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Efes – Ephesus


While the first settlement was around Ayasuluk Hill, it was later moved to the shores of the Cayster River. Located by the seaside in antiquity, the city became distanced from the shore over time through the accumulation of alluvial deposits. Today, Ephesus sits at about 6 km (4 miles) inland from the Aegean Sea.



The Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of antiquity, stood outside the present day archeological site. Today, the temple is located in a deep, hollow area. An altar and bare temple dedicated to the mother goddess was built in the sixth century BC. A second temple built entirely of marble in the same area had 36 columns decorated with reliefs. The structure got damaged in a fire in the fourth century BC and had to be rebuilt. The construction was still in progress when Alexander the Great entered the area. According to Roman historian Pliny, this temple measuring 130 m (427 ft) x 68 m (223 ft) had 127 columns that were each 18 m (59 ft) high. The Temple of Artemis was the largest temple in Anatolia during the time, but was damaged by the Goth invasion in the third century AD and did not get repaired after.


The findings of the first excavations done by the British around the Temple of Artemis are on display at the British Museum in London. Later excavations were done by Germans in 1892. Some of the pieces found then went to Austrian collectors, and from them, on to Austrian officers stationed in Istanbul at the time. The Vienna Ephesos Museum was set up after Austrians got permission to excavate from the Ottoman Empire in 1895. The few remaining findings from the Temple of Artemis in Turkey are on display at the Selçuk and Istanbul archeology museums.



She was Apollo’s twin and the daughter of Zeus and Leto. Artemis was the goddess of the moon, the hunt and chastity. She was both a virgin and an aide to women giving birth. In Ephesus, she replaced the mother goddess Cybele and gained respect as the goddess of fertility. She is depicted as having multiple breasts in the sculptures at the Ephesus Museum, and hence she is coined Artemis Polymastos, or many breasted Artemis.



The Sacred Route starting at the Magnesia Gate on the way to Bülbül Mountain led all the way to Artemission. If you start touring the ancient site from here, the State Agora will be in front of you. This agora, used until the fifth century AD, measures 160 m (525 ft) x 56 m (184 ft). The agora also used to house a temple in its center.



Odeon and prytaneion (municipality building) were side by side. It is thought that the 1400 person capacity odeon was used as the bouleuterion (parliament) where conferences, presentations and concerts were organized. The sacred fire at the prytaneion was kept constantly lit by the Curetes, or the Hestian (Vestal in Roman times) virgins in other cities. The Artemis sculptures on display at the Selçuk Museum were unearthed at the prytaneion excavations.


The sacred ramp opens up to Domitian Square. On one side of this square are the Pollio Monument, the Domitian Temple and the monument with a relief of Nike (Goddess of Victory). The Memnius Monument is on the other side. Its first level included statues of Caryatids, while the second level had statues of important persons.



The Roman author Vitrivius explained the Caryatids as representing Carian women who went into heavy slavery after war, because their city sided with the Persians in the fourth century BC. The Caryatid statues do look more like women in pain than those who would be dancing in joy.



Curetes Street, which began in front of the odeon, was the most important street of Ephesus. The Curetes were priestesses in charge of keeping the sacred fire of the goddess lit at the Temple of Artemis. A section of the street had stores on both sides. Reliefs of Hermes can be seen on both sides at the point where the sacred ramp ends.



Messenger of the Gods, Hermes was also the protector of merchants, herdsmen and thieves. His symbols are his wings and the staff bearing snake motifs that Apollo gifted him. He began to speak at birth. There is a pedestal on Curetes Street with a relief depicting him carrying a sacrifice.


A little below the ramp is the Heracles Gate and reliefs, considered the symbolic border between the city’s administrative and commercial sections. The view from here is very picturesque. The next part of the city was enriched with statues of senators, prominent people and athletes. Roman cities were decorated with statues, trees, flowers, fountains, pools, streets and canals. In Greek art, structures that cannot be lived in but that can be viewed from four sides prevailed. Roman buildings, on the other hand, were designed to be occupied.



Only the pedestal of the Trajan Fountain is still standing. The water that came to the fountain would pass under the sculpture and accumulate in the front pool, which was 12 m (39 ft) long. The monumental fountain was adorned with sculptures.



After the bathhouses, you will arrive at the Temple of Hadrian, dated back to the second century AD. Dedicated to Hadrian, one of the most important emperors in Roman history, the temple’s exterior arch depicts Tyche, the Goddess of Wealth, while the interior arch has reliefs of Medusa. The wall reliefs portray the legendary creation of Ephesus by Androclus and the Olympian Gods. The original reliefs are on display at the Ephesus Museum. Friezes of Meander and eggs on both sides of the entrance complete the exterior decorations.



