Ephesus, Turkey

This Ephesus travel guide is a step-by-step tour of an ancient Greek and Roman city. Walk among the ruins while sensing the prosperity of this former grand capital of Asia Minor and the site of a Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This UNESCO world Heritage Site is captivating!

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Introduction to Ancient Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

1 Introduction to Ancient Ephesus, Turkey

Two thousand years ago, Ephesus was the largest port on the Aegean Sea and the primary trade link between the Mediterranean and Asia. It was also the Roman capital of Asia Minor, second only to Rome in size and prestige. The city glistened with grand architecture, monuments to emperors and gods plus roads all built with marble. There were lavish bathhouses, theaters and marketplaces. Three Apostles and the Virgin Mary lived here. The largest temple was among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ephesus epitomized Roman riches and world dominance at the apex of success. Now, everything is in ruins like this Library of Celsus. But Ephesus remains a fascinating window into ancient history. You will be thrilled during your visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Harbor Street in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

2 Harbor Street in Ephesus, Turkey

Harbor Street was once the flamboyant promenade from the port into city center. The one-third mile walkway was flanked by a dramatic colonnade lined with shops. Beneath your feet was polished white marble. No doubt this was an impressive entry for first time visitors. You will be equally intrigued. But today, the name Harbor Street is a misnomer. The sea is now about six miles from the end of this road (also called Arcadian Street). The reason? The former port first filled with silt from the River Caystros before becoming a swamp and then land. This natural retreating of the harbor was one of the causes of Ephesus’ decline.

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Vedius Gymnasium in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

3 Vedius Gymnasium in Ephesus, Turkey

Near the east end of Harbor Street are the ruins of Vedius Gymnasium (also called Theater Gymnasium). This prestigious high school and training center was built in the mid-2nd century with an elaborate courtyard, marble columns, mosaics, statues and a major bath complex. The facility was dedicated to the goddess Artemis. The namesake and benefactor was Publius Vedius Antoninus. In 145 AD, he was recognized by Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (reign 138 – 161) for his considerable philanthropy to the city’s infrastructure. After Vedius Gymnasium closed in the mid-5th century, it was looted and finally destroyed by fire in the early 6th century.

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Great Theatre in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

4 Great Theatre in Ephesus, Turkey

Harbor Street culminates at the Great Theatre of Ephesus. The size is a dramatic 475 feet wide and nearly 100 feet tall. The three tiers contain sixty-six rows of seats with a capacity for 24,000 people. The Greeks began construction in the 4th century BC during the Hellenistic period. The Romans expanded the theatre several times from the mid-1st century through the 2nd century AD. The Great Theatre is once again a venue for concerts. Modern performers have included Madonna, Elton John, Sting, Diana Ross and Joan Baez.

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Marble Street in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

5 Marble Street in Ephesus, Turkey

After admiring the Great Theatre at the base of Panayir Hill, turn right onto Marble Street. The white marble pavement adorned with columns and sculptures originated in the 1st century and was extensively refurbished 400 years later. Marble Street was the city’s most important road. It was also part of the Sacred Way leading to the Temple of Artemis. Along your half mile walk, you will pass lots of broken architectural elements in an open field measuring nearly 130,000 square feet. This was the Commercial Agora. The Greek word means gathering place or marketplace. The largest of the two agoras in Ephesus was initially constructed during the Hellenistic period (began in Ephesus in 292 BC), doubled in size by the Romans in the 1st century and enhanced through the early 3rd century. The Commercial Agora was a center for world trade, a major slave market and contained retailers plus political offices.

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Ancient Brothel Advertisement in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

6 Ancient Brothel Advertisement in Ephesus, Turkey

Watch for this slab at the end of Marble Street. The etchings are an ancient advertisement for the world’s oldest profession. Arriving sailors eagerly understood the symbols. Perhaps you need a translation. If you want love (heart top left) of a woman (lower right), turn left (left foot) at the intersection (cross above foot). This short-term affection will cost you (purse lower right). This slab helped archeologists uncover the ruins of the nearby brothel. They also discovered a tunnel between the Library of Celsus and the brothel. This was presumably a discrete way to get into and out of the house of pleasure. The ruins of the brothel are partially seen in the previous photo.

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Library of Celsus and Gate of Mazeus in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

7 Library of Celsus and Gate of Mazeus in Ephesus, Turkey

You are standing at the visual crescendo of your visit. Stare and savor the moment. Join the crowd in taking endless photos. On the left is the Library of Celsus. On the right is the Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates. Together, they reflect the grandeur of ancient Ephesus at the peak of success. Now, reflect on all the broken columns and building parts you have seen so far scattered around in piles. Imagine what they must have looked like about two thousand years ago. You are finally understanding the grandeur of this former Roman city.

