Ephesus, Turkey, is considered one of the most important ancient archaeological sites in the world.* Its history dates back 8,000 years and encompasses several locations, many earthquakes and phases of rebuilding. In its heyday of 200,000 or more inhabitants, it was the fourth largest population center in the region. It’s the same city Paul visited, lived in, and referred to throughout his New Testament writings. I knew all of that, but I was still completely unprepared for its expanse or the excitement those old stones would impart!
In ancient times, the city was a significant port. Most travelers entered from the sea-side. The landscape has shifted, the shoreline is now several miles distant, and tourists enter the site from the east. This makes for an easy walk downhill most of the way. Even so, I was glad we’d arrived early in the day as a fierce August sun made her steady ascent.
Near the entrance is a curbstone carved with one of the earliest Christian symbols. In ancient Greek script, all five letters fit within and form a circle. We know it as the sign of the fish: Jesus Christ, Savior, Son of God. A pile of hollow clay fixtures was stacked nearby. These fragments once served as plumbing or heating pipes throughout the city.
Ancient Romans were famed for moving water around, to, and through their cities but that was just part of their engineering skill set. Not far from the entrance were the distinct Roman arches of the baths. There were separate temperature zones for the bather’s comfort and health: a frigidarium (cold), a tepidarium (warm), a calidarium (hot), a sudatorium (sweating), along with a dressing area, a bathing pool, and public restrooms. The stone floors were heated by hypocaust, circulating hot air underneath. It’s no wonder the baths were also a place of business! But in fact, we saw ample signs of creature comforts among the ancients as the tour progressed.
Many stones along the street were carved with names and symbols to signal the purpose of the local practitioner. Bulent interpreted, linking the Greek root with a recognizable modern day word. For a moment it seemed we were on the set of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Everything traces back to Greek something!
Impressive as it is, you have to use your imagination on site at Ephesus; there are a lot of missing pieces. Among the most stunning ruins was the famed Celsus library, a strikingly beautiful structure — even in current skeletal form. Excavations reveal a hidden passage from the library to the ‘love house’ for those merely feigning scholarly interests. Hmmm.
*Our brief visit to Turkey was infinitely more interesting in the company of a private guide, Bulent, through Sea Song Tours. An archaeologist who worked in his early career at Ephesus, his insider’s perspective and expertise, along with deep pride in his beautiful country, made a world of difference in our experience.