This article has been previously published as a part of book Around Ephesus and Kusadasi: TAN Travel Guide by Izabela Miszczak
Situated in the Aegean region of Turkey, Ephesus is probably the best preserved ancient city in the Mediterranean. In ancient times, Ephesus was a bustling trading city and a center of worship of Cybele - the goddess of fertility. Archaeological excavations and maintenance works provide new information about the ancient city every year. Therefore, this is a place worth coming back again and again.
Ephesus is also an important place for Christians. Here was one of the first Christian communities in Asia Minor, and Saint John held the position of Bishop of Ephesus. He mentioned Ephesus in the Book of Revelation, where the city was listed as one of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.
In order to imagine what life was like in the ancient city of Roman Empire, walk the streets of Ephesus, look at public toilets and residential houses, then sit back in the theater or visit the library. Ephesus offers all these things, and indeed no one will not be disappointed after the visit.
According to Greek tradition, Ephesus was founded by a prince of Athens named Androklos that intended to settle in Asia Minor. Before setting off, he consulted the oracle. As an answer, he heard the enigmatic advice to choose the place indicated by a fish and a wild boar. Oracles were famous for their unclear statements, but this did not discourage Androklos, and he started the search. One day, while preparing a meal, roasted fish jumped out of the fire, and a burning coal fell into the bushes, scaring away a wild boar. It was a clear sign for Androklos that indicated the right place for a new settlement.
Prehistory and the Bronze Age
In fact, the area near Ephesus was inhabited from the times much earlier than the arrival of Greek settlers. As a result of archaeological work carried out on the nearby mounds Arvalya and Çukuriçi, it was proved that the human settlement in the area dates back to the 7th millennium BC, i.e. the Neolithic period.
From the early Bronze Age come the traces of settlement on Ayasuluk Hill, overlooking Ephesus and the modern town of Selçuk. Some researchers have suggested that the capital of Arzawa kingdom, Abasa, mentioned in Hittite sources from the 14th century BC, was situated precisely in this area. This theory seems to be confirmed by the Mycenaean tombs discovered nearby.
Greek colonisation and the age of prosperity
Like the other Ionian colonies, Ephesus was settled by Greeks at the latest in the 10th century BC. Some of the ancient inhabitants of these lands - the Leleges and the Carians - then moved into other areas, while others mingled with the Greek immigrant population.
The newcomers from Greece discovered that the principal deity worshiped in many parts of Asia Minor, including the coast of the Aegean, was the goddess-mother Cybele. The Greeks skilfully combined their religious beliefs with the local ones, introducing at Ephesus the cult of the Greek goddess Artemis but attributing her with many qualities of Cybele. The famous Temple of Artemis was built on the site of an ancient sanctuary of Cybele and attracted pilgrims from distant parts of the Greek world.
The first Greek settlement in Ephesus was founded probably in the area of Koressos harbour, located one km to the west of the Temple of Artemis. However, archaeologists have failed to establish with certainty, where the Greeks initially settled. Excavations in Koressos area are hampered by the silting of the old port and the changes of Kaystros riverbed (now called Küçük Menderes).
Initially, Ephesus was ruled by kings, and then - by an oligarchy of magnates. Around 650 BC, the city was conquered and destroyed by the nomadic tribe of Kimmerians that terrorised Anatolia, looting Phrygia and Lydia. Kimmerians destroyed, among others, the first Temple of Artemis of the Ephesians. Ephesus was rebuilt and again gained importance in the second half of the 7th century BC when it was controlled by tyrants. After a popular revolt, the city was ruled by a council. Ephesus entered a golden age of its existence, becoming home to many eminent personalities.
Lydian domination and Persian rule
The city flourished, but its wealth provoked the jealousy of the King of Lydia - Croesus. Around 600 BC he attacked and destroyed Ephesus, resettling its inhabitants in a place farther away from the sea. Since then, the Ephesians paid him tribute. Croesus became the principal sponsor of the reconstruction of the Temple of Artemis, which was completed around 550 BC. Near the temple developed residential part of the city. However, due to the current high level of the water table has not been examined by archaeologists.
Shortly after the completion of the Temple of Artemis, Lydian king Croesus decided to invade Persia. The Greeks from Asia Minor rejected the offer of peace, put forward by Cyrus the Great and stood on the side of the Lydians. After the defeat of Croesus and the fall of his capital, the Greeks proposed a peace treaty with the Persians. This time, Cyrus refused and demanded the inclusion of the Ionian colonies into his empire. In the mid-sixth century BC, the Persian army defeated the Greek army and thus Ionian colonies became a part of the Achaemenid Empire. They were managed by Persian representatives, called satraps.