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Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

8 Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates in Ephesus, Turkey

The three-arched Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates at the terminus of Marble Street is magnificent. Notice the intricate carved friezes above the architrave. Near the top are Latin inscriptions. They are a dedication to Caesar Augustus. He was the first Roman emperor from 27 BC to 14 AD and a major benefactor to the city. The words call him the son of god and the greatest of the priests. The gate is named after the architects, Mazeus and Mithridates. They were slaves until freed by the emperor and sent to Ephesus to manage Roman properties. In appreciation for their emancipation and resulting wealth, the pair built this tribute to their former master in 40 AD.

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Library of Celsus in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

9 Library of Celsus in Ephesus, Turkey

You will never forget your initial excitement when seeing the Library of Celsus. The single room measured 35.8 by 54.8 feet and contained over 12,000 scrolls. This was one of the largest collections of manuscripts in the world. The namesake is Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. Everyone called him Celsus. He was born in Ephesus. His rise through the Roman Empire included positions as a senator and later governor of Asia Minor. He bequeathed funding for the library which doubled as his mausoleum. The project was completed by his son in 117 AD. In the niches are four allegorical statues representing the characteristics of Celsus. The Four Virtues replicas are left to right: Sophia (wisdom), Arete (valor), Ennoia (intelligence) and Episteme (knowledge). The library ceased operations at the end of the 4th century. Restoration occurred in the 1970s.

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Hadrian’s Gate in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

10 Hadrian’s Gate in Ephesus, Turkey

Hadrian’s Gate was built in 117 AD, the same year the neighboring Library of Celsus was finished. The three-level marble monument was originally an impressive 54.5 feet tall and 37.4 feet wide. Construction began while Trajan was Roman emperor (98 – 117) then dedicated to his successor Hadrian. The emperor visited Ephesus three times during his reign (117 to 138) in 124, 129 and 131. These fluted Corinthian and Ionic columns supporting architrave fragments were uncovered in 1904 and raised in the mid-1980s. You have to imagine the grand arch that previously occupied the middle.

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Curetes Street in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

11 Curetes Street in Ephesus, Turkey

This third major road is Curetes Street. The word means priest. They led religious processions along this route to the Temple of Artemis. Curetes Street began about 2,200 years ago during the Hellenistic period and was enhanced by the Romans. The marble stones concealed an elaborate drainage system. If you notice the mismatched columns, you have a keen eye. After a 4th century earthquake, repairs were made using columns from around the city. Curetes Street starts at the Library of Celsus (background). There are plenty of ancient treasures awaiting you along this .6 mile walk.

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Hadrian’s Temple in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

12 Hadrian’s Temple in Ephesus, Turkey

Hadrian’s Gate that you just saw was finished in 117 AD, the year Hadrian became Roman emperor. The tribute was probably meant for his predecessor Trajan. Construction of Hadrian’s Temple was completed in 138, the same year the emperor died at the age of 62. He was deified posthumously. Historians consider him one of the Five Good Emperors. They collectively ruled from 96 through 180 AD. The hollow façade of Hadrian’s Temple on Curetes Street is worthy of the emperor’s 21 year reign. Four marble Corinthian columns support a bold archway with a bas-relief of Tyche, the Greek goddess of good and bad fortune. The Roman equivalent was Fortuna. The frieze also portrays key moments in Ephesus’ history plus images of Apollo and Athena. Set back is a large, crescent-shaped carving of Medusa. According to Greek mythology, her curly hair was venomous snakes. Anyone who dared look at her was turned to stone.

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Scholastica Baths in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

13 Scholastica Baths in Ephesus, Turkey

An essential element of Roman culture was the bathhouse. They were the epicenter of social life and relaxation. The complexes tended to be large and lavish. The facilities included exercise rooms, a large open-air pool plus hot (caldarium), warm (tepidarium) and cool (frigidarium) rooms with plunge baths. Slaves regulated temperatures by monitoring hot air and water generated from a furnace and delivered through clay pipes (hypocaust system). Private cabins like this were reserved for messages and physical treatments. There was also a library, a gathering hall and outdoor garden. This thermae in Ephesus was constructed during the 1st century. Extensive renovations in the 4th century were funded by a wealthy philanthropist. Since then, the facilities bore her name: Scholastica Baths.

