As one of the Seven Churches of Revelation mentioned in the New Testament, the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus are a religious treasure but extensive excavation work also makes it a historical marvel.
Ongoing since 1927, only a small fraction of the city has been uncovered yet the ruins of a library, houses, theatre, marketplace, temples, and public latrines have made it one of Turkey’s most top visited attractions.
During the Augustan period of Roman rule (63 B.C to 14 A.D,) Ephesus became the most important commercial centre for the Roman Empire in Asia Minor. Many of the ruins that we see today are from this period although its historical timeline covers thousands of years.
Famous figures from throughout history who have visited or stayed in the city include Saint John, Saint Paul, the Virgin Mary and Alexander the Great so a walk of the old streets to admire the classical buildings is not only following in famous people’s footsteps but also a fun history lesson about one of the greatest empires of all time.
Highlights of a Visit to Ephesus
Entering from the southeast gate, visitors walk downhill past the upper gymnasium public baths to begin a stroll down the Royal Walk, originally constructed in the 1st century. On the right-hand side is the small Odeion where council members discussed current day issues affecting the city or relaxed listening to music because Ephesus was also a haven for artists, musicians and philosophers.
Passing the Temple of Domitianus, and through the impressive Gate of Hercules, the main street of Ephesus becomes visible. Known as the sacred path, Curates Street stretching for 210 metres eventually reaches the most humorous, yet impressive public latrines.
Rich Roman masters ordered their slaves to warm up the u-shaped marble toilet seats by sitting on them first. Situated around an intricate mosaic display, the public latrines had advanced engineering for their time and included deep sewerage pipes to eliminate bad smells.
Close by, sitting on a gentle slope of Mount Bulbul are Roman houses, former residences of rich and influential citizens of Ephesus. Excavations revealed most were built in the 1st century BC, and like the public latrines had all modern features that poor citizens did not have access to such as underfloor heating; clean running water and a sewerage system. The rooms included dining, guest and slaves quarters but the floor mosaics, wall painting and marble effigies garner the most admiration.
Leaving the houses, the next landmark is large courtyard backed by the Celsius Library that once held 12,000 scrolls. Known as the third biggest library of the ancient world, and dedicated to the governor of Asia Minor Celsus who died in 114AD, the two-story façade, restored using original and modern materials is the most photographed ancient building of Ephesus.
Exiting through the gates of Mazaeus and Mithridates, a walk down Marble Street eventually leads to what many say is Ephesus finest structure, the Grand Theatre. Conjuring up images of fierce gladiators, the 25,000 seater Hellenistic arena was also where market traders loyal to the goddess Artemis famously heckled Saint Paul. Said by many historians to be the best-preserved theatre of the ancient world, it is an iconic symbol of Ephesus, one of the greatest cities of the Roman Empire.
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