Great civilizations once thrived along the Aegean coast, where they built magnificent cities with grand buildings.
After sailing overnight from Istanbul through the Dardanelles and south along the coast of Asia Minor, we arrived in the ancient Turkish seaside resort of Kusadasi.
A popular holiday spot on the eastern shores of the Aegean Sea, Kusadasi was once a small fishing village and gateway to some of the most important cultures on earth. In fact, this part of Asia Minor dates back more than 10 centuries B.C., and boasts links to many civilizations including the Lelegians, Carians, Dorians, Greeks and Romans.
Named for the old fortified “Bird or Pigeon Island” just off its coast, Kusadasi is today a large town with a bustling bazaar, a pretty waterfront dotted with cafes, and lots of hotels overlooking beautiful beaches. But as tempting as life in Kusadasi can be, most visitors come to see the region’s amazing history, which includes one of the best preserved classical ruins in the eastern Mediterranean just a 20-km drive from town.
The Amazons, Lydians, Greeks, and Persians all ruled Ephesus at various points, but it was the Romans who made the city into the “first and greatest metropolis of Asia” in 27 AD. At the time, the city had outdoor lights, public toilets and a population approaching 250,000. It also had world’s first outdoor advertisement – a footprint and heart carved into the pavement on Marble Street pointing the way to the local brothel!
Today, there is a wonderful museum in Ephesus with many beautiful works, including the Statue of Artemis. In addition, there are nearly 50 structures in the old city including the Library of Celsus, the Great Theatre, and the Corinthian-style Temple of Hadrian.
We took one of the ship’s shore excursions to Ephesus because it was reasonably priced (US$75), and it really helps to have a guide who can explain the history and significance of the various statues, arches, facilities and buildings.
Our tour began at the top of Kurets Street, a stone pathway that starts at the Odeion concert hall and runs past the ruins of several beautiful buildings including Domitian Square, Trajan’s Fountain, Hadrian’s Temple and the Skolastikia Bath. The latter was originally a two-storey building with hot (Tepidarium) and cold (Frigidarium) water baths, a massage parlour, and public toilets with running water.
At the end of Kurets Street, we arrived at the city’s main square and the ruins of the magnificent Library of Celsus which was built in the 2nd century A.D. Constructed over the tomb of the Roman Senator who governed Ephesus, the two-storey façade of the library is supported by eight columns, and features three recessed statues representing the virtues of Celsus.
After touring the library, we walked along a beautiful section of street known as “The Marble Street” because it is totally covered with white marble. The street goes from Hadrian’s Gate to the Great Theatre, where St. Paul once preached to 25,000 spectators during a visit. Built into the side of a hill, the present shape of the theatre dates back to the rein of the Roman Emperor Domitian, and represents one of the finest outdoor theatres of its kind.
Our tour concluded with a show by a local theatre company that featured the types of acts that would have entertained the local citizenry some two centuries ago – dancers, jugglers, musicians and jesters. As we watched them perform in period costumes with the Great Theatre as their backdrop, it felt for a moment like we had gone back in time. Back to the days when great civilizations thrived on the eastern shores of the Aegean, and built magnificent cities filled with great beauty.
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