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14 Mosaic Floor at Scholastica Baths in Ephesus, Turkey

As you survey the Scholastica Baths ruins, it is hard to picture the superb interior at the height of glory befitting the city’s exalted status. But surely you have seen movies of ancient Rome featuring opulent bathhouses. White marble everywhere, delicate friezes along ceilings decorated with frescos, lifelike statues and intricate mosaic floors. Similar ornate décor filled three levels of Scholastica Baths. If you want to see more intricate mosaic flooring, visit the Terraces Houses directly across from Scholastica Baths. These were the homes of the rich and social elite. The oldest was constructed in the 1st century BC.

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15 Public Toilets in Ephesus, Turkey

You might snicker when you see 48 toilet holes cut into three marble benches adjacent to Scholastica Baths. These were public toilets for men (the women’s version remains undiscovered). The latrine was used by the poor who could not afford their own facilities. Yet, they were given unexpected luxuries such as mosaic floors, running water, a temperature-controlled room (cooled in summer, heated in the winter) and cleaning tools consisting of a sponge on a stick (xylospongium). At the other extreme, the wealthy had running water and sewerage at home. Some required their slaves to warm the toilet seats before using them.

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History of Ancient Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

16 History of Ancient Ephesus, Turkey

The area encircling Ephesus has an 8,000 year history! Human traces have been found from the Neolithic Age (6000 BC). During the Bronze Age, female warriors (Amazons) created the Kingdom of Arzawa. In the 10th century BC, Androklos, the prince of Athens, formed an Ionian settlement. After King Croesus of Lydia conquered the city in 560 BC, he built the second Temple of Artemis. The Persians ended his rule 13 years later and Alexander the Great conquered them in 334 BC. The Ionian’s prosperity was then thwarted by the silting of the harbor. In 287 BC, King Lysimachus flooded out the residents, forcing them to move to the present location of ancient Ephesus. The new city exchanged hands several times for about 150 years until the Roman Empire took control in 129 BC. Now Ephesus began to flourish in population, wealth and world trade. The pinnacle was under Augustus (reign 27 BC to 14 AD) when he made this the capital of Asia Minor. Many of the ruins you see today stem from this era and the following century. The decline began in 262 AD when the Goths destroyed Ephesus. Although there were periods of renewal, the deterioration was hastened by a series of attacks, earthquakes and the unstoppable silting of the harbor. Ephesus was finally abandoned in the 15th century. Why wasn’t the city looted for its abundant building materials? Malaria. The retreating harbor became a swamp filled with disease-carrying mosquitoes.

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Trajan’s Fountain in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

17 Trajan’s Fountain in Ephesus, Turkey

Another magnificent monument honors Trajan. The benevolent emperor maximized the geographic size of the Roman Empire during his reign from 98 – 117. The Fountain of Trajan was surrounded by a 66 by 33 foot reflection pond plus a smaller pool at the base. The water was supplied by a 24 mile aqueduct. In the center of Trajan’s Fountain was a 13 foot sculpture of Trajan. Only his foot was recovered. Beneath it is a globe indicating his world dominance. Several other statues are displayed at the Ephesus Museum in Selçuk. Trajan’s Fountain was devasted by an earthquake in 362 AD.

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18 Marble Pedestals on Curetes Street in Ephesus, Turkey

On the north side of Curetes Street are marble pedestals between the columns. Each one bears the name of an ancient benefactor. These people were immortalized with their statue standing on the bases. Only the headless likeness of Alexandros remains (lower left). He was a prominent physician. At this point, Curetes Street narrows at Hercules Gate. The tribute to the Roman god of incredible strength was created in the 2nd century and moved here two hundred years later. Since then, the path through uptown was pedestrian-only.

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Domitian Temple at Domitian Square in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

19 Domitian Temple at Domitian Square in Ephesus, Turkey

You have now entered Domitian Square. There is a lot to admire here, so take your time. The plaza is named after the Temple of Domitian. Not much remains of the former two-story structure measuring 164 by 328 feet. Domitian’s authoritarian and autocratic rule (81 – 96 AD) caused hatred among the Roman senators, resulting in his assassination. When he was denounced afterwards, this temple was renamed Vespasian in honor of Domitian’s father.

