It can be said that Ephesus is one of the most beautiful ancient cities in the world. In ancient times its favorable location at the mouth of the Cayster River made it the foremost commercial city of a coastal region that also included the cities of Miletus, Smyrna and Pergamum, but the silting up of its harbor gradually resulted in the loss of this preeminence. The city has been excavated for more than one hundred years; the extensive remains are predominantly from the later Roman period.
Ephesus formed a focal point in the ancient world because of its protected harbor and as a starting point for the Royal Road via Sardis to Susa. It was also a cult center attracting thousands of pilgrims for traditional worship of the female, first Cybele, then Artemis and finally the Virgin Mary. Ephesus was also home for the early philosopher Heraclitus.
History of Ephesus
According to ancient historians the myth of the foundation of Ephesus goes back to the period before the Ionian colonization. As it was customary in ancient times to consult the oracle before any important event, Androclus, the son of Codrus, the legendary King of Athens did this about where to settle or found a settlement. The answer was simple: “at the place which will be indicated by a fish and a wild boar”. After colonists landed in Anatolia, they were camping somewhere near Ephesus and were grilling fish. A burning fish set a bush on fire causing a boar to leap out of the bush and run away. Remembering the words of the oracle the colonists decided to found their settlement there.
Some sources say that the city was founded by the Amazons. In mythology, the Amazons were a race of woman warriors who lived in Anatolia and fought with the Trojans against the Achaeans in the Trojan War. At that time, their queen was killed by the Achaean hero Achilles. According to legend the Amazons dealt with men for only two reasons, procreation and battle, and they reared only their female young. The Amazons were frequently depicted by artists as being in battle with men.
The city was an Ionian colony formed sometime after 1000 BC. Some authorities have suggested that the history of the city goes back to the Hittite period, c. 1400 BC, and it was the city which the Hittites called Apasas. The earliest archeological evidence is the Mycenaean ceramics found on the Ayasuluk Tepesi (Hill). This does not imply that there had been a Mycenaean settlement in the region of Ephesus. Mycenaean ceramics were popular and found in many other places.
Ephesus has been located at different places in different times. Ephesus I was located on Ayasuluk Hill and inhabited by ancient Anatolians, Carians and Lelegians. At that time there was a cult of the Great Earth Mother which acted like a magnet attracting pilgrims and settlers even before the Ionian migration. Ephesus II was on the north slope of Panayir Dagi (Mount Pion). As with other cities of the Aegean coast of Anatolia, Ephesus came to be ruled by Croesus of Lydia in the mid-6C BC, before passing to the Persians after 546 BC. It joined the Delian League after the Persian Wars. In 334 BC it fell to Alexander the Great and subsequently to his successors: Lysimachus and Seleucid rulers. In the 4C BC the harbor threatened to silt up the settlement and it was moved to a new location between Panayir Dagi and Bulbul Dag (Mount Coressus) by Lysimachus to form Ephesus III. The remains of city walls from this period can still be seen at the foothill of Bulbul Dag (The Nightingale Mountain). Later it was controlled by Pergamum, eventually passing into Roman hands in 133 BC. During this period Ephesus became the capital of province of Asia Minor and the population reached a quarter of a million. After the 6C AD, due to the persistent silting up of the harbor and repeated raids by Arabs, the city changed its location back to Ayasuluk Hill forming Ephesus IV.
The Artemis Temple or Artemision was one of the Seven Wonders of the World and located in Ephesus. Throughout the excavations in Ephesus, the actual location of the temple was presumed in different places.
Its ancient cult dedicated to Artemis was famous in antiquity and made ancient Ephesus a much-visited pilgrimage place. Each year one month was considered a holiday and set aside for the religious ceremonious observations. The first temple was built in the 6C BC and was Ionic dipteros with two rows of columns on both sides and three rows in the front and rear. There were totally 127 Ionic columns with a height of 19 m / 62 ft. each. 36 of columns were bearing sculptures in relief. In 356 BC a madman known as Herostratus set fire to the temple in order to make his name immortal. On the same night in Macedonia Alexander the Great was born. Later when he came to Anatolia he offered to make an endowment for the temple on the condition that his name should be associated with it. However his offer was refused with a polite and tactful answer; “it was unseemly for one god to build a temple for another”.
