Self-Guided Tour to Ephesus, Turkey
Ephesus, Turkey dates back to 2,000 years BC and is believed to be settled first by Amazons and Hittites. That old! I can’t believe I have walked the same streets where people like St. Paul and Cleopatra walked and where the ancient Roman empire community had once flourished.
I joined a guided tour with two others plus the guide to Ephesus Archaeological Site and the House of Virgin Mary. I’ve put together the interesting details I’ve remembered from our young guide, Daniel (Turkish name: Sergen), the information from the boards and added other notable information I have researched. To save you money and time in researching, I’m giving you an alternative: use this as a guide and do the Ephesus, Turkey tour by yourself.
Ephesus, Turkey: An ancient city built around mountains and the sea
Ephesus Archaeological Site
It will probably take 2 to 3 hours to visit the Ephesus ruins. There are two entrances, the north entrance near the Great Theater and the south entrance near the Baths of Varius. We went from the south entrance and for me, this is the better way of doing it as you’ll end up with the most notable sites – the Celcus Library and the Grand Theater. Likewise, you’ll be walking downhill from this entrance.
Let’s begin the walkthrough from the southern entrance gate. You may wish to grab a map to follow through. Just google it and there you’ll have it.
Starting off from the south entrance
Baths of Varius
The first facility from the entrance is the baths. As with other Roman baths, it consists of three rooms – a frigidarium (cold water), tepidarium (warm water) and caldarium (hot water). There are also halls for physical exercise and entertainment.
There is a reason why the baths are situated near the entrance. For visitors, it’s a way to clean them before entering the city. According to our guide, visitors may see this act as a form of hospitality, but the truth is, it’s Ephesus’ way of furtively checking whether they have disease or not. Doctors even examine visitors before letting them enter the city premises.
The State Agora
There are two agoras (market place) in Ephesus city, the State Agora and the commercial agora. The State Agora is exclusive for political meetings. At the corner of the State Agora is a water reservoir which was used to bring water to the city. Today, some of the pipes used for water distribution are stockpiled at one side of the agora.
This is the present-day Senate House, so to speak. This semi-circular auditorium is where the aristocrat Ephesians held their meetings and discussed political issues. Musical performances and contests are also held here. It is originally a roofed structure.
Basilica Stoa or Royal Colonnade
This used to be a two-storey, triple aisled walkway between the State Agora and the Bouleuterion. It was also at this site when our guide explained to us the different types of columns (see photo below).
The one on the left is an Ionic column, used for smaller buildings and interiors, and characterized by two scrolls resembling nautilus shells or animal horns. The center column is a Corinthian column which was said as invented by a sculptor after he spotted a goblet surrounded with leaves.
Ingenius Roman architecture – the arch
The Rhodian Peristyle and Prytaneum
Beside the auditorium is the Prytaneum, where religious ceremonies, official receptions and banquets were held. The center of the ceremonial hall is constantly lighted with an “eternal flame”. On the corners of the hall, archaeologists excavated two statues of the goddess Artemis, which are now displayed in the Ephesus Museum.
A bit eerie in here (Artemis statue, Ephesus Museum)
Artemis, the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology, worshiped then in Ephesus as the great mother goddess.
The monument is dedicated to…err…Memmius. But who is he? Memmius is the son of Caius and grandson of Sulla. Sulla is considered as a Roman hero after winning against Mithridates under his command. The figures of his father and grandfather can still be seen on the site today. My only question is, why not name it Sulla Monument, instead? Just asking.
A stone block containing the symbol of medicine is a sign that the building next to it served as a place to gather ill people. It was said that no one probably died in the hospital because if a patient is nearing death or if the doctors knew that they could not cure the sickness, the sick person are sent home to die.
Another stone with the larger medicine symbol is also here but unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of it
The group of blocks on the right is said to be the place where ill persons are tended
It was at this point when Daniel also explained about one of the symbols of Christianity by doodling on the sandy ground. He described the meaning of the Ichthus or Fish symbol:
The Greek term “ΙΧΘΥΣ”, meaning Ichthus or Fish is actually an acrostic for:
- Ι is the first letter of Greek for “Jesus”
- Χ is the first letter of Christos, Greek for “anointed”
- Θ is the first letter of Theou, Greek for “God’s”
- Y is the first letter of (h)uios , Greek for “Son”.
- Σ is the first letter of sōtēr, Greek for “Savior”
All the letters translate into English as “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”. Because I remember only the English translation and it’s impossible to remember the Greek terms, I later googled again the Greek terms. All these letters combined are embedded in the circular symbol shown in the photo above. Circle means eternity.
The symbol is said to be inscribed in buildings where Christian religious gatherings were held to secretly indicate the place for their activities. The fish is also very symbolic in that Jesus Christ spoke to His disciples, “I will make you fishers of men”.