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Memmius Monument at Domitian Square in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

20 Memmius Monument at Domitian Square in Ephesus, Turkey

Also in Domitian Square is the Memmius Monument. It represents victory over a brutal enemy of the Roman Republic. In 88 BC, Mithridates VI of Pontus masterminded the slaughter of over 80,000 Roman citizens in Asia Minor. The one-day event is called Asiatic Vespers. This sparked three successive Mithridatic Wars. Roman general Sulla (and later the dictator of Rome) defeated Mithridates in the first campaign and liberated Ephesus in 86 BC. To commemorate his grandfather, Memmius erected this tribute during the 1st century AD. The monument originally displayed reliefs portraying Sulla’s greatness and the heroism of his army. Left behind are sculptures of Sulla and Caius, the father of Memmius and also a Roman general.

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21 Nike Carving at Domitian Square in Ephesus, Turkey

Before leaving Domitian Square, look for this triangular carving of Nike. The winged Greek goddess is portrayed clutching an olive wreath in her left hand (symbolizing victory) and a palm branch in the other (representing peace). The marble slab was originally part of Hercules Gate.

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Prytaneion in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

22 Prytaneion in Ephesus, Turkey

In ancient Greece, a building housing the seat of local government was called a prytaneion. Basically, the equivalent of a city hall. Another name used in Ephesus was the Palace of Council. The Prytaneion was constructed in the 3rd century BC and rebuilt 2,000 years ago. In the central hall was an eternal flame honoring Hestia, the virgin goddess of the hearth. The initial source of the flame came from Mount Olympus, Greece’s tallest mountain and home of the gods. The fire was maintained by priests (curetes). Several of their names are etched into the columns.

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Marble Everywhere in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

23 Marble Everywhere in Ephesus, Turkey

One of the most impressive aspects about ancient Ephesus is the abundance of marble. It is everywhere … on the streets, statues, columns, stadiums and buildings. During the summer, the marble reflects the sunshine and radiates with heat. Most of the stones are white. But a spectrum of colors is on display. Typically, this material is reserved for the world’s most impressive architecture. So, why is there so much marble in Ephesus and where did it come from? The surrounding area is rich with marble. It was first used for the Temple of Artemis in the 6th century BC. The challenge then was transporting, sculpting and smoothing the material. The techniques became more advanced over the centuries. A main quarry in nearby Belevi was harvested through the 6th century. Other local quarries were also used. Mining was so productive that marble became a major export from Ephesus.

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Early Christianity in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

24 Early Christianity in Ephesus, Turkey

Ephesus was a thriving Roman city during the life of Christ. After His death, the Apostles fanned out to spread his message. Saint John retreated to Ephesus to write the Gospel of John and four other books in the New Testament while also watching over the Virgin Mary. He was buried here in 98 AD. Saint Paul lived in the city for more than two years to denounce the worship of the goddess Artemis. His preaching incited a riot near the Great Theatre. He also wrote letters to the Ephesians until his execution in Rome. A frequent missionary companion of Paul was Saint Luke the Evangelist. Some speculate his grave is near Magnesian Gate. Lastly, the Virgin Mary resided in Ephesus from the age of 54 to 63. You can visit the House of the Virgin Mary (Meryemana Evi) about four miles away.

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Odeon Theatre in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

25 Odeon Theatre in Ephesus, Turkey

Adjacent to the Prytaneion is Odeon Theatre. The primary purpose of the semi-circular structure was a bouleuterion. This is Greek for an assembly hall for city council members or legislators (boule). The facility doubled as an odeum, meaning a venue for concerts. These performances were on an intimate scale compared to the Great Theatre. Odeon Theatre was shielded by a wooden roof when built in 144 AD. The arched passage is a vomitorium. The name stems from vomit, the Greek word for mouth. Construction of Odeon Theatre was financed by local philanthropist Publius Vedius Antoninus. The theatre was shattered during a large earthquake in 614 AD.

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Odeon Theatre Seating in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

26 Odeon Theatre Seating in Ephesus, Turkey

The seating in a Roman theatre is called cavea. There were typically three tiers. The level closest to the stage and orchestra was ima cavea (the marble rows). Major politicians and the very wealthy sat here. Next, the media cavea was reserved seating for the upper and middle classes. Finally, the poor and women sat in the summa cavea (ancient equivalent of the nosebleed section). The Odeon Theatre only had a capacity for 1,500 people, so these tiers are less pronounced. The seating chart by social class is more evident in the Great Theatre.

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Basilica Stoa Columns in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

27 Basilica Stoa Columns in Ephesus, Turkey

At this point you are probably very hot and would welcome shade. If you had visited 2,000 years ago, you would not have that problem. These Ionic columns are a few of the 67 columns previously supporting the Basilica Stoa (Royal Colonnade). The sheltered walkway was 525 feet long, had three aisles, two levels and was paved with marble. This elaborate passage in uptown connected major buildings in the north (such as the Prytaneion, Odeon Theatre and Upper Gymnasium) with the State Agora (marketplace) in the south. The Basilica Stoa was constructed in 11 AD.