The second temple was built in the 4C BC on the same ground plan but this time being on a base with 13 steps. The fact that the temple faced west while Greek temples faced east as a rule is some proof of it being of Anatolian origin. This is the same in the temples of Sardis and Magnesia on Meander. The columns were shorter and more slender. The famous sculptor Scopas made the column reliefs while the relief on the altar was of Praxiteles. In the beginning of the 5C AD the temple was destroyed by a fanatical mob which was regarded as the final triumph of Christianity over paganism. Out of the magnificent temple only one of the 127 Ionic columns and foundation stones can be seen today. This was erected in 1972-3 out of different pieces of different columns without reaching its original height.
There was an archaic Processional Road stretching to the Artemis Temple around the Panayir Dagi (Mount Pion) through the Magnesia Gate. This was the route of the ancient processions which was flanked along its whole length with graves. Library Square was an important stopping point on the processional route in archaic times. The stretch from the Magnesian Gate to the Artemis Temple on the processional route was roofed over in the 2-3C AD by T. Flavius Damianus, a rich Ephesian and sophist. This was called Stoa of Damianus.
Ephesus and Christianity
Ephesus is vividly alluded to in Acts 19-20 in connection with St. Paul’s extended ministry at Ephesus. Apostle Paul probably spent two and a half years in Ephesus during his third missionary journey, until a riot forced him to leave the city rapidly. Some authorities believe that St. Paul was imprisoned in the so-called Prison of St. Paul in Ephesus. Eventually the belief in Christ and the veneration of his Blessed Mother replaced the worship of Artemis and the other deities.
Ephesus was the site of the third ecumenical council of 431 AD at which the question of the Virgin Mary being the Mother of God was debated. In this council it was decided that Christ had a double nature as God and man, and the Virgin Mary was theotokos, god-bearer.
Ephesus, One of the Seven Churches of Revelation
The Seven Churches of Asia are all located in Anatolia; Ephesus (Efes), Smyrna (Izmir), Laodicea ad Lycum (Goncali), Sardis (Sart), Pergamum (Bergama), Philadelphia (Alasehir) and Thyatira (Akhisar).
These churches are associated both with Saint Paul and with Revelations (the Apocalypse); letters written in c.95 AD to the Seven Churches by John. For some people John is a visionary who lived on the island of Patmos. But some people say he is the Apostle John. There should have been more than seven cities with major Christian congregations in Anatolia at the time that John wrote and it is unknown why he addressed only these seven. These were possibly the most important ones at that time or letters to other churches were lost.
These churches were not church buildings as such but congregations. These early congregations had their meetings in private homes as there had been no original church buildings until the 3C AD. St. Paul possibly founded some of the Seven Churches on his missionary journeys between 47-57 AD, as he was thought to have visited all seven cities. (Revelation 2:1-7)
Basilica of St. John
At his crucifixion Jesus asked his beloved disciple, John, to look after his mother. John and the Virgin went to Ephesus between 42 and 48 AD and lived there. John was martyred under the rule of the Emperor Trajan. There has been much discussion as to whether John the Apostle is confused with St. John the Theologian whose name, Hagia Theologies, gave the Turkish name first for the town and later only for the hill, Ayasuluk. A small church on the Ayasuluk Hill was dedicated to him in the 2C AD. This church was replaced in the 6C by a huge basilica built by the Emperor Justinian, the impressive ruins of which are still visible.
The basilica had a cruciform plan with four domes along its longitudinal axis and a pair flanking the central dome to form the arm of the cross. Under the central dome was the sacred grave of St. John. Pilgrims have believed that a fine dust from his grave has magical and curative powers. In the apse of the central nave, beyond the transept is the synthronon, semicircular rows of seats for the clergy. To the north transept was attached the treasury which was later converted into a chapel. The baptistery is from an earlier period and now located to the north of the nave.
