Without a doubt, the most impressive Ancient City to visit in all of Turkey is Ephesus. Built by the Greeks in the 10th century BC, it was once the trade and commercial center of the ancient world.
Located in modern-day Selcuk, Ephesus has been ruled by a succession of empires – Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. Second, only to Rome in its importance during the 1st and 2nd century AD, it had a booming population between 33 000-56 000.
What makes Ephesus so special is that it is one of the biggest and most well-preserved ruins in the world. Excavations started in 1869 and in 2015 Ephesus was added as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When walking down the streets of this ancient city you will get a good sense of what it was like during its time. You literally will be walking in the footsteps of those who played an important role in world history.
Ephesus was visited by such notable people as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony, Cleopatra and the home to St. Paul, St. John and the Virgin Mary.
Interestingly enough, although Ephesus is so huge most of the city still remains uncovered. Throughout the centuries both invasions and earthquakes have damaged the city leaving approximately 85% still underground.
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The Greek Legend of Ephesus
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There is a Greek legend that says that in the 11th century BC Androclos was searching for a new settlement. When he turned to the Delphi oracles for guidance they told him that a boar and a fish would show him the new location.
One day he was frying fish over a fire and the fish flipped out of the pan and landed in the nearby bushes. A spark ignited the bushes and at that moment a wild boar ran out.
Recalling the oracles wisdom, Androclos built his new settlement where the bushes once stood and called it Ephesus.
Exploring Ephesus, Turkey
There are so many extraordinary sites to discover when exploring this ancient city. Reflected on the monuments that are scattered around the site, Ephesus is an amazing reflection of Hellenistic, Roman Imperial and early Christian periods.
The public buildings are arranged in a rectangular street pattern. They include the theater, the marketplace that is surrounded by sheltered promenades, the library, and the many baths and gymnasiums.
The main road that runs through the city is called Curetes Street. Extravagantly lined with columns and paved with marble, this thoroughfare was used for ceremonies to honor the Greek Goddess Artemis and said to be walked on by Cleopatra and Mark Antony.
Make sure to take notice of the ground because the marble surfaces were intentionally cut into to prevent them from being slippery during the rain. Some of the marble blocks are inscribed with green names which note that the work had been completed but still needed to be paid for.
Interestingly enough at the intersection of Curetes Street and Marble Road, you will also discover the world’s earliest recorded advertisement – a carving of a footprint, a purse, a woman and a library.
This was advertising the House of Love, or otherwise known as a brothel.
Best Things to Do in Ephesus, Turkey
Temple of Hadrian
One of the highlights of Curetes Street is the Temple of Hadrian. It was built prior to 138 AD and dedicated to Emperor Hadrian who came to visit the city in 128 AD. On the outside of the temple, you will see four Corinthian columns that support a beautifully carved arch.
Inside the temple stands a human figure that is said to be Medusa. On both sides, there are friezes that tell the story about how Ephesus came to be, from Androklos shooting the boar, Dionysus in a ceremonial procession and the Amazons.
The fourth frieze depicts Apollo and another male figure. The friezes that are seen on site today are only copies and the originals are displayed in the Ephesus Museum.
Venture back in time and experience Christian history during a guided sightseeing tour of Ephesus from Kusadasi. Travel to the Mediterranean’s ancient city and admire the Temple of Hadrian, Library of Celsus and the Great Theater. You will have a traditional Turkish lunch and then be inspired by the House of the Virgin Mary, where Mary eternally rests.
Library of Celsus
For me, the most spectacular part of Ephesus was the massive Library of Celsus. Built-in honor of Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, this two-story masterpiece was built between 114 and 117 AD.
This architectural genius was the third largest library during ancient times. It was built to house over 12 000 scrolls, but sadly they were all destroyed in a fire. The library is absolutely stunning with towering Corinthian columns guarding the entrance.
It was built upon a platform where nine steps span the full width of the entire front entrance. There are also four statues carved into the niches at the entrance, although these are now replicas.
They each symbolize the four virtues – Sophia, representing wisdom, Episteme, representing knowledge, Ennoia, representing intelligence and Arete, representing valor.
Today Celsus’ remains still lay in a crypt underneath the library. This building truly is a sight to see and worth the visit to Ephesus in of itself.
Journey back to ancient Rome on this half-day shore excursion to Ephesus from Kusadasi. Marvel over the magnificent ruins of Ephesus, including the Library of Celsus and Terrace Houses, where the city’s wealthiest residents once lived.
Ephesus Great Theater
Another amazing structure to visit is the Ephesus Great Theater. It was first constructed during the Hellenistic Period around 3rd century BC but then expanded by the Romans in 1st century AD.
This massive open-air theater is built on a hill and had a seating capacity of 25 000. The stage building itself is three stories tall and is adorned with columns, niches, windows, and statues.
At the height of its time, the Emperor’s Box was located in the lower section and had marble seats that were reserved for the most important spectators.
The Ephesus Great Theater was used for various activities such as concerts, plays, religious, political and philosophical discussions as well as animal and gladiator fights. It is even believed that St. Paul preached his sermons from the theater.
At one time there was a conflict between himself and Artemis’ supporters that banned him from entering the theater, eventually landing him in prison.
Leave the modern streets of Kusadasi behind and discover the ancient city of Ephesus on a private 6-hour tour. This flexible itinerary allows you to take your time and only visit the locations that interest you. With private transportation at your disposal, you’re able to zip from place to place comfortably and efficiently.