Ephesus retained its importance and wealth, but when the Persians once again decided to raise the taxes, the city joined the Ionian Revolt against Persian rule. In 498 BC, the insurgents were defeated at the Battle of Ephesus. Ionian Revolt led to the Greco-Persian wars. They ended with the victory of the Greeks and Persian withdrawal from the western coast of Asia Minor. In 478 BC Ephesus, together with other Ionian colonies joined the Delian League.
Classical and Hellenistic periods
During the Peloponnesian Wars that took place in the 5th century BC between Athens and Sparta, Ephesus initially sided with the Athenians. However, in the final stage of the conflict, called the Decelean War (413-404 BC), the city stood on the side of Sparta, which was allied with the Persians. As a result, the Ionian colonies, including Ephesus, returned under Persian control.
Surprisingly, the armed conflicts, lasting for many decades, did not have a significant impact on daily life in Ephesus. However, a big blow for the town was burning of the Temple of Artemis in 356 BC. Soon afterwards, in 334 BC, Alexander the Great arrived at Ephesus. He made an offering on the ruins of the temple and offered to help with its reconstruction.
After the death of Alexander the Great, the territories conquered by his army were divided among his generals. In 290 BC Ephesus fell, along with the entire Asia Minor, under the control of Lysimachus. At that time, the old harbour of the city was silted up by the river Kaystros. Lysimachus moved the city about 2.5 km south-west to the valley between the hills, built a new harbour and surrounded the settlement with the defensive walls. In this location also settled the residents of Lebedos and Colophon, two Ionian settlements destroyed by Lysimachus. The new name of the city - Arsineia - was to honour of the wife of Lysimachus, Arsinoe. It was only used until 281 BC i.e. to the death of Lysimachus.
In the 3rd and the 2nd centuries BC, Ephesus repeatedly passed from hand to hand: first it was a part of the Seleucid empire, and then was managed by the Ptolemies, rulers of Egypt. In 190 BC it was incorporated into the kingdom of Pergamum, and with the death of its last ruler - Attalos III - became the part of the Roman Empire.
Roman times and early Christianity
In the Roman era, the Ephesians had to endure higher and higher taxes levied on the city. Their discontent grew, until in 88 BC it found an outlet in the tragic events known as the Asiatic Vespers. Mithridates the Great, king of Pontus, who waged war with Rome, called on the people of Asia Minor to the anti-Roman rebellion. As a result of this appeal the Ephesians in one day killed about 80,000 Romans and Italics, including women and children. They did not even spare those who sought asylum in the Temple of Artemis.
For two years after these events, Ephesus was practically a self-governing city, but when Mithridates was defeated by the Roman consul Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the city again came under the Roman rule. Sulla imposed on Ephesus the obligation to pay a huge compensation and overdue taxes. They were paid for many years, leading to increasing the debt of Ephesus and many other Ionian cities.
During the reign of Emperor Augustus, Ephesus became the capital of the Roman province of Asia, encompassing the area of western Anatolia. This event marked the beginning of another golden age of the city, which was to last for two centuries. In this period, Ephesus was the most prosperous commercial center in Asia Minor. According to Strabo its size and importance were second only to Rome. The number of its inhabitants in the 2nd and the 3rd centuries AD was estimated by the researchers at over 200,000. However, this figure is sometimes questioned due to the geographical conditions of the area around the city. The most conservative estimate adopts a realistic number of 50,000 inhabitants, which puts Ephesus in the third place in terms of population among cities of Asia Minor, after Sardis and Alexandria Troas.
In the first century AD Christianity arrived at Ephesus. Two significant figures were associated with the development of Christianity in Ephesus. The first of them was Saint Paul, who visited the city three times. During his visits, he managed to antagonize local artisans who made their living with custom-made items associated with the cult of Artemis of Ephesus. The angry crowd stirred up by these merchants caused the departure of the apostle from Ephesus, but this did not stop the march of the new faith. The Temple of Artemis was destroyed during the invasion of the Goths in 268 AD, and its subsequent history is uncertain. Perhaps it was rebuilt, but certainly in 381 AD, under the edict of the Emperor Theodosius, it was finally closed, and the cult of Artemis was banned.
