It is no secret that I have a deep fascination with history. Long before visiting Turkey, I already knew one of the highlights of my trip would be the ancient city of Ephesus. Now having returned from my travels, the city was more than I could ever imagine.
Known around the world as what could be the most incredible Roman ruins outside Italy, this ancient city did not disappoint. Five minutes after leaving its hallowed stone streets behind, I still thought of the history I just left behind.
I had heard stories about the mysticism of Ephesus and the beauty of its marble temples and paved boulevards stretching past the Celsus Library and towards the ancient harbour. One can never forget the acoustics of the Great Theatre of Ephesus.
It’s almost easy to picture noble Queen Cleopatra and Anthony as they disembarked their vessel and looked up towards the city. Could you picture St. Paul giving his address at Ephesus? What about the men who marched against Sardis, those men of Ephesus who would be some of the few to start the Persian-Greco Wars?
Today, the ancient harbour has long since silted over. As my tour bus traveled towards the valley that holds the ruins of Ephesus, I could barely sit still in my seat. I saw the last remaining column of the Artemis Temple.
Knowing the beauty of the ruins and its association with the Artemis Temple, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, I was ecstatic. As I walked the streets of ancient Ephesus, history came alive and seemed to walk alongside me.
It was hard not to feel a sense that there had been great deeds done at Ephesus. There had been blood shed in the streets too, but the city is remembered for its true greatness as the capital of Roman Asia Minor in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.
The city was supposedly founded by Androklos, the mythological Prince of Athens. The Oracle at Delphi told him to build a great city, one of the largest and most beautiful the world had ever seen. The oracle’s message would soon become reality.
In reality, Ephesus was an Ionian settlements, established after the Dorians invaded Greece from the north in the 10th century B.C. During this time, many people traveled across the Aegean Sea to what is now the Turkish coast.
It is this reason as to why there are Greek and Roman ruins on the coast. The people who settled at Sparta, and would later become the Spartan people, were responsible for kicking the Greeks out on their way through.
The legend says that Androklos was confused about the oracle’s message. He was told a boar and a fish would show him the way. What would you do if you were told this riddle?
However, it was said that when his men were cooking, a fish leapt from the pan, setting the brush alight. A frightened boar rampaged from the wooded areas and was subsequently killed by Androklos. Ephesus would be built at that spot.
The goddess of Ephesus was a combination of Artemis, usually known as the huntress, as well as the Anatolian goddess Kybele. Together, they formed the many breasted Artemis of Ephesus, a deity known for fertility.
In 498 B.C., the people of Ephesus rebelled against Persian rule and high taxes during the Ionian revolt. This action ultimately caused the Greco-Persian wars between the people of Greece as well as the Persians.
Before this, Ionian cities had been under Persian control for centuries. One of the tyrants of Miletus, whose name was Aristagoras, incited the Ionian League against the then leader of Persia, the mighty Darius II.
Athens supported these Greek troops, and Sardis, a once mighty Persian city, was torched. These rebels were stamped out at the battle of Ephesus, yet history had been written. The wars had begun, started by the people of the Ionian League.
In 356 B.C., a madman by the name of Herostratus burned down the famed Artemis Temple.
This led to the construction of the even more famous Temple of Artemus, the one that went down in legend as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Even today, we’re remembering the idiots who run against the grain to burn down history.
Today, only one column remains of the Ancient Wonder of the World.
Alexander the Great financed the temple and saw it through to completion. He, however, wanted his name attached to the building, because he was the lead financier.
Not too sure how to deal with such a request, the people of Ephesus were quick in their answer. It would not be fitting for one god to build a temple for another. The good thinking of the Ephesians saved them this trouble.
Ephesus was named the capital of Asia Minor in 27 A.D., the same year Agustus became emperor. During the first and second centuries A.D., Ephesus had close to 500,000 people living within its walls.
The Great Theatre of Ephesus was built during this time. The city also had an intricate system of plumbing, toilets, bath houses and a gladiator graveyard, among other symbols of Roman culture.
In the A.D. 50s, St. Paul lived and worked in Ephesus, which was not a city known for its tolerance of early Christianity. Embroiled in local disputes, he was jailed in the city and it’s during this time that he was said to have wrote 1 Corinthians.
St. John is apparently buried at the St. John Basilica near the ruins. It was crucial for Justinian I to construct a vast basilica for the saint in the 6th century, well after Christianity became the religion of the empire.
It is written that John had been asked by Jesus himself to take care of Mary. John and Mary travelled to Asia Minor and the city of Ephesus. In the Roman Catholic tradition, the House of the Virgin Mary, located only a few kilometres from Ephesus, was the last known home of the mother of Christ
Today, millions of people travel to Ephesus to soak in its history and to walk where the great once strolled.