menelaus got his wife Helena back home and they all left as told in the Iliad, we would never had a Greek related city here in the Aegean area. It’s more a tale of an expansion plan in my opinion. If you look at the foundation of Ephesus you could point at 1200 BC as a first bigger settlement. (As a reminder the Trojan battle ends 1250 BC) Of course neither the Greeks at that time nor the Turks 2000 years later came by millions so they had to mix with the locals to start bigger cities. Historians think that Androklos, the Greek prince of Athens had to collect people from villages of the neighborhood so he had enough population to call his settlement a city.
Of course no one would start a journey at that time without asking an Oracle Temple for advice. So did Androklos. The answer he got was to look out for a fish, a boar and a fire. If he would find these three things in one spot at the same time he would have found the area to start his city. As the story goes Androklos and his companions anchored near Ayasoluk hill. When they wanted to prepare a fish for their meal the fish jumped out of the pan into the campfire. Part of the campfire fell into the bushes and a boar, hiding just there started to run away. Androklos understood, hunted that boar and started his city at that point.
Maybe it was his idea as well to combine two goddesses into one and start a big cult for that new city. The Greek goddess Artemis, brought in by the Greeks looked like the local goddess Cybele so it was easy to convince the local tribes that they where no strangers to each other.
The area of the Artemis temple today was sacred since thousands of years, probably going back to the time before Androklos even arrived here. It’s said that Amazon’s build the first bigger temple in this area out of wood. We could call them the first feminists, Greek ladies who didn’t want to live under the man ruled Greek culture but still needed their neighborhood for the trade. As the Greek culture expanded they where forced to move up north to the Black Sea coast.
Later on the timeline around 6th C.BC it’s Croesus (‘rich as Croesus’) who renews this Artemis temple, still out of wood at least some elements of the roof. This temple will be set on fire at 20 July 356 by Herostratus, a simple shoemaker who seeks fame. (Even today a crime committed so someone becomes famous is called Herostratic fame). Croesus had lost his empire 585 to the Persians at the river Hayls. Persians controlled the area of Ephesus when the temple of Artemis was set on fire. It looks more like a solution by Persians to gain control of the treasures of the Artemis temple. Until that fire the temple was autonomous and by that out of reach for the Persians. One might question the precise date of that fire, for sure. The Ephesians where upset why Artemis could not protect her home. Later they came up with an explanation. Since Artemis was not only the goddess of futility but also delivering mothers, she was not home that day and attended the birth of another god, Alexander the Great. This also explains the affection of Alexander the Great for the goddess Artemis since it will be he who pays for the reconstruction of the Artemis Temple. This temple will become one of the seven world wonders.
But first a few words about the Persians. When the Persians invaded these areas the Greek culture was still evolving. The cultural gab couldn’t be wider. Compared to the Persians who could look back on a thousand years of culture, evolved from Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians the Greeks where in their infancy. So they walked around arrogantly. Greeks tried to adopt some of their traditions, for example growing a beard but where asked to pay a beard-tax by Mausolos (Mausoleum) a Persian governor. So the Greeks had every reason to hate this culture and their people. (If at that time Mausolos wouldn’t came up with that beard-tax, beards and mustaches would be more common around the world today, since the western culture evolves out of the Greek’s, funny he?) This hatred will pave the way for Alexander the Great, since he is the one bringing the Greek culture back to Ephesus and many other cities in todays Turkey. Almost every city he comes by will open its gates for his army and voluntarily will pay the tribute he asks. Ephesians will fear him at first. By then the city is moved from the Ayasoluk hill down to the temple area by Croesus. The temple in ruins, Ephesian’s connect a chord starting at one pillar at the temple’s ruins surrounding the city and ending at another pillar in the ruins. By that showing Alexander that their city is in the sacred ground of a temple and can’t be destroyed nor anyone be killed. Far from that Alexander the Great has no intentions to do so. Admiring the Artemis he asks to rebuild the temple with one small addition. He wants his name as a remark on the new temple. At the end he will let go of this idea but still pay for the construction.