On the slope right next to the street were the homes of the wealthy. In Roman cities, houses were built first from bricks and then from marble. The floors of these houses were decorated with mosaics, while the walls were adorned with frescoes. The rooms of a Roman home were placed around a courtyard. The affluent homes here show the same structure and planning.


Homes were heated using open stoves and braziers. Only the rich could afford private kitchen, toilet, bath, water and sewer systems. Houses were lit using olive or fish oil lamps and candles. It is known that the rich kept domesticated dogs to guard their homes. These homes also contained safes, used as protection against burglars.


Settlement in this area dates back to Augustus’ reign during the first century BC. While six houses were initially built on three terraces, it can be seen that one of them was partitioned again. It is more appropriate to refer to House #6 as a palace. Though the owner of this house, Gaius Flavius Pubius Aptus, was of Greek origin, he had been given Roman citizenship and was an important figure who had been promoted to the position of consul.


By placing them in the most popular spot of the city, the owners of these houses obviously wanted to impress their visitors. The houses were planned around a courtyard and designed to have high ceilings. There were few palaces in the early days of Roman social life, but the structures began to rise in numbers over time. In the homes of prominent citizens, two separate quarters were usually assigned to men and women. After houses and palaces, Romans began constructing apartment buildings that rose to over 20 m (66 ft) high on big plots of land. These structures were designed around a common courtyard. Wooden materials were used in the construction of the top floors.


The hillside houses were abandoned after the big earthquake of 262 AD. The mosaics and frescoes dated to 230 were able to survive to this day because they were protected naturally by the ceilings and walls that caved in during the earthquake.


It is thought that the cupboards at the entrance of House #6 were used as archives. The marbled room was utilized as the guest dining room. The ceilings of this highly ornamented room covered in marble measured to 7 m (23 ft) high. Food was not cooked at home, but brought in after being prepared in another kitchen. The fountain on the mosaic-covered wall supplied cold, potable spring water. The ceiling of the room was made of gold laminated ornamented wood. The room across the home’s basilica was sectioned for private conversations. The marble walls of the basilica were decorated with stucco. According to historians, the houses also designated the hierarchy among people.   Roman law dictated that anyone could enter the first courtyards of the houses, but only guests were permitted beyond. In this case, only family friends could go into the other, smaller rooms.


The house had a dining room with a pool next to it with fish in it. Whenever the homeowners felt like having fish, they would take them from this pool and cook them. The openings in the ceiling point to the fact that servants would lower the foods in baskets, like in Rome, and that the owners would choose the dishes they wanted.


Inlaying the mosaics that decorated the house was an arduous task that took a long time. It may be easier to understand why repairs took so long if we look at the numbers: with 40 000 pieces of marble in 80 containers, only 100 could actually be laid in a day.


The marble used in the houses came from the Peloponnese, Tunisia, Egypt and different parts of Anatolia, like Afyon. It was brought in blocks and cut in Ephesian workshops. The marble seen on Curetes Street called “Spolino” is unique as it forms symmetric designs when cut and opened.


The owner of House #2 was a priest of the Temple of Dionysus who had made monetary contributions to the feasts of Artemis. This structure was covered over by another building during the Eastern Roman era. It can be seen to have a courtyard in the middle, porticoes on three sides and a welcoming hall.


House #7 is very significant. As two skeletons were found only in this house during the digs, it was inferred that only two people lived in the hillside houses during the time of the 262 earthquake. It might have been that the houses were under renovation at the time. There were no connections between the houses but plans were made to include passages among common areas like toilets and bathhouses.


It can be seen that House #4 was a two-story building where a different architectural style was used. There were mosaics on the floors of this house depicting a bull-headed lion, Medusa, Dionysus and geometric designs. The ivory objects, tables, chairs and the like at the museum were unearthed from this house.


It appears that the motifs on the walls of this house were done on a blue base. Blue is a color reminiscent of the sky, and was very expensive as it was imported from Egypt. Mosaics with designs of Dionysus, Ariadne and panthers drawing carriages decorated the ceiling. In mosaics around the house, peacocks symbolizing eternity around a basket, hippos, Poseidon and water motifs were used. The Egyptian priest statue on display at the museum was found here.


During the first years of the excavations, findings like frescoes and mosaics were carried to the museum. However, in later years, utilizing special substances to protect from moisture and pollution, the findings began to be preserved in their original locations.


These Hillside Palaces continue to wow visitors after so many centuries with their locations, interiors with frescoes, marble overlays, and hot and cold water systems.



You can walk by the fountain to reach the Scholastica Bathhouses. Ephesus had six bathhouses, which were meeting points for tradesmen and oration outlets for poets and philosophers. Scholastica is the name of a woman who was able to become the governor’s wife after starting life out as a dancer. Prostitution was not looked upon negatively in Ephesus or other Roman cities. Coastal towns made businesses not only out of prostitutes but also of emasculated boys.


