Ephesus was once the most important cultural and commercial hub in western Anatolia. Today, it sits in ruins in modern day Turkey after being abandoned in the 15th century, but while the city may be dead it is still just as important to visitors that want to learn of the past. The sprawling city is filled with historic sites that millions of visitors flock to visit each year. Not only do the historical sites of Ephesus chronicle its past as a hub of trade, but they also feature its history as an early religious centre of Christianity.
Temple of Artemis
The Temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, It housed the ornate statue of the goddess of the hunt, and featured127 columns as well as an additional 36 facade columns that were decorated with ornate relics. However, the ruins of the temple that visitors can tour today are not the ruins of the original temple. As the story goes, a mad priest set the original Temple of Artemis in Ephesus on fire the same day the Alexander the Great was born. Left unusable for many years, Alexander the Great himself offered to pay for the restoration, but the city deemed that a god should not build a temple for another god. Instead Dinocrates, an Ephesians architect, restored it several years later after the city enjoyed unprecedented prosperity. However, even after the restoration, it only returned to shade of its former glory. Today, the temple is sadly represented by a lone column amidst a swamp.
Cave of the Seven Sleepers
The Cave of the Seven Sleepers is a Christian church tucked away in a cave. Some believe that the church was built by early Christians in a time when their worship was not looked kindly upon, but the story of the cave actually has its history rooted in a thrilling, but unbelievable, tall tale. The seven sleepers were seven young Christians that were walled in the cave during a time of persecution, roughly 250 AD. Miraculously, they awoke later in the year 435 AD after the walls crumbled and wandered the streets of Ephesus, amazed at all the churches and freedom of worship that Christians enjoyed. They soon after died natural deaths and were buried back in that very same cave. It was then that the church inside of it was built in their memory. The site went on to become a venerated pilgrimage site from the 5th to the 15th century. As it was preserved underground, the simple church carved in the stone remains one of the best preserved sites within the city.
Theatre of Ephesus
Although there is some debate as to whether the theatre dates back to Hellenistic or Roman times, the theatre in Ephesus is grand enough to rival other remaining theatres of both cultures all around the world. This space was integral to the entertainment in the city after it was first built in the 1st century, but by the 4th century when it was partially destroyed by an earthquake it was only partially repaired. It is thought that interest continued to wane in the theatre, which resulted in it being fully integrated in the city's defensive infrastructure by the 8th century. Today, the theatre has been tirelessly restored as much as it could be and continues to be a major attraction in Ephesus. For visitors to Ephesus in May, the theatre is home to the Selcuk Ephesus Festival of Culture and Art.
The Prytaneion was one of the most important public buildings in ancient Ephesus. Built among its first structures, the Prytaneion was dedicated to Hestia, goddess of the hearth. At the time, it would have been strange to see a temple dedicated solely to Hestia as she was domestically worshipped in each home. At a glance, it served to hold the scared flame dedicated to the goddess which was never allowed to go out. However, the building was also a spot for city officials to meet visiting dignitaries, making Hestia a fitting deity to watch over them. Although Hestia's flame is long extinguished, visitors still explore the large temple hall and Doric-style courtyard. However, the biggest draw is the unique mosaics within that depict warriors amidst an intricate decorative background.
Basilica of St. John
Constructed in the 6th century AD by Emperor Justinian, the Basilica of St. John stands over what it believed to be the burial site of its namesake - St. John, prophet (author of Revelation) and apostle. Although it sits roughly a kilometre outside of the city, it is still considered a beloved part of the ancient Ephesus. After the city was abandoned after frequent Arab raids, the basilica was briefly converted into a mosque until it was ravaged by Tamerlane's Mongol army. What visitors view today is a recent restoration, complete with models of the original building inside. In ancient times, it was most recognizable by its giant white dome over the structure that sheltered the remains of St. John, while that has been destroyed, the majority of the brick and marble walls remain.
Have you visited the ruins of Ephesus? What surprised you the most?
Let us know - comment below!