Another prominent figure from the early Christian period was St. John the Evangelist. He lived his final years in Ephesus, writing down the Gospel, and was buried on Ayasuluk Hill. According to tradition, Mary, the mother of Jesus accompanied St. John, brought by him from Jerusalem. She was supposed to live in a cottage on Koressos hill where Meryemana sanctuary is now situated.
During the reign of Emperor Constantine I, i.e. in the middle of the 4th century AD the city was rebuilt and gained new public baths. During the Byzantine period, until the 6th century AD, Ephesus retained the position of the second most important city in the empire, after its capital - Constantinople.
In 431 in Ephesus third ecumenical council, also known as the Council of Ephesus, took place. The primary goal was to end the dispute caused by the teachings of Nestorius on the distinction between Christ's human and divine natures. Another council was convened at Ephesus in 449 by emperor Theodosius II. However, due to lack of recognition of this council by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches it is known as the Robber Council of Ephesus.
During the reign of the Emperor Justinian, in the 6th century, the Basilica of St. John was built on Ayasoluk Hill. It became the destination of numerous pilgrimages. However, the twilight of the ancient city was near. In 614 Ephesus was partly destroyed by an earthquake. What's more, the city harbour was silted up by river sediments. The loss of the port meant an economic catastrophe for Ephesus. The Ephesians began to move to new places, and ancient temples were demolished to obtain building materials.
The fall of the city was sealed by the Arab raids that hit the city in the mid-seventh century and the beginning of the 8th century. When, in 1090, Turkish tribes reached Ephesus for the first time, they saw only a small village. The Byzantine Empire managed to regain control of the settlement, which was renamed as Hagios Theologos, until 1308. Apparently when the Crusaders traveling through this area saw the settlement they were amazed at its modest size, as they expected a vibrant port city.
Finally, Ephesus came under Turkish control on the 24th of October, 1304. It was conquered by Sasa Bey, a warlord subject to Menteşoğulları dynasty. Despite the conclusion of a peace treaty with the Ephesians, the Turks sacked Ephesus, plundered the Basilica of St. John and deported most of the local population. The ruins of the ancient city were completely abandoned in the 15th century, and in their neighborhood developed a settlement called Ayasuluğ, which since 1914 has been known as Selçuk.
The most famous person from Ephesus was pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, who lived between the 6th and the 5th centuries BC. He expressed his views in a vague and allegorical way. He is known primarily as the author of the phrases: "No man ever steps in the same river twice" and Panta rhei - "everything flows". They expressed the central element of his philosophical system, which was focused on constant change.
The main work of Heraclitus was a treatise on nature. The author deposited it in the Temple of Artemis of Ephesus. This was in line with one of the functions of ancient temples, which served as storage space for extremely valuable items. Unfortunately, not much has been preserved from his work to our times. His thoughts are known only in the form of about 100 fragments that were cited in the works of other authors.
Moreover, in Ephesus several other prominent persons were born. Among them, it is worth to mention Parrhasius - one of the greatest painters of ancient Greece, sculptor Agasias and Byzantine poet Manuel Philes. Another noteworthy Ephesian was Roman Senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, in whose honor the renowned Library of Celsus was built in Ephesus, and two ancient physicians - Soranus and Rufus.
The history of archaeological research in Ephesus dates back to 1863 when British engineer John Turtle Wood began searching for the remains of the Temple of Artemis. Six years later, he succeeded in identifying its location and then dedicated five years to the excavations in this area.
The next round of archaeological work in Ephesus took place from 1895 to 1913 and was conducted by German and Austrian archaeologists under the direction of Otto Benndorf and Carl Humann. In 1898, Benndorf founded Austrian Archaeological Institute, which has been conducting archaeological studies in Ephesus ever since.
The finds from the area of Ephesus are scattered in many museums around the world. The most impressive collections of objects found in Ephesus are in Ephesus Museum in Selçuk, Ephesus Museum in Vienna and the British Museum in London.
Objects on site:
Vedius Gymnasium is one of the best-preserved buildings that can be seen in Ephesus. It was built about 150 AD, commissioned by a wealthy Ephesian named Publius Vedius Antoninus. He dedicated the gymnasium to goddess Aphrodite, and his friend and protector - Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius.