When Alexander dies without a descendant his empire and his treasure is divided among his generals. One of them Lysimachus gains control over the area of Ephesus. During his reign the city, now surrounding the temple is in a miserable situation. Due to the geographical condition of the temple area the city is sinking. There is no hope. So it’s Lysimachus who moves the city a third time to it’s new location. The area is chosen carefully, enough space for expansion, a new harbor, a wall system surrounding and protecting it. It’s this care, which catapults Ephesus in the roman era to be the third biggest city in Asia Minor. For a short period of time the city is named Arsinoe as common practice by that time to name a founded city after the wife of the founder. Ephesians will get rid of that name pretty fast as it comes out that Arsione is a cruel mother.
Until 133 BC the history of later called Asia Minor is full of wars and battles between the descendants of Alexander the Great. When 133 BC the romans take over Ephesus will start to enter its golden era. It will be one of the most important cities for the Roman Empire. One could understand the importance by looking at its visitors. From Marcus Antonius and Cleopatra who had a summer house overlooking the harbor to Arsinoe (this time it’s the sister of Cleopatra) who was buried in the city center right next to the terrace houses, St. Paul had spend two years 51 and 52 AD. in a cave above the harbor area (location is known to the archeologists but in a restricted area). The list goes on and on and read like the who’s who of the Roman Empire.
Earthquakes will end its glory in the 6th century AD. By then the big Roman Empire is no more. There are two empires named East- and West Roman Empire. Christianity is the religion of the East-Roman Empire. The small community of Christians in Ephesus once founded by St. Paul grew and Ephesus became an important episcopate, probably because St. Paul addresses this community in his letter to Ephesians during his imprisonment later. His prison can be seen from the upper steps of the theater. Look out for a castle like ruin on top of a hill. 431 AD Christianity world held its council here in the city to decide about the nature of Merry. After the earthquake the city is abandoned. The bishop tries to safe what’s left by relocating the city back to its place on top of Ayasoluk hill. Justinian will pay for the basilica of St. John and this gives hope for a fresh start of Ephesus number 4. It will survive until the 14th century when the first Turkish tribes arrive. A glorious history for a glorious city.
Now a few buildings: As we start from uphill we enter the Acropolis (political part of the city) first
- Odeon or Bouleuterion: Even scientists are confused which one is which, but at the end it looks like a small theater and is used as a parliament. Some say that there where special shows for politicians as well as political meetings.
- Basilica Stoa: One of the most impressive buildings of old Ephesus. What a view it must have been. This building began with a roman bath on one side and ended with a fountain on the other. It was a 350 yards/320 meters long two floor building mainly used as meeting room probably at bad weather conditions. Today you need a lot of imagination to realize its older glory. Half way trough the buildings main corridor on the right side you will find a table with a carved board game on it. Back then this game is called duodecim scripta (game of the twelve philosophers) today you will know it as backgammon. Don’t miss it. It’s one of the best examples and nearly in mint condition. Another board game, which can be seen in dozens, has different names. Nine Men’s Morris, Mill or Mills are common names. Here a picture of the modern version. Even this version can be seen on the streets of Ephesus. More common in Ephesus is the round shaped version below. Some guides try to convince people that in this round shaped carving one can see a secret message of Christianity with is a very lame story.
- Municipality building and temple of Hestia: When you exit the Odeon through the lower arched gate right next to the Odeon comes a combined building complex. The first one is the Municipality building and the adjacent building the Hestia temple. Interestingly these two buildings seem to be connected from the inside. The Hestia temple is one of the most important temples for the city as it holds a huge fire in a large pan. This fire symbolized the hope of the city. As long as this fire was in tact there was always hope to rebuild a damaged city. So it was a very important job to care for this fire. Because of this honorable job, names of the priests (They where called Kurets) where carved in columns or surrounding slabs in the Hestia temple and by that remembered until kingdom come.
- Memnius Heroon: As you can have guessed Heroon means monument of a hero. As a fulltime tour guide since 20 years I for myself couldn’t find any other ancient city so full of bootlickers as Ephesus. Would you consider placing a statue of a tax collector in the middle of New York’s Time Square or London’s Trafalgar Square? That’s what he is actually, a tax collector named Memnius. Of course there is more to it. 84 AD. King Mithridates sends in spies to deliver a simple message. If all the Ionian cities accept King Mithridates reign then he will take no taxes of the citizens. By then about 100.000 roman citizens are living in Asia Minor a privileged life free of taxes. So these roman citizens are hoarding money in their homes and it’s this money what Mithridates is after. Ionian cities diced to obey and open their gates to Mithridates men. In a very short period of time 80.000 romans are killed and robbed in Ephesus and surrounding cities. This enrages emperor Sula so much that he sends his grandson Memnius to Ephesus to collect the taxes, this time in extra large percentage. So Ephesians try to please Memnius and Sula by building a monument of a heroic tax collector.