Roman men would take a quick cold shower before leaving their homes in the morning. They would take a more substantive bath in the afternoons at the bathhouses, which were free of charge for soldiers, children and slaves. After the second century AD, their hours became separate for men and women. Bells would signal the time to change genders. Food was also sold at bathhouses. Spaces were provided for working out, as well as for massages. Hot and cold pools were used for cleansing and relaxation. Some bathhouses which did not get enough water were dirtier. Bread, the circus and the bathhouse were three elements Romans held dearest in their lives.



By the end of the fourth century BC, aqueducts were supplying water to Roman cities. Water brought in from the source would first be kept in cisterns to settle and be cleaned of impurities. Clay pipes that preserved the water’s quality were utilized and lower quality water was used in the bathhouses. In Anatolian cities, rainwater was the most valuable kind, and it was collected in domes.



After the temple, you arrive at the latrine, or public bathrooms. An important part of social life, these latrines were usually located at main crossroads. A small fee covered the use of the toilet. Separate quarters were designated for men and women. Sticks with sponges affixed at the end were used like toilet paper. These sponges would be cleaned with the water that flowed from drains in the front of the seats. Single-use seaweed was also used for cleaning.


The terra cotta pipes you will see during your visit used to carry Ephesus’ clean water as well as its sewer. Although the city had the infrastructure, not all residents of Ephesus could afford toilets in their homes. The Romans decided to solve this problem by using chamber pots, but emptying them was another problem. Human urine was used alongside animal excrement in the fields, tanneries and tailor shops. A portion of this urine was collected in bowls set up on street corners. Emperor Vespasian had even relayed taxes on urine trade.



The building next to the toilets is known as The House of Love. The first floor of the three story building is covered with mosaics on the ground and frescoes on its walls. It is thought that the ground floor was the reception area, while the rooms upstairs with windows facing the courtyard were reserved for couples. The Marble Street started from in front of The House of Love. There is a tomb right across the building, on Curetes Street. It is highly likely that the person buried here is Cleopatra’s youngest sister Arsinoe IV.



The Celsus Library, built between 115 - 117 AD, is one of the most impressive structures at Ephesus. The two story building measures 10 m (33 ft) high and 16 m (52 ft) wide. The library suffered much damage during a fire in 262, but did undergo renovation. The tomb of the building’s architect is also located inside. The books here were preserved as scrolls, transcribed first on papyrus and later on parchment paper. These scrolls were kept in stone alcoves to protect against moisture. It is believed that the library had around 12 000 scrolls.


Of the statues in front of the library, Sophia represented wisdom, Arete virtue, Ennoia good behavior and Episete culture. The originals of these statues are on display at the Ephesus Museum in Vienna. The temple dedicated to the Alexandrian god Serapis is on the slope behind the library. Like Asclepius, Serapis was a god of medicine and a protector of sailors and tradesmen as well.



Going through the Mazeus Mithridates Monumental Entrance by the Celsus Library, you can reach the Lower Agora. This gate was made during the reign of Emperor Augustus. While women shopped at the stores that surrounded the square-shaped agora, the men would chat with friends and play games.



Arcadianus Street stretched from the side of the agora to the harbor. Stores lined both sides of the 600 m (1968 ft) long, 11 m (36 ft) wide Arcadian Street. Four columns at the end of the street depicted the four evangelists. Inferring from the remains of oil lamps found at the site, the street was lit at night as well, and trade continued non-stop.



The Ephesus Theater is in the southwest, where Marble Street and Arcadian Way intersect. With a 24 000 seating capacity across 65 rows, two diazomata (access ways) and three sections, Ephesus Theater was the largest one in Asia Minor. Despite its size, audiences could easily find their seating thanks to the access paths. For the Romans, theaters were structures planned to entertain the people. The tragedies and comedies of the Greeks left their places to mime acts during Roman times.


Plays at the theater utilized a system of sponsorship, where the costs of the plays were covered by the prominent, rich people of the town. The audience would bring their pillows to the theater and set up tents against the sun. The playbill would be hung at the theater entrance.



Amphitheaters were common structures in the Western Roman Empire. As for the Eastern Roman Empire, five amphitheaters get mention: the partially accessible Pergamon, Anazarbus (located close to Ceyhan), Cyzicus in Erdek, and two completely lost ones in Istanbul and Antakya. Amphitheater construction would end by the fifth century.