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Upper Baths in Ephesus, Turkey - Encircle Photos

28 Upper Baths in Ephesus, Turkey

The last archeological site to appreciate are these triple arches at the base of Mount Pion. They were bathing rooms in the Upper Baths (often mistakenly referred to as the Baths of Varius). The facilities included a wrestling school (palaestra) – an important sport in Greek and Roman cultures – plus the Upper Gymnasium. The Upper Baths Complex dates from the 2nd century AD.

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29 Final Admiration of Ephesus, Turkey

Your tour of Ephesus is ending. Before you exit through the southern gate, take a final glance at the fascinating ruins of this ancient city. When you turn around, you will walk through the barren remains of the State Agora. The rectangular-shaped land (equivalent to a forum) measures 525 by 240 feet. The piles of broken marble bely the former importance of this marketplace, public plaza and center for political speeches. In the 1st century BC, a temple also stood here honoring the Egyptian goddess Isis. The Romans later installed a cistern for drinking water delivered though clay pipes from an aqueduct. The first agora dates back to the 6th century BC. Subsequent ones were built in the 1st century BC, plus the 3rd and 4th centuries AD.

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Resting Warrior at Ephesus Museum in Selçuk, Turkey - Encircle Photos

30 Resting Warrior at Ephesus Museum in Selçuk, Turkey

Reserve time to visit the Ephesus Archaeological Museum in Selçuk, a town about two miles from the ancient ruins. The artifacts date back to the Mycenaean period (1600 – 1100 BC). Most of the recovered items span from the 4th century BC through the 15th century AD. The displays are outstanding. An example is the Resting Warrior. The sculpture was discovered near the State Agora at the site of Pollio Fountain. The cenotaph for C. Sextilius Pollio was erected in 97 AD.

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Trajan’s Fountain Statues at Ephesus Museum in Selçuk, Turkey - Encircle Photos

31 Trajan’s Fountain Statues at Ephesus Museum in Selçuk, Turkey

The items on display at the Ephesus Archaeological Museum (Efes Müzesi) range from statues, busts, carvings, pottery, coins, architectural friezes and sarcophagi. They are arranged by location of discovery. These two sculptures were recovered from the Fountain of Trajan. On the left is a Roman lady. On the right is Dionysus, the Greek god of fertility and wine. The Roman equivalent was Bacchus.

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32 Goddess Artemis Statue in Ephesus Museum in Selçuk, Turkey

The highlight of the Ephesus Museum is the Hall of Artemis Ephesia. There you will admire statues of Artemis, the Greek goddess of hunting and chastity. She is typically portrayed as a hunter. But the Lady of Ephesus is adorned with multiple breasts symbolizing her fertility. This 5.75 foot marble statue was named Artemis the Beautiful when discovered in 1956. It was sculpted during the 2nd century AD. The larger version is Colossal Artemis from the 1st century.

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33 Historic Landmarks in Selçuk, Turkey

There are four historic landmarks visible from this open field in Selçuk about three miles from Ephesus. Your eyes are immediately attracted to the castle. Archeologists hypothesize people lived on this elevated position since the Bronze Age (over 4,000 years ago). Evidence from the 8th century BC also suggests this was the first location of Ephesus. Ayasuluk Fortress (locally called Ayasuluk Kalesi) originated in the 6th century AD during the Byzantine Era and was abandoned in the 18th century. Also on Ayasuluk Hill is the Basilica of St. John (upper right). The church was built in 565 AD and has been in ruins since the 14th century. Many believe this is the site of John the Apostle’s tomb. He lived in Ephesus while taking care of the Virgin Mary during the last years of her life. On the left is Isa Bey Mosque. The impressive Muslim structure was finished in 1375 during the Ottoman Era by İsa Bey, a member of the Aydınid dynasty. The most famous landmark is the least obvious: the two columns. This is where the Temple of Artemis stood. The first version was built in the Bronze Age and flooded in the 7th century BC. The second iteration was finished about 550 BC. The grand Greek temple was set ablaze in 356 BC by Herostratus, a madman who wanted his name etched in history. The third version began in 323 BC. It resembled the Parthenon but was more than twice the size at 450 by 225 feet. The Temple of Artemis was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was heavily damaged by the