- Domitian Temple: If you turn your back to the Memnius monument you will see a hill which was not there by the time Lysimachus planned the city. Its been said that during the reign of Domitian, one of the worst tyrants in roman history the city had no space in an honorable place to build a temple. So the Ephesians created a hill big enough for a temple. In front of that temple one of the biggest statues of Domitian was placed. In sitting position the statue was 23 feet/7 meters high. (Remember bootlickers??!!) When Domitian died this statue was pulled down and buried. The head can be seen in the Ephesus museum today. The temple was renamed after a predecessor Augustus and became the first God-Emperor Temple in Ephesus. A second one build later (Hadrian Temple) brought the so much looked after title of Neocoros to Ephesus what meant two decades of tax-free living.
- Nike Relief: Nike is the Greek goddess of victory. That’s where the name of the sport shoes brand comes from. That’s something everyone will tell you. But far more important is the fact that in Christianity angels have the wings on their back because of goddess Nike.
- Heracles/Hercules Gate: These two columns mark the exit of the Acropolis to the lower parts of the city. If you look carefully you can find evidence that these have been placed here in a later period. Beneath one of these columns is a carving of a board game. Here Hercules is depicted with a lions fur over his shoulder. As a son of Zeus he is a half god preferring to live among men. He even is married and has children, but in frenzy after a nightmare he kills them all. In the pangs of conscience he asks a priest in an oracle temple what to do. The answer he will get will be indirectly from Hera (extremely jealous wife of Zeus who seeks revenge). The priest will tell him that he has to complete twelve special missions. Actually Hera hopes that with every mission Hercules will die, which at the end we will not. So the lion is his first mission. He kills the lion barehanded, skins it, carries the fur of the lion over his shoulder and will become invulnerable by that. Before you leave the Acropolis area through the Heracles Gate take the steps to the right side hill and enjoy the view. This is one of the best photography spots.
- The street, which connects the Heracles Gate with the Celsus Library, is called Kuret Street. That’s because during excavations archeologists have found many of the slabs full of Kuret (temple of Hestia) names on it. Probably these slabs had been used to repair the street after an earthquake
- 9. Along the Kuret street we have several interesting ruins, most of them on the right side. First thing you will see just after the Heracles gate are podiums for statues. Behind them if you look carefully along the wall you will see roman shop entrances. This wall is just a supporting wall made by the archeologists so the soil behind it can be stabilized. Actually this soil is hiding more ruins within it.
- Further down the street still on the right you will see the Trajan Fountain. The reconstruction doesn’t give you a proper idea, but this must have been on of the most impressive fountains of Ephesus. Look close and you will see that it has two basins. In the larger one archeologist have found seven statues, which belonged to the structure of that fountain, now in exhibition in the museum. The narrow basin was used by the public to fill their amphora’s with water for home use. Running water was unusual in that time for most of the population. Now this is a very interesting thing if you think of it. How do you get water into your city? It’s like the blood in our body. Without it the city can’t survive. The romans where clever in these things. They looked out for a natural fountain in the surrounding mountains. This water was transported in aqueducts, to the city. Since the aqueduct carried this water in a closed pipe system the water pressure brought the water as high as the starting point. Just think of a hose almost full of water. When you hold both ends up water will stay level. The only problem with aqueducts was the material of the pipe. Sometimes it was clay, but most of the times it was made out of lead. So by drinking water they poisoned themselves. No surprise that average life expectation was about 30-35.
- The Roman Bath: We could fill books about the bath systems in Roman Empire. It was one of the main attractions during the daily life of a roman citizen. In the beginning these bathes where used by both genders, but later when the party got too crazy they brought in the law of separate genders. From that time on women had a separate bath or a separate time in these facilities. Well-known facts are for example that every bath had several rooms like cold-, warm- and hot rooms. Traditionally people visited these in a specific order and in between they had time to food, beverages and other pleasures. Additionally to these facts of roman bathes we know that there where dozens of them in every city. One common rule was that every tourist had to wash himself before he could enter the city. (Just imagine you had to shower at the harbor in Kusadasi before you got into your coach) Doctors thought by washing your body you would get rid of all the diseases and they wouldn’t have to deal with unknown symptoms in their city. Another fact is that a midsize bath like the one in Ephesus needed 40000 metric tons of wood per year to operate. Cutting down entire forests was not a problem back then.
