|Stork nests (everywhere) atop an old aqueduct in Selcuk|
Ephesus is the reason we came to Turkey in the first place. My dad very much wanted to go to Syria (which, thanks to our Irish passports, was technically doable), but the recent violence and general melted-down-y-ness made that infeasible. Pa Brennan, being a resilient man, researched where else he could find a similar caliber of historical and archaeological wonder. In Ephesus, it turned out. But because my brain is not one to hold onto facts and dates unless they’re part of a good story (and even then I’ll likely fudge them for dramatic purposes), I’m going to gloss over some details. Such is life. If I can say one thing, though, it’s that I highly recommend you read up on Ephesus yourself, or even save your pennies and book yourself a flight. It’s that good. But don’t go in the summer, because it’s hot and packed with tourists. Even in April it was hot and packed with tourists, though manageably so. The glorious white marble that looks so pretty in pictures reflects the sun, so you wind up as sundrunk as a leathery lady on the beach with a reflector tucked under her chin.
We flew from Cappadocia to the closest airport to Ephesus, in Izmir, and hauled ourselves and our bags onto a local train that was chock full of people. We squeezed ourselves in, sat on our bags, and watched the sunny Mediterranean landscape go by. Rolling hills, vineyards, low dusty trees – it could have been Italy, or Napa, with mosques. It was definitely lovely.
Off the train at Selcuk, we rattled our bags up a cobblestone hill to our inn, got ourselves together, and headed the block back into town for dinner. What Selcuk lacked in culinary delights (lots of kebab!) it made up for in overwhelming friendliness. And not just we-want-to-sell-you-something friendliness, though there was a lot of that too (and oh, were we buyin’!), but chatty-laughing-talking-about-family friendliness. It was a delight. Oh, and there were cats errrywhere! They were lovely healthy plump feral cats who we, of course, gave nicknames and fed and then watched fight ferociously for our table scraps. Oops. After a serious round of shopping (Mike is a ceramics fiend, it turns out) and a rooftop dinner of mezzes, we headed to bed to rest up for a long day of sightseeing.
Our guide, who asked us to call him Octavius (see, with the historicalness?), was about my age and a bundle of energy. He herded us into a van and took us to see what is purported to be the last home of the Virgin Mary, after St. John spirited her away from Jerusalem. I wouldn’t have minded living in those wooded hills, though I’d prefer not to have done it without running water or electricity. But wait! There was running water, a spring, which spurted holy water out of many many faucets. Tourists love holy water. We even brought home a few bottles, so let me know if you’re feeling like you need some holiness.
I realize I veered into snarkiness there, and I should balance it out by saying that the hordes of people at the site seemed happy to be there, and some even appeared to be moved. Mike got to send his mom a postcard. There was a wall of wishes, which I would have liked to spend some time reading except that we had to get on to the main aim of the day, the ancient city of Ephesus!
Ephesus was a hopping town way back around when the BCs turned into the ADs. There were rich and poor people, lots of bathhouses, public toilets with no stalls, and a huge library.
|Very public toilet|
Unfortunately for Ephesus, as time wore on its lovely river silted up its harbor, thereby rendering it no good for shipping. People moved out of their malarial swamp, to the coast (which is now 7 miles away) or farther abroad. Ephesus was only rediscovered in the 20th century, so the archaeological work is far from done, but what’s uncovered now is still completely stunning.
Walking down the wide marble main streets our guide pointed out the columns on either side, which marked the entrances to shopping galleries that would have lined the roads. We took a side route up into some hillside homes of the rich, which had hot and cold running water, ballrooms, ornate frescoes, and outclassed my rickety Victorian even in their current state. The library was once one of the largest in the world, and the amphitheater could fit 25,000 people.
Ephesus, my friends, was something.
The most interesting thing about Ephesus, and about Turkey in general, was something that I kept forgetting as I checked out cats sleeping at marble statues’ feet and wondered if I could poop while sitting in a room with 20 people like the Ephesians did. As a geographical link between Europe and Asia, along with being a bread basket and not too shabby to look at, this region saw many major cultures come and go. People moved to the area in the Bronze Age, then came the Greeks, and the Romans (who made it their Asian capital), the Byzantines, and the Ottomans, plus various denominations therein. History, culture, religion, agriculture, all the good stuff happened here.
|Pizza pies (not really) etched into marble told Christians they were welcome|
After we stumbled out of Ephesus, a little sunburned and woozy from all the info, we ate lunch at a lovely outdoor restaurant where they plied us with ayran, a salty yogurt beverage that is my new favorite drink. We piled back in the van and headed to a pond where Octavius pointed out the remains of the temple of Artemis, now just a stack of columns topped with the region’s inevitable stork nest. One of the wonders of the ancient world, now basically rubble. Fun fact: in 356 BC the temple was burned down by a crazy guy named Herostratus, who wanted to go down in history. Well played, sir; I assume Kim Kardashian has read up on him.
Finally, we visited the remains of a hilltop church next to our hotel that is said to contain the remains of St. John. They were full of flowers and gave a great view over the valley, and of the historical mosque next door. Because that’s how Turkey rolls.