As we pulled into the port of Izmir Turkey, I questioned our decision to visit the ancient ruins of Ephesus. Our time in port was limited, and after our disappointing excursion to Pompeii, our expectations were low. However, from the first moment we arrived, I knew we made the right choice. And then, we turned a corner and the impressive Ephesus library facade towered over us, seeming to challenge modern architecture to keep up with history.
The Greeks constructed portions of the ancient city of Ephesus as early as the 10th century BCE. It was home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Due to the passing of Attalos, King of Pergamon in 129 BCE the ancient city was bequeathed to the Roman Empire. 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 Ephesus library.
Today, we see only the facade of the masterpiece that once held over 12,000 scrolls and was home to the second school of philosophy in the Aegean. Fire destroyed 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.
An interesting bit of Ephesus library history:
Apparently, there was a tunnel leading from the Ephesus library to a brothel/drinking establishment. Do you think the ancient Roman men announced a visit to the library then headed for some sordid fun?
Other Buildings at Ephesus
I often wonder how the Greeks and Romans built this so long ago. Even with modern equipment today, there is rarely this much detail and craftsmanship put into construction.
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Christianity in Ephesus
Fire destroyed much of the Temple of Artemis in 356 BCE. Nearly 800 years later Christianity had become the dominant religion of the region. Emperor Theodosius forbid worship of the goddess Artemis. A Christian mob destroyed what remained of the Temple of Artemis. Today only a single column remains. Unfortunately, our tour didn’t have time to visit any of these sites.
Practical Information on Ephesus Library and the Ruins:
- The ancient city has two entrances. Enter at the Magnesia gate and as a result, 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 5.30pm.
- If it’s a hot day be sure to bring a water bottle or buy one at the shops at either entrance.
- The nearby Ephesus Archaeological Museum is home to the statue of Artemis, recovered from the Temple of Artemis.
- We arrived at Izmir via cruise ship and took an excursion to the ancient city. It is about an hour’s drive from Izmir to Ephesus. We found Rick Steves’ Mediterranean Cruise Ports book to be very helpful in deciding what to do at each port.
- If you are arriving via cruise ship there will be excursion options or save some money on an excursion from Viator (a TripAdvisor company). Many of their tours offer a worry-free shore excursion guarantee, so you know they will get you back to the ship.
- 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.
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