- Hadrian Temple: This temple is so small to be named a temple and jet so important for Ephesus. It’s the second god-emperor temple in the city and the reason why the Ephesians got the title of Neocoros from Hadrian himself for two decades. Since Hadrian ruled in the 2nd century AD I can imagine that there was no space for a temple on the main street so someone had to give up parts of his housing or shop. This would explain the size of the temple. Hadrian’s period of reign is also called Pax Romana, which is the golden era of Roman Empire. So there is enough money to build and decorate lavishly, as you can see in the front element of the temple but they lack space. This temple is under reconstruction for now, once finished we will have a better understanding how it looked like.
- Latrinas: Just a few steps after the temple you will see a street going right. Follow that street and you will end up in an ancient bathroom. This room makes everyone giggle because there are no separating walls in this bathroom. Just imagine three marble benches along the walls with holes every two feet. That’s it. Romans where sitting here next to each other, shoulder to shoulder and doing their business. Not just that business but real business as well. So the time spend here was not measured in seconds but many many minutes. Goods where bought and sold. Sound from splashing water added to the pleasure and in front of their feet clean water was used to soak and clean a sponge attached to a stick to wipe their butt. This would be our toilet paper today. Wastewater from uphill like from the bath came trough the sewerage below and added to the stream to get rid of the dirty stuff. The romans knew well that if you keep that dirt close you would be in trouble. So they led the sewerage to the next river and the stream took care of the rest.
- Complaint Letter/Grave of Arsinoe: When you exit the Latrina area you will see two boards full of writings. This is a complaint letter from Rome saying that the politicians in Ephesus should give the money back they pocketed so the damages of the last earthquake can be repaired. As you see politicians pocketing money is not a new story. Much more important and missed by everyone was the building (today you just see a few ruins) on top of that platform. Octagonal in shape it was the grave of Arsinoe , no one less than the sister of Cleopatra. Arsinoe feared the hunger for power of her sister Cleopatra so she fled to Ephesus to hide in the Artemis temple. In the temple area she was on sacred grounds and thought to be secure, but Marcus Antonius was a soldier and had no fear of the gods. She had send two of his soldiers to the temple who strangulated Arsinoe to death and Cleopatra then gave Arsinoe a grave in the city center.
- Terrace Houses: The University of Vienna and several other Austrian companies sponsors the excavation of Ephesus. The Terrace Houses have different sponsors and that’s why we pay an extra entrance fee. A plastic shelter protects the whole block. The Greeks and Romans used to divide a block in equal parts but here we have different sized seven dwellings. The planning on all seven is the same. The center of the house is an atrium, which allows light and air circulation to all the rooms. Every room exits into the atrium. In some dwellings you can see a fountain in the middle of the atrium, this functions like an air conditioning for all the rooms. The largest one (9600 sq. Feet) is the first one you will enter. It belonged to a high priest of the Dionysus Temple. Behind the atrium is a large dinning room. In here marble plates are arranged symmetrically so the marble seems to create extraordinary beautiful patterns. Even in housing of rich people you can see that everything was for the show. The 1st floor was decorated lavishly wish marble types out of this country (like the red marble), but when you go on to the second floor there the marble pattern is painted on plaster. So a lot of money for the decoration in areas the guests will see and cheapest solutions for the rest. Next to the dinning room are rooms (same level as the dinning room) with a barrel-vault. All this block was in use until the 4th century AD. Then with an earthquake the block was so damaged that some houses had to be abandoned. Some of the rooms where used as workshops and the barrel-vaulted room might be restored to serve as a chapel. When you climb the steps look out for the marble painting. As soon as you finish the steps you will get a nice view of the first house. Follow the signs on this corridor, one further on the left is very interesting as it informs about a graffiti-shopping list including a prostitute. Although people where married having concubines was very common. The gangway will lead you further uphill. During that walk on the right side you will see an ancient restroom. Pretty uncommon for a normal Roman house, but hey we are walking through mansions out of Roman history. Just on the left side again very uncommon a private Roman Bath. Columns out of round shaped clay bricks mark the hot room. The hot water could also be used for floor heating in the whole house. On some walls you can see the effects of the earthquake as these walls lean forward, but their paintings are restored and in a very good condition. On top of the block you will get a view over the whole unit, which is fascinating. The path outside takes you to the steps at the side of the shelter. At the beginning of the steps a path leads to the left. It’s closed for public, but this is the path which gets you to the cave of St. Paul.
