The 7-Day Aegean Islands Cruise on the Celestyal Crystal gives passengers the option of a daylong exploration of Patmos, an island in Greece with early Christian relics, or a half-day in Kudasasi, Turkey with the opportunity to see the archeological wonders at Ephesus.
The ancient world made Ephesus a center of travel and commerce. For a little over an hour, the UNESCO World Heritage site became the center of my world.
The Greeks originally built Ephesus in the 10th century BC as commercial seaport, taking advantage of its strategic location. Over time, as river and port silted up, the waterways shifted. The Ionian coast now rests several miles away. Having lost its access to the sea, Ephesus nevertheless continued to prosper under the Roman Empire (1st and 2nd centuries AD). Ephesus became the largest city in the East after Alexandria, with a population of over 200,000.
The excursion started with a bus ride to the famous site. Tours begin at the Magnesian Gate, near the top of a slope. Guides stop at significant points of interest as they explain what you’re seeing: the remains of hundreds of temples, columns, statues, and etched drawings. I tried to imagine the bustling white marble city with residents in togas or flowing gowns.
We passed a theater used for council meetings, concerts or speeches. It could seat 1,400 and remains acoustically grand. Down colonnaded Curetes Street, we viewed the ruins of the Temples of Hadrian and Nike and the elaborate Nymphaeum Traiani Fountain. A near-perfect statue of Artemis found in this area, remains on display in the Ephesus Archeological Museum, which we didn’t visit.
We paused beside intricate mosaic floors from ancient homes along one side of the main path. We stopped, gawked and giggled at the men’s public toilet area. The area also housed a brothel.
Continuing down the marble Colonnade brought us to the majestic two-storied Library of Celsus, the highlight of excavated Ephesus, and originally built in 117 AD. The structure stands proudly at the base of the slope and features statuary copies of the originals. After extensive site work in the 1960-70’s, Austrian archeologists re-erected many of the finely chiseled columns. Their work lets you feel the grandeur and size of the original building. In its prime, the library housed 12,000 parchment manuscripts and scrolls. The original builders incorporated double-lined niches to protect the parchments from humidity or damage, but a fire tragically consumed all.
As you approach the immense amphitheater or Great Theater, you can almost hear the noise of a crowd. The Romans enlarged the seating, up to 25,000 people, and added blood sports that included gladiator fights. The nearly intact stadium stands as a marvel of ancient glory and memorial to all those who died there.
Training fields and a gymnasium lie beyond the stadium, with a cooling tree-covered walkway leading to the exit or lower entrance. According to experts only 13% of the ancient site has been excavated and studied, leaving much more work to be done and more wonders to uncover. Thankfully UNESCO added Ephesus to its World Heritage list in 2015, ensuring its maintenance and protection.
After leaving the site, we enjoyed a cultural taste of the land, sampling Turkish coffee, tea, wine, and snacks. We saw how silk cocoons are spun into thread and then used to make oriental carpets. Two ladies worked at looms, weaving detailed designs into the rugs.
The owners and workers displayed many different carpets, explaining the difference in workmanship and threads like silk and wool. The shop also contained jewelry and handicrafts, and some guests purchased items.
Unfortunately, the time spent at the cultural center took up all the free time allotted, so we had to return to the ship immediately after the tour.
I found the brief visit to Turkey enchanting, but as with most travel finds, I wished to stay longer.