Ephesus (pronounced: Eff-eh-sis) is located 80 miles southeast of Izmir and is one of Turkey’s most popular ancient sites. Scholars believe that the city was founded by Amazons, the female warrior tribe of Anatolia. These warriors took a part in much of Greek mythology, including the birth of Zeus. It is suggested that the meaning of Ephesus derives from the name “Apasas”, which translates to “the city of the Mother Goddess”.
Although it is known primarily for its history as an Ionian (Greek) city, throughout the years Ephesus has been home to multiple civilizations including the Lydians, Persians, Byzantines, and Romans, to name a few.
Despite covering quite a large space, archaeologists have only excavated 15% of the city! The city went from one side of the valley to the other, and at its peak was home to 250,000 people. That’s nearly the size of St Petersburg, Russia.
There are many different options for tours of Ephesus, but with limited time a self-guided tour may be best. Pick up a map of Ephesus and visit the highlights!
The closest major city to start an Ephesus tour from is Izmir, but Selcuk and Kusadasi are even closer. Selcuk is the nearest town and parts of the ancient city are technically in Selcuk. Ephesus tours are also available from Bodrum. Pammukale tours can even be combined with your Ephesus tour from Izmir!
Here is a map of Ephesus:
The major sites you will want to visit in the ancient city are The Temple of Artemis, the amphitheatre, the terrace homes where the wealthiest Ephesians lived, and the library.
During the Ionian era, the city was extremely advanced in technology and had many luxuries that were rare at the time such as: as an extensive underground clay piping system, public toilets, bathhouses, and even oil lamps lining the street. Regarded as a “great centre of learning”, it was also the birthplace and home to many wise philosophers such as Heraclitus, who believed that all things are one;
The life of the rich
The terrace houses that have recently been excavated is so delicate that archaeologists have put up a covering to protect it from the summer heat. As you walk through these homes, you can get a feel of what life was really like for some of the most wealthy people not just in Ephesus, but in the world. Only five families lived in this massive “neighbourhood” and each home was centred around the atrium and courtyard. The bedrooms were off this common space and were all delicately decorated with art on the walls.
To estimate the population of ancient cities, archaeologists use the formula of multiplying the capacity of the theatre by ten. Ephesus’ theatre held 25,000 people, which would make the estimated population 250,000.
Ephesus and the Bible
Paul was meant to give a speech to the Ephesians in the amphitheatre on the importance of worshipping a human god. He began to preach that they should no longer worship a “man-made” god. The issue was that thousands of artisans in Ephesus not only worshipped Arthemis as their god but made their living off of crafting statues of her. Not long after Paul began speaking, the Ephesians began to riot in the amphitheatre. Forced to flee for his own safety, Paul then wrote his speech in form of an epistle for the people of Ephesus. This is how The Book of Paul ended up in the Bible and where Ephesus is mentioned in the Bible.
Christianity in Ephesus
After it’s time under Roman, Hellenistic, and then Persian rule, there was a shift towards Christianity in the City of Ephesus around the 1st century CE. One of the major reasons for this was through the story of the “Seven Sleepers”. It is believed that these seven Christian saints slept in a cave over Ephesus for hundreds of years in order to preserve their faith during the so-called pagan times. It was only after Christianity came to power, that they were awoken from their long slumber and finally able to prove the truth of their faith in the resurrection of the body of Christ.
Sadly, the rise of Christianity came with a decline in education and culture in Ephesus. The emperor at the time forced all temples and schools to close, women were no longer highly respected and seen as equals to men, and it was even forbidden to worship Artemis, the female god.