Ephesus Turkey – Famous Ancient City Ruins & Library of Celsus
1. Ancient Ephesus
2. Ephesus Library / Library of Celsus
3. Temple of Artemis
4. Commercial Agora
5. Ephesus Great Theatre
6. Temple of Hadrian
7. Hercules Gate
9. Terrace Houses
10. House of the Virgin Mary
The ancient city of Ephesus (Ephesos in Greek) and its ruins is a popular destination to visit, for instance on a cruise calling at Izmir or Kusadasi in Turkey. Some of the most famous landmarks in Ephesus are the Library of Celsus and the Artemis Temple, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Ephesus at Celçuk is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site and visitors arrive from everywhere in the world to catch a glimpse of a unique archaeological site that reveals many secrets about antiquity.
Livia Garden Hotel hotel centrally located in Selcuk with an outdoor swimming pool, a garden and a restaurant onsite. It is close to the major sights: 300 m from Ephesus Museum, 400 m from Artemis Temple and 400 m from Basilica of St John. Free bikes are available.
Akanthus Hotel Ephesus beautiful hotel with an outdoor swimming pool, a garden, a terrace and bar, located in Selcuk. It is situated 3 km from Great Theatre of Ephesus and only 18 km from Kusadasi. It is near Ephesus Museum, Artemis Temple and Isabey Mosque.
Travel back in time and unlock the history of ancient Ephesus on a visit to one of the oldest sites in Turkey! The ancient city of Ephesus sits on the Turkish west coast and is the remains of a marvel of architecture, lavish mosaics, fine art, and culture from antiquity – one of the best preserved sites of its kind from the time when Western Turkey was part of the great Roman Empire. In fact, Augustus appointed Ephesus the capital of New Asia!
You can wander through the Harbour Street, Marble Street, and Curetes Street and visit the ruins of iconic Greek and Roman monuments such as the Odeon, the Temple of Hadrian, the Theatre, and the great Library of Celsus, while uncovering stories and legends of Ephesus.
Ephesus in Turkey is one of the best preserved Greco-Roman ruins in the entire Mediterranean area. The city was first a harbour city in ancient Greece with traces back to the Mycenaeans in the Bronze Age, Alexander the Great, and the Egyptians, before developing into the thriving, wealthy, and well-organised Ephesus in the Roman Empire.
Ephesus soon reached a population of 400.000 people, as well as the position of being the second most important city in the Roman Empire, of course after Rome. In step with the expansion, the Scholastic Baths and the public Latrines were constructed, and so were numerous other important buildings and monuments, a stadium for gladiatorial combats – and even a brothel arose! The structures included the Temple of Domitian, Trajan’s Fountain, the Hercules Gate, the Prytaneion, as well as numerous majestic villas with stunning mosaic floors (e.g. the Terrace Houses).
Besides masterpieces of both Greek and Roman architecture, Ephesus is also famous for several Christian landmarks since the Apostles Paul and John are believed to have done missionary work and preached here. St John is said to have stayed here for a few years of his life and, likewise, the Virgin Mary should have spent her last years at Ephesus.
The Library of Celsus, dating back to the 2nd century AD, used to be an amazing library in Ephesos that contained 12,000 scrolls! In antiquity it was one of the most imposing buildings in the Roman Empire. That is not difficult to believe, since the Library of Celsus still today has an impressive 2-storey façade – and definitely is one of the top sights at Ephesus. It is located next to the ancient Commercial Agora, built in Hellenistic times.
The library was commissioned in 114 by Tiberius Julius Aquila and was intended to commemorate his father (Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus), a former Roman senator, as well as the proconsul of Ephesus. Celsus was after his death buried at Ephesus in a marble sarcophagus covered with reliefs of Nike and Eros. It is adorned with four statues, representing the virtues wisdom, knowledge, intelligence, and value.
Although being a ruin today, the façade is still strikingly well-preserved. It is richly decorated with Corinthian capitals, columns, and carvings. As a trompe l’oeil effect the upper columns are shorter and slimmer than the lower ones to create the illusion of depth and grandeur.
In the classical period, Ephesus was an important place of worship of the Greek goddess Artemis, the virginal huntress. The city became the most important site for the cult of Artemis and an outstanding temple, the Temple of Artemis, was erected in the 6th-5th century BC. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The Temple of Artemis, backdropped by Selçuk (Ayasuluk) Kalesi / Ayasuluk Citadel, faced west and had a total of 127 marble columns. It was erected on the orders of the king of Lydia, Croesus. The oldest foundation of the temple dates back to the 6th century BC, but it has been demolished and subsequently rebuilt on several occasions.
