Turkey: Ephesus

April, 2007

Hadrian's Temple
click photos to enlarge
Close-up of Hadrian's Medussa
In the summer, the Aegean Sea is ruled by fierce winds that blow from the north-west. They are called the meltemi. It is often necessary for sailors to hide in a protected cove and wait for the winds to subside before continuing. The winds can rage for up to two weeks at a time. Of course, if you are heading west, the winds make life more difficult than if you are going east and running with them. As luck would have it, Gene and I get to sail into the winds as we head west next week, but I’m not going to go into our plans in this letter. The reason for this isn’t just because we don’t have any plans, but because I want to tell you a story of another voyager; a voyager who went with the winds. His name was Androclus and he sailed east from Athens in 1000 B.C. He was the son of King Kodrus of Athens and he was following the advice given him by an oracle to settle in a place that would reveal itself with a fish and a wild boar. As he and his entourage sailed close by the coast of what is now Turkey, he saw people cooking fish in fires along the beach. A spark from one of the fires ignited a bush and a boar was flushed from his cover. The site became Ephesus. There wasn’t a big problem moving in; he got on well with the people in the area. The Anatolian natives and Androclus found common ground in that they both worshipped a mother goddess. The natives worshipped Cybele and the Athenians worshipped Artemis.
In the sixth century B.C. the Lydian King Croesus (as in richer than ‘Creesus’) conquered Ephesus. He was pretty good to the Greeks and started the Temple of Artemis. By now the two mother goddesses had melded into one, Artemis of Ephesus. The Temple of Artemis took 120 years to build and was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Now Ephesus is in ruins and excavating is an ongoing project. Recently, a gladiator’s graveyard was discovered. It is one of the must sees in Turkey, so, while Gene was slaving away sanding and painting Peregrine, I went on a tour. Well really, are we both supposed to suffer? The tour was set up by our resident tour organizer and I leapt at the chance. It was a great tour and I enjoyed it very much. Visions of Gene’s heat flushed, paint splattered face only popped into my head a few times. The tour also worked out well as far as birding went. We'd gone on the Salikent Gorge tour with the same young guide and she understood I wasn’t trying to be rude when I’d wander off to investigate bird sounds or possible good sites.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who felt transported in time while walking along The Marble Way, or the columned Street of the Curetes that once lead to the harbor. You can sense the ghosts of the past. Ephesus is no longer a sea side town. Over the centuries, the river Menderes (Cayster) has silted the site and now it sits a few miles from the coast. Our word meander comes from the twisting Menderes River.
A very condensed history of Ephesus:
In 547 B.C., Cyrus, King of Persia, took control and the Persians ruled for 200 years. Alexander the Great defeated the Persians and the Greeks once again ruled Ephesus. Another 200 years go by and now the Romans are the conquerors. In 32-31 B.C. Anthony and Cleopatra stopped in for a visit before heading off to their defeat in The Battle of Actium. In 128 A.D. the Emperor Hadrian (of Hadrian’s Wall fame) came to visit. By 138 A.D. the Temple of Hadrian was completed by P. Quintilius.

The close up of the center stone in the arch is a relief of Tyche, the Goddess of victory
Around 50 A.D. Claudius began construction on an amphitheatre. It was completed while Trajan was emperor. It is the largest amphitheatre in Turkey and is still used on occasion. It seats 25,000 people. Modern performers include Sting, Diana Ross and Elton John. Much mellower entertainment than the Gladiator contests of old.

In 135 A.D. the Library of Celsus was built by the son of the General Governor of the Province of Asia as a mausoleum. The tomb is in a room under the library. The library housed over 12,000 scrolls. Our guide told us there was an underground corridor connecting the library to the brothel across the street. I can hear it now, “Bye dear, I’m off to the library. Don't wait up.”


The wealthy people in Ephesus lived in ‘slope’ houses. They were very large houses decorated with frescoes and built terrace style up the side of a hill in the city. I've read that the quality of the frescoes and mosaics here compare with the site at Pompei.

The covered site of the slope houses.

Our guide teased me when we all decided to go into the enclosed slope house exhibit. She asked if I really wanted to go in because there wouldn't be any birds in there. Wrong. Here is an Eastern Rock Nuthatch checking out the excavated walls. A house sparrow was also in and out. The enclosure wasn't too enclosed.

A lion mosaic 'carpet'.

Another bird--this one is a fresco on a wall. One whole room was done in birds--I loved it. Now I've got a good idea for one of my bedrooms if I ever get home.
St. John used Ephesus as a base to spread Christianity, and it is supposed that he wrote his gospel here. It is also thought that he brought Mary to Ephesus. There is a small stone house a few miles out of the city that is thought to be her house. The ruins of St. John’s basilica are about two miles out of Ephesus and many believe that the basilica was built over the apostle’s grave.

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