Ephesus

Trip Start May 20, 2008
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Trip End Sep 15, 2008


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Flag of Turkey  , Turkish Aegean Coast,
Tuesday, May 27, 2008

5/26 Today we had an excursion to the ancient city of Ephesus. Our perfect weather continued and we had a very informative guide lead us through the history of Ephesus as well as what we were seeing. As the best preserved classical city in the eastern Mediterrean and with easy access for cruise ships, Ephesus was packed.

History:
The city of Ephesus itself was founded in the 10th century BC, three kilometers from the center of antique Ephesus. The mythical founder of the city was Androklos, son of king Kadros and a prince of Athens, who had to leave his country after the death of his father. According to legend, he founded Ephesus on the place where the oracle of Delphi became reality ("A fish and a boar will show you the way"). Androklos was a successful warrior and, as king, he was able to join the twelve cities of Ionia together into the Ionian League. During his reign the city began to prosper.

The Greek goddess Artemis and the great Anatolian goddess Kybele were identified together as Artemis of Ephesus. The many-breasted "Lady of Ephesus", identified with Artemis, was venerated in the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World and the largest building of the ancient world. Only one column of more than 100 exist of this structure today. A stork nest proudly occupies the top of the column.

When Alexander the Great defeated the Persian forces in 334 BC, the Greek cities of Asia Minor were liberated. The pro-Persian tyrant Syrpax and his family were stoned to death and Alexander was greeted warmly in Ephesus when he entered it in triumph. When he saw that the temple of Artemis was not yet finished, he proposed to finance the temple and have his name as an inscription of the front. But the inhabitants of Ephesus refused, claiming that it was not fitting for a god to build a temple for another god.

As the river Cayster was silting up the harbour, the resulting marshes were the cause of malaria and many deaths among the inhabitants. The people of Ephesus were forced to move to a new settlement 2 kilometers further on. The architectural layout of the city would remain unchanged for the next 500 years.

Ephesus hosted one of the seven churches of Asia, addressed in the Book of Revelation of The Bible. The Gospel of John might have been written here. The town was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 614. The importance of the city as a commercial centre declined as the harbour slowly filled with silt from the river.

When Augustus became emperor in 27 BC, he made Ephesus instead of Pergamum the capital of the western part of Asia Minor. Ephesus entered an era of prosperity. It became the seat of the governor, growing into a metropolis and a major center of commerce. It was second in importance and size only to Rome. Ephesus has been estimated to be in the range of 400,000 to 500,000 inhabitants in the year 100, making it the largest city in Roman Asia and of the day. Ephesus was at its peak during the first and second century AD.

The importance of the city as a commercial centre declined as the harbour slowly filled with silt from the river despite repeated dredges during the city's history. Today, what used to be the harbor is 5 kilometers inland. The loss of its harbor caused Ephesus to lose its access to the Aegean Sea, which was important for trade. People started leaving the lowland of the city for the surrounding hills. The ruins of the temples were used as building blocks for new homes. Marble sculptures were ground to powder to make lime for plaster.

Main sights:
Only an estimated 15% of the ancient town has been excavated. The ruins that are visible give some idea of the city's original splendour, and the names associated with the ruins are evocative of its former life. The theater dominates the view down Harbour Street which leads to the long silted-up harbor.

The Library of Celsus, whose fašade has been carefully reconstructed from all original pieces, was built ca. AD 125 by Gaius Julius Aquila in memory of his father, and once held nearly 12,000 scrolls. Designed with an exaggerated entrance - so as to enhance its perceived size, speculate many historians - the building faces east so that the reading rooms could make best use of the morning light.

The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is represented only by one inconspicuous column, revealed during an archaeological excavation by the British Museum in the 1870s.

The Odeon - a small roofed theatre constructed in around 150 A.D. It was a small salon for plays and concerts, seating about 1,500 people.

The Temple of Hadrian dates from the 2nd century but underwent repairs in the 4th century and has been reerected from the surviving architectural fragments. The reliefs in the upper sections are casts, the originals being now exhibited in the Ephesus Museum.

The Theater - At an estimated 44,000 seating capacity (I have read many different figures), it is believed to be the largest outdoor theater in the ancient world.

I enjoyed learning of the history of the ancient town and of the many different structures. I kept thinking of what the city must have been like during its prime. I can't imagine hundreds of thousands of people here (even given the large amount of ruins left to be excavated). The craftsmanship we viewed was amazing and the attention to detail, such as the sidewalk mosaics, speaks to the advanced society of the time. I wonder why American Indians seemed so primitive more than 1000 years later and how European civilizations developed so much more rapidly. Just the layout of the town impressed me since it was very functional and not too different from how we would plan a new town today.

After several hours touring the ancient city we went for a so-so lunch where I managed to buy 3 Turkish shirts next door for about $8 each which was by far the best price I've seen. That will give me something to wear in the days ahead. After lunch we toured the Ephesus Museum in nearby Selcuk. It contains many of the smaller items recovered during the excavation process. Finally we visited the Selcuk Mosque where our Muslim tour guide handled our many questions professionally. We were all interested in how Islam is practiced, the treatment of women, and how Islam is treated in Turkey versus the other Middle Eastern countries. This made for a very informative day that I tried to somewhat capture in the photos.
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