The ancient and now ruined city of Ephesus was once one of the most important places in the world: The ancient Greeks and Romans, the first Christians and important philosophers have shaped its history – and world history. The small town of Selçuk, which is located near the excavation site, is therefore the best place to learn more about the rich history of Asia and Europe. The fact that Selçuk is also one of the most beautiful places in Turkey makes Ephesus an absolute highlight of any trip to Turkey!
Ephesus and Selçuk are among the most interesting places in Turkey, and a must-see for all history buffs!
The Ancient Greeks in Ephesus
The area around Selçuk was already inhabited several thousand years BC. The first Greek settlement is said to have been established from the 11th century BC onwards. Alexander the Great stood at the gates of the city 300 years before Christ, from where he moved further east, all the way to India.
About 2,500 years ago Heraclitus, one of the most important philosophers of ancient Greece, was born in Ephesus. He is known for his mysterious, mystical utterings. For example, he said:
No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.
The philosophy of Heraclitus can be summarized in his most famous sentence: “All flows.” Everything is in constant flux, nothing lasts forever.
The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World
The ancient Greek historian Herodotus included the temple of Artemis in his list of the Seven Wonders of the World. Among them are for example the Colossus of Rhodes and the Pyramids of Giza. But what made the temple so special?
The beginnings of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus date back to the Bronze Age. Already back then, the site is said to have been a holy place of worship. It was rebuilt in the 7th century before Christ – after the old one had been destroyed by floods.
In 356 B.C. the temple was set on fire by Herostratos and was completely destroyed by the fire. The motive of the arsonist: he wanted to make his name immortal. And although the city of Ephesus forbade writing down his name or even mentioning it, it must be said that Herostratos was successful: 1,400 years after his death, his name is still in the mouths of historians. Today, people who commit crimes or misdeeds in order to become famous are called Herstratos.
And the Temple of Artemis today? Some columns stand alone in the midday sun, cats loll about on 3,000 year old capitals. But still you can feel (or imagine) a very special atmosphere. For the sanctity of the place seems to stand above time, seems not only to be carved in stone, but inoculated into the air.
The former temple grounds are located only a few minutes outside of Selçuk, and can be reached on foot without any problems. The entrance is free of charge.
The Romans in Ephesus
All flows, said Heraclitus. This is true, and can be seen clearly in the history of Ephesus. For after being a center of Hellenistic culture for centuries, the city came under Roman influence in 129 B.C. During this time, Ephesos (or Ephesus in Latin) experienced a new heyday, becoming one of the most important cultural and commercial centers in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Mark Anthony and Cleopatra spent some time in Ephesus before they fought the important battle of Actium, where they were defeated by Octavian. He thus secured the sole rule of the Roman Empire.
During this time, numerous buildings were erected in Ephesus, such as various baths, as well as several temples dedicated to the emperor cult.
The Celsus Library is undoubtedly the most famous building in Ephesus and one of the historical landmarks of Turkey today. It was built in the second century by the family of the Roman politician Julius Celsus. Between 1970 and 1978 the facade was renovated. Today, it is one of the best preserved (or best renovated) buildings of the ancient world. Numerous tourists come from all over the world just to visit Ephesus and especially the Celsus Library.
The Roman rulers were first followed by the Byzantines and from the early 14th century onwards by the Ottomans. The city lost more and more importance and was completely abandoned during the 15th century.
If you visit Ephesus today, you will discover Latin and Greek inscriptions, statues of Roman emperors and Greek deities – and also Christian crosses.
Christianity in Selçuk: Two Apostels, Maria, and Seven Sleepers
For Ephesus is also one of the centers of early Christianity. The apostle Paul visited the city and is said to have written and preached here. The Letter to the Corinthians was written by him in Ephesus. The apostle John also lived here. He probably wrote the Revelation of John in Ephesus.
It is assumed that the holy Mary spent her last years in Ephesus. Still today one can visit the House of the Mother Mary, in which she is said to have died. In the 19th century it became one of the most important Christian places of pilgrimage in Asia.
Not far from Ephesus and the Celsus Library is the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. The name comes from an old Christian legend. Seven young men were persecuted by the Roman emperor Decius because of their Christian faith. They hid in a cave, but were discovered by their pursuers, who decided to close the cave with a big rock and thus seal the fate of the seven Christians. When a farmer rolled the rock aside 372 years later, he could not believe his eyes: Seven young men, dressed in strange, old-fashioned robes, came to light. They had slept through all the centuries. When they saw that the area around Ephesus was now Christian, that large churches and monasteries had been built, they thanked God for the miracle that had happened. Since then, the Cave of the Seven Sleepers has had its name. This legend is also told in Islam. It is believed to date back to pre-Christian times and has been adapted over the centuries.
Selçuk Today: A Small, Sleepy Tourist Heaven
Today Selçuk is a popular tourist destination that attracts history lovers from all over the world. From Selçuk you can reach Ephesus after a 30-minute walk. You can also take a dolmus (typical Turkish minibus), which costs no more than 50 cent.
Selçuk is located between the two tourist strongholds Izmir and Antalya, but is far less crowded. There are some hotels and two hostels, several restaurants and snack bars. In the village square (through which an old Roman aqueduct runs) there are several dozen tables where the male inhabitants of Selçuk drink tea and play backgammon at any time of the day. Selçuk has still kept its traditional charm.
The Selçuk Citadel, which was built by the Byzantines 1,400 years ago, towers above the town. At night, the thick walls of the castle are beautifully illuminated, as are the aqueduct and the mosques. In the Ephesus Museum, which is well worth seeing, you can marvel at many archelogical finds from Ephesus.
Selçuk is without doubt one of the best places to visit in Turkey – and not only because of the nearby ruins of Ephesus. But together they form the perfect package, and are therefore a highlight for every vacation in Turkey!