The building served a dual function: of a gymnasium and baths, as is often the case in the architecture of Roman times. To the east of this complex was located a palestra with the propylaea (monumental gate) was situated on its southern side. The palestra was surrounded by covered arcades of the courtyard, where various sports disciplines were practised, especially wrestling. The porticoes served as auxiliary facilities: locker rooms, warehouses, changing rooms. The propylaea were once adorned with statues, and its western side housed a toilet.
On the western part of the colonnade that surrounds the palestra, there is a large room that opened onto the inner courtyard, which was used for ceremonial purposes and reserved for the emperor during his visits. It housed the now-lost statue of Antoninus Pius. In the area of the palestra, the statue depicting the sophist was found, dating back to the turn of the 2nd century AD.
The largest room in the gymnasium extended to the entire width of the building on the eastern side. It was used for physical exercises. The room located in the centre of the building served as the frigidarium that is a part of the baths designed for swimming in cold water. Right next to it, on the eastern side, there was a swimming pool, and on the western side - the tepidarium or a room with hot water.
In the basement there were furnaces, where a fire was burning all the time, heating the air that circulated channels under the floor and inside hollow bricks in a room called caldarium or hot room. These furnaces also heated the water supplied to the tanks in this room.
The stadium is located south of the Vedius Gymnasium. This was the place where celebrations of all kinds were held, including sports events, chariot races and gladiatorial combat. Seats for spectators on the southern side were built into the slope of Pion Hill (now Panayırdağ). On the northern side, the seats were erected over the vaulted basement.
Currently, little is preserved from the stadium, because the stone seats were dismantled and used to build ramparts on Ayasoluk Hill in early Christian times. Only the western part of the stadium has been excavated by archaeologists so far. The discovered inscriptions testify to the fact that the stadium was built during the reign of Emperor Nero (54-68 AD). During the excavations, marble vases were also found that served as sports trophies, as well as plates decorated with designs depicting olive branches and rabbits, dating back to the 3rd and the 4th centuries AD.
Richly decorated with apses building of Byzantine Baths was built, most probably, in the 6th century AD. It is situated on the south-west of the stadium, next to the main processional road leading to the city of Ephesus.
Church of the Virgin Mary
The Church of the Virgin Mary is the most significant building from Christian times in Ephesus. This temple was located in an earlier building, erected in the middle of the 2nd century AD. It was 30 meters wide and up to 260 meters long. Architecturally, the building can be described as a basilica with a nave and two aisles. The aisles were divided into shorter parts, which could serve as shops.
Because Ephesus was in the 2nd century AD a major trading city for the whole region, described as "the bank of Asia province', it is believed that this massive building was initially a commodity and monetary exchange center. This hypothesis is reinforced by the position of the building - very close to the ancient harbor. The second, competitive theory, states that this building was called "the Court of the Muses' and was used as an educational and cultural center.
In the 3rd century AD, the times of economic crisis began in Ephesus. During this period, the local Christian community built its first church, located inside the former stock exchange, on its western side. An atrium on the square plan and a narthex paved with mosaics led into the church. In later times two more churches were built inside the ancient building, arranged one behind the other. The eastern part of the building was the seat of the bishop.
Today the best-preserved part of the building is a cylindrical baptistery, located in the northern part of the atrium. In the central part of the baptistery, there was a pool, where baptized people could be fully immersed in water.
It was in the Church of the Virgin Mary were the third ecumenical council, also known as the Council of Ephesus, was held in 431 AD. The purpose of this council was to settle the dispute, caused by Nestorius - the Patriarch of Constantinople, on the understanding of the person of Jesus and the title of Mary of Nazareth.
The Theatre Gymnasium was probably built in the 2nd century AD. So far only the palestra has been completely excavated while the other parts of the building are only partially exposed. From the visible row of seats, stretching on the entire northern side of the palestra, with the dimension of 30 to 70 meters, it can be concluded that this area was also used as a small stadium.
Harbour Gymnasium and Baths
Only a small part of the complex of the Harbour Gymnasium and Baths has been excavated so far. Still, the visible remains of the largest architectural complex in the city of Ephesus make a big impression on the visitors. The complex consisted of two palestrae, and the total length of the complex was 360 meters.
The construction of the gymnasium began during the reign of Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD). During the reign of Emperor Hadrian the chief priest of the province of Asia - Claude Verulanus - ordered paving and tiling of the greater of the palestrae with marble slabs in 13 different shades. These panels have not been preserved to our times, but their existence is evidenced by holes in the walls, where the panels were attached.
