A Travellerspoint blog

A Taste of Turkey #2

The ruins of Ephesus and St. John's Bascillica

Ephesus, Turkey
March 27 - April 2, 2011


I love the haphazard, elegant beauty of ancient ruins and the mysteries they hold about once-vibrant civilizations now gone. We have observed in Italy, Greece, and now Turkey more stone artifacts than contemporary countries can deal with, it seems. Remnants of ancient buildings, roads, sculptures, columns, pottery, tiles, and mosaics are laying about, everywhere.


In the midst of ancient ruins I am overcome with a desire to start digging--I can barely control myself. I just know there are "treasures" of everyday ancient life (pots, tiles, coins, cups . . . ) under my feet waiting to be found. I creep along dislodging half-buried fragments with the toe of my shoe. "Look, Brad, a bit of pottery; see the ridges and how it curves? It must be a vase. Look here honey, a piece of painted tile; it's probably from the floor of a bathhouse. See this bit, it looks like part of a finger from a marble statue." Who knew? I'm a wannabe archeologist. Brad's entrepreneurial idea is to cordon off some unexcavated areas and rent trowels and small pails to hopeful hunters, like me, and let us dig. The deal would be that we could keep the bits and pieces we find that fit in the small pail. Anything bigger than the pail has to be handed over to the country. Hey, I'm in!

Pop quiz: Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian? (Note, too big for the pail.)

We walked the three-kilometer path through Eucalyptus trees and fields from Selcuk to the ancient Greek/Roman city of Ephesus. It was once a major port city with access to the Aegean Sea. Two thousand years ago (give or take a few centuries), Ephesus boasted a population of 250,000 and was one of the largest cities in the world. Cleopatra, Mark Anthony, Constantine, Agustus, Alexander the Great, St. Paul, and the Virgin Mary all reportedly walked these streets. However, the harbor silted up and in the 15th century it was abandoned. Only a small part of the ruins of the city have been excavated so far. (Ahem.)

Our first sight was the enormous amphitheater. It's not the most well-preserved, but it is one of the largest. For size reference, see the people in the bottom of the picture. Ephesus was a site of some early Christianity events. In this amphitheater St. Paul is said to have given a speech that put him at odds with the pagan-worshiping citizens and with the artisans who made and sold idols. The audience booed and shouted the names of idols for two hours after his speech, and Paul had to leave town for awhile. More recently, a Sting concert here under a full moon is still the talk of Selcuk town. The Virgin Mary lived in Ephesus after the crucifixion of her son Jesus, and a church dedicated to her was the site of early Christian councils debating various issues of dogma and faith. The picture of Brad and the large vessel is at the ruins of the Virgin Mary's church.


After the Virgin Mary church ruins we got lost (shocking, I know) and ended up in a field dotted with ruins poking through overgrowth. Brad lead the way toward what used to be the edge of the ancient harbor, before it silted up a thousand years or so ago. We viewed the toppling ruins from afar. In the last picture in the set below, Brad is walking on the ancient harbor road back into town. The amphitheater can be seen in the distance. Imagine this column-lined road bustling with burrow- and horse-pulled carts bringing loads to-and-from the busy harbor. Vendors sold wares and food from shops on each side of the road.


One stone of the road was dislodged offering us a view of its construction. The road was built over a swamp and vertically placed stone slabs supported the horizontal slabs of the road, keeping it above the water line. After Ephesus declined its stones were raided for new buildings elsewhere and marble was ground up for plaster. As we have seen in many, many ruins, scavenging construction materials is a time-honored practice. See picture of Ephesus wall below built from materials including a round grain-grinding stone. Reduce, reuse, recycle throughout millennia.


Making our way back into Ephesus town proper, we found more temple ruins and columned-lined roadways. Some sort of high-security, award ceremony was taking place in the beautiful Library of Celsus, painstakingly reconstructed from all-original pieces. It is neat to see ancient ruins used for contemporary events. To the left of the ancient library (over my right shoulder in the picture) is the site where Cleopatra secretly buried her younger sister, who was assassinated on Cleopatra's orders. (I once saw a documentary on this event, archeological dig, forensic analysis of the bones, and so forth.) On our extended travel I have read several history books. I've concluded that throughout human history one of the most dangerous things to be is a relative of someone in power, or of someone who wants to be in power. Seriously. It significantly ups the probability of being strangled, stabbed, executed, or buried alive (patricide and fratricide were especially common), or if lucky, I suppose, imprisoned after being blinded, nose cut off, or tongue slit (to make one unfit to rule). Although, amazingly, some have returned to power after such disfigurements and ruled with, for example, a false nose made out of gold or tin. Really! Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Ephesus. On a more positive note, of course many have acted for good. The statue below, for example, is of an Ephesus physician who was honored for trying to find a cure for malaria. (Not a surprising ambition or honor, given the construction of the city over a swamp.)


Ephesus was known for its exceptional Roman-built public bathhouses, using sophisticated plumbing and heating systems. In some places mosaic flooring can still be seen--amazing after a thousand years. (And we have to refinish our deck every other year.) Also evident were the communal toilets--favorite spots for catching up on the news and gossip (waste was swished away by troughs of water running underneath, in case you are wondering). In the midst of the practical detritus were stunningly beautiful sculpture fragments. I'm simultaneously envious of a civilization dedicated to decorating its public spaces with so much art and a little wigged-out knowing that this was possible only with the use of enslaved people captured from other lands. Such is history--a little glorious and a little complicated.


On to the ruins of St. John's Bascillica, also in the neighborhood, overlooking the town of Selcuk. This hill houses the ruins of a large church built where it is believed St. John wrote his gospel. It also houses the ancient castle fortress of Selcuk, closed for restoration. An enterprising fellow along the way, offered to take us on a special tour of the closed castle, to which he said he had entry because he was a "museum official," showing us a badge. We passed on the offer. The site of St. John's Bascillica had great 360-views (must have been a nice place to write!). The ruins were all pillars and piles.


Maybe someday the antiquities directors will implement Brad's rent-a-trowel and dig for treasure idea. I'll be there. Bye for now!

Posted by bradanddeb 21:01 Archived in Turkey

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Answer: corinthian. This is such a great entry! I love the little kitty resting in the ruins :)

by Soquel Wood

Thanks for the travel log and photos - it was like taking a mini-vacation.

by Linda Davis-Alldritt

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