After a few days in Çannakale I headed to Selçuk. The trip to Selçuk takes about five hours by bus. The town of Selçuk is quite small, but it is a top destination for visitors to Turkey because of the nearby ruins of Ephesus. My Aussie traveling partners were most excited that the hostel we stayed at offered that most Australian of spreads, Vegemite, for breakfast. If you have not yet tried Vegemite my advice would be to keep it that way.
Those familiar with the Bible may recognize the name Ephesus. It was an early hotbed of Christianity. As Christ’s followers set out to spread the gospel following his crucifixion, the apostle Saint John, along with the Virgin Mary, settled in Ephesus. It was here that he may have written both the Gospel of Saint John and the Book of Revelations. The house where Mary allegedly lived is open to visitors. Multiple popes have visited the house and it remains a popular site. However, I did not see it myself. The historicity of some or all of these connections between Ephesus and Biblical figures is subject to debate. It's not even clear that the John who wrote the Gospel of Saint John, the John who wrote Revelations, and John the Apostle are the same person. In any case, Ephesus was an important site in early Christianity and fascinating in that regard.
The city lends its name to the New Testament book Ephesians, though the book itself does not mention Ephesus or its people at all.
In its heyday, Ephesus was an important city for many other reasons. The city’s peak population is estimated to have been greater than 200,000. The Romans used it as the capital of Asia Minor and it was a commercial hub.
Ephesus is considered the best preserved set of Roman ruins in the region. Not being an expert archaeologist or historian, I will take that claim at face value. Less than 20 percent of the city has been excavated, yet what is visible to the public is impressive.
Two buildings in particular stand out in Ephesus. The large theater is towers above anything else in the city. It sat approximately 25,000 people and staged dramatics works as well as gladiatorial combat. During my particular trip to Ephesus, the theater served as an escape from the crowds. From the seats I could rest my feet and ponder just how many other people had sat in my place over the centuries and what they stared out at.
The other standout building is the Library of Celsus. My first connection upon viewing it was to the Treasury at Petra (as featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). As the name implies, the library was built in honor of Celsus, a Roman senator. In addition to a large collection of books, the library held Celsus' tomb in the main chamber.
The building's façade gives the appearance that the library is much larger than it actually is. The interior is fairly small and nondescript compared to the stunning exterior.
To round out a visit to Ephesus, the Museum of Ephesus in Selçuk deserves a visit. The museum traces the history of Ephesus over several distinct time periods and houses some real treasures. It provides a good deal of context to the ruins and helps give a better sense of the lives and objects that once occupied the city and surrounding areas.
Selçuk is also home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, though you would not realize were it not for signs. The Temple of Artemis was once an impressive monument to the Greek Goddess of the Hunt, who was particularly venerated in Ephesus. Where once 127 columns held up a striking temple stands only one column complete with nesting birds on top and a few other rocks. The surrounding area is essentially a swamp and there is little to hint at something so renowned that it is still popularly known of today.
As mentioned above, St. John settled in Ephesus. The Basilica of St. John, located on a hill overlooking Selçuk, is good set of ruins to explore. John was unique among the apostle in that he did not die a martyr. Instead he died at an old age in Ephesus. His tomb on a hill in modern Selçuk became a site of pilgrimage. The Roman Emperor Justinian had a basilica constructed around the the tomb in the 6th century.
Colocated with the basilica is Ayasaluk Castle, which was built by the Ottomans. The fortress offers great views. From it you can catch a glimpse of Ephesus and, further out, the Aegean Sea.
Despite its small size, Selçuk and its surroundings have more history than most places I have ever visited. That history is easily accessible and can be appreciated by anyone.