Walking through ancient history: A photo tour of Ephesus

Izmir
Izmir

At the end of March, Smarty Pants went to an academic conference in Izmir, a port city on the Aegan in south-west Turkey.

I’d never been to Turkey, so I joined him – not for the conference, but for four days of relaxing and wandering around the city searching for the best cafe.

On our last day, we went together to the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus. Many people will know of Ephesus from the New Testament book of Ephesians, which claims to have been written by Paul (though biblical scholars debate this).

Whether Paul wrote the book or it was written in his name later, Paul was almost certainly involved in setting up the Christian church in Ephesus.

But he’s not the only important historical figure who once strode through the ancient city. It was a Greek city under the rule of Athens, then Sparta. Alexander the Great won the city from the Persians. It was later ruled by Egypt, then Syria before becoming Roman.

The city was lost for centuries, but about 100 years ago it was discovered again and excavations started. It’s under constant restoration now, and it’s a stunning site to be able to walk around. It really is like living history.

I hope you enjoy this little tour!

Temple of Artemis
Temple of Artemis

This column is pretty much all that remains of the Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Behind it to the left is a local mosque. Behind to the right is the Basilica of St John, where John is said to be buried. Amazing to see pagan, Muslim and Christian buildings so close to each other. The column is now the home of storks (check out the top – you can see their nest).

Virgin Mary's House
Virgin Mary's House

After Jesus’s death, St John was charged with Mary’s care. He apparently brought Mary to Ephesus and had a house built on a leafy hillside where she spent the remainder of her days. A collapsed building was found on this site in the 19th century (thanks to an Austrian woman’s dream), and the house was rebuilt in the 1950s using as much of the recovered building materials as possible. It’s now known as the House of the Virgin Mary.

The Priests' Way in Ephesus
The Priests' Way in Ephesus

This is a partial view of Ephesus. It’s huge! Priests would have processionals down this road. In the distance you can see marshland that used to be the harbor until it silted up, forcing the city to move. At the bottom of the hill, you can see the Celsus library (scroll down for close-ups).

Ephesus bath house
Roman baths

These are the ruins of the Roman baths, built in the second century A.D. According to our guide Oktay (who called himself Octavius) from the brilliant No Frills Ephesus Tours: “To enter a Roman bath house is to step into the arms of pleasure.”

View of Ephesus
View of Ephesus

The historians and archaeologists who are restoring the city are trying to reconstruct it the best they can. Of course, there’s a lot of guesswork involved.

Terrace houses of the wealthy
Terrace houses of the wealthy
Ephesus toilets
Toilets - with room for 50 bottoms

(You can click the photos to maximize them.) On the left, you see some of the terrace houses of Ephesus’ most wealthy citizens. They had mosaic floors and painted walls.

On the right are the public toilets, which are in a big horseshoe shape. Those togas were very practical for hiding your junk when you’re doing your business in front of 49 of your neighbors.

Ephesus Celsus library
Celsus library

On the left is the facade of the Celsus library, which Gaius Julius Aquila had built in honor of his father Celsus – who is buried behind the library – in A.D. 135.

Celsus library
Celsus library

The Celsus library was built to hold 12,000 scrolls. Sadly, it was destroyed by a series of earthquakes.

Ephesus amphitheater
Ephesus amphitheater

Ephesus’ amphitheater could hold 25,000 people. St Paul preached here. This photo shows only about 2/3 of it. It’s absolutely massive! The photo below should give you a better idea of its size.

Ephesus amphitheater
Ephesus amphitheater

I hope you enjoyed my little tour of the amazing ancient city of Ephesus! It was one of the most astounding places I’ve been because it seemed to have been touched by dozens of ancient civilizations.

Would you like to go to Ephesus? Have you been to a historic place that really amazed and inspired you?

6 thoughts on “Walking through ancient history: A photo tour of Ephesus

  1. Wow, I’ve always wanted to go to Ephesus, and your photos have totally inspired me. Turkey and Greece are at the top of my list. I love history. Those photos kind of remind me of the Forum in Rome, but on an even larger scale. Thanks! I’ve also heard that there are tremendous ruins in N. Africa in Libya, Algeria and Tunisia, although right now the political situation is a bit unstable so we are putting those off for a bit.

    1. I’m so glad you liked the pictures, Jen! Ephesus was really inspiring to me, too. And I would love to travel to North Africa, but agree that now’s probably not the time. I hope you can get to Ephesus soon!

  2. Lovely pics, Kat. I’ve always wanted to see the Library at Ephesus ever since I saw a pic of it in an art history book. I’m also hoping to head to Jordan and see Petra.

    1. A friend of mine went to Petra, Jane, and her pictures were amazing. I was so jealous.

      The library at Ephesus was indescribable. Just really breathtaking. I hope you get to Ephesus and Petra soon, Jane!

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