The biggest architectural claim to fame of the Romans is their arches and domes. The mortar of Khorasan, a concrete-like substance made by mixing lime, brick dust, volcanic tuff and river sand, was used in constructions to bond bricks and stones. They were able to calculate the best lighting for a construction, depending on the season. Roman architects worked to create buildings with a flexibility that minimized the threat of earthquakes. What’s interesting is that while even pottery artists’ identities were acknowledged, Roman architects mostly went unknown, save for the few like Vitrivius. Roman buildings do not carry names or autographs.



When coming to the city from the direction of the Magnesia Gate, you will see the Eastern Gymnasium and the girls’ monastery. There was one more gymnasium in front of the theater. Athletics, wrestling, weightlifting and ball-games took place in these structures. Wrestlers would oil their bodies first, to help with flexibility, and then powder over so the oil wouldn’t slip off.



The Church of the Virgin Mary – or Double Church – will be on your left side when approaching Ephesus’ seaside entrance. The Third Great Ecumenical Council was held here on June 22, 431. At this council, it was agreed upon that the Virgin Mary was “Theotokos” or Bearer of God, and Nestorius, a clergy who rejected this view, was excommunicated.


The same church hosted another council in 449. The church measures 265 m (853 ft) x 29,5 m (98 ft). It was one of the first seven churches in Anatolia and was converted into a basilica in the 11th century. Because it had an addition made to it in the 7th century, it was also called The Double Church. It is the first church in Christianity that is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.



When you leave the excavation site, on your way to Selçuk, the Vedius Gymnasium or the Arena will be on your right side. The Ephesus Arena was one of the top spots for gladiator fights. The Vedius family had set up this most famous school in Ephesus for gladiator-training. It is well known that Ephesians learned gladiator fighting from the Etruscans. The first recorded fight in Ephesus was organized by General Lucullus in 69 BC. When this show received attention, the nobility and the wealthy began to set up gladiator schools. Prisoners of war, slaves, convicts and volunteers who trained at these schools would fight in the arenas. Gladiators would first train with wooden weapons. They had special diets to ensure muscle strength. The concept of entertainment in Roman cities would change completely once the organizers and sponsors began making money from the fights.


Gladiators would sometimes be made to fight amongst themselves, while at other times they faced slaves, bears, lions or tigers. Death was a mundane outcome for a gladiator. One who withstood death would move to the master category after three fights. Slaves would receive their freedom if they could stay alive through five fights. However, very few gladiators ended up choosing freedom. Older gladiators who stayed at the schools would train the most successful officers of the Roman army. There is a legend of a gladiator who won ten fights in Ephesus. The rarity of this number will be more apparent if we take into account that only two events were organized per year, and that average life expectancy at the time was 35 years.



Hadrian was born on Jan. 24, 76 in Spain. Emperor Trajan (a cousin of his father from his mother’s side) declared Hadrian his son and later his crown prince in Selinus (Gazipaşa) on Aug. 8, 117, a few days before his death. Hadrian ascended the throne three days after Trajan’s demise. During Hadrian’s reign, the borders of the Roman Empire stretched from Scotland to the Sahara and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Euphrates River. When he was 24, Hadrian married Trajan’s 13-year-old niece Vibia Sabrina, but they did not have children. It is said that Hadrian might have had a role in the sudden death of the meek Vibia Sabina. Hadrian, who left a significant imprint on Anatolian lands, ruled over the Roman Empire for 21 years, from 117 to 138.


Without a doubt, one of the most important figures in his life was Antinous of Claudiopolis (Bolu today). In 123, when he was 47 years old, Hadrian began living with Antinous, who had been selected the most handsome man in Claudiopolis. This great love affair continued until 130, to the day Hadrian was to leave for Egypt to attend the ceremonies of Osiris. It is not known whether Antinous’ cause of death in the Nile River was an accident, murder or suicide. But the most likely explanation is that when Antinous became dissatisfied with being only a chamber boy, he was thrown into the water by Hadrian.


After his death, Hadrian would honor Antinous by naming a city in Egypt Antinoupolis and erecting temples in Bolu and Mantineia in Southern Greece. Antinous is the only person other than emperors to have his impression stamped on coins.


Hadrian also founded the city of Hadrianutherae in today’s Balıkesir. The name of today’s Edirne is also derived from Hadrian. Another settlement that bears the emperor’s name is Eskipazar or Hadrianapolis, close to Kastamonu.



He lived in Ephesus from 535 to 475 BC, and is considered to be one of Ionia’s most important philosophers. Being against his contemporaries’ thoughts, he drifted away from living within society. He was interested in politics and metaphysics and not afraid to bring harsh criticism to the political structure of his time. He coined the expression “No man ever steps in the same river twice.”



The legend of this cave dates back to the third century rule of Emperor Decius. According to the story, seven persons trying to escape Decius’ tyranny hid in the cave on Mount Panayır and slept there for 200 years. Four levels have been unearthed, which include two churches and numerous graves.