Celestyal Olympia Cruise: Ruins of ancient Ephesus filled with historic treasures

The statue of a large ball with a foot atop it might not seem unusual. But it certainly is.

Touring ancient Ephesus, we came across remnants of a statue honoring Emperior Trajan who ruled the Roman Empire in the 2nd century.

“You see that his right foot is on the ball, the globe. That means he ruled the world,” said tour guide Nevin.

It also means that those ancient Ephesus folks knew the world was round long before later men said it was.

On our Celestyal Olympia cruise, our second shore stop was Kusadasi, Turkey, where we could tour the kingdom of Ephesus. “It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world,” Nevin said.

The excavated site is filled with wonders, many of them quite surprising. Carved into stone, the drawing of a footprint may be the first public billboard advertisement ever recorded in history.

However, the footprint pointed the way to the local house of ill repute.  The dots on the stone represent the number of prostitutes in the brothel and the heart carving means the women are eager for love – for a price.

Never know what you are going to learn on a shore excursion from a cruise ship.

I had heard about Ephesus as a kid in church. But my Sunday school teacher never mentioned anything about the footprint or the brothel. Mostly we studied about the apostle Paul and his preachings in Ephesus.

“Walking through Ephesus is like walking through history,” Nevin said. “So much happened here.”

The streets of Ephesus were once trod by such important historical figures as Androcles of Athens, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony and Cleopatra who is said to have brought her beloved cats to the city.

St. Paul reportedly lived in Ephesus for three years after the death of Christ and St. John also lived here for a while. Some believe that Ephesus is the place where Mary, the mother of Jesus, spent the end of her days on earth after his crucifixion.

Ephesus once a flourishing seaport

Ephesus was built by Greek colonists. The city flourished when it came under the control of the Romans in 129 BC. The city’s famed Temple of Artemis was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Although only an estimated 15 percent of the old city has been excavated, it is obvious that Ephesus was a very large and rich place. It is said to be the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. At its peak during the 1st and 2nd century AD, Ephesus was a center of commerce and education, second only to Rome. An estimated 250,000 inhabitants lived here at the city’s peak of importance.

Upon arriving at the Ephesus site, visitors today are bombarded on the outskirts of the ruins with aggressive street vendors selling everything from hats and water to “Authentic Fake Watches” and Turkish Delight candy.

By the way, be sure and take your own bottled water and wear a hat and sunscreen when you tour Ephesus or any of the Greek ruins. We left the ship at 8:30 a.m. to avoid the midday sun because afternoons in the ruins can be real scorchers.

Also, be sure and pay 50 cents to use the restroom before walking into the Ephesus ruins because there is no free handy place once inside.

Walking down the slope of the valley, I realized what makes Ephesus so special and what draws visitors from all over the world.

“It may seem hard to believe but Ephesus was once a major port city. The water was down there,” Nevin said, pointing to a dry field. “The water came right up to the city.”

Over the years, however, the harbor was filled in with sediment from the Cayster River. Today, the ruins sit high and dry about five miles inland from the Aegean coast on the western edge of Turkey. Archaeologists discovered and began excavating the ancient city in the 1860s.

Masters of architecture built many comfort touches

Ephesus had all the comforts of the day and more. As masters of architecture, the Romans built aqueducts to carry water to the city and waste from it. A little boy in a tour group near me was fascinated by the ruins of the men’s toilets and I imagine that info might become part of the child’s show-and-tell when he returns home.

Placed only a few inches apart without any partitions, the 20 marble toilets offered little privacy and were used as a place to socialize with the men sitting almost buttocks to buttocks.

“Some of the men would have their slaves come in and sit on the marble seats to get them warm before they sat on them,” Nevin said.

In the center of Ephesus on Bulbul Mountain is where the wealthy lived. Known as Terrace Houses, the elegant residences were buried centuries ago by landslides caused by earthquakes. Excavations are still going on and can be viewed on a visit but the architecture, marble floors, frescoes and other artwork show the extent of opulence in these houses.

The building façade of the Library of Celsus is probably the most beautiful of the restored buildings in Ephesus. Once the largest in the ancient world, the library was built in 135 AD by a man in honor his father, Celsus, who had been a governor of Asia Minor. Carved into the library steps is the Jewish symbol for a menorah, evidence that a Jewish community existed in Ephesus as noted in the Book of Acts in the Bible.

The well-preserved ruins of the theatre in Ephesus were originally built in the Hellenistic period to hold 25,000 people. Gladiator contests were held here and a nearby gladiator graveyard was where losers – and probably some winners – were buried. The theater is also where a mob gathered when Paul was accused of inciting harm to the worship of the goddess Artemis and her temple.

When we reached the end of the Marble Road and looked back, the ruins clearly show what an impressive place Ephesus must have been. Busts and statues were erected along the road. Those that survive are now headless. Christians wanted to erase all evidence of paganism so they removed statue heads.

It seems strange today that Ephesus is inhabited by many well-fed healthy-looking cats, perhaps descendants of Cleopatra’s long ago pets. The critters sprawl on the ancient statues and pillars. As cats will, they ignore tourists and distain snacks offered by visitors. The cats seem quite happily at home.

After touching one of the marble bases, I can understand why the felines snooze in the heat. The marble is actually quite cool to the touch. A guide told me that the cats are fed and receive medical care from local vets.

“Each cat has its column where it sits or sleeps,” Nevin said. “Other cats know that and they know to stay on their own column. There is no traffic, nothing in here to harm them so the ruins are like a huge playground for the cats.”

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

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