Most of our favorite experiences involve ancient civilizations. Adventure rides in nature and animal experiences follow close behind, but Petra, Karnak, Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu are all in our top five. Rome itself was awesome, but it loses some of the experience because it’s surrounded by a city. The other three are in a natural environment that itself would be worthy of a top ten list.
For that reason, I wake up with high expectations. It might not compete with any of the aforementioned must-see sites, but Ephesus is certainly in the top fifty world wide, and probably top 25. At one point, in the first century AD, Ephesus was second only to Rome in importance and size.
The tour bus takes off finally from the little ‘No Frills Tour’ shop that boasts tours without any stops to pottery stores or carpet bazaars. For that privilege one pays a slightly higher price, but they are also highly rated on Trip Advisor. They seem to be run by Aussies. (There are a ton of Australians in Turkey we notice.)
Another family joins us, and they have a young boy. Their itinerary is almost the same as ours but in reverse, Cappedochia, Ephesus and Istanbul. We get some tips from them about what to do and not to do in Cappedochia. They thought three days was too long. We’re staying there for three and I wonder if we’ll like it. But first Roman ruins.
The bus turns a few corners and rounds a bend into what looks from a distance like a swamp. The tour guide announces our arrival at one of the original seven wonders of the world. (Only a few exist in parts anymore, The pyramids are the best intact.) He shrugs at the swampy conditions. A small family of ducks quacks and paddles where the marble platform would have been.
“It’s been very wet and cold, highly unusual. I’ve never seen it like this.” Well, it honestly doesn’t matter much. Wet or dry there are only a few columns and the imagination has to fill in the rest. It may have looked like this picture below in it’s last version, but what is cool about the temple is that it had a history of fertility goddess worship dating back to 700 BC, the Bronze age. It was created and destroyed three times, by flood, arson and neglect.
There are only a few hawkers in the cold. I imagine in the summer peak season there are a lot more. They don’t even try very hard.
Ephesus is also the site of multiple civilizations, and in fact, is famous in part because it was always changing hands between invading armies including but probably not limited to: Hittites, Lydians, Ionic Greeks, Classic Greeks, Alexander the Great, Assyrians, Cimmerians (basically from the Caucauses), Persians, Romans, Visigoths, Byzantium, Mongols and finally the Seljuk Turks from whom the local town gets it’s name.
Ephesus was never a warring city, it was basically neutral and commercially oriented. Although it suffered from overzealous taxation and some horrific massacres, it escaped the horrors of war.
We hit the pay toilet (1 lira, about 40 cents) drink some fresh OJ before going in and complain that it’s a little tart and expensive. We’ve been conditioned to expect cheap sweet fresh oj everywhere now, and slightly sour 10oz glass of juice for $1.50 is just not up to our standards.
What we see going through the turn-style is all Roman. Not only did they build the most, but they were basically the last before it was abandoned and are therefore closest to the surface. It was rediscovered in the late 1800s and heavily excavated in the 60s and 70s, mostly by the Italians. (It is their heritage after all.) Current excavation focuses on apartments and houses on the hillside, but we will see that later.
Right now it’s classic Roman stuff: arches, columns, walkways and amazing engineering. The town was fed by three aqueducts and was built on a sloping valley between two hills, which allowed gravity to pull water from the top to the bottom through each house and room. The clay water pipes are fitted and run under every road and room. It’s pretty cool.
Lily loves her new camera, and she snaps dozens of photos. She focuses on snapshots of us and lots of little detail that she wants to remember. It’s very cute. Emma is intrigued by our guide, and has had enough ancient history to have a sense of what is being explained.
There are three highlights: the first leaves us stunned. For the past 10 years, archaeologists have been uncovering the roman houses that lined the hillside next to the main streets. What they are finding is so well preserved that it looks fake.
It costs an extra 10 lira (A lot of museums in Turkey do that – charge another ticket for the best item), but we we so impressed. Emma and Lily were rapt with attention to the guide, who couldn’t offer much beyond what was shown. Floors with intricate mosaic completely intact, walls with paintings of Socrates, cherubs and Roman myths that could have been painted 100 years ago.
This is really quite spectacular, and it’s a little hard to photograph but we leave breathless. See the terrace houses at Ephesus if you can.
The most photographed building is most certainly the Library of Celcus, completed in 120 AD. It was built to store 12,000 sheets of papyrus and also to be the tomb of it’s progenitor, who built it from his own wealth and wished to be buried within. It features double walls, so that condensation from the humidity would collect on the outside and not get in. (Amanda wants everyone to know how much she loves libraries.)
Last on the tour is what we have anticipated since seeing it from the air on the microlight flight yesterday. It holds 20-25,ooo spectators and yes, you can nearly hear a whisper from the stage in front. It’s been heavily restored but they used mostly original materials. Even after hours of learning about Roman city life and the history of this great city, Lily and I race to the top. We all dance around because, well, because that seems to be the thing to do in a theater!
We’ve gone a lot over our tour time, so they skip lunch which is understandable, but we’re all getting hangry. Amanda and I both get grumpy quickly when we haven’t eaten recently enough. We’ve had a bunch of good practice on this trip, avoiding dumb arguments simply because we both need food. There is one stop left – the local museum in which many of the statues are kept. We enjoy it, but it drags on, and we race to finish so we can get lunch.
Lunch is so good that we eat at the same place a few hours later for dinner after a nap. When we come back the guy says ‘Welcome home.’ and they tease the girls playfully. It’s just good basic Turkish food, but they serve a fresh lavash from the oven with yogurt and a dry crumbled cow cheese. The steam bursts from the puffy bread and Emma’s eyes light up. Bread is her favorite food by miles.
Night time brings ultra loud Turkish pop music and a horde of locals dancing. It’s a party to celebrate spring time, but it’s damn cold still so they shut it off early and reschedule for two weeks later (says our host.) There were a few fireworks, apropos of our amazing day.
Will it make the top ten of our favorite places? At first we all say yes, but then as we go down our list, we realize it will slip to the second decile. Still, this is one of the best experiences we’ve had travelling.