The Ancient City of Ephesus: A Visitor's Guide
The ancient city of Ephesus has an extensive history, much of which can still be seen and appreciated through the ruins. Some of these are well preserved, others will require some imagination. The site is located just 3 km from Selçuk and is quite extensive so visitors should allow plenty of time.
The Carians and Lydians were the earliest inhabitants of this region and probably responsible for first building a fortified settlement, open directly to the sea, on this site. From the 11th BC onwards this settlement became Hellenised by arriving Ionian Greeks. Thanks to its excellent situation on an inlet cutting deep into the land - at the end of a major trade route from the interior and on a fertile plain - Ephesus developed into a flourishing commercial city.
Under the Roman Empire (1st and 2nd centuries AD) the city continued its prosperity as the capital of the Roman province of Asia and became the largest city in the East after Alexandria, with a population of over 200,000. St Paul preached here on his second missionary journey and later spent three years in Ephesus. The city's principal church was later dedicated to St John and during the Byzantine Era became one of the great pilgrimage centres of Asia Minor.
In AD 263 when the Goths destroyed the city on one of their raiding expeditions, it heralded the beginning of the city's slow decline with Ephesus' importance and size gradually dwindling due to the steady silting up of its harbour. In the 5th century though, the city was still sufficiently important to be the venue of the Third Ecumenical Council (AD 431).
The capture and plunder of Ephesus by Tamarlane's Mongols proved to be the city's final act. Thereafter the last surviving remains of the town were reduced to ruins during the bitter conflicts between the Seljuks and the Ottomans.
Gymnasium of Vedius and Stadium
On the slope of the hill to the left of Ephesus is the Gymnasium of Vedius (2nd century AD). You can see the remains of the palaestra (wrestling hall); a large rectangular building with an arcaded courtyard. The eastern half of the structure, built of brick faced with marble, is better preserved and shows interesting details of the internal arrangement.
Some 100 m south of the Gymnasium of Vedius is the Stadium, which dates from the time of Nero (AD 54-68). On the south side the tiers of seating for spectators (their stone benches now missing) were hewn out of the hillside. At the semicircular east end was an arena which could be shut off from the main part of the stadium and used, in the absence of a circus, for gladiatorial contests and fights between wild beasts.
Between the Gymnasium of Vedius and the Stadium a marble-paved road ran east to the Koressos Gate, of which some remains survive. 200 m along a modern road which runs south from the Gymnasium of Vedius, on the left, are the remnants of a Byzantine building. Notable features are the large room with semicircular niches on the south side and the 50m long apsed hall on the west side.
Church of the Virgin Mary
100 m or so to the west of the Gymnasium of Vedius, to the right of the car park, are the 260 m long complex of remains known as the Church of the Virgin Mary, or the Double Church, or the Council Church. This was the meeting-place of the Third Ecumenical Council in AD 431. It was originally a museion (a centre of research and teaching). A pillared basilica was inserted in the 4th century.
Square of Verulanus and Great Baths
Immediately west of the Theatre Gymnasium is a large complex of buildings, the plan of which is not easy to distinguish. Nearest the gymnasium is the Square of Verulanus, a spacious arcaded courtyard for the training of athletes, and beyond this is the Harbour Gymnasium, which dates from the Early Empire. This consisted of a number of buildings grouped around a central courtyard. On the north and south sides of the courtyard were two magnificent marble halls measuring 16m x 32m with columns and niches for statues. Immediately beyond this were the Great Baths or Harbour Baths, built in the 2nd century AD and sumptuously rebuilt in the reign of Constantine the Great in the 4th century.
To the west of the baths lay the Old Harbour, now an area of marshy ground. Immediately south of this group of buildings is the Arkadiane, a fine arcaded street running east from the harbour to the Great Theatre, which stood facing a long square. The effect of this magnificent avenue, which was built by Arcadius, the first Eastern Emperor, about AD 400 was further enhanced by an elaborate gate at either end.
Construction of Ephesus' Great Theatre begun in the reign of Claudius (AD 41-54) and was completed in the reign of Trajan (AD 98-117). It is particularly impressive, both for its great size and for the excellent state of preservation of the orchestra and the stage buildings. It was here that St Paul preached against the cult of Artemis and inveighed against the guild of silversmiths responsible for its shrines.
The theatre's three by 22 tiers of seating, divided into sections by 12 stairways, could accommodate an audience of some 25,000. If you climb to the top there is a fine view extending down to the Old Harbour. There were also staircase tunnels leading to the upper tiers. The stage wall was originally three-storeys and 18m high but is now preserved only to the height of the lowest storey. It was elaborately articulated, with columns, niches for statues and richly decorated cornices. In the west terrace wall is a Hellenistic fountain-house in the form of a temple in antis, which in spite of its ruinous state is notable for the clarity and simplicity of its structure.