The citadel at the top of the Ayasuluk Hill is a 6C AD Byzantine construction which was later extended by the Seljuk’s. Lower down the slopes of Ayasuluk Hill is the Isa Bey Camisi, a 14C AD mosque of the Aydinoglu Principality period. It was built by Isa Bey, a grandson of the founder of the Principality. This is the earliest known example in Anatolia of a mosque that has an arcaded courtyard and pool. It is also the earliest representative of an Anatolian mosque with columns and a transept. It is the last example of the consecutive different religions; pagan temple, Christian church and Moslem mosque. St. John’s Grave, 6C AD, Ayasuluk Hill, Selcuk
Meryemana (The House of Virgin Mary)
It is known with certainty that the Virgin Mary went to Ephesus and lived there for some time. Whether or not she died in Ephesus was not known until Anne Catherine Emmerich’s vision. The stigmatized German nun who had never been to Ephesus had a vision of the House of the Virgin Mary and described it in detail to the German writer Clemens Brentano who later published a book about it. Catherine Emmerich died in 1884. In 1891 Paul, Superior of the Lazarists from Izmir read about her vision and found a little building which corresponded with Emmerich’s descriptions. Archeological evidence showed that the little house was from the 6C AD but that the foundations were from the 1C AD.
This place was officially declared a shrine of the Roman Catholic Church in 1896, and since then it has become a popular place of pilgrimage. Pope Paul VI visited the shrine in 1967. Meryemana (The House of the Virgin Mary-Panaya Kapulu), Ephesus.
For the visitor today, there are two entrances to the site, one upper and one lower. As it is slightly downhill, it is a better idea to start from the upper gate. There are no shopping facilities nor toilets inside the site and that is why in summer months it is strongly recommended that the visitor bring drinking water and wear comfortable shoes as well as a hat.
At the eastern end of the city, it is possible to see the remains of the Magnesian Gate before coming to today’s entrance. This gate was the point of departure of roads which connected Ephesus with Magnesia and Miletus. After entering the site from the upper gate, at the far right end there is the Bath of Varius, a 2C AD Roman bath complex.
The State Agora was a vast public square laid out and remodeled during the reign of Augustus (27 BC-14 AD). It was a public area where people gathered for political, commercial and social reasons. The north Stoa also had the function of a basilica, Ionic in style and divided into two aisles and a nave by two rows of columns. This three-aisled basilica replaced the single-aisle Hellenistic Hall. Meetings of the law courts were probably held there in the basilica. The construction of the basilica in the proximity of the prytaneion would not have been a coincidence.
The foundations of a Peripteros Temple with 6×10 columns were excavated in the axis of the State Market. This was first interpreted to be a shrine of Isis but later a temple of Dionysus.
The building on the south-west side of the agora was identified as the Nymphaeum of Laecanius Bassus. It opens into the road in the west where the Domitian Temple also faces. Among the sculptures which decorated the fountain were Tritons and river gods. The Odeon in Ephesus was built in the 2C AD and had a double function. First it was a theater for theatrical performances as well as being the Bouleterion. It was the Senate House which was used by the boule, the advisory council of the city. It has always been very difficult to identify bouleterion buildings as they did not have typical characteristics. It was a two-storied building covered with a wooden roof with a seating capacity of 1,400 people. It consisted of three main sections; cavea, skene and proskene.
The Temples of Dea Roma and Divus Julius were Imperial Cult erected in the 1C AD with the permission of Augustus in honor of his adoptive father Julius Caesar, and of Rome. The Imperial Cult never became a true religion. Its aim was to create unity among people.
The Prytaneion was the official administrative building or the city hall which housed the senior city officials. What characterized a prytaneion building as different from a bouleterion was an eternal flame or the sacred hearth of Hestia in the prytaneion which is kept burning eternally by the Curetes, the six (later nine) priestesses of Hestia. From an architectural standpoint it was like a private house. It contained an assembly hall, administrative rooms, the state archives and a dining hall in which officials and foreign visitors were welcomed. In front of the assembly hall there was a Doric courtyard. Some of the stones of the prytaneion were used in the restoration of the Scholastica Baths. Three statues of Artemis, “big”, “beautiful” and “small” were found there. One life-size and the other double life-size Artemis statues are kept in the Ephesus Museum in Selcuk.