The Temple of Domitian
The temple served as an Imperial cult and was dedicated to Emperor Domitian. Quadrennially, semi-religious games were conducted in different provinces in the name of the emperor where gladiator games were held and wild animals are faught. After the victory of Christianity, it was torn down to its foundations and today it has almost completely disappeared.
Head and arm of Emperor Domitian, found in the Temple of Domitian, now in Ephesus Museum. This is reaaally big, like twice the diameter of a normal person’s head.
The Polio Fountain is located opposite the Domitian temple. It is on the left of the temple if you’re facing the Memmius Monument. Unfortunately, I missed a photo of the arched façade.
The Hercules Gate is located after the Memmius Monument at the beginning of Curetes Street. The gate restricts the entry of vehicles and is therefore accessible to pedestrians only. The relief of Hercules, the god of power and strength, at the gate’s column depicts him carrying a lion that he killed.
The distance between the two columns is also said to be based on the length of Hercules’ reach when he extend his two arms between the two columns. Our guide let our American companion stand at the middle of the columns and extend his both arms in a “Samson-like” way and his hands were short of touching the columns by one or two feet on both sides.
The relief of the flying Nike is also thought to be a part of this gate. Nike (pronounced as Nee-ke) is the winged goddess of victory. Our guide showed us a fold in her dress which resembles the swoosh logo of the famous Nike brand. I’m not sure though if it’s just a coincidence or there’s a true connection.
Do you see the swoosh logo? Go ahead, trace it with your fingers. Just do it! (A joke I can’t own because it’s from our guide. Haha!)
This colonnaded street extends from Hercules Gate to the Celsus Library. The street got its name from the priests or curetes that took care of the flame at the Prytaneum.
Nymphaeum Traiani or the Fountain of Trajan
Looking at the reconstruction drawing made me imagine the original fountain’s former glory and I’m already amazed. The structure, built for Emperor Trajan, is a two-storey façade with a center fountain, where there used to be a statue of Trajan standing over a globe to symbolize rule over the world. Unfortunately, only the feet standing on the base was recovered. Ironic, don’t you think? Once a powerful emperor who believes he can rule the world. Now, just a part of an ancient city in ruins. #walangforever
Not sure whether this is connected with the Fountain of Trajan
The Temple of Hadrian
This temple is one of the best preserved structures in the Ephesus ruins. Today, the four corners and the front arch are still visible. Inside, a relief of Medusa is embedded, which is said to have been placed to drive out evil spirits. On its sides are friezes depicting important events in the history of Ephesus, as well as gods and goddesses of Greek mythology. The one in the Ephesus site are reconstructed reliefs. The original ones are in Ephesus Museum.
Next to the Hadrian Temple is the public toilet that served the citizens as well as the visitors of the adjacent baths. It’s amazing that they already have a sewage system at that time. What is even more interesting is that the seats of the latrine were arranged side by side with no partition between them. Hence, aside from an opportunity to compare “notes”, this is the place for a nice chit chat with a toilet mate. As our guide told us, clean water continuously flowed in the channel in front of the seats for cleaning. The sound of the flowing water is a perfect way to mask the sound of their conversation.
Photo by: Moyeh Sicat
The toilet seats are made of marble and as you can imagine, it could get quite cold. Rich people are said to let their slaves sit on their chosen “thrones” first to heat up the seats before they make a go. Talk about hot ass, huh!
I messed up with backing up my photos and lost about 70 shots between this site up to when I got to the Celcus Library. Sigh!
Opposite the Hadrian Temple are residential houses of the opulent Ephesians, located along a sloped area in Curetes street. There is an additional entrance fee of 20 TL to view this area. If you bought a museum pass, I think entrance here is covered. However, I lost my 14-day museum pass in Antalya, but this is another story. I didn’t opt to enter but looking at the internet images, the houses look impressive with the floor mosaics and frescoes. Some of the original mosaics are exhibited in Ephesus Museum.
Floor mosaic of Medusa found in one of the houses, as displayed in Ephesus Museum
The red light quarter of Ephesus is a two-storey building. A statue of Priapus, the god of fertility, is found in the excavations. The small statue is currently presented in Ephesus Museum.
The Celcus Library is definitely a stand-out in Ephesus ruins. A figure of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, used to stand at the front. The four statues at the niches of the columns are Sophia, symbolizing wisdom, Episteme for knowledge, Ennoia for intelligence and Arete for valor (Ughh…I remember taking photos of these statues up close. Though these are only copies of the original, I regret losing important shots like this one.
The library can hold was more than 12,000 scrolls. It was the third richest library in ancient times after Alexandra and Pergamum.
To the right of the Celcus Library is the The Gate of Mazeus and Mythridates, named after two slaves who built it for Emperor Augustus, who freed them from slavery.