Southwest of the Great Theatre is the Lower Agora, a spacious square, 116m each way, from which a colonnaded street leads west. The agora (market square) has been only partly excavated and was a 3rd century rebuilding of an earlier structure, to which the use of stone from earlier buildings gives an interesting variety of detail. It was surrounded by a double colonnade housing shops and offices, with a set-back upper storey on the east side.
On the south side of the colonnaded street, steps lead up to a colonnaded square. Here you'll find the colossal Serapeion; the temple of the Egyptian god Serapis. Along the 29 m long facade of the temple were monolithic columns 15 m high with Corinthian capitals. The cella was entered through a massive doorway, with doors moving on wheels. In Byzantine times the Serapeion was converted into a Christian basilica.
Along the east side of the Lower Agora, the Marble Street leads from the Koressos Gate but has only been excavated from the Great Theatre southward. This fine marble-paved street, once lined with arcades and decorated with statues, continues south to the Library of Celsus. Along the middle can be seen a series of holes through which surface water flowed into drains.
Library of Celsus
In a small square lying below street-level is the imposing two-story facade of the Library of Celsus with its rather crowded columns and prominent cornices which were re-erected in the 1970s by Austrian archaeologists. The library itself was originally three-story high and entirely faced with coloured marble. Along the rear wall was a series of rectangular niches for holding parchment books and scrolls. Below the central niche is a grave-chamber with the Sarcophagus of Titus Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, Governor of the province of Asia, in whose honour his son built the library in the early 2nd century AD.
Gate of Macaeus and Mithridates
Immediately adjoining the Library of Celsus, at the southeast corner of the Lower Agora, is the restored Gate of Macaeus and Mithridates, so named in an inscription.
Street of the Curetes
Southeast of the Lower Agora the marble-paved street, flanked by numerous impressive public buildings, continues as the Street of the Curetes, climbing uphill towards the Upper Agora. At the point where the Street of the Curetes bends southeast are the bases of the Propylaion, a 2nd century AD gate from which a street, continued by a stepped lane, led south to Mount Koressos. On the east side of the Propylaion is the Octagon, a monumental tomb with an eight-sided superstructure, surrounded by a Corinthian colonnade, with a stone bench, on a square marble base.
Higher up the slope of the hill, you come to a group of terraced buildings where excavations have revealed beautiful mosaics. On the opposite side of the street is a house which is assumed to have been a brothel. Beyond this is a small temple, much restored, which an inscription shows was dedicated to the Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-38). Beyond this are the remains of the Baths of Scholastica which were once an impressive seven-stories high. Originally built in the 2nd century AD, they were rebuilt during the Byzantine period by a Christian woman named Scholastica.
Higher up, on the south western slopes of Mount Pion, can be seen a two-story rotunda on a square base, with Doric half-columns round the lower story and free-standing Ionic columns round the upper story. Probably this, like the Octagon, was a hero's tomb.
Past the Fountain of Trajan (nymphaeum) and the Gate of Hercules, the street bears right to enter the so-called Square of Domitian. Above the square rises the massive substructure of the Temple of Domitian, erected by the province of Asia in honour of the Emperor (AD 81-96). In the basement of the temple is the Museum of Inscriptions.
Upper Agora and Prytaneion
To the east of the Temple of Domitian in Ephesus extends the Upper Agora, with a Temple of Isis and a hydreion (water-tower) which collected spring water flowing down from the hill. On the north side of the Upper Agora is the site of the Prytaneion (council chamber) where figures of Artemis (now in Selçuk's Archaeological Museum) were found during excavation.
East of the Prytaneion is the semicircular structure of the Odeon, built by Publius Vedius Antonius in the 2nd century AD. The lower tiers of marble benches are original, the rest are reconstructions. The auditorium of this little theatre or concert hall had seating for an audience of 1400. Since there is no provision for the drainage of rainwater it is assumed that the Odeon was roofed, probably by a wooden structure spanning the 25m width of the auditorium.
From the Upper Agora the old main street of Ephesus continues east to the eastern entrance to the excavation site, ending outside the enclosure at the three-arched Magnesian Gate, the starting-point of the road to Magnesia on the Maeander River. At the bend in the road is the base of a circular Roman structure, wrongly called the Tomb of St Luke, which was converted into a church in Byzantine times by the addition of an apse and a porch.
Immediately north of the Magnesium Gate are the imposing ruins of the Eastern Gymnasium. Like the other three gymnasia in Ephesus, this is a large rectangular building with several magnificent halls and a palaestra. Since many statues of girls were found on the site it is also known as the Girls' Gymnasium.