Travel in any of the countries around the Mediterranean, dig a hole, and you will discover Roman ruins. Kusadasi, a picturesque port on the Turkish riviera, is the location of the ruins of Ephesus, a major city under Roman times and an important spot for Christians, Roman Catholics in particular. But our first impression on arrival was that we were in the Caribbean. Northern Europeans, especially those from Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, have found this spot and turned it into a vacation mecca. Since Turkey is not part of the European Union yet, it boasts affordable real estate and in this area, year round sunshine. No wonder the shoreline is loaded with vacation homes for those northerners who are weary of the cold weather at home. But the season is just about to come to and end. At the end of November all the hotels, restaurants, discos, and entertainment spots close until mid February when the action resumes. This gives the locals a chance to catch their breath, relax, and refurbish those facilities in need of a face lift.
Ours was the last cruise ship of the season and as we visited the ruins, we were besieged by enthusiastic entrepreneurs who were ready to give us a good price on an assortment of handicrafts items before they were about to close for the season. Although Ken gave in to the charms of the watch salesmen, whose shops boasted “real fake watches,” we were here to see those Roman ruins.
Ephesus was a thriving Roman port in the center of a number of wars, but what finally destroyed the city was a series of earthquakes. The river that took the ships to sea also gradually silted up and the city was no longer useful as a port. Legend has it that St. John brought the Virgin Mary here after Jesus was crucified and her home is an important destination for pilgrims. Probably John also wrote his Gospel here and a massive cathedral was built here to commemorate his death. Many of the building pieces originally came from the Roman ruins. But the cathedral too, suffered from earthquakes and while it was rebuilt a number of times, a visitor today must use his imagination to picture the massive structure from the few remaining columns and pieces of marble scattered all over the ground.
The most impressive sight in Ephesus is the Library of Celsus, which stands at the foot of a long column lined marble avenue. Two of its five stories have been restored. Two statues remain in the recesses on the facade; likely all the other recesses had such statues as well. The interior walls were designed to display 12,000 scrolls in niches, which protected them from humidity. Much of the amphitheater where St. Paul preached to the Ephesians has also been reconstructed. Music concerts have been held in the amphitheater in recent times, but they caused as much damage at the earthquakes and it has been turned back to the loving care of the archeologists. Most of the explanatory signs were in Turkish and German, and I was surprised to hear that the original discovery of the site and much of the early excavation was done by Austrians. Some of the best pieces have been taken away and are housed at the British Museum. Like the Greeks, the Turks are none to happy about this situation, but haven't figured out a way to get them back. There are also remains from the more mundane aspects of life. The public toilet which can accommodate ten buns seated right next to one another, is quite recognizable. Supposedly, Roman slaves sat on the toilets to warm up the cold stone for their masters, but you could argue that they had an advantage as the first ones to sit down...