Ephesus – Centuries of Ancient Glory

“There’s a part of me that thinks perhaps we go on existing in a place even after we’ve left it.”

– Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin

Traveling to ancient places and wandering among the ruins, I don’t just see piles of rocks or tumbled edifices, I see life. Remnants of a glorious past and I’m fascinated by the thread to what still connects us…everyday life and all that that encompasses. I can’t help but, well, wonder and want to know more about who lived and walked here…What was life like? What were they like? Oh, to time travel…just for a day…

So when we arrive at the port of Kusadasi, I am excited and anxious to begin our much-anticipated guided tour to the Church of St. John, the House of the Virgin Mary, and ancient Ephesus. Today we will walk through thousands of years of history! And it doesn’t hurt that we’re going to do so with our charming, handsome and quite knowledgeable guide, Serdar.

Ephesus is approximately 8 miles from the port of Kusadasi, but it was originally a port and one of the most  strategic and important commercial trade centers  of  the ancient world.

The history of Ephesus dates back 9,000 years! Recorded history began around 1400 B.C. with the Mycenaens.  The Anatolians worshiped  Mother Goddess Cybele. After Alexander the Great, the city was officially Greek and Cybele was equated with the Greek Goddess, Artemis.

Around 86 B.C. Ephesus fell under Roman rule and, with a population of  1/4 million, became the second largest city of the Roman Empire and the great port of the Aegean. This is the Ephesus we see today. Over the centuries the city declined as the harbor silt built up.

Today Ephesus is a major tourist attraction. Visitors flock from all over the world to walk the ancient streets and read or hear about its ancient greatness. I am definitely among them!

Visiting the Tomb of  St. John the Evangelist and the House of the Virgin Mary

The Virgin Mary spent her last days here after arriving around 37 A.D. According to the Bible, Jesus requested that St. John the Evangelist bring her to Ephesus. Today the tiny stone house is visited by pilgrims of all faiths. After you exit, there’s a fountain, the “Water of Mary”, where one can drink the water which is believed to have curative powers. Next to it is a wall where wishes are left to be granted by the Blessed Virgin. (Yes, I sipped the water and, yes, I made a wish!)

Ancient Ephesus…

“…Antony and Cleopatra decamped for Ephesus. Ephesus had been the first city to recognize Antony as Dionysus incarnate and to have welcomed him at the city gates with loud cheers…He arranged now for Ephesians to greet Cleopatra as his royal mistress. A rich banking center of narrow streets and shady, marble colonnades, Ephesus enjoyed a magnificent location. Built in a steep-sided valley,  it gave onto rugged mountains on one side, the sea on the other. Ephesus boasted several remarkable temples, of which the most celebrated was that of Artemis, where both Cleopatra’s father and sister had sought asylum, and (where) her sister had met her end.”   

Excerpted from Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Today we walk the ancient streets, pick our way among the temples, baths, apartments, and remains of this ancient city, greeted only by napping cats. Schematics and overlays in hand, we try to visualize its former splendor and can only imagine how truly magnificent Ephesus was.

Nearby the temple of Artemis once looked out upon the seas and was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In Greek cult and myth, Artemis is the twin of Apollo.  The statue of multi-breasted Artemis in the Ephesus Archaeological Museum was the symbol of the temple but also of abundance, hunting and wild life. Today, sadly, all that remains is a single column and literally a pile of stone rubble, demolished and looted over the centuries.

Even after visiting, I still can’t quite explain why I was and am still so drawn to these ancient places…I just can’t help but feel and believe that, yes, something does remain to reach out and touch us once more…

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