Selçuk (in Turkish alphabet) or Selcuk, Izmir is known as one of the closest town to the more famous Ephesus ruins and travertines of Pamukkale. As such, Selçuk is a perfect base if you want to get to these attractions. However, some visitors just pass Selçuk by and stay someplace else. Find out more about places to see in Selcuk and why I liked my stay in this charming little town.
Selcuk, Izmir: History
The history of Selcuk in Izmir Province dates back to as early as 1400 to 560 BC, based on archaeological finds indicating settlement in this period. Selcuk is home to the Basilica of St. John, built during the 6th century. From the Byzantine period, Selcuk was named Agios Theologos, Greek name for John the Theologian, who lived in this town during the time when Christians were persecuted. Selcuk was then named as Ayasoluk (which means Divine Theologian) in the Ottoman period, and became Selcuk named after the Seljuk Turks that invaded the town from the 12th century AD.
Selçuk today is home to Ephesus Museum, the ruins of Basilica of St. John, and the ruins of one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis. Likewise, as mentioned, it’s close to the Ephesus ruins, House of Virgin Mary, the coastal town of Kuşadası and the equally charming little village of Şirince.
Selçuk might not be for nightlife seekers, but I like it just the way it is – quiet, historic, traditional and hospitable. Read on to find out more about some of the places you can visit within and a little outside the little town of Selçuk.
Map of Selcuk (Ephesus Included)
Here’s a map of Selcuk, Ephesus ruins also included and nearby sights, for your reference.
Places to See In and Around Selcuk
Isa Bey Mosque
The patron of this mosque, Isa Bey, is known as a scientist and a patron of scientists. The architecture of Isa Bey Mosque was inspired by The Great Mosque or Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, and is uniquely asymmetrical. Columns and stones from the ruins of Ephesus City were incorporated in the structure.
Isa Bey Mosque viewed from Basilica of St. John
The mosque being one of the Islamic centers for scientists and scholars bears some calligraphy inscriptions on stone
Basilica of St. John
As a Christian, the visit to Basilica of St. John was very meaningful for me. After Christ’s death, St. John, often referred to as the “Evangelist” or the “Beloved” fled to Ephesus from Jerusalem to avoid the persecution of King Herod. Having entrusted the Virgin Mary to St. John before Jesus died on the cross, it is believed that St. John brought the Virgin Mary with him to Ephesus (more about the House of Virgin Mary in Ephesus on my next blog).
St. John lived his last days in Ephesus. As a memorial, the Basilica of St. John was built over his grave at the foot of Ayasoluk Hill.
A pillar inscribing symbols of Christianity
Ayasoluk Castle was built during the Byzantine era at the time when Ephesus ancient city has started to decline due to siltation of its harbors. The castle is perched at the top of Ayasoluk Hill, north of the Basilica of St. John. Siltation of the Ephesus harbor has converted the area into a swamp and has led to the spread of malaria. This caused people from the harbor to migrate towards Ayasoluk.
It is believed that St. John wrote his gospel and letters on this hill. Also worth noting is that The Seven Churches mentioned in St. John’s Book of Revelations are all in Turkey.
The way up to Ayasoluk Citadel, the highest point of Ayasoluk Hill, north of the Basilica.
Temple of Artemis
The Temple of Artemis, considered as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, used to be a massive temple for the worship of Artemis, the goddess with many breasts signifying fertility. The oldest finds trace back to the Mycenaean age or the 14th to 13th century BC. The temple, also called the Temple of Diana at Ephesus, used to be surrounded with columns in the center of the sanctuary.
The temple was badly destroyed three times, the first one due to a flooding in the 7th century BC. The temple was rebuilt during the Lydian occupation, but was again destroyed in 356 BC due to an act of arson by Herostratus, believed to put the temple on fire, in pursuit of fame. Coincidentally, the date the temple was set on fire is also the birthdate of Alexander the Great.