- Celsus Library:This is the highlight of the city. The front element of this building is the best restored part in this excavation site. The columns and niches in the first floor are bigger in size than in the second floor. This has two reasons. A smaller second floor adds to the perspective, so the building looks larger as it is. Secondly a smaller second floor means less material, less weight on the higher areas, which adds to the statics and stability of the building. From the outside it gives you the impression that it was a two-floor building, but inside you had just a very high ceiling. Books where held in niches in the walls and a gangway attached to the walls was used by librarians to reach these niches. In the middle of the backside wall in the big niche was the statue of Athene goddess of wisdom. Celsus was a rich man with influence in the city and his son had paid for this library after his father’s death. There are many stories about this building. A funny one says that there was a tunnel to the opposite building, a brothel (because of it’s explicit pictures on the walls). The story then was that husband’s where telling their wife’s that they had business in the library, went there and used the tunnel for some joy. No evidence in this direction has been found so far, but it’s still a good story. A true story is about a book, a tale written here in Ephesus. The title was Ephesiaca: An Ephesian Tale, and it tells the tale of two rival families in the city. The girl of one family loves the boy of the other family and there is your story. What came into your mind? Well you are right. They say that when Shakespeare wrote his Romeo and Julia he had a copy of Ephesiaca on his desk. Parts of this book are still in existence and can be ordered through online Bookstores.
- The Agora: When you walk through the arches you will enter the Agora, which I always translate as shopping mall. It’s actually more than that; this huge area as big as two soccer fields was full of shops and guilds. If you needed someone to plaster your walls, you would visit the guild of plasters and so on. This area would be the meeting point for everyone and everything. It’s strategic location behind the harbor area gives very short supply ways in both directions. So a ship entering the harbor can take it’s cargo to the Agora and sell everything in a very short time, while a businessman buying goods from the Agora can load it with very short transportation to the harbor. In the center of the Agora is an area covered by trees. This area was the temple of goddess Tyche. The goddess for business and profit. Businessman and thieves worshiped her together. Funny thing, but if you think it’s logical, both are looking to make a profit.
- The Theater: This is an amazing view. To stand there in the middle of the theater and look around, to imagine that 25000 pairs of eyes are watching you gives a chill. First of all, it’s a Theater of the Greek period. Signs for this are there. Lacking some important construction techniques in that period it had to lean into a hill. (Later during the roman period after the arch brought to perfection it was possible to build theaters as standalone buildings as the Coliseum). The stage building is not in line with the ends of the seating area of the Theater; the seating area is shaped like a horseshoe, which is another sign for a Greek Theater. Today we know that the seats where partly covert by a fabric to create a shade, at least for the expensive areas. The only Roman addition to this Theater seems to be the wall between the seats and the semicircle shaped Orchestra. This is a protecting wall for the public during gladiator and animal fights. It’s height might seem to low to prevent lions jumping over to the seats and feasting instead of fighting that tiny Christian or gladiator with weapons, so there must have been an additional maybe a wooden fence of some sort for protection. This Theater is mentioned in the Bible in the Acts of Apostles (19:23-41). When St. Paul preaches here against pagan religions, the riot of the silversmiths takes place here in this theater.
- Virgin Mary's church: Confusingly enough this has nothing to do with the house of Virgin Mary. This church dates to a later period of Ephesus although the house has been discovered later. The ruins are in a few minutes walking distance from the crossroad, which makes it hard to reach because most of the groups will end their trip further on at the exit with a little bit of time for the bathrooms. If you have the time it’s worth a visit, because it plays an important role in the world of Christianity. The third council of the Christianity World was held here in Ephesus and Virgin Mary was declared here as the person giving birth to God.