For an additional fee, you can explore the most recently excavated part of Ephesus. The terraced houses were the homes of the most wealthy and built in a modern Roman style.
Built-in approximately the 1st century, the houses are extremely well preserved with mosaics, artwork and even love letters written on the walls. It is interesting to know that some of the homes even had hot and cold baths, marble floors and heating systems!
An added bonus for visiting the terraced houses is that they are covered so it is a nice reprieve if you need a break from the sun.
Temple of Artemis
Another important part of Ephesus’ history is the Temple of Artemis. Although little remains from its original splendor, it is one of the original Ancient 7 Wonders of the World.
The Temple of Artemis was first built by Croesus, King of Lydia in 550 BC. It was built as a place to worship the Greek Goddess Artemis – goddess of fertility, the earth, the moon, and the animals.
To put it into perspective, at its time it was said to be 3 to 4 times the size of Athens’ Parthenon. It was adorned with intricate works of art and stood over 350 feet tall.
Today only one lone column remains with a stork’s nest perched on top. Thankfully, however, the original statue of Artemis was salvaged and is displayed in the Ephesus Museum.
Travel back to Ancient Greek and Roman times as you explore the ruins of UNESCO-listed Ephesus, make a pilgrimage to view the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This all-inclusive private day tour includes round-trip air-conditioned transport from Kusadasi, lunch, and admission fees, plus a guided walking tour of Ephesus.
The Prytaneion was not only a city hall but a place where religious ceremonies, official receptions, and banquets were held. There was a sacred flame that was kept constantly alight and was located in the center of the ceremonial hall.
The flame symbolized the heart of Ephesus and the base of the altar is still recognizable today. During excavations, 2 Artemis statues were found which are now on display at the Ephesus Museum.
Baths of Varius
The Baths of Varius is a marble complex that was first built around 2nd century AD. It has had several restorations over the centuries which gives this site its unique and varied look.
The baths were built not only for bathing but also for socializing. Built from cut blocks of marble this site is quite extraordinary. There are also mosaics that run 131 feet long in the corridor that date back to 5th century AD.
The baths covered a massive area and what you see today is just a small portion, as excavations have not been fully completed.
Located off the Ephesus site, just across from the Otogar Bus Station in Selcuk is the Ephesus Museum. Any artifact that was dug up between 1867-1905 was taken to the British Museum and those that were found between 1905-1923 were taken to Vienna.
After the founding of the New Turkish Republic, the government forbid any of its relics to be taken out of the country and required that any artifacts formerly taken be returned to Turkey.
In 1964 Ephesus Museum was founded and excavations from the Ephesus site were then proudly displayed in this small but important museum. The museum is open from 8 am – 6:30 pm daily.
How to Get to Ephesus, Turkey
- By Air: The closest airport to Selcuk is in Izmir, which is approximately 50 miles away. Many flights leave Istanbul each day and only take about an hour and fifteen minutes to Izmir. From the airport, you can either take the train, taxi or shuttle. If you fly from Istanbul with Atlas Jet, they have their own complimentary shuttle service directly to Selcuk.
- By Train: The train station is located directly on the Adnan Menderes Airport grounds and leaves 8 times per day. Although I have not experienced the journey by train myself, I have heard that it can get very busy and you might have to stand for the entire journey.
- By Shuttle: Although not as straightforward as the train, you can also take a shuttle. They can be caught at the Central Bus Station called the Otogar. They are not located directly on the airport grounds but are about a mile away. The vehicle looks like an over-sized minivan and is labeled Selcuk-Ephesus. The journey from the bus station takes about one hour as it will have other stops along the way.
- By Taxi: The most expensive, but straightforward way to get from the airport to Selcuk would be by taxi. It costs approximately 100 TL which is about $18 US.
- By Bus: Traveling by bus through Turkey is incredibly easy. There are plenty of overnight buses that travel to Izmir and finding the perfect connection can be just a click away. Once in Izmir, you can travel to Selcuk the same way as above; by train, shuttle or taxi.
Located just 1 and a half miles from the center of Selcuk, Ephesus is very easy to get to. It is so close that you can even walk to the site from the town center, however, I do warn against doing so as you will be walking through the uncovered site for most of the day.
Instead, the dolmus (shuttle) is available and will drop you off at the lower entrance gate which costs a mere 2 TL.
As of 2019, entrance into Ephesus is 60 TL for adults (approximately $10 US) and children under 12 are free. From April to October the hours are 8 am to 7 pm and during the winter months of November to March the hours are from 8 am to 5 pm.
There are a few additional charges if you want to explore certain sites.
- The Terraced Houses 36 TL (children under 12 are free but it is suggested to bring a copy of the child’s passport for validity)
- The House of Mary 35 TL
- Basilica of St John 18 TL
- Museum of Ephesus 15 TL
Tips for Visiting Ephesus
My biggest suggestion when visiting Ephesus is to wear a hat, wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water. There is barely any shade throughout the entire city which can make the exploration in the summer months very tiresome.
Planning your visit early in the morning is ideal so that you can avoid the heat of the day as well as the crowds. Ephesus is near the Mediterranean Sea so this is a common stop for cruise ships.
Water is sold throughout the site, however, like most tourist attractions food and drinks are heavily overpriced. Give yourself at least two hours to explore the site and because the footpaths in the city are relatively uneven, wearing a comfortable pair of walking shoes or runners is definitely suggested.
Finally, make sure to stop and take it all in. You truly will be taking a stroll through an important part of history so embrace your surroundings and enjoy every second.
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