Today, only a single column remains standing in the now swampy area. The statue of Artemis is now exhibited in the Ephesus Museum.
Ephesus Museum (Efes Müzesi) is in Selçuk, Izmir across the Selcuk otogar or bus station. The museum houses the archeological objects excavated at the ancient Ephesus city. 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. Read my guide on a self-guided tour in Ephesus here.
Statues of Artemis
Sarcophagus (ancient stone coffin)
Medical instruments excavated from ancient Ephesus city
The Selçuk market, located just behind the Selcuk Otogar (bus station) is open only during Saturdays. We went here in the afternoon after our visit to Ephesus and the House of Virgin Mary. We found some of the fruit and vegetable vendors were close to calling it a day as their products are almost sold out. An early morning visit would have been more ideal.
Nevertheless, the Selçuk market is my kind of market. It truly represents the vibe of the town. It’s not the kind that caters to tourists. In this market, you’ll see locals selling their produce from village farms. It’s amusing to see fruits, vegetables, cheeses and other products that are typically what’s served on a Turkish table’s meals, especially breakfast.
A Turkish breakfast wouldn't be complete without olives. After Turkey, I will never again think that olive only comes in black.
Selçuk’s version of a “bayong” (woven basket) in the Philippines is this steel cart with plastic container
In case you run out, no problem
House of Virgin Mary (Meryemana Evi)
The House of Virgin Mary or Meryemana Evi in Turkish is beautifully located at the top of a hill in Ephesus. The ancient Ephesus city 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 front yard of the Mary's house, with a baptismal pool
Mary's house - a statue of Virgin Mary stands inside, with pews for praying
The House is now a chapel revered by Muslims and Christians alike. Our guide, a Muslim, told us that the Virgin Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran.
The site beside the House where Holy Masses are held
Mary’s house 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 apparently amazingly accurate to think that she’s invalid and never left Germany.
As she had described, between Blessed Virgin Mary’s house and the Ephesus city 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.
The three drinking fountains
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 free pin with the small evil eye (can you spot in the photo?) given to me by a vendor in Cappadocia where I bought a ref magnet.
Down the hill from Meryemana towards the way to the Ephesus ruins is a large statue of the Virgin Mary. Daniel, our guide, told us that there is a plan to build a larger statue, to be situated at the summit near Meryemana Evi where the statue overlooks the hills to Ephesus and the sea, much like Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer.
North of Selçuk is Kuşadası, a resort town in Turkey’s Aegean coast. From the Selçuk otogar, we got a public dolmus (something in between a mini van and mini bus) ride to Kuşadası, which took around 30 minutes.
For visitors of the more popular Ephesus, Kuşadası is the closest place to enjoy nightlife along the coast. There are old houses near the seafront, but in the same way, there are plenty of bars and cafes. Nearby are also large hotels and resorts. We met other travelers staying at Kuşadası for the beer and nightlife but to each his own because we prefer the quieter (and to some, the boring) Selçuk.
We had to seek refuge from a heavy rain before we even reach Kusadasi's Aegean coast. Luckily, we were rewarded with a fine view after the short downpour.
I did not see any turtle on the shores but good thing that they are placing importance on the protection of these beautiful animals
Just earlier in the day when I took this photo, I was marveling at the beauty of sunrise along the Mediterranean coast of Antalya. Now, I'm watching sunset over the Aegean coast of Turkey
Getting to Selcuk
From Adnan Menderes Airport in Izmir, we took a one and a half hour train ride to Selçuk town. Fare is 5 TL, one way (March 2016). Check train schedule here. Buses and minibuses are also available connecting Izmir to Selcuk and Kuşadası.
Accommodations in Selcuk, Izmir
Find accommodations in Selcuk, check reviews and compare prices of different booking sites with just one search using Hotels Combined. Check it here.
Related Books from Amazon
You may want to check out these books to supplement your Selcuk visit.
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