The ruins of Ephesus Turkey are filled with inspiring examples of ancient craftsmanship; however, none compare to the masterpiece that is the Ephesus Library of Celsus. Towering over the rest of the ruins, the remaining facade is enough to impress even the most apathetic of travellers.
The Greeks constructed portions of the ancient city of Ephesus as early as the 10th century BCE. It was passed to the Romans after the death of Attalos the King of Pergamon in 129 BCE.
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First view of the Library of Celsus
From a distance, we could spot the impressive Ephesus Library of Celsus towering over the ruins, yet its true grandeur became apparent when we got closer. In truth, every building at Ephesus seems to challenge modern architecture to keep up with history.
Despite the crowds, walking down Curetes Street is enchanting. This is the same marble road once walked by Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. Curetes Street is one of the three main streets of Ephesus and it connects the Gate of Hercules with the Ephesus Library of Celsus.
Construction of the Ephesus library began in 114 AD to honour the Roman Senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. He lies in rest in a decorated marble sarcophagus in a mausoleum built under the structure, thus giving it the name Ephesus library of Celsus.
Ideally, we would have arrived at 8 am when the ancient ruins open, and we might have avoided some of the crowds. But despite how it looks, we could always hear our guide.
Ephesus Library of Celsus
Today, we see only the facade of the Ephesus library. The architectural masterpiece once held over 12,000 scrolls and was home to the second school of philosophy in the Aegean. Fire gutted the library’s interior, including the books, in 262 AD. An earthquake later destroyed the remaining facade. Archaeologists re-erected the ruins in the 1970s.
Apparently, there was a tunnel leading from the Ephesus library to a brothel/drinking establishment. Perhaps it offered a sordid study break.
Other key sites at the Ephesus ruins
I often wonder how the Greeks and Romans built this so long ago. Even with today’s modern equipment, there is rarely this much detail and craftsmanship put into construction.
The Trajan Fountain was built in the 2nd century AD and was dedicated to Emperor Trajan.
Temple of Hadrian
The Temple of Hadrian in Ephesus is one of the most well-preserved buildings of the ancient city.
Market Basilica arcade
Both commercial activities and meetings of the law courts were conducted at the 160m long Market Basilica arcade.
The Great Ephesus Theater held up to 25,000 spectators.
Visiting Ephesus from a cruise port
The ancient city of Ephesus is a popular excursion from the cruise ports of Izmir (1-hour drive) or Kusadasi (25-minute drive). The best ways to get to Ephesus are:
- Excursion organized by the ship: This is the easiest option, as the ship arranges everything, including a local guide, and guarantees to get you back on board even if the tour runs late. The downside is often larger group size and higher costs.
- Independent tours: Many local tour companies offer cruise excursions that pick up and drop off passengers at the cruise port. The advantages over the ship’s excursions are usually smaller groups, more personal attention, and lower cost. Many offer the same guarantee to get you back on board. The disadvantage is the need to arrange your own tour (often as easy as an online form) and the potential loss if the ship cancels a port.
- Do it yourself: Many passengers hire drivers or take public buses at ports. The advantage is more control of the venues seen. The disadvantage is that private drivers often cost more than independent tours, and there are no guarantees. Plus, in the case of Izmir to Ephesus, the public transportation option is difficult, even for Turkish speakers.
Ephesus library isn’t the only intricate craftmanship detail
The images below are:
- Possibly one of the rooms in a brothel.
- These latrines were the public toilets of the city and they were not free to use.
- Mosaic floor tiles still exist in areas. They remind me of the Ancient Roman mosaics we saw in Volubilis, Morocco.
Recommended Ephesus excursions and tours
While there are other options from either port, we recommend Ephesus. It is one of the most amazing places we have visited.
Tours From Kusadasi
- Ephesus Sightseeing Tour: This top-rated 8-hour shore excursion takes you through the ancient city of Ephesus, as well as to the home of the Virgin Mary and the Basilica of St. John. It’s covered by Viator’s worry-free shore excursion guarantee.
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- Tour of Ephesus, House of Virgin Mary & Artemis Temple: This 7-hour tour starts at your Kusadasi hotel and visits the ancient city, the home of Virgin Mary, and the Temple of Artemis.
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Tours from Izmir:
- Ephesus, House of Virgin Mary, and Artemis Shore Excursion: This 9-hour tour begins and ends at your ship. You will tour the ancient city of Ephesus, seeing all its major sites including the Ephesus Library, visit the final resting place of the Virgin Mary, and see the Temple of Artemis.
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- Best of Ephesus Guided Tour: This 9-hour private tour puts you in control of what sites you will see. Discuss with your expert local guide and then follow the plan.
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Practical information on Ephesus Library of Celsus and the ruins:
- The ancient city has two entrances. If you enter at the Magnesia gate, you will walk downhill and exit at the lower Hercules gate.
- Allocate two hours to see the ruins.
- The ruins open daily at 8 am, closing in summer at 7.30 pm and in winter at 5.30 pm.
- If it’s a hot day, be sure to bring a water bottle or buy one in the shops at either entrance.
- If you are spending the night in Turkey, consider staying in one of the 78 accommodation options in nearby Selcuk. In the morning, you can walk or often borrow a bicycle from the hotel to ride to the site.
Other key sites in Ephesus
- Temple of Artemis: The Temple of Artemis is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Fire destroyed much of the Temple of Artemis in 356 BCE. Nearly 800 years later, Christianity had become the dominant religion of the region and Emperor Theodosius forbid the worship of the goddess Artemis. A Christian mob destroyed what remained of the Temple of Artemis. Today, only a single column remains.
- Ephesus Archaeological Museum is home to the statue of Artemis, recovered from the Temple of Artemis.
- House of Mary: Early Christians frequently visited the city of Ephesus. Here we can visit the house in which the Virgin Mary lived after the crucifixion. It has been recognized by the Vatican as the final resting place of the Virgin Mary.
- Basilica Saint John and also the tomb of the evangelic Saint John.
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In Turkey, we also visited Istanbul.