Memmius Monument had an inscription which referred to dictator Sulla’s capture of Ephesus in the 1C BC. The monument was a memorial which was dedicated to Memmius, son of Caius and grandson of Sulla.
The Polio Fountain was a 2C AD building which was later restored in the 3C AD. Water brought by aqueducts is distributed from this fountain by a branching system of baked clay pipes. Richly decorated sculpture from the Hellenistic period was excavated there. The sculpture depicts Odysseus while he was blinding Polyphemus (cyclops) in order to escape from his cave.
During the Roman period, Ephesians erected many buildings and temples, and dedicated them to emperors in order to secure good relations and the support of Rome. The Domitian Temple is one of them and is a 1C AD building. In the substructure of the building, parts of a huge statue which is four times larger than life were excavated and interpreted to be Emperor Domitian’s. This is the reason that the building was named as the Domitian Temple. But according to more recent research the statue is of the Emperor Titus. Before this recent research it was believed to be the first temple erected in the name of a Roman emperor who referred to himself as “ruler and god”. At the end of the 1C AD, when he was assassinated, his statue was smashed to pieces on the ground by a mob as he was not well-liked. The name of the temple might change anytime but still, it is believed to be the first temple of the cult of emperors in Ephesus.
The Hercules Gate can easily be identified by two reliefs of Hercules wearing lion’s skin. The pillars date from the 2C AD but were taken there to be used in the construction of a narrow gate house only in the 6C AD having originally stood elsewhere. The gate was made narrow to prevent wheeled vehicles which came from the Magnesian Gate going into the city.
The Curetes Street lies between the Hercules Gate and the Celsus Library. Some name lists of the Curetes were inscribed on marble columns found on the north side of the street. The modern name of the street derives from these inscriptions. In literary sources the street was called Embolos.
The Nymphaeum of Trajan is a 2C AD building with two stories built by an Ephesian in memory of the Emperor Trajan. In front of the building there was a pool with water cascading from beneath the colossal statue of Trajan. One foot of his statue can still be seen. The pool was flanked by the building on three sides. The facade of the building is highly ornate with Corinthian columns on the upper story and Composite columns on the lower. Statues of other emperors, gods and heroes stood in niches.
The Terrace Houses on the Curetes Street belonged to the rich people of Ephesus. They date back to the 1C AD and some of them were used up to the 7C AD. Many of them were three-storied and had peristyles surrounded by rooms without windows but included frescoes and mosaics of mythological scenes. Some of the frescoes were scenes from the comedies of Menander and the tragedies of Euripides. The fresco depicting the fight between Hercules and Acheloos and the glass mosaic of Dionysus and Ariadne with birds in a vineyard are among the best preserved wall decorations. They were luxuriously furnished private houses with fountains and central heating. Between the street and houses was a portico with a mosaic floor, behind which were shops.
A protective roof has been built to prevent valuable frescoes and mosaics decaying. Maximum care has been paid for keeping the original appearances of the rooms during the reconstruction of the atriums.
The Scholastica Baths, together with latrines and the public house, are part of a large complex on the north side of the Curetes Street between the two side streets of Bath Lane and Academy Street. It was built in the beginning of the 2C AD and restored with stones brought from the Prytaneion by a rich Christian lady named Scholastica in the beginning of the 5C AD.
With the fact that there is not any palaestra and the arrangement of its chambers is not symmetrical, the Scholastica Bath differs from the other bath complexes. The building consists of an L-shaped apodyterium, a frigidarium, a tepidarium and a caldarium. In the first two rooms there were cold pools and in the last two hot pools. The whole building was heated by a hypocaust-a furnace with flues that channeled hot air through the walls and under the floors. The furnace also heated the boiler that supplied hot water.