Here, I’m standing at the front of the Celcus library, facing the Curetes Street. The small area in front of the library was used as an auditorium. The steps were used as seats.
This is the road connecting the Celcus Library to the Great Theater. Behind the walls on the left is the Commercial Agora.
The center of trade is a square surrounded by columns.
The Great Theater
Like the theater we have seen in Aspendos, the Great Theater in Ephesus is located on the slope of a mountain. It has a capacity of 25,000 seats. The theater was used for concerts, theater performances, gladiator and animal fights and for political discussions.
The Great Theater. The strip on the right is Arcadian Street.
While spreading Christianity in Ephesus, St. Paul was counteracted by the blacksmiths who were threatened with the conversion of the Ephesians to Christianity because they earn a living from creating statues of Artemis. Because of the strong opposition from the blacksmiths, St. Paul was taken by these people to the Great Theater. In the end, the authorities called upon the people to file formal complaints at the court and dispersed the mob since they see no strong ground for St. Paul to be arrested. After the event, St. Paul left Ephesus and went to Macedonia.
The gymnasium served as a school of arts, sports and literature for the young Ephesians. The Great Theater couldn’t help but photobomb this view of the Gymnasium ruins.
Arcadian Street or Harbour Street
This street is the entry point of traders and sailors coming from the port. Our guide showed us the reconstructed look of Arcadian street. The street is colonnaded and lighted, with some shops at the sides. Four columns are erected, with the statues of the four apostles – St. John the Evangelist, St. Peter, St. Mark and St. Paul.
The Church of Virgin Mary
I regret to have missed this site, and it’s one of the seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelations. I wasn’t aware of this church until after my Turkey trip (sigh!). Anyway, the Church of Virgin Mary is the first church ever devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is also where the 3rd Ecumenical Council was convened.
The church is apparently at the other side of the pine-covered walkway to the main entrance/exit.
Exiting at the north gate, you’ll find souvenir shops and food stalls at the side street.
Ephesus Museum (Efes Müzesi) is in Selçuk, located on the other side of the street when you get across from the otogar or bus station. The museum houses the archeological objects excavated at the ancient Ephesus city. I have inserted some photos of finds from the ruins in the above section. It is best to visit first the Ephesus Archaeological Site before going to the museum for a better appreciation of the ancient items displayed there.
Here are some more photos inside the museum.
Busts of emperors and Greek philosopher, Socrates (rightmost)
Sarcophagus (stone coffin)
Reminds me of “The Mummy”
House of Virgin Mary (Meryemana Evi)
The House of Virgin Mary is beautifully located at the top of a hill in Ephesus. Ephesus is said as the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary spent her last years. Jesus Christ entrusted the Virgin Mary to St. John before He died on the cross. It is, hence, believed that St. John came to Ephesus with the Virgin Mary to escape persecution in Jerusalem.
The place was discovered through a German stigmatized nun named Catherina Emmerich who had visions of the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The visions had been transcribed into a book, where she described so vividly the House of Virgin Mary. Two scientific expeditions were organized in 1891 and found that this place perfectly matched the nun’s description. Her description, based solely in her visions, was amazingly accurate to think that she’s invalid and never left Germany.
There was a long queue the first time we went in. I went back after the visitors had cleared to get some quiet time to pray, albeit the short time. The House is now a chapel revered by Muslims and Christians alike. Virgin Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran.
The place where Holy Masses are held
As she had described, between the Blessed Virgin’s dwelling and Ephesus runs a small stream. It was said that the stream used to flow in the room where the Virgin Mary slept. The waters from the stream is now a source of three drinking fountains below the house.
Beside the drinking fountains is a wishing wall where devotees could tie their personal intentions written on paper or fabric. I pinned my prayers using a ribboned pin with a small evil eye (can you spot in the photo?) given to me by a vendor in Cappadocia where I bought a ref magnet.
The site beside the Chapel where Holy Masses are held
Down the hill from Meryemana towards the way to the Ephesus ruins is a large statue of the Virgin Mary. Daniel told us that there is a plan to build a larger statue, to be situated at the summit near Meryemana where the statue overlooks the hills to Ephesus and the sea, much like Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer.
Greeneries as viewed from the road
To sum it up, I did not regret getting a guide in our Ephesus visit. I would say our guide was very knowledgeable of the rich history of Ephesus. Learning that being an accredited professional guide in Turkey is no different than getting a college degree, I expect them to be proficient in this field. Besides, there were some details that I would have missed if not for the guided tour.
However, I can not discount the fact that there are other methods of getting the most out of your Ephesus visit, such as getting an audio guide or doing your own research. If you’re planning to visit Ephesus in Turkey and wanted to DIY, this might help in your self-guided tour.