Byzantine monastery of Ayasuluk in Selçuk

GPS coordinates: 37.952585, 27.366466

Archaeological site: 

Byzantine monastery of Ayasuluk in Selçuk
Byzantine monastery of Ayasuluk in Selçuk

Description: 

Ayasuluk Hill on the western outskirts of a small town called Selçuk is a remarkable location. The oldest traces of human settlement discovered there date back to the Early Bronze Age, i.e. the third millennium BCE. In that period, this free-standing mound, with rocky slopes on three sides, was located directly on the seashore, at the deep bay that extended to the chains of mountains to the north, south, and east.

While the Graeco-Roman city of Ephesus developed two kilometres to the south-west of Ayasuluk Hill, the hill's easily defensible location attracted people in the uncertain period of military conflicts and Arab invasions that started in the 7th century CE. Moreover, Ayasuluk Hill was famous as the place where St. John the Evangelist was buried. His grave became the renowned pilgrimage site, replacing the pagan Artemision in the role of the religious magnet of the city.

Even today, many visitors still arrive at the archaeological site of Ayasuluk Hill, with the remains of the Basilica of St. John and the magnificent fortress. Some of the visitors are also lured to the historical İsa Bey Mosque standing just to the south-west of the hill. However, almost nobody knows about the existence of another important structure - the only excavated monastery of Ephesus from the Byzantine period, tucked between the western wall of the fortress and İsa Bey Mosque below. These ruins are best visible from the terrace of the basilica.

Ayasuluk Hill has been listed as the archaeological zone since 1967. However, the hill was the location where the houses of refugees from the Greek region of Macedonia had existed from 1923/24. These people had to leave their homes and were transported to the area of Turkey because of the 1923 population exchange treaty signed at Lausanne between Greece and Turkey. The existence of these houses made the excavations in the area of Ayasuluk very difficult. The Turkish Ministry of Culture and the city of Selçuk gradually resettled the families, after buying their old houses. The last house was demolished in 1993.

The conservation and archaeological works within Ayasuluk Hill have been conducted under the management of the Ephesus Museum in Selçuk, the financial support of the George Quatman's American Society of Ephesus and the Turkish Ministry of Culture. An essential part of the program for the preservation of the monuments of Ayasuluk Hill, initiated in 1975, has been to discover and study the Middle Byzantine defensive walls of the hill. As a result, a gate system with two flanking round towers was uncovered in the long, west wall near the north-western corner below the Justinian atrium terrace.

Then, the archaeologists intended to establish the connection between the northern gate of İsa Bey Mosque and the newly-discovered western gate of the Basilica of St. John. This path from the Ottoman period was paved with stones. It started at the western gate and headed towards the mosque. However, in the initial phase of the excavations, there were still four modern houses standing in this section of the slope.

The cobbled Ottoman-era path led over older Byzantine walls, which were systematically uncovered until 1985. The excavations revealed mighty Early-Byzantine walls that were preserved to the height just above the foundations. The structure, discovered in the 80s of the 20th century, was an apsidal, east-facing church with three naves. The building was more than 13 meters long, but it had an unusual floor plan because of the steep slope.

It is difficult to date the church because there is no building inscription. The style of its construction suggests the late 5th or 6th century. Moreover, the opus sectile floor shows parallels to the floor decoration of the Basilica of St. John overlooking this church and erected during the reign of Emperor Justinian. As there are no traces indicating that the church was still used in the Middle Byzantine period, the archaeologists, including Mustafa Büyükkolancı, speculate that the church may have fallen into disrepair in the 7th or 8th century.

The interpretation of the building as the monastery church results from the rectangular rooms bordering it to the south and north-west. They are structurally connected to the church but do not demonstrate to have a liturgical function. Other related parts of the monastery buildings are situated to the north of the church. Unfortunately, the archaeological excavations in the area stopped and have not been continued so far. Thus, these northern rooms have not been excavated yet.

The existence of a small monastery complex in the immediate vicinity of St. John's Basilica is easy to explain given the importance of this location as the pilgrimage centre. However, the question of patronage remains open. Quite recently, Denis Feissel discovered an early Byzantine inscription on a lintel of St. John's Basilica that mentions the Church of St. Paul. This inscription may have belonged to the small Ayasuluk monastery complex.

Bibliography: 

Image gallery: 

Byzantine monastery of Ayasuluk in Selçuk
Byzantine monastery of Ayasuluk in Selçuk
Byzantine monastery of Ayasuluk in Selçuk
Byzantine monastery of Ayasuluk in Selçuk
Byzantine monastery of Ayasuluk in Selçuk
Byzantine monastery of Ayasuluk in Selçuk