The Hadrian Temple was built in the 2C AD and renovated in the 4C ad in the name of the Emperor Hadrian. It was originally in Corinthian style consisting of a cella and a porch (pronaos). The facade of the porch had a pediment supported by two piers and two columns including an arch in the middle. The columns and the arch remain but the pediment has not survived. The keystone of the arch has a relief of Tyche, the goddess of fortune. In the lunette over the entrance to the cella, there is another relief of a semi-nude girl, probably of Medusa, in acanthus leaves. Friezes were added there from different places in Ephesus during a restoration in the 4C AD. They are scenes relating to the legendary foundation of the city. From left to right: Androclus, the mythological founder of the city, killing a wild boar; Hercules rescuing Theseus, a mythological hero and the first true King of Athens, who was chained to a bench as a punishment by Hades for trying to kidnap Persephone from the underworld; Amazons, Dionysus and his entourage; Emperor Theodosius I, an enemy of paganism, and an assembly of gods including Athena and Artemis.
The Latrines were part of the Scholastica Baths and built in the 1C AD. They were for public use. The Private House (so-called brothel) was also a part of the Scholastica complex. Though it has not been archeologically proven, some archeologists are of the opinion that this was a brothel with two floors, the upper floor being for ladies and the ground floor for visitors. In the main hall there are some remains of mosaics depicting scenes of the four seasons. The statue of Priapus which is exhibited in the Ephesus Museum was found there.
Priapus was the son of Aphrodite and Dionysus. Portrayed as a grotesque little man with a huge phallus, he was associated particularly with fertility rites and also protected crops and gardens from animals, birds and thieves.
Library Square, in addition to being an important stopping point on the processional route in archaic times, was also part of a burial street until the 3C BC with buildings like the Octagon, Heroon, Celsus Library and the Sarcophagus of the sophist Claudius Flavianus Dionysius Rhetor under the ramp of the Marble Road.
Octagon was a vaulted burial chamber placed on a square pedestal with the skeleton of a 20-year old woman in a marble sarcophagus. According to an interpretation Octagon was a monument to Ptolemy Arsinoe IV who was murdered in Ephesus in 41 BC.
Heroon was a 2C BC U-shaped building with an open Ionic upper story. Water ran through a channel in front of the building. The gable and frieze had reliefs depicting Androclus killing a wild boar. The building is thought to have been a monument to Androclus.
Hadrian’s Gate is located at the junction of the Curetes Street and the Marble Road. Because of the limited original substance a complete reconstruction has not been possible. The gate house has three stories. On the first story there are three entrances. The one in the center is wider and spanned by an arch and the other two side entrances are capped by architraves. The second story was formed of four pillars and the third story of six pillars. A gable marks the top of the building.
The Celsus Library was built in the beginning of the 2C AD by Gaius Julius Aquila to be a memorial to his father Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, the proconsul of the Province of Asia. In the Roman period all but the bodies of heroes were buried outside the borders of cities. Aquila was granted permission for his father to be buried in a marble grave in a burial chamber in the library. Celsus’s sarcophagus lay inside the building, under the middle apse.
The facade has two stories with three entrances in the lower story and three window openings in the upper story. The columns at the sides of the facade are shorter than those at the center, giving the illusion of the building being greater in size. The three entrances are flanked by four niches with statues representing the virtues of Celsus, Sophia (Wisdom), Areté (Valor), Ennoia (Thought) and Epistémé (Knowledge). The semicircular niche on the main floor facing the central portal probably contained a statue of Athena. Although no traces have been found, it is thought that there was an auditorium for lectures or presentations between the library and the Marble Road.
Towards the end of the period when the city was inhabited, the interior room was destroyed and the facade of the building was used as a part of a nymphaeum. Some 2 m / 6.5 ft high marble slabs which were found there formed the front part of the nymphaeum. These slabs originally belonged to the Parthian Monument which was built to commemorate the victory of Lucius Verus over the Parthians. They were taken to Vienna and are exhibited in the Ephesus Museum today.
Between 1973 and 1977, an earthquake-proof reconstruction of the facade of the library was completed. Historical building sequence was well studied with the reconstruction.
The Commercial Agora was an open square with sides 110 m / 360 ft long and surrounded by stoas with two aisles behind which were shops. It was the center of the commercial world in Ephesus. In addition to the marketing of goods there was also a slave market of beautiful girls brought from different places by sea. A water-clock and a sundial as parts of a Horologium stood in the middle of the agora.
