The Agora had a temple of Isis(The goddess of magic and healing) in the middle of it with and along with the Roman Basilica was used mostly for business and meetings. There is supposedly an inscription of the legend of Odysseus escaping the giant Polyphemus on the temple. It too is mostly left to the imagination today except for long pillars still propped up giving us a peek into its structure.
The “Water palace” was simply a fountain so large while also being connected to a storage cistern that it earned the name- it’s believed to have had statues of sea creatures, the emperor and river gods around it. The other one around is the Pollio fountain which was a relatively complex bit of water distribution for the time bringing water from 3 sources through aqueducts and distributing it to various other fountains via baked clay pipes. The Trajan fountain – a decent part of it still standing was in the honour of Emperor Trajan.
The Odeon was the first “small” theatre we passed with a capacity of 1500 spectators then used for both concerts and meetings. It’s only small in comparison to what’s arguably the most memorable of sights in Ephesus, the Great Theater that could have an audience of 25000. It’s easy to imagine everything from gladiator fights to dramatic performances held with great aplomb.
Prytaneion was the hall that had a flame perpetually kept burning indicating the heart of Ephesus. This also had statues of Artemis which like many relics here are housed in the archaeological museum.
There are several temples built in the name of emperors
- The Domitian Temple – dedicated first to the unpopular Domitian and once he was killed to his father Vespasian
- Memmuis monument -in memory of Dictator Sulla defeating the Romans to free the people of high taxes
- Temple of Hadrian -dedicated to emperor Hadrian who had a fondness for Greek literature, a colourful set of romantic interests and a keen skill for administration.
The Hercules gate was a popular spot for tourists mostly because of the relative popularity of the character. In this one, he is seen with the skin of the Nemean lion who couldn’t be killed due to its thick skin. Legend has it that Heracles killed it thrusting his arm down its throat and choking it- not a pleasant image for sure.
The terrace houses were quite a treat giving us a view into the structures that in addition to having beautiful mosaic floors and art of the walls, had heating via clay pipes beneath the floors and through the walls! Admittedly only available to the rich, it still showcases a view of luxury that makes you yearn for a glimpse into the lives of the people that lived there.
Octogan was a tomb believed to be of Arsinoe the sister of Cleopatra. In a tale of long drawn sibling rivalry, after dethroning Cleopatra she was taken captive by Caesar who forgave her and let her take sanctuary in Ephesus but at a later time, Cleopatra finally had her revenge when Mark Anthony, at her behest, is said to have executed Arsinoe on the steps of the temple where she was then buried.
Celsus Library– was built by the son of governor Celsus housing his grave – it’s one of the most photogenic spots of the ruins. The entrance of the library has statues indicating the attributes of Celsus with the Goddesses of wisdom, knowledge, intelligence and Valor.
After all the theatres, tombs, temples and fountains – on one hand, you can’t but help imagine the grandeur of the time but on the other, it’s also a cue to remember that even the greatest of achievements, symbols of fame and fortune fall to ruin sooner or later.
While I was exhausted with the walking and the heat of the day and decided to go in for a nap, Anand decided he had it in him to go to the other historically significant spots in Selcuk.
First on the list was the 14th century Isa Bey mosque named after its founder and sponsor. While the current basilica of St.John was used as a mosque for a bit during his reign, an earthquake destroying it possibly prompted the construction of this mosque with ancient stones and materials from other churches. Its location between the temple of Artemis and the Basilica of St.John is also believed to be symbolic linking periods in the history of the town. The architecture is said to have been inspired by Islamic styles like those of the Zengid and Mamulk realms. The current version is a renovation in the 20th century.
The display of ancient gravestones engraved with scriptures along with the names of the deceased seemed to silently symbolise the past watching over the present.
St.John’s Basilica : It is believed that St John was one of Christ’s closest disciples and during the later part of the first century moved to Ephesus with Mother Mary to avoid persecution. It is understood that the tomb of St John was surrounded by a small church back in the 4th century that was rebuilt by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century with much grander proportions, therefore, including monograms of the emperor and his wife Theodora. With Arab raids and gradual decline, it fell into ruins was then revived by converting it into a mosque by the Seljuk Aydinoglu clan, again destroyed by the Mongol army, further pillaged for materials until it was recently restored. Despite restoration, the sight of the 6 domes in cruciform shape held up by massive pillars is mostly left to the imagination since what’s now left are crumbling columns, ruined walls and rubble hinting at the past.
Legend: has it that St. John was simply asleep and his breath moved the ash around him to form his tomb. This legend led to believers travelling far and wide to collect the ash to cure ailments, calm storms and even induce births! It is considered to be a miracle that his body was never recovered.
Note: Keep in mind that the visiting hours for the basilica change based on whether it’s summer or winter so run a check before you make your plans.
Next, the Byzantine castle itself was closed for visitors by 5pm but the Ayasaluk hill’s surroundings still allowed for a stroll around it. While there are mostly ruins today one would have to imagine the city that surrounded the citadel and the bustling life in it back in the day.
Later that evening after a stroll in the neighborhood of our Airbnb, we walked into a street-side restaurant run by a cheerful older couple. We had a lovely dinner with the company of several of the neighbourhood cats and kittens that very much felt like home since the owners even let us feed the curious cats any leftovers. Watching the kittens roll around being silly and the lovely older lady’s gurgling laughter cheering them on was the perfect end to a day spent exploring the past to end it with a dollop of joy in the present.