Let me take you back 2,000 years.
The Roman Empire stretched from Britain all the way down to North Africa, and from Dacia (modern day Balkans), to the Middle East. Turkey was at the time the province of Asia, and the capital was Ephesus. As the capital and a booming port at the west end of the Silk Road, Ephesus grew to become one of the largest cities in the eastern Mediterranean. It was here that John the Apostle brought the Virgin Mary after Christ was crucified. The “Virgin Mary House”, which is near to Ephesus, is still widely popular amongst pilgrims.
Nowadays, Ephesus is a sprawling ruin. Although only 15% has been uncovered, it is still a sight to behold.
Most impressive is the huge theater that was capable of holding 25,000 spectators. It covers one half of the hill it occupies, and puts Epidaurus to shame. It was here, supposedly that John came to preach the word of Jesus.
Another amazing monument was the library of Celsus. The prize for the best façade of our trip thus far goes without question to this. The interior was actually fairly small, but it was apparently the third largest library at the time. You could still see where it was lined with cubby holes for the texts it would have housed. In fact, when this library got to a certain size, the Egyptians who had exported the papyrus used for scrolls became jealous and declared an embargo on the papyrus trade. It was because of this that the Romans began writing on leather parchment, and bound it at one end, to create a “book”.
At Ephesus, there were also the terrace houses, which were a completely separate site and had only been opened in 2006 following extensive excavations. These were 3 story houses of the Ephesian upper class. They date to the early Roman imperial class, and had beautiful mosaics and frescos. They were how you would imagine ancient Roman houses to be with an open central courtyard and tiled floors inside. They also had, however, more luxurious elements. For instance, in the front center of the complex was what appeared to be a small, three story basilica. This was simply a room for greeting guests and also a meeting hall. The impressiveness of this alone was enough to let you know that very wealthy people had lived here. These houses also had some amazing interior decoration. All of the places that didn’t have marble coverings had frescoes or tiling. I was especially taken with how well the mosaic floors were preserved, and how beautiful they were after all this time.
One thing that was quite cool to see was the pipes and infrastructure that would have gone into making a city like Ephesus run. Upon entry into the site, you were greeted with a view of a stack of pipes. They were made of clay, and were in segments of about a foot each. They would have been running every which way under the city. These were the common form of water distribution in ancient Roman times, and would have been hooked up to an aqueduct to give it the necessary gravitational pull to spread it throughout the entire city.
You also had the benefit of seeing a Roman port town and could imagine what it would have been in its prime. It had a large open courtyard where, in ancient times, there would have been lots of exotic items from all corners of the empire available for sale. Shops would have had a mosaic or stone tablet depicting whatever that particular shop was selling. Courtyards like these were commonplace during Roman times. The market was very similar to the one we saw in Ostia Antica.
All in all, Ephesus provides great insight into what Roman city life would have been like, as well as how bustling port and trade towns would have functioned.
This has been Aran on Ephesus, thanks for your time, and I will see you next post.