Our tour bus arrived early in the morning to take us to Ephesus. It came right to our hotel, Jimmy’s Place, and had a few other people in it already. Though it was early in the morning, it was already pretty hot when we left. Our tour bus was filled with a motley crew: a young couple from Saudi Arabia with their two sons; 3 or 4 Australian guys who were travelling together; a young couple, also from Australia; an Asian woman from New York; and finally, A and myself. Maybe a couple of others I’m forgetting, but those were the ones who really made an impression me. Our enthusiastic, English-speaking tour guide got us settled in on board, and we were off!
The first stop was the House of Virgin Mary. This Catholic and Muslim shrine is visited by a steady stream of people, and the day we went it was certainly not quiet. In fact, it was quite busy!! Our tour guide told us that this is the norm since cruise ships started docking in nearby Kuşadasi around 2003, causing a big uptick in tourism. This site received a papal blessing in the late 1800’s, when it was visited by Pope Leo XIII. The shrine consists of a very small chapel, essentially, and a small room where Mary is said to have slept. Many believe that this was the house built for Mary by John the Apostle, where Mary lived out her days until the end of her life.
Outside of the House of the Virgin is a Wishing Wall, to which visitors can affix their intentions. Some pilgrims believe this wall to be miraculous. The wall is covered in notes, written on fabric, tissue, paper, and all sorts of other materials, which have been tied on to the wall. I wrote something down and used some ribbon to tie my wish on there – and in order not to risk jinxing it (though I don’t entirely believe in jinxes, I’d hate to find out the hard way that I’m wrong, so when possible, I choose not to risk them!), I will not share it here!! After that, we wandered back to our bus’ meeting point, stopping at the cistern on the way out. Though it was still early in the morning, the summer sun was starting to beat down on us, so many of us stopped to buy a cold beverage (or due to the hour, a hot Turkish coffee to get a boost of energy for the remainder of the tour!) at the cafe by the parking lot. A and I started to chat a bit with some of our Australian tour-mates. As we were walking, I also chatted a bit with the Saudi Arabian mother who was with us. I felt badly for her, as she was chasing after her kids in the sun, both boys wearing shorts and tee shirts, while she was covered head to toe in black, wearing what I understand to be called an Abaya (traditional Muslim robe), Hijab (headscarf) and Niqab (face scarf). Her husband and sons looked much more
comfortable than she did as the day progressed. She told me that they had not realized how hot it would be in Turkey at this time of year, and she was just glad that she had brought weather-appropriate clothing for the kids. She explained that back home it was also hot, but they rarely emerged from the air-conditioning at home, so she wasn’t accustomed to being outside in this kind of heat. Recognizing that her religion would prevent her from wearing a skirt and short-sleeved top like me, I couldn’t help wishing she were at least wearing the more gauzy, brightly colored Direh, like I got used to seeing the women wear in Djibouti, and that she could at least remove the Niqab to breathe a little easier. Though still modest, the Direh is more billowy, and being lighter in color seems to be much cooler than the black Abaya. [Editor’s note: I’m no expert in traditional Muslim dress – if I’ve mis-stated or mis-named anything, please feel free to add a comment and tell me! I love to learn new things, and I don’t mind being told if I’m wrong!!]
Anyway, we returned to the air-conditioned bus for a little relief from the sun while we headed towards the main attraction: the Ancient City of Ephesus. We pulled up and got our tickets, and in we walked, into one of the best preserved Ancient Roman cities!!
Boy, was it ever getting hot out now!! Everyone was hiding under umbrellas, hats, or shawls, trying to create their own shade. The resident stray cats found whatever shady resting place they could find to nap and preserve energy. We all slowly followed our tour guide, who first took us to the Baths at the Agora, where he showed us something pretty cool about how the Romans built their columns. He showed us two sections of a column with some holes & grooves in them. Then he poured some water into the grooves to demonstrate how molten metal would be poured into the groves, so that it could trickle down into the holes, where it could harden into a hard steel backbone to the column, strengthening the column. Learn something new every day! I had no idea that all those columns were steel reinforced!
After this little lesson in architecture and history, it was on to the smaller theater, the Odeon. We all ran around the Odeon a bit, taking pictures and checking out the views from all angles. This smaller theater was used primarily for
meetings, so I suppose this is the original town hall! From there, we continued on to the Prytaneum – the actual town hall, past Nike, and then on to Curetes Way. Curetes Way has been referred to as the Champs Elysees of Ephesus, having in its day been lined by shops and being decorated by statues of the city’s distinguished citizens (often doctors).
