CONTRIBUTED BY MATTHEW KOERSCHNER
Ephesus is one of the greatest ruined cities in the western world and ranks up there with Pompeii in Italy. A Greek city was first built here in 1000 BC, but the city you hike through today was founded sometime in the 300s BC (4th Century BC). It was under the Romans that Ephesus became the chief port on the Aegean. Unfortunately Ephesus is no longer water front property as the harbor silted up, which ultimately led to the city’s decline.
To get to Ephesus we set out on a day trip from Izmir as we were staying at the Wyndham Grand Izmir. Our rental car zipped us there in about an hour, and the trip was super easy. The highway was well maintained and lightly traveled, nary a traffic jam in sight as long as you steer clear of inner Izmir. Upon arriving at Ephesus we parked were all the signage advises you to park, but prior to our trip we got a tip which proved to be valuable. The valuable advice was, “don’t start your tour of Ephesus from the area where you park (which is the bottom of Ephesus) but rather take a taxi, or better yet a horse-drawn carriage, to the top of Ephesus and start your tour there.” This sage advice was invaluable as not only was the horse-drawn trip to the top an extra delight, but the entire tour we were walking downhill as opposed to uphill. Also, the city of Ephesus presents itself in a more dramatic manner if you hike from top to the bottom.
The horse-drawn carriage to the top was special as we were traveling with my brother’s family and thus had to rent two carriages. This led to a minor horse race, as what family vacation wouldn’t be complete without a little competition?! The carriages were great and we stopped in a little ramshackle souvenir area about halfway to the top. We also did bathroom breaks here at the coach/drivers’ souvenir store and this was particularly important as we were traveling with five children ranging in age from 2 to 14. The carriages cost around $40 apiece, but were well worth it and a true experience.
Once at the top we had to navigate through another more professional tourist souvenir store, before reaching the ticket booth at Ephesus. There are ticket booths at both the bottom and the top, so you don’t have to buy your tickets before your ride to the top if you elect not to start at the bottom. It was in starting out that my wife, Larissa, had a stroke of brilliance by coming up with the idea to buy the kids in our group some frozen, sugary drinks to get them through a couple of hours of hiking through boring ruins. Of course, she didn’t verbalize this at the time, but I knew what she was thinking and it worked perfectly as I couldn’t believe how energetic and ready the kids were to set out. Be sure to bring or purchase lots of water PRIOR to starting your tour through Ephesus. Once you enter there is only one small shop at the entrance to purchase drinks and snacks; after that there is nothing available for the entire hike (approximately 2-3 hours). This is also a good time to mention that you should bring hats and sunscreen as there is not much shade along the journey. We went in July so it was extremely hot. We brought a stroller (with a large canopy) for our 2 year old and it worked well enough along the main pathways. Between my wife and I we were able to navigate it and lift it over the dirt, cobblestones and gravel as necessary (it is not a paved pathway so a stroller with small wheels may not be your best bet).
One of the highlights of the hike for me was the Gate of Hercules. At the Gates you see the relief of Hercules depicted with the skin of a lion. Another amazing aspect of Ephesus is the expertise with which the Romans were able to master plumbing with constant fresh water toilets, designated bathing areas, as well as decorative fountains and all of these are still evident today.
The Romans not only mastered plumbing but fire; in one of the temples at Ephesus the Romans had an eternal flame. Most eternal flames are for commemorative reasons today (think JFK eternal flame in Washington DC), and the Romans too placed their eternal flame in a temple for their god at Ephesus. The practical reason for the eternal flame was a gathering point for fire and where the town’s people would come to get their fire for cooking or to keep warm in the evenings after paying their respects to the temple god. I think it’s fascinating that this practice of the eternal flames still lives on today, but only for the sentimental reasons, not practical.
While we traveled many roads at Ephesus we did not travel them all due to our attention (and bladder limitations) with young ones. Some of the things that we didn’t get a chance to do that we have heard from others are very much worth the effort is viewing the restored murals in the private houses at Ephesus and the House of the Virgin Mary at Ephesus. The private houses which you can tour for a minimal fee (10TL) are the homes of wealthy people, of their time, and these homes are still under archeological excavation which you can see actively being excavated. The House of Mary is also worth the trip. According to the Bible, Jesus asked St. John the Evangelist to look after his mother, Mary. John brought Mary with him to Ephesus in AD 37, and she spent the last years of her life here in a modest stone house. The House of Mary is located at Meryemana, approximately 5 miles from the center of Ephesus. The shrine is revered by both Christians and Muslims, and pilgrims of both faiths visit the shrine, especially on 15 August every year.