The hall in the northern part of the smaller palestra was dedicated to the imperial cult while in the southern part lectures and meetings were held. In this place a Roman copy of a Greek bronze statue of an athlete was found, which is now in Vienna. The remains of the baths are now completely ruined.
The Arcadian Street is a colonnaded road, named after Emperor Arcadius, who reigned between 395 and 408 AD. This name is actually misleading, because there is substantial evidence for the existence of this street much earlier, in the Hellenistic period. This theory is supported by exposed fragments and foundations of the Harbour Gate, located on the axis of the road at its western end.
The Arcadian Street is well preserved and extends for a distance of 600 meters, keeping the width of 11 meters. It starts at the theater and ends near the ancient harbor. Two walkways for pedestrians, located on both sides of the road have a width of 5 meters each. In the past, they were completely paved with mosaics. Along the road, there were numerous shops, so walkers could make purchases, while strolling along the shaded and sheltered sidewalks, at the same time enjoying the breeze blowing from the sea. From the excavated inscriptions it is known that road also had street lighting.
In the middle of the road, there are four columns in the Corinthian order, which once held the statues of four of the apostles. They were erected during the reign of Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD.
This fountain is located in the northwestern corner of the terrace wall of the theater. The fountain, placed between two columns in Ionic order, faces the courtyard in front of the theater. The elegant proportions and the style of stone ornaments suggest the structure dates back to the Hellenistic times, that is to the 3rd or the 2nd century BC.
The great theater of Ephesus is a splendidly preserved and very impressive building. This structure, built of marble, has a width of 145 meters, and its audience once reached up to 30 meters. In its heyday, it could accommodate up to 24,000 spectators. Read more...
The Marble Road served the role of a processional street in the ancient city of Ephesus. It ran next to the Vedius Gymnasium, the stadium, and the theater, at the Library of Celsus turned to the east and continued to the Upper Agora. There it changed its course to the north and led up to the Temple of Artemis.
In addition to its representative function, the Marble Road was also the primary thoroughfare of the city. It was therefore subjected to frequent renovations. For example, the stretch of road leading from the theater along the Commercial Agora was, in the 5th century AD, paved with marble by a man named Eutropios.
A late-Roman colonnade on the east side of the street has survived to our times. On the west side, a 1.70-meter-high pedestal can be seen, that belonged to the Doric stoa of the Commercial Agora.
This trade area was established in Ephesus in Hellenistic times, as evidenced by the western gate fragments in Ionic order. Ahe agora was surrounded by stoas (colonnades), significantly enhanced during the Roman times.
At the center of the agora stood so-called horologion, which was a combination of solar and water clock. All colonnades were decorated with hundreds of statues of orators, philosophers, athletes and officials. To our times only their foundations have been preserved on which you can see the inscriptions containing valuable information about the social life in Ephesus.
Gate of Mazeus and Mythridates
This gate with three arches, standing next to the Library of Celsus, was built by two former slaves - Mazeus and Mithridates - in honor of the emperor Octavian Augustus, who had freed them.
Three openings of the gate are arched. The vault from the side of the Library of Celsus is lined with black marble, in contrast to the vault on the opposite side, lined with the marble white.
The still visible inscription, located in the upper part of the gate, dedicates the building to Octavian Augustus. In ancient times, this inscription was lined with bronze letters.
Library of Celsus
The Library of Celsus is probably the most distinctive building commonly associated with Ephesus. The library has a two-storey façade, and its interior is one large room with dimensions of 10.90 to 16.70 meters. This library room was located above the vaulted substructure. The building was surrounded by an additional wall, offering adequate protection from moisture. Read more...
Hadrian's Gate is located at the intersection of the Marble Road and the Curetes Street. Once it had three storeys, of which only the lowest has been preserved. Three openings led through theHadrian's Gate and the middle one was the widest, with an arched vault. Side openings are still topped by architraves.
To the south-east of the Library of Celsus stand the remains of a building that shape reminds a pool. These are the ruins of so-called Heroon or a sanctuary dedicated to a hero. Heroon of Ephesus was built in the time of Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD) and later served as a fountain. The building was decorated with a frieze depicting the history of the founding of Ephesus, and precisely the scene of Androklos killing a wild boar. It is believed that Heroon was dedicated to Androklos.