Only a couple of centuries after the construction of the Temple of Artemis, a tremendous earthquake shook the city – although the temple had been built on marshy land to resist the impact of earthquakes. Nevertheless, this marked a change for Ephesus. The Temple of Artemis was set on fire – and the power and importance of the sanctuary was in decline and gone forever. Today only ruins of the spectacular temple are left onsite in Ephesus, including a few of the original columns. The more valuable artefacts have been brought to the British Museum in London. A genuine statue of Artemis is today exhibited in the Ephesus Archaeological Museum in Selçuk.
From the north one could enter the Commercial Agora from Harbour Street, that provided easy access for shiploads, and there were two additional entrances from the south-east and the west. The Gate of Mazaeus and Mithridates is the best preserved of its authentic gates – and is the gate that was closest to the Library of Celsus.
Merchants and artisans came to the Agora to trade their products. It was also a public meeting place and an area for political debate. Three sides of the square agora were bordered by stoas, protecting the marketplace from rain and wind.
The Great Theatre is cast into the the slopes of Panayir Hill and could seat 25.000 people in 66 rows grouped in three sections. The first foundation of the Hellenistic theatre was laid around 250 BC with a cavea (the seats), an orchestra, and a one-storey stage building. It was expanded during the Roman period to the extent that the theatre ruins have today.
The theatre is located opposite Harbour Street which leads to the ancient harbour – in the past to be found much closer to the city than the sea is today. It thus provided the spectators with an excellent view of both the stage and the surroundings.
On stage a lavishly decorated three-storey stage building served as the backdrop for the performances – varying from plays and concerts to later gladiator combats.
The Temple of Hadrian was erected by P. Quintilius in honour of Emperor Hadrian who arrived at the city in 128 AD.
It is a very well-preserved structure with Corinthian columns and Medusa depicted inside the arch. The friezes show the foundation of the city, Androcles defeating a wild boar, as well as Dionysus in procession. Nevertheless, these are all copies since the originals can be studied at the Ephesus Archaeological Museum.
The Hercules Gate (Heracles Gate) is located at the end of Curetes Street. Hercules was portrayed on the gate – hence the name. He is depicted with the skin of the mythological Nemean lion which he had killed, justifying his domain as the hero and god of strength and war.
The function of the gate may have been to limit the access to the city on the other side since it was too narrow for vehicles to pass. Today there are only parts of the columns left.
A marble relief of the Winged Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, is one of the famous artefacts that originally decorated the Hercules Gate. It can now be found in the Domitian Square. Nike holds a laurel wreath in her left hand and a palm branch in her right.
Odeon is a semi-circular theatre built in the 2nd century AD. It served many purposes such as being the setting for political meetings, theatrical performances, and musical concerts. The most important people were sitting in the lower section since the seats here were wider than the seats in the upper part of Odeon.
The construction could seat 1500 spectators and had a 2-storey stage building. Back in the day, the whole theatre was covered by a wooden roof.
Opposite the Temple of Hadrian, luxurious Roman villas were built on the hill slope as far back as in the 1st century BC as homes of wealthy Roman residents. The Terrace Houses are constructed on three terraces along the slopes. They were in use for at least eight centuries! Two of the restored houses can be visited today.
Inside the houses, there are beautiful mosaic floors and frescos around the interior courtyard (also known as a peristyle). Water systems and heating were quite well developed. An installation with clay pipes circulated warm air through the houses as heating.
Ephesus is today one of Christianity’s great places of pilgrimage. It is believed that the Virgin Mary has come to Ephesus together with the Apostle John after Jesus’s death.
The House of the Virgin Mary a bit outside Ephesus (in the vicinity of Selçuk) still exists and can be visited. This is supposed to be the place the Virgin Mary was taken to by St John and where she lived during her last years. It is today an important pilgrimage site – and several popes, including Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, have visited the House of the Virgin Mary.
Also, the famous ruins of the Basilica of St John in Selçuk can be visited.
Read next: Visit 7 Ancient Cities in Israel and Old City of Jerusalem
Ephesus Turkey – Famous Ancient City Ruins & Library of Celsus
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