There are certain places in the world that are worth revisiting
because they are so rich in history and beauty. Ephesus is one of those places,
and as Blogger-at-Large for Oceania Cruises, I had the great fortune of visiting
this extraordinary archaeological site twice. Today guests onboard Riviera’s Sacred Sanctuaries voyage explored the ruins of this magnificent
Ephesus is 13 miles from the port city of Kusadasi and 10
miles from the Aegean coastline, so I was a little surprised to discover that
this landlocked city was previously one of the most important ports in the
world. As a result of the silting of the Meander River, what was once the bay
had become marshland by the end of seventh century, and 60,000 people were
killed by malaria from the mosquitoes. The town was rebuilt nearby, but because
it was no longer a port city, it never regained its prior importance.
During Roman times, the population of Ephesus was 250,000, making
it one of the largest cities in the world. Most of the ruins that can be seen
today were originally built between the first century BC and first century AD. Ephesus
was uniquely positioned in both place and time to be at the center of perhaps
the greatest evolution of religious philosophy in history. Sacred monuments in
the city pay homage to the Greek goddess Artemis as well as the Apostle Saint
Ephesus is thought to be where Jesus sent Saint John and the
Virgin Mary after his death. After being exiled to Patmos, where he wrote
Revelations, John came back to Ephesus and died of natural causes at the age of
100. He was purportedly the only apostle who was not martyred. John was buried
in Ephesus in the place where he died, and later the Basilica of St. John was
built over his grave.
Meanwhile, the Temple of Artemis had been standing in
Ephesus since centuries earlier. Even though only one column remains, you can
still see the foundations of this magnificent construction from the Hellenistic
period, which stand a few hundred meters from the primary archaeological site of Ephesus. While the ruins are sparse, it is nevertheless impressive to stand at
the foundations of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and envision
its past glory. The temple was four times larger than the Parthenon and had 127
columns, each standing nearly 60 feet high.
Ephesus was plundered by numerous invaders over the
centuries, and marble from the Temple of Artemis was used to build the
Basilica of St. John, which then later became a mosque. At any given point in
history, Ephesus was under the control of the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans
and other empires.
Archaeologists have been excavating Ephesus since the 1890s.
Among the many fascinating discoveries was the sophisticated water collection
system that brought water from huge cisterns on the hill down into the city via
clay pipes. This ancient city had running water!
I was astonished to find that original marble remains on the
main road through the city, which leads down to the most famous edifice in
Ephesus, the Library of Celsus. It took seven years to reconstruct the façade,
75 percent of which is original. First built in the first century AD in honor
of the Roman senator Celsus, the library was destroyed by an earthquake in the
third century and only the façade survived. It remained a monument until it,
too, was destroyed by an earthquake.
The magnificent Great Theater is the largest Roman theater
in Turkey and the best preserved in the world.
The acoustics in the theater are so advanced that it has
hosted modern performers, such as Diana Ross, U2, Sting and Pavarotti, without
the need for amplification. Overlooking what was once the harbor, it seats
25,000 and it is believed that Saint Paul preached here. Because most people
were idol worshippers at the time, there were tradesmen, especially
silversmiths, who made money selling idols. Paul’s preaching warned against idolatry
and threatened the livelihood of these tradesmen, so he met with resistance and
persecution during the three years he was in Ephesus.
The center of Ephesus was relocated a few times during its
long history, but remarkably, it stood at the location of this archaeological
site for a millennium. Centuries of earthquakes and changing landscapes buried
and protected these ruins so that today we can take an incredible journey back
in time. Whether you visit once or many times, Ephesus always has more
fascinating history to reveal, and I highly recommend any of the upcoming Oceania
Cruises sailings that call on this amazing city.
The following voyages visit Ephesus in 2013:
- October 25, 2013: Roman Legends, Barcelona to Athens (10 Days)
- November 6, 2013: Continental Quest, Istanbul to Barcelona (12 Days)
- November 14, 2013: Empires of Antiquity, Barcelona to Dunai (24 Days)