Best preserved library from the ancient world
Finally achieving one of my lifetime travel dreams; reaching the ancient city of Ephesus. Yet the truth is that I have way too many further travel wishes in the agenda, of course. Coming here was, after all, the main purpose of this entire trip, involving having to fly to Istanbul with an overnight stay at a hotel there, continuing the following morning with a flight to Izmir, and if following the original plan, today we would have been only visiting Izmir while the next day Ephesus. But since our dramatic change of plans on the go, this was brought forward to the very same day after a quick visit of Izmir. And the reason for such change? Well, quite a temptation being that near to Pergamon and not going! Check Pergamon travel guide for more information.
The city traces its roots to the 10th century BC, occupying the place of the former capital of the Kingdom of Arzawa, Apasa, that extended along the western areas of Anatolia. It became one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League during Greek times, becoming a great power when the Romans took control over it after 129 BC.
Once home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis, one can imagine how important and powerful the city might have been. Second in population and importance only after Rome, with glorious buildings and large public bath houses, something the Romans mastered at; coupled with one of the most advanced aqueduct system of the ancient world.
It is one of the Seven Churches of Asia, known also as the Seven Churches of Revelation or the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse. Mentioned in the New Testament Book of Revelation, it is where Jesus Christ from the Greek island of Patmos instructs his servant Jon of Patmost saying: “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.”
From 262 AD the city was destroyed by the Goths but again flourished with Constantine I being the second city in importance in the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople during the 5th and 6th centuries AD, with a steep decline and abandonment on the centuries afterwards when the city lost its harbour that has been slowly silted up by the river.
While some of the decaying buildings back then were used as a quarry and valued marble statues removed, other statues were not that lucky and were smashed to powder to create lime for plaster; yet still, what have come to our days is a large archaeological site with some of the finest buildings, achievements in architecture and engineering from the era rarely seen elsewhere on a site of similar characteristics.
Visiting the city will not take much of the day but just a few hours, although you will need to plan more time all together as a whole. This is, including the time that will take you to get here from wherever you are (in our case Izmir), and so calculating the way back. Izmir is by all means, the perfect location to be a base should you also wish to visit other ancient cities of importance such as Pergamon at pretty much the same distance that Ephesus is, but on the opposite direction on the north.
For more information about Ephesus check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Turkish currency is the Lira (TRY). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
How to get here
The nearest large city to Ephesus is Izmir, 80 kilometers to the south and will most probably be your entry point too. From Izmir’s Basmane station, trains depart to Selçuk, the city where Ephesus is just 3km away, with a total journey duration of 1 hour and 15 minutes only, making it the most convenient and perhaps, the fastest way to reach the ancient city. Buses do also make this journey but considering the amount of traffic in the road, you will be better off by train for sure. The bus station, otogari in Turkish, is 8 kilometers to the east of Izmir and there is no metro or IZBAN commuter trains. Either you will need to take a taxi or figure out which public buses go there from the center of the city.
The most convenient train times on the outgoing service towards Selçuk are 07.45am, 09.00am, 11.25am and 13.30pm. Any train later than this will not make sense as will give you too short time in Ephesus. Those trains continue all the way farther ahead towards Denizli for Pamukkale, another of the major tourist spots in Turkey and from where you might be actually coming to Ephesus, instead of Izmir. As for the return services, ideal times would be 15.53pm, 17.58pm, 19.32pm and 20.44pm, being this the last train towards Izmir. A return ticket costs just 20 TRY.
Once at Selçuk train station, get a taxi to drop you at the site. Ask for going to the south entrance and walk your way to the opposite entrance/exit which is past the Grand Theater. As a tip here, if you do not find a taxi around the train station, head down the street past the remains of the Roman aqueduct and at the end turn right onto the main road. You will see taxis passing this street more frequent. Bear in mind though, that they will not use the taximeter in here. They have a fixed fare of 20 TRY. It is how it is.
If coming from elsewhere in Turkey this can be by train although it might include a change of train along the way depending from where you are coming or by bus all across the country serving the major cities.
The general admission fee is 30 TRY (around £7.5) plus another 15 TRY for the Terrace Houses. Audio guides are also available for rent and cost 20 TRY (plus either leaving your ID/Passport or 100 TRY refundable deposit).
What to see and do in Ephesus
- The Library of Celsius Probably the symbol number one of the city, with the impressive almost complete 2 floors facade. Built in honor of Roman Senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus and completed in 135 AD. With its interior destroyed after an earthquake in 262 AD leaving only the facade standing, everything succumbed after another earthquake in the 11th or 12 century AD. It was reassembled between 1970 and 1978.
- Gate of Augustus Located right next door to the library.
- Temple of Hadrian Is the next most known and famous landmark building after the library. Built in the 2nd century AD and last repaired in the 4th century. It’s remains were assembled back together from the fallen pieces.
- Temple of the Sebastoi Also known as the Temple of Domitian, was one of the largest in the city, dedicated to the Imperial cult of the Flavian dynasty.
- Terrace Houses Having a separate ticket entrance from the main to the archaeological site, it is in any case very worth it to pay the otherwise little money to see those glorious houses once belonging to the rich and wealthy. Entirely decorated with mosaic floors and painted walls, only the current roof is the newer addition to protect the site from the external agents.
- Grand Theater With capacity for up to 25000 people, still in immaculate state bearing the stage area that only the foundations remain. It is the largest open air theater from the ancient world.
- Harbor Street One of the main streets in the ancient city, leading to the original harbour, long time gone and reason why the city was abandoned after it silted up.
- Basilica of Saint John Completed in 565 AD was built on the site believed to be the burial place of the Apostle John who travelled from Jerusalem to Ephesus where he spent the rest of his live. It is located in the center of Selçuk. You can get great views of the fortress-like complex from the road and gardens that surround the entire perimeter.
- İsabey Mosque Built in 1374 is one of the oldest and most impressive architectural achievement from the Anatolian beyliks (Turks). It is meters away from the Basilica of Saint John on the road leading down on the left hand side.
- Temple of Artemis Was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Rebuilt 3 times in history and lost in year 401 AD. The first construction was from the 8th century BC, destroyed by a flood in the 7th century BC. The second was the reconstruction carried by Cretan architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes in 550 BC, but did not last long as was consumed by an arson fire launched by Herostratus. Coincidence or not, it was the same date as the birth of Alexander the Great (20 or 21 of July 356 BC). For the third and last temple, re-construction started in 323 BC gradually decaying over the time. Only very few foundations remains in its place, and a column made of various pieces marks its location. It’s further down the road after the Mosque.
- Selçuk The small new city next to Ephesus is overall quite charming to walk along the beautiful flower decorated streets, with many great restaurants everywhere and a thriving nightlife.