Ephesus was to be our final “cultural stop”. One of the Roman mega-cities and home to one of the seven world wonders or so I thought. I quickly learned that there is not one Ephesus: There are five. The first was built at the junction of two rivers and got flooded regularly. The second, where the world wonder ‘the temple of Artemis’ is located, was built further away from the river on the border of the sea. However, the sea is retreating in that area. A few hundred years later the governor decided to move the city closer to the sea and the city’s port again, abandoning the second Ephesus in the process. This relocation repeated itself a number of times and is actually the reason Ephesus remains today as it was in the 1st century AD. The city was moved away again by the governor and the area was abandoned, so that the ruins were not changed and modified over time.
It is also an important city for Christianity as it gave shelter to a lot of the early Christians. The wheel-sign you can see on the left was one of the symbols of the Christians at that time. It is actually an overlay of all the letters you can see next to it which spell fish in Greek; the letters were the initials of the sentence “Jesus Christ, god’s son, saviour”.
Generally there were a lot of signs, clues and even antic Roman advertisements carved into the marble tiles which made up the streets. Many of the marble tiles also had long parallel scratches on them. As we learned this was a glide-counter measure because wet marble is awfully slippery. Luckily we had lovely sunshine during our visit, but the marble was slippery nevertheless.
The Ephesus one can visit today is the Roman Ephesus. This means it is not the same town in which the world-wonder-temple is located. We did see the remains of the temple from afar on a forlorn field. It appears that there’s literally only one column left of this once imposing building. Even though the world wonder fell prey to the ravages of time, there is a lot left to see in the Roman Ephesus. Again, I would see something new here I hadn’t seen in any other Roman ruins. The terrace houses, the houses of the rich. They are still being excavated and restored, but a lot of the wall paintings and mosaics have either been preserved or recreated. You can get a first hand impression of how luxurious and spacious the richest families used to live in the city. Each of the houses has several rooms and a huge terrace to themselves. The further up you go, the less impressive the houses get. Obviously, when you’re rich you don’t want to have to climb a lot of stairs to get home. I was really impressed by the amount of detail and decoration.
But the attention to detail was not limited to the terrace houses, every building seemed to be extraordinarily decorated. In particular, of course, the façade of the famous library of Celsus. It has been reconstructed meticulously and today towers over the square without rivalry. Back in the day however it was squeezed in between multiple other houses and the architect actually saw himself constrained to use optical tricks to make the façade appear larger than it really is. This is supposedly the reason for the second set of columns being much smaller than the first set: to make them look further away than they really are.
The library was the final and the masterpiece of the guided visit. After that we were lead to the road “towards the port”, but were told at the same time that the sea is now some 10km further away than it used to be… We decided not to go see a nonexistent dried up port. Instead we went to see the basilica of St. John. The majority of the columns in the basilica were stolen from the temple of Artemis. Finally we got to see the world wonder, even if it had transformed into a basilica over the last 2000 years.