09 May 2014 | Ephesus, Turkey
I admit, I'm actually having a difficult time getting around to writing this blurb about our trip to Ephesus, because it was so cool. I'm sure that makes sense. Sometimes the words that come out after such an experience are so full of flourish and superlative, it sounds almost idiotic.
So. Ephesus: Amazing. Expansive. Eye-popping. Magnificent. The scale of it all is a bit unfathomable, like so many of the ancient civilizations around the world that are only partially unearthed: we see but a fraction of the picture, and to imagine how it looked in it's heyday is quite a mental task, especially these advanced cultures with underground plumbing and big libraries and stuff.
Underground plumbing! Steam baths! Gender-separate loo's! Like most Roman and Greek cities of it's time, the bath was an important part of the culture, and was located near the entrance. This meant all the visitors to the city arrived clean. Our guide told us that newcomers were also sent to the hospital for a checkup, to be sure they weren't importing communicable diseases. How lovely! If they weren't all so aggressive and full of the urge to conquer each other, I'd say parts of that ancient realm definitely had it going on.
We apparently started at the wrong end of the site, near where all the tourists end their walk downhill through Ephesus, which, it turns out, was a good thing. We hired an official guide at the exit gate, (there are plenty of unofficial guides who want to drag you off to carpet store after) and he shared his knowledge all the way up and around to the upper gate, where we paid him and parted ways. After a cool glass of fresh-squished pomegranate juice in the shade and a visit from a friendly pregnant kitty, we started back down, this time at our own pace, augmenting our knowledge with the Lonely Planet Guide. We spent about 30 minutes in the Terraced Houses, an add-on to the base ticket price and well worth the extra $7.50.
Six of the thousands of terraced houses have been excavated, and are still in the process of detailed reconstruction. The entire complex of rooms and houses is protected by a huge structure built about 15 years ago, and has people throughout working on restoration. When you see someone with what looks like a dental pick working meticulously on a 1" square of tile, you get a sense of the massive job of restoration it would take to put Ephesus back together. So far, about 20% of the city has been excavated. In the spaces between structures that have been reconstructed - the amphitheater, library, baths, etc., there are piles and piles of neatly stacked building components: Doric, Corinthian and Ionic columns, pilasters, lintels and doorways, blocks and pavers, plaques, tiles, and more. It was a kick for a yard sale junkie like me, with the feel if a salvage yard: wander through and take your pick!
At it's height around 0 (that's somewhere between BC and AD) Ephesus had over 250,000 people. Driving back to Marmaris Harbor that evening, we passed through a town that listed its population as 62,000. Looking at how spread out that town was, I realized how extensive Ephesus must have been. In the terraces we saw 6 homes that might accommodate a total of about 25 people; that leaves 249,975 residents, slaves, and transients that lived in palaces, homes, and apartments.
It's all quite extraordinary, and somewhat humbling when you realize how many ancient cultures like this are gone, buried beneath millennia of dust. Where will we be in 1000 years? Will anyone marvel at our libraries and plumbing systems, or the staggering number of McDonalds and Starbucks they find under it all?
By the time we wandered back to the bottom gate, it was nearing 5pm. Most of the tour busses had loaded and left, and we almost had the place to ourselves, leaving us a few minutes of quiet to sink our minds back 2000 years and see Antony and Cleopatra (who visited several times) arriving while shoppers wandered along the wide marble street, shopping for silks, spices, and other goodies.
It's definitely the kind of place you could visit several times, and because we went up and back, we've already seen it twice!
(We are standing in front of the magnificent library in the picture above, which literally takes your breath away the first time you see it.)