Mazaeus-Mithridates Gate is the triple gateway next to the Celsus Library which opens into the commercial agora forming its southeast gate. According to the inscriptions in Latin, it was built by two freed slaves Mazaeus and Mithridates in honor of Augustus, his wife Livia, his daughter Julia and his son-in-law Agrippa. According to the inscriptions in Greek, Mazaeus and Mithridates dedicated the gate to their masters.
The reconstruction of the gate was only completed in 1988. Missing parts were replaced with concrete and its surface was plastered. Mazaeus-Mithridates Gate is earthquake-proof like the Celsus Library.
The Marble Road is another main street between the library and the theater, but it was originally part of the processional road stretching to the Artemis Temple. Traces of wheeled vehicles can be seen here. On the west side somewhere in the middle of the marble road, on the pavement is a piece of marble with graffiti showing a woman with a crown, a heart and a left foot. This is accepted as being the earliest advertisement in the world probably of a lady in the so-called brothel for sailors. Among its various interpretations is that “if you want to make love with this particular lady (her name was written there) that was as beautiful as queens, keep going in this direction and she is on the left-hand side of the street”.
The Theater is one of the most impressive buildings in Ephesus. It was originally a 3C BC Hellenistic theater which was later restored, adapted and expanded in the 1C AD by the Romans until it reached its present seating capacity of 24,000 people. It was used for the meetings of the demos as well. The cavea has a horseshoe shape of 220 degrees and a diameter of 151 m / 495 ft. The uppermost row of the cavea is 30 m / 100 ft above the orchestra. Staircases outside were originally vaulted and provided access to the upper rows. The skene, the ruins of which are seen today, was a three-storied ornate building of the Roman period. Nothing was left from the Hellenistic period in the stage building. The facade was subdivided with many highly ornate niches. The ground floor of the skene consisted of a long corridor with 8 rooms and five large doors leading to the stage. Niches replace these doors in the second and third stories. The third story was rebuilt in the 2C AD to form an attic with pillars and an entablature.
This theater was the place where St. Paul preached. However, a goldsmith by the name of Demetrius provoked his fellow-craftsmen to a public outcry against Paul, with the cry “Great is Artemis of Ephesians”. He did it because he thought this new religion could ruin their businesses. They made their living by selling statues of Artemis to pilgrims visiting there from far and wide.
The Arcadiane was a great colonnaded avenue which was renovated at the beginning of the 5C AD in honor of Emperor Arcadius. It was 530 m / 1740 ft long and 11 m / 36 ft wide leading from the harbor to the theater. It was paved in marble and had shops behind the colonnades. The two pedestrian walks in the colonnades were 5 m / 16 ft wide and paved with mosaics. At night the Arcadiane was lit by torches, making Ephesus, along with Rome and Antioch, one of the three ancient cities known to have had street lighting. Somewhere in the middle of the avenue stood a monument of four Corinthian columns probably erected in the 6C AD which supported the statues of the four apostles.
The Ephesus Museum is in the town of Selcuk at the eastern foothill of Ayasuluk Hill. The two best finds exhibited in the museum are the marble statues of Artemis. One is from the 1C AD and the other 2C AD. Rows of egg-shaped marble pieces on the goddess’s chest have been interpreted differently as breasts, eggs, grapes or dates. In 1978 a new interpretation suggested that these pieces on the goddess’s chest were bulls’ testicles offered to her on feast days as symbols of fertility. Later excavations proved that the bull cult was really important. Similarly to Mother Goddess of Anatolia, she has two feline animals standing next to her.
The Vienna Ephesus Museum was started to be established after the first excavation started in 1895 by Austrians. According to the situation at that time during the reign of Sultan Abdulhamit II, Austrians were able to export finds from Ephesus. In 1907, a new law on antiquities was implemented in Turkey. According to this new law finds were not allowed to be taken away altogether.
KUCUK MENDERES (CAYSTER) RIVER
The river is 175 km / 109 miles long and originates from the east of Bozdag and flows into the Aegean Sea after Selcuk. The harbor city of Ephesus which is today 8 km / 5 mi from the sea was built upon the abundant alluviums from the Kucuk Menderes River.