The octagonal tomb located next to the heroon is dated to the first century BC, but the inscriptions adorning it were made much later, in the 4th century AD. The skeleton found in the tomb belonged to a teenage girl buried in a marble sarcophagus. One interpretation is that the Octagon was the resting place of Arsinoe, the youngest sister of Queen Cleopatra.
In 48 BC, Arsinoe IV became the Queen of Egypt at the will of the Egyptian army. Julius Caesar removed her from power and allowed her to travel to Asia Minor, where she took refuge at Ephesus. There she was murdered in 41 BC, probably by Mark Antony acting on the orders of Cleopatra VII.
Temple of Serapis
This temple of Egyptian deity is one of the most fascinating buildings in Ephesus. It was built probably by the Egyptian colonists. Stairs led to the temple in the south-west corner of the Commercial Agora.
The cella i.e. the inner chamber of the temple was surrounded on three sides by colonnades. Its walls were very thick to support the weight of a barrel vault with a width of 29 meters. The columns were monoliths, which means that they were made from a single block of stone, and their height was 14 meters.
Judging by massive dimensions of the building, it was concluded that it was dedicated to Serapis. This theory has been confirmed by the fragments of the statue made of Egyptian granite, an inscription describing the Egyptian rites and other inscription dedicated to the followers of Serapis. In its heyday, the building had a size comparable only with so-called Red Basilica in Pergamon.
In Christian times, the temple of Serapis was converted into a church, and the remains of the baptistery in the eastern corner of the building has been preserved to our times.
Temple of Hadrian
The Temple of Hadrian, despite its small dimensions, is a very attractive part of the visit in Ephesus. It was built in Corinthian order and dedicated to Emperor Hadrian by a man named P. Quintilius. In its cella once stood a statue of emperor Hadrian, who was worshiped as a deity. The construction of temples dedicated to the Roman emperors was a widespread custom in Anatolia. The purpose was to ensure that local municipalities gained the favor of Rome. In Ephesus, there are two buildings of this type - the other one is the Temple of Domitian.
The building consists of a cella and a roofed portico. An architrave and a frieze are straight on the sides and form an arch over the central atrium. This arch is adorned with a bust of a woman surrounded by acanthus leaves. In front of the temple, the bases of four statues depicting Roman emperors Galerius, Maximian, Diocletian and Constantius Chlorus have been preserved.
A large bath building was constructed in the late first or the second century AD. It owes its name to a Christian woman named Scholastica, who carried out its renovation about 400 AD. The famous part of the baths, known as a brothel, belonged to the first period of existence of the building. The main part of the brothel's dining room was lined with mosaics. In the corners of the room the mosaic depicted the personifications of the four seasons. Two of these that have been preserved in good shape show Winter and Autumn.
The Terrace Houses complex in Ephesus consists of luxurious residential villas, located on the northern slope of Bülbüldağı Hill, next to Curetes Street and opposite the Temple of Hadrian. So far, two housing complexes - Eastern and Western - have been excavated. They were built according to the Hippodamian plan where the roads transect each other at right angles. The excavation work of the Terrace Houses started in 1960. The restoration of the houses is an ongoing process and every year there is something new to admire there. Read more...
This fountain of impressive dimensions is situated on the Curetes Street. It has a shape of a pool surrounded on three sides by a two-storey structure. Once it was decorated with the colossal statue of Emperor Trajan, standing in the center of the building, from which flowed the water filling the pool. To our times the base of the statue and imperial feet have been preserved. Many statues that used to adorn the fountain are now on display in the Ephesus Museum in Selçuk.
Curetes Street is one of three main thoroughfares of Ephesus. It leads from the Library of Celsus to the Hercules Gate. Its name comes from the priests called Curetes, whose names were written down in Prytaneion. Along Curetes Street there were once fountains, statues, and shops, of which those located on the southern side had two storeys. Because Ephesus was frequently plagued by earthquakes, the buildings along Curetes Street were damaged, and then underwent refurbishment. After the earthquake in the 4th century AD, the collapsed columns were replaced by others, collected from the various areas of the city. The resulting confusion of architectural styles can be seen to this day.
This gate, located near the Trajan's Fountain, was built in the 4th or the 5th century AD. Preserved fragments of the reliefs depict Hercules and decorated column bases.
Not much has been preserved from this monument erected in the first century AD. According to the discovered fragment of an inscription, on the base built of stone blocks once stood the statue of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the Roman commander and dictator. The monument was founded by his grandson Memmius as a token of gratitude of the inhabitants of Ephesus to Sulla for defeating Mithridates VI of Pontus.
