Louis Cristal Cruise: Ruins of ancient Ephesus filled with historical treasures

The library is considered the most beautiful building in ancient Ephesus.
The library is considered the most beautiful building in ancient Ephesus.

ABOARD THE LOUIS CRISTAL – Carved into stone, the drawing of a footprint may be the first public billboard advertisement ever recorded in history.

“It pointed the way to the local brothel,” guide Bulent Yurttas said, leading us around the ancient city of Ephesus. The dots on the stone represent the number of prostitutes in the brothel and the heart carving means the women are eager for love.

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

When the Louis Cristal docked in Kusadasi, Turkey, I was looking forward to seeing the ruins of the historic Ephesus. I had learned about the city as a kid in church. But my Sunday school teacher never mentioned anything about the footprint or brothel. Mostly we studied about the apostle Paul and his preachings in Ephesus.

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

A carved footprint shows the way to the brothel in ancient Ephesus.
A carved footprint shows the way to the brothel in ancient Ephesus.

The streets of Ephesus were once trod by such important historical figures as Androcles of Athens, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Julius Caesar 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 wrote his gospel here. 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 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.

Although only about 15 percent excavated, the ruins of Ephesus show its magnificence.
Although only about 15 percent excavated, the ruins of Ephesus show its magnificence.

I wasn’t too impressed when I first entered the Ephesus site. Before taking the walking tour, visitors 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 7 a.m. to avoid the midday sun because afternoons in the ruins can be real scorchers.

Also be sure and pay to use the restroom (I think it cost me 50 cents in Euros) before walking into the Ephesus ruins because there is no free handy place once inside.

The beginning of the tour seemed a bit of a letdown. I saw a bunch of old stones to let me know that these are ruins but nothing really dramatic – until I walked down the slope of the valley. Oh, my goodness, the sight there definitely shows 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,” Yurt’s 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.

Like a sentinel, a cat watches over Ephesus from its perch high atop a pillar.
Like a sentinel, a cat watches over Ephesus from its perch high atop a pillar.

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 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,” Yurttas 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.

Guide Bulent Yurttas explains the history of Ephesus.
Guide Bulent Yurttas explains the history of Ephesus.

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.

“The Christians wanted to erase all reminders of paganism so they would cut the heads off statues,” Yurttas said. He also pointed out a large marble table where animals were sacrificed to the pagan god Dionysus.

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.

Before we left, our guide Yurttas pointed out a sculpture that shows how advanced the Ephesians were and how items from the past that are patiently unearthed can answer questions – and also create even more questions. The remnants of a statue honoring Emperor Trajan who ruled the Roman Empire in the 2nd century shows a large ball with a foot on top of it.

“The statue meant that he ruled the world.  His right foot is on the globe,” Yurt’s said. “That meant that they knew the world was round long before later men said it was.”

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch


August 4, 2015


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