A walk through ancient history

Since we are heading east, we lost an hour of sleep last night, due to a time zone change. So, we were bright and early for our excursion to Ephesus. If that name sounds familiar, it is because the book of Ephesians in the Bible was written by Paul to the church in Ephesus. Its history, however, has its roots in Greek mythology.


The ship docked at the port of Kusadasi, which is a very touristy city. We noticed quite a few American hotel chains and resorts. The population grows from 10,000 to 1 million during the summer, and that number does not include cruise passengers!

The city of Ephesus itself was much larger than I expected. And, it is only 20% excavated! During Roman times, there were 240,000 people living there. Excavations started in 1820. This was originally a seaport, but is now 6 km away from the sea due to geological changes.

One of the first things we noticed is that there were cats everywhere! The cats are fed and cared for. We saw food left out for them.

We entered the city passing through a wide avenue. A processional was held twice a year to take a flame to the gods. Olive was used to keep the flame alight (after the oil was pressed out). Apparently, this worked better than coal. There were grooves in the marble of the Processional Way to prevent slipping. Sewage tunnels were underneath.

We passed by the medical center, adorned with the god of healing, caduceus. Next, Emperor Domitian’s Temple. Domitian was an enemy of Christianity; he exiled the apostle John to the island of Patmos. Next, a monument to Memnius, and a statue of Nike (Victoria).

The Temple of Hadrian is a famous site in Ephesus. It was interesting to note that many of the adornments on the buildings were decorated with bull testicles. The bull is a symbol of fertility.

From there, we passed the spice bazaar, which was originally covered by a brick roof. This is where the famous restrooms are located. Just like current day Turkey, you had to pay to pee. There were 40 toilets in an L shape. At the entrance, you picked up a sponge on a stick, which had been dipped in rose water. Musicians were located across from the toilets; apparently the music helped mask the sounds! Although the toilets were unisex, most people that used them were men. Men wore skirts, which provided privacy. There was running water in the ditch under the toilets. After using the toilets, you returned the sponge, which were then reused (sponges were expensive!).

There were Turkish baths in Ephesus as well, although poor people could only afford to bath a couple of times per year due to the expense. There were hot, cold and tepid baths, and central heating.

The Terrace Houses were fascinating. This portion of the tour focused on the actual homes that people lived in. I was very surprised at how elegant some of the homes were. You could see some of the frescoes that had been painted on the walls and floors, and also the beautiful mosaics. There were even backgammon tables!

Next up was the Library of Celsus, which was the third largest in the ancient world. From there, we passed through Saturn’s gate into the Agora (marketplace). There were tall gates in the marketplace for animals. Over 200 shops existed, including a slave market. St. Paul preached to the pagans here; we was then exiled. Apparently, it did not go over well! The people of Ephesus worshipped the goddess Artemis/Diana, and were not too keen on Paul’s message.

The stadium here is where the reward was offered for St. Paul. He was put in prison; the base of the prison still remains. The stadium was constructed in 200 BC, and could seat 24,000 people. It was later expanded. Originally, the purpose of the stadium was for performance type theater (including orchestra). Originally, the theater was open to the ocean (when the Greeks were in control); when the Romans took over, they closed off the front. There were different gates for different classes of people. The upper gate was 3rd class, middle gate was 2nd class, and the lower gate (best seats) was for 1st class.

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There was a gladiator stadium that seated 30,000 people; chariot races were held here as well. A gymnasium existed as well, but gymnasium means university. Students exercised before classes, which probably led to the modern use of the term gymnasium!

A necropolis (city of the dead or cemetery) was also located in this area.

We passed through a modern bazaar on the way to the van, which was waiting to take us to the Temple of Artemis. We had read that you should always bargain with the vendors in Turkey. I spotted a cute harem hat that I wanted to get for our granddaughter. So, I made an offer. Apparently, I must have low-balled the offer a bit, because the vendor got offended, and chased us out of his stall! We bought some pomegranate juice to help cool off and hydrate, and went to the van to wait for the rest of the group. A vendor came onto the bus, and decided I looked like someone that wanted to buy some turkish delight. Oddly enough, he was right! Turkish delight was on my list of things that I wanted to bring back from our trip. He offered me 5 boxes for 10 Euros; I turned him down. He sweetened the pot by adding in a packet of saffron. We ended up making a deal for 6 boxes of candy and the saffron. Not too bad a deal, especially since the gift shop on the ship was selling the exact same candy for $8 per box!

Our last stop for the day was the Temple of Artemis (Diana the Hunter), which had been mostly destroyed by earthquakes. It was a bit of an anti-climax after the magnificence of Ephesus. It was built in 1000 BC, and was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Untouchables were able to come here for asylum. Each of the columns in the temple weighed 50 tons! Behind the Temple, up on the hill, is St. John’s Basilica. They believe St. John was buried there. Early Christians were burned there. A mosque was erected at the same site during the Ottoman Empire.



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