Temple of Domitian
It was the first temple in Ephesus built in honor of the Roman emperor. Domitian, who called himself "the ruler and the god", was condemned since the ancient times as a tyrannical and incompetent emperor. His temple in Ephesus was located at the best, centrally located place of the city, opposite the Upper Agora.
The temple building stood on the slopes of Bülbüldağı Hill, on the terrace whose base was 50 to 100 meters. The temple was typical Roman prostyle-type structure, which means that four columns stood in front of the vestibule. The main chamber of the temple was small (9 to 17 meters), while the statue of Emperor Domitian measured up to 5 meters if seated or 7 meters if standing. It is unknown what was the posture of the emperor depicted on this statue as only his head and one shoulder have remained. These monumental pieces of the statue can now be seen in the Ephesus Museum in Selçuk.
In the Ephesus Museum in Selçuk, there is also the reconstructed altar from the Temple of Domitian, decorated with reliefs showing different weapons. However, in Ephesus, in a place where once stood a temple, there is virtually nothing interesting to see.
Upper Agora and Temple of Isis
This Ephesian agora is also sometimes called the State Agora, to distinguish it from the Commercial Agora, situated in the north-western part of the city. Upper Agora served as a place for official and public meetings.
On its area stood the temple of the Egyptian goddess Isis. The capitals of the columns in the Ionic order were additionally decorated with the sculptured heads of bulls. The façade of the temple was adorned with a group of statues depicting the meeting of Odysseus with Polyphemus, one of the Cyclopes. The Temple of Isis was demolished during the reign of Emperor Augustus. He strongly disliked Egyptian deities because they reminded him of his former opponents - Mark Antony and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra.
The Upper Agora was founded in the first century AD, in the area of a necropolis. This fact has been confirmed by archeological excavations carried out in its north-eastern corner. Numerous graves from the 7th and the 6th centuries BC were found there, as well as an archaic sarcophagus of terracotta and a stone-lined path.
The Upper Agora has dimensions of 160 by 73 meters, and it was once surrounded on three sides by a colonnade. In the area of the agora, the statues of Emperor Augustus and his wife Livia were found. They can be seen in the Ephesus Museum in Selçuk. In the same venue, there is a reconstructed the scene of Odysseus and Polyphemus from the Temple of Isis.
Prytaneion was the seat of the rulers of the autonomous city of Ephesus and the place where official celebrations, receptions, and banquets were held. Next to it stood the temple of Hestia, where an eternal flame burned. The preserved fragments of prytaneion are dated to the reign of Emperor Augustus. However, it is believed that there was an official building in the same location since the Hellenistic period, because moving the altar of the eternal flame would be a very difficult task.
The courtyard of prytaneion was decorated with a mosaic. The presence of columns in composite order, combining the elements of Ionic and Corinthian orders, indicates the reconstruction of the building in the 3rd century AD. The building was demolished at the time when Scholastica Baths were repaired i.e. around 400 AD. The most interesting objects from Ephesian prytaneion are two statues of Artemis of Ephesus that once adorned it. They are currently exhibited in the Ephesus Museum in Selçuk.
Although the building looks like a small theater, due to its the proximity to the prytaneion and the Upper Agora it can be concluded that this was rather a bouleuterion or a meeting place of the city council. Possibly it was simultaneously used as a place of artistic performances. The odeon was built around 150 AD by Publius Vedius Antoninus. In the orchestra, there are canals, that provided water drainage, and the entire structure was most likely covered.
Baths of Varius
It was a small building of private baths, built by the famous Ephesian sophist Flavius Damianus in the 2nd century AD. The mosaics, adorning a 40-meter-long corridor, are much newer, in fact, they originate from the 5th century AD. The Baths of Varius were built with the blocks of marble. They consist of three sections: a frigidarium (with cold water), atepidarium (with warm water) and a caldarium (with hot water).
The gymnasium, located on the eastern outskirts of Ephesus, has been preserved in fairly good condition. The building, erected in the 2nd century AD, combined the functions of the gymnasium and baths, and also had an auditorium. In the central part of the building were bathrooms, surrounded on three sides by vaulted halls designed for physical exercises. When archaeological works were carried out in the gymnasium, the statues of the god of health Asclepius, Hygeia, Pan, and Dionysus were found. They are now in the Archaeological Museum in Izmir.
Ephesus is open to visitors daily, in summer season (April - October) from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm, and in winter (November - March) from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. The Terrace Houses close half an hour earlier. The entrance ticket to Ephesus costs 40 TL and the ticket to the Terrace Houses - additional 20 TL.
The are to entrances to Ephesus and most of the organised groups start sightseeing from the southern one, near the odeon. If you also choose to start from there, you will be able to walk downhill most of the time. However, we recommend beginning the tour from the northern entrance, near the theatre. Moreover, it is a good idea to start as early as possible, to avoid the crowd. The minimal time you need to spend on the site is 3 hours, but to fully appreciate this site and see all the sights plan half a day for it.
Before setting out on the tour remember to take bottled water and appropriate protection from the sun as it is difficult to find shaded areas on the site. Smoking is strictly forbidden. Because of ongoing archaeological work some buildings may be temporarily unavailable for tourists.
Are you going to visit Ephesus soon? There is an excellent e-book devoted to this ancient city and to other archaeological sites of the region - Around Ephesus and Kusadasi: TAN Travel Guide.
By plane: the nearest airport is in Izmir.
By public transport: regular buses go from Izmir to Selçuk and Kuşadası. These two towns are a natural choice as the bases for sightseeing Ephesus. There are some minibuses to Ephesus from Selçuk and, in the summer season, from Kuşadası.
By car: take D515 road from Kuşadası (18 km) to Selçuk (3 km).
By taxi: a taxi ride from the centre of Selçuk to Ephesus should cost around 25 TL.
On foot: you can walk or cycle from the bus station in Selçuk to Ephesus. The distance is 3 km and on your way you will be able to visit the ruins of the Temple of Artemis.
The nearest accommodation options are available in Selçuk. It has a well-developed tourist base, serving the visitors coming here to see the ruins of Ephesus. The choice B&Bs is impressive, and the prices - affordable. However, travelers seeking luxury options should stay in nearby Kuşadası.
The most frequently recommended B&Bs in Selçuk are:
- Jimmy's Place (tel. 0 90 232 892 1982) - in the neighborhood of Atatürk Mahellesi, on 1016 Street No: 19. The pension is animal-friendly with no additional charges for dogs and cats. The price of a double room with breakfast in high season is 30 euros.
- Akay Hotel (tel. 0 90 232 892 3172) - also in Atatürk Mahellesi, on 1054 Street (near İsa Bey Mosque). Prices of double rooms start from 20 euros.
- Homeros Pension & Guesthouse (tel. 0 90 232 892 3995) - in the same neighborhood, on 1048 Street No: 3. The guesthouse has an observation terrace, a restaurant that prepares home-cooked meals, and a bar. The owners also run bicycle rental. Double rooms with breakfast cost 45 euros.
- Atilla's Getaway (tel. 0 90 232 892 3847) - about 3 km to the south of the town center, near Acarlar Koyu village, on D550 road. This guest house also has a swimming pool, and the owner can arrange a variety of entertainment options, including horseback riding and skydiving. The guest house offers dorms beds for 20 euros, double rooms with shared bathrooms for a similar price, double rooms with private bathrooms for 25 euros and a campsite for 12 euros. In all cases, the prices include breakfast and dinner.
- Bella (tel. 0 90 232 892 3944) - on Saint Jean Street No: 7. The rooms are furnished in Ottoman style, and there is a rooftop terrace with a restaurant. Double rooms with breakfast cost from 40 euros.
Slightly higher prices should be expected in the case of hotels that operate in Selçuk. These are the venues highly rated by the visitors:
- Amazon Petite Palace (tel. 0 90 232 892 3231) - in the neighborhood of Atatürk Mahellesi, on 1054 Street No: 33. Double rooms with breakfast cost, depending on their standard, from 45 to 80 euros.
- Ephesus Suites Hotel (tel. 0 90 232 892 6312) - in İsabey District, on Anton Kallinger Street, just 250 meters from the ruins of Artemision. Double rooms with breakfast cost 80 euros and a spacious apartment - 90 euros.
Most hotels and B&Bs in Selçuk offer meals for an additional fee and laundry services, as well as transportation to the most interesting tourist attractions.
Additionally, there is a campsite in Selçuk. Garden Camping (tel. 0 90 232 892 6165) is situated just off the town center, in İsabey District, on 2040 Street. It has its own restaurant and a swimming pool. Nearby Selçuk, on Pamucak Beach, there is the second campsite, known as Dereli Camping.