Avatar photo

By Hein Kaiser


Haunted by the ghosts of the ancients

Ephesus, a treasure of Türkiye

It’s a surreal experience, touching marble that was carved into massive stone structures thousands of years ago and walking along the same corridor that led from a port through to a bustling trade centre, also paved with slippery marble, where the footfall of civilisation’s ghosts can be tangibly felt.

It’s goose-bumps stuff, because deep inside ancient structures, the spirits of millennia still dwell. Unlike one tourist who exclaimed that visiting Ephesus, about 30 minutes outside the Turkish resort town of Kusadasi, was the most boring experience of his life, the balance of visitors to this marvel of architecture and human narrative were gobsmacked by the sophistication, the science and the sheer scale of what humankind achieved in a world before machination. The ruins of Ephesus, a giant complex of structures, are magnificent to take in.

MARBLE RELIEF. The Greek goddess of victory, Nike, looks like she’s flying. In her left hand she holds a laurel wreath and in her right is a palm branch. Picture: Hein Kaiser and iStock
MARBLE RELIEF. The Greek goddess of victory, Nike, looks like she’s flying. In her left hand she holds a laurel wreath and in her right is a palm branch. Picture: Hein Kaiser and iStock

From ancient Greek origins to Byzantine influence

Ephesus was one of the most important cities of the ancient world. Among the oldest Greek settlements on the Aegean Sea, it was later the provincial seat of the Roman Empire’s government in Asia. Ephesus was settled by the sixth millennium Before Christ (BC).

It was built on a hill as an AtticIonian colony in the 10th century BC. It is said its founder was a prince of Athens, Androklos, who had to leave his country after the death of his father, King Kodros.

It was founded where the Oracle of Delphi told him a fish and a boar would show him the way. A port city, Ephesus became a major trading centre, although the water has receded now. It was also known as a centre of religion and culture and is home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis.

Picture: Hein Kaiser and iStock
Picture: Hein Kaiser and iStock

Throughout the past few thousand years, the city was conquered several times, faced natural disasters and eventually abandoned. It was only rediscovered in the 20th century. Alexander the Great conquered Ephesus in 334BC and it later fell under the control of various Hellenistic rulers.

It never depreciated in its value as a commercial and cultural centre, and became one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire in about 133BC, later playing a key political and geographic role in the Byzantine Empire after the Roman Empire split between east and west in about 4AD. In about 1390 Ephesus was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, and then came a slow demise. By the 15th century, the once-great metropolis was all but abandoned.

ALSO READ: WATCH: Saudi Arabia plans to break more than one record with new roller coaster

TRITON Hillside. house mosaic. Picture: Hein Kaiser and iStock
TRITON Hillside. House mosaic. Picture: Hein Kaiser and iStock

A journey through time in the ancient city’s marvels

It would be another 500 years before archaeologists discovered and excavated the city. A visit to Ephesus is incredible. It is vast and requires, at the very least, a three-hour visit to properly explore this open-air celebration of antiquity. And what makes this experience even better is that there are areas that visitors can walk into, step across and for a moment imagine what life could have been like thousands of years ago.

To sit down and face the stage in one of the two arenas, a smaller town-hall type theatre and a massive, 24 000-seater version, provides spectacular insight into the ancients’ ingenuity of design – the acoustics, the view. It can leave you speechless. Stroll through an ancient shopping mall, well, its equivalent. And, as becoming of every Roman or Greek town, there’s a brother, terraced housing developments with visible mosaics and art. It’s an insight into a sophisticated society, a social structure that formed the bedrock of everything we know today, the formative years of Western society.

Then, probably one of the most impressive and well-preserved facades, albeit somewhat restored, of the ancient world, the Library of Celsus. It was built in honour of the Roman senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, also known as Celsus, who died in 106BC. The library was commissioned in his honour, by his son, Gaius Julius Aquila, and completed 26 years after Celsus’ death.

It was a three-storey building with marble columns and statues, and the library was divided into two halls, a large main hall, and a smaller side hall. It is believed to have housed a collection of more than 12 000 scrolls but destroyed in an earthquake in the 10th century.

Picture: Hein Kaiser and iStock
Picture: Hein Kaiser and iStock

Exploring the crypt of Celsus in Ephesus

Celsus was buried in a crypt under the main floor of the library. It’s a long walk, and in the blazing Turkish sun it can be somewhat arduous, but it is completely worth it.

Avoid audio tours and, while well numbered and informative, you’d have to return the device to the ticket office on completion of the three-hour circuit. Then it’s back uphill.

Rather invest in one of the many guidebooks, priced between €6 (about R113) and €10, for an in-depth historic explanation. Directional and explainer signage is visible, accessible and in good condition at every point of attraction in Ephesus.

The site is visited by thousands of tourists every day, most led by tour guides with colourful paddles or umbrellas. If you’re visiting by yourself, make sure that you get there early, as the throng of kykdaars can be suffocating and – like the tourist who was bored beyond boredom – very annoying.

NOW READ: World’s beautiful travel destination, the Maldives, battling to stay above water

Read more on these topics

International Travel Local Travel travel

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits