The ancient Greek city of Ephesus was famous for its Temple of Artemis (near present-day Selçuk), which was recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. After a messy period of conquest and reconquest and after the population was moved from Selçuk to the the present site, Ephesus became a Roman city in 133 BC.
When Augustus made Ephesus capital of Asia Minor in 27 BC, it proved to be a windfall for the seaport city. Its population grew to around 250,000, attracting immigrants, merchants and imperial patronage. The annual festival of Artemis (Diana to the Romans) became a month-long spring fest, drawing thousands from across the empire.
Ephesus also attracted Christian settlers (Greeks and Jews), including St. Paul who lived in Ephesus for three years (in the AD 50s) There is a tradition that St. John settled here with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and also wrote his gospel here.
Ephesus was at its peak during the 1st and 2nd century AD. It was a major Roman city second in importance and size only to Rome. Ephesus has been estimated to be about 400,000 inhabitants in the year 100 AD, making it the largest city in Roman Asia. In 123 AD, the Library of Celsus (third largest library in the ancient world, after Alexandria and Pergamon) was constructed at Ephesus.
Despite several dredging and rebuilding efforts, Ephesus' harbor continued to silt up. Malarial swamps developed, the seaport was lost, and the lucrative Artemis/Diana cult diminished. In AD 263, Germanic Goths sacked Ephesus, marking the decline of ancient Ephesus as well as the Roman empire.
Archaeology and Tourism
History forgot Ephesus until the 1860s, when a series of British, German, and Austrian archaeologists rediscovered and excavated the site (see e.g., Vienna's Ephesus Museum). Although only about 15% of the site has been unearthed, it is still the largest excavated area in the world.
The Ephesus archaeological site has developed into one of the most highly frequented achaeological sites, due not only to the excellent state of preservation but also to the visitor-friendly presentation of the monuments. Mass tourism is a great challenge for archaeology: in the 2010s, an average of 1.5 million tourists visit the ruins every year; 90,000 of them find their way to Terrace Houses, which some consider as the gold standard for accessible archaeology. Thus, in recent years, the highlight of a visit to celebrated Ephesus has shifted from the theater and the Library of Celsus to the Terrace Houses. Visitors make Ephesus well-known and leads to a great acceptance of archaeology. Visitors, however, place a great strain on the ruins as well, and it is a balancing act to unite goal-oriented research, public relations, and touristic marketing without neglecting any one of the sometimes competing components.
Visiting the ruins of ancient Ephesus might seem disorienting because of the lack of superstructures, but meandering through and reflecting upon the city that was once second only to Rome is a highlight of any trip to Turkey.
You can walk from Selçuk. Most of the hotels have bikes that you can borrow for a while. It is a 4km walk in a good walking way. It is also possible to take a taxi, which is relatively expensive,compared to other Turkish transportation. Most pensions and hotels in Selçuk offer rides to Ephesus. The cheaper way is to go by minibuses (or shared taxi called a Dolmuş in Turkish) which are available every 10-15 minutes from Selcuk central bus station or from Kusadasi Dolmuş stop for 5 TL (Sept 2013). The Kusadasi Dolmuş stop is located at the intersection of Adnan Menderes Blv and Candan Tarhan Blv. The minibus will leave you at around 1km from the lower gate situated downhill near the Great Theater. If you start at this end (which is perfectly fine) you'll be walking in the opposite direction of the tour groups.
--Accession to Selcuk--
By cruise ship via the nearby port of Kuşadası, the second busiest port in Turkey after Istanbul. Cruisers have two choices: take the Ephesus tours organized by the cruise ship or do the Ephesus tours independently, as shown by this video.
By bus or minibus (from Kusadasi central bus station) goes about every half hour, or by taxi to Selcuk,19 Km.
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Here is a map of Selcuk - Ephesus
The ancient site of Ephesus is seen entirely on foot. Pathways are signed clearly and easily navigated as you make your way through the archaeological site. The ruins are situated on the bank of a hill. There are two entry/exit points about 3 km apart. Toilets are available at each entry gate but not in the general site. The upper Magnesia gate is the better gate to enter, allowing you to walk downhill to and exit at the lower Harbor gate. The entire ruins are easily covered on foot within two hours.
Hours: mid-March to late October, daily, 8:00-19:30; off season, daily 8:00-17:30. Costs: 25 TL for general site entry, plus another 15 TL for the Terrace Houses (sheltered by a modern roof, excavated by an Austrian-Turkish team, open to visitors 2006). For 15 TL (+50 TL deposit, or you can leave a photo ID as a deposit) you can rent an audioguide with 1 hour of commentary on the general site, plus 20 minutes on the Terrace Houses. The 50 TL deposit will be refunded when you return the audioguide at the other end of the site, or return to the same end for your ID.
At the upper Magnesia gate, immediately to one side is the East Gymnasium at the foot of Panayir Mountain. The first monumental work one comes to is the semi-circular Odeion (c 150 AD), which seats about 1500, with the Varius Baths beside it. Ephesus had a bicameral legislation, the first being the Congress of Councillors, which met here, hence the name "Bouleterion". In front of the Odeion was business council called the Basilica. Beside this was the Municipal Building, the Prytaneion marked with only two of its massive columns. The Prytan's most important function, as the mayor of the city, was to keep alive the flame that had been burning in the building for centuries in the name of the local deity Hestia. The Artemis statues on display in the Ephesus Museum were found in the vault of the Prytaneion.
The area in front of the Odeion was the State Agora (Upper Agora). In the middle was a temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis. In 80 AD Laecanus Bassus erected a fountain in the southwest corner of the agora. From the agora one proceeds to the Square to Domitian where things like the Pollio and Domitian fountains, the Memmius Monument and the Hercules Gate are clustered together.
The famous Avenue of the Curates leads west from the State Agora to the Trajan Fountain, the façade of the Temple of Hadrian and the Scolasticia Baths. On the front arch of the Temple of Hadrian, the keystone is a bust of the mother goddess Cybele and on a semicircle on top of the center doorway is a relief of the snake-headed Medusa. Immediately beside the Temple are the Bordello and the Latrines.
On the left side of the Curates avenue, protected by a modern roof, are the most significant dwellings thus far excavated (c. 1960), the so called Terrace Houses. These residences (c. 1C AD) of the wealthy are the most beautiful examples of peristyle houses and, each with its own heating system and bath, were as comfortable as houses are today. They all had exquisite frescoed walls and mosaic floors, being painstakingly preserved by an Austrian-Turkish archaeological team. These houses are eminent in archaeological literature and very well-worth seeing. In recent years, the highlight of a visit to celebrated Ephesus has shifted from the Great Theater and the Library of Celsus to these exquisite Terrace Houses.
At the end of the avenue of Curates is that beautiful structure of Roman times, the Celsus Library with its two-story facade. When Ephesus governor Celsus died in 106 AD, his son had the library built as his monument and grave. The sarcophagus is under the west wall of the library. Four female statues represent the qualities of human character: Sophia (wisdom), Arete (goodness), Ennoia (judgement), and Episteme (knowledge). The originals are in Vienna's Ephesus Museum.
One of the most interesting structures in Ephesus is the Temple to Serapis, immediately behind the Library. Beside the Library is the Mazeus Mithridates Gate that leads to the Market Agora (Lower Agora).
Market Agora is the starting point for the Marble Avenue. At the end of the avenue is the largest and best preserved theater in the Greco-Roman world, the Great Theater, with a seating capacity of 24,000. This was the site of a mass riot in which St. Paul's life was threatened by the silversmiths of Ephesus for his preaching against the cult of Artemis (see Acts 19: 21-41). Near the entry to the theater is a lovely Hellenistic Fountain, one of the oldest structure in Ephesus. The Theater Gymnasium and Baths across from it were built in the 2nd century AD.
The longest street in Ephesus is the Harbor Avenue (Arcadian Avenue) once lined with statues, and stretching from the Theater to the presently silted-in harbor. The Four Apostles' Monument was in the middle of the avenue. At the end of the avenue was the Harbor Gymnasium and Baths next to the ancient harbor. In the complex there stands the Church of Mary, site of the General Church Council of 431 AD. To the right of Harbor Avenue is the lower gate, through which you may exit.
There are many souvenir shops at the two exit gates. You may find Turkish hand made articles. Haggling is possible. The best way is to compare prices in two or three more shops before you buy. It is not a good place to buy carpet and leather, you can buy them in big shops at Selcuk with a reasonable price.
There are many fast food and small Turkish restaurants at the exit gates. You can find many nice restaurants on the way to Selcuk or Kusadasi or in the towns.
Mehmet & Ali Baba Kebab House Turkish Kebab House located just next to museum serving traditional Turkish foods. They also serve Turkish starters which is vegetarian and famous as Kebabs.
There are many cafés at the exit gates.
There are no accommodations on site in ancient city itself. Nearest options are in Selçuk, 4 km away. There are also lots of people visiting Ephesus on a day-trip from coastal Kuşadası, a bit further away.