Curetes Way’s shop-lined streets must have really been something in its day. It was lined with mosaics, and they remain in surprisingly good condition. It reminded me of some of the mosaics I saw in the ancient city of Pompeii, in Italy on a visit years ago. Ornate and detailed, when they were shiny & new, these mosaics must truly have been something to behold! Even years later, and somewhat worse for the wear they were still impressive!
Down Curetes Way we walked, past the public toilet, the house of prostitution and Trajan’s fountain (just a side note, but Trajan’s Column in Rome is one of my favorite ancient artifacts in the world! Trajan had some pretty cool stuff made in his honor!) The public toilet is an interesting concept, and deserves a little attention. Unlike in modern times, where toilet time is seen as something quite personal and private, even those who had a toilet in their own homes would frequent the public baths. There, rows of seats next to one another allowed people to chat while they did their business…. according to our guide, that’s where the expression “shoot the shit” comes from, as unattractive a thought as that is in the modern age!!
Another noteworthy stop along Curetes Way was the Temple of Hadrian. Though small, the level of detail in the carvings is very nice. It is said that every inch of this Temple was covered with intricate designs and patterns. What is left now is enough to make you wish that you had been able to see the full building, in all its splendor.
Finally, after leaving the Temple of Hadrian, we were almost at the end of Curetes Way, and arriving at the most impressive (in my opinion) part of Ephesus: The Library of Celsus. This library was built in honor of the Roman Governor of Asia Minor, Celsus Polemaeanus, on the occasion of his death in 114 by his son. I have to say, I like how grand this building looks. It was the 3rd largest library of the ancient world, holding 12,000 scrolls. On the corner of Curetes Way and Marble Street, the Library was built with an extra wall to provide an extra layer of protection from the humidity of the outside world. The outside of the library is decorated by statues of female figures, like this one of Arete, pictured to the right. Once again, another building that I’d like to have seen in its heyday!!
After the Library, it was almost lunch time…. which means that the sun was high, and the heat was even higher!!! The next stop, down Marble Street, was the Grand Theater, right by the corner of Harbour Street. By this point, to be honest, I was barely looking at anything anymore!! It was hot, and I was tired, and after the Library, everything else looked a bit less impressive by comparison, so I snapped this picture and then ran for the shade!
Mercifully, the next stop after the Grand Theater was our lunch stop. It was a buffet with a lot of Turkish food, and was included with our ticket. I was pretty impressed with the food, but found that they overcharged dramatically for the drinks – which were not included in the tour. We ate, and then I went to sit outside at the covered tables that were being constantly lightly misted by a fine spray of water to keep everyone cool. I sat with the Aussie guys and we all chatted about our respective travels, comparing notes about where to go and what to see. That’s something that I’ve always admired about the Aussies & Kiwis (that’s New Zealanders, for anyone unfamiliar with the term) that I’ve known – despite how isolated and remote their countries, being island nations in the Pacific, every Aussie and Kiwi I’ve ever met (either in Australia or New Zealand, or elsewhere) has made it a priority to travel and see the world. Unlike most Americans, who might backpack across Europe after college, and take the occasional 1-3 week vacation trip somewhere abroad, many Aussies & Kiwis set aside enough money to take 6 months to a year off to just do nothing but travel the world, from place to place, and experience everything! I love that spirit and love that idea of making travel such a priority. I take as many trips as I can, and am at my happiest when I’m exploring a new place, so the idea of doing nothing but travelling for a year sounds like HEAVEN to me!!
But I digress.
From lunch, we were taken to a ceramics store, to look at some traditional Turkish ceramics. Now, I had fallen in love with a few pieces already in Istanbul, so I was excited to see how it was all made. We got a demonstration of how they spin the pottery. Here’s a little video clip of one of the potters making a lid for one of his small pots.
We got to watch a woman at work, hand-painting a large bowl. Here she is at work, and one the finished products.
After lunch, and the ceramics store, we went to the Temple of Artemis. Now here’s a site that has seen better days!! Here is a picture I took during my visit and a mock-up of what it would have looked like when it was a full building, and not just a single, solitary column. To be honest, the modern-day reality is definitely underwhelming, but picturing the whole building, in it’s entirety is a complete other story.
OK, I’ve prattled on enough for one post….. too much, probably!! I’ll leave you with a few more pictures from Ephesus. Enjoy!!