This article has been previously published as a part of book Around Ephesus and Kusadasi: TAN Travel Guide by Izabela Miszczak
The landscape of Selçuk is dominated by impressive Ayasoluk Hill. The oldest traces of human settlements on this hill date back to the period of early Bronze Age (3000-2000 BC). However, the attention of tourists is mainly attracted to the ruins of the magnificent Basilica of Saint John. There is also a mighty fortress towering above this site.
Saint John spent the last years of his life in Ephesus. He died around 100 AD and was buried on Ayasoluk Hill. Initially, there was a commemorative plaque on his grave. In the 4th century AD, it was encased in a chapel with a wooden roof. In the 6th century AD, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian ordered the construction of a huge basilica on this site. As the model for the builders served the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.
The construction of the temple was completed in 565. The builders used the elements from the nearby Temple of Artemis - one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Basilica of Saint John soon became an important goal for pilgrims from all over the Christian world. It was believed that the dust from the tomb of the Apostle possessed healing properties.
After the invasion of the Arabs in the years 654-655 Ephesus declined. The urban life began to focus around Ayasoluk Hill, in a place now known as Selçuk. To prevent damage to the basilica by the Arab raids, a hilltop castle was built, and the temple was surrounded by thick walls. The fortified gate, made of stones obtained from Roman buildings, including the stadium, has been preserved to modern times.
In 1304, Seljuk Turks invaded the city. The basilica was transformed into a mosque, and the pilgrims had to pay for the access to the tomb of St. John. In 1402, the Mongol army under the command of Tamerlane invaded the area. During the fighting, the basilica was destroyed. For over 600 years, the ruins of the church lay in total oblivion, raked in search of building materials.
In 1922, during the Greco-Turkish War, Selçuk area was temporarily under the control of the Greeks. The Greek archeologists searched the hill to find the ruins of the basilica. Their work confirmed the suspicions about the old cult of St. John. However, there was not enough time to clear the site before the Turkish army reconquered this region.
In the mid-twentieth century, Austrian archeologists began a systematic work on Ayasoluk Hill. The area was cleaned, and the tomb of St. John rebuilt. In recent years, thanks to financial support from the religious foundations of the United States, some parts of the church were reerected, including the columns and some fragments of walls.
Currently, archeological excavations and restoration of the basilica and the castle on Ayasoluk Hill are conducted under the auspices of the Turkish Ministry of Culture by the University of Pamukkale from Denizli.
The Basilica of Saint John was built on a plan of a cross. In front of it stood an atrium surrounded by a double colonnade. From the atrium entrance door led to narthex and then to the nave. On both sides of the nave there were aisles. Next to the nave is there was a baptistery.
The vault of the church consisted of six domes: four of them were placed along the nave and two - along the transept. The dome was supported by piers and two levels of marble columns. On the capitals of the lower row of columns you can see the monograms of Emperor Justinian and his wife, Empress Theodora. The floor of the temple was lined with marble and decorated with mosaics. The tomb of St. John is located in the central part of the church, at the point of intersection of the nave and the transept. The burial place is covered with a stone slab with column erected on its corners.
The fortress protecting the Basilica of Saint John was built on the peak of Ayasoluk Hill. The preserved walls are mostly from the Seljuk and Ottoman periods. The fortress has 15 towers and two gates: eastern and western. In its area there are remains of houses, a mosque, cisterns, and baths. One of the cisterns, covered with a barrel vault, was originally a Byzantine church.
The Basilica of Saint John and Ayasuluk Fortress are open daily. In summer (April - October) the visiting hours are from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm (the fortress to 5:00 pm). In winter (November - March) the visiting hours are from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm (the fortress to 4:00 pm). The entrance ticket costs 10 TL.
Ayasoluk Hill is located on the western side of Selçuk, near the center, on St Jean Street. It can be approached on foot or by car. There are clearly visible brown signposts directing the visitors to the site.
The car park at the basilica is very small and extremely expensive as it costs 7.50 TL for a passenger car. We recommend parking the car in one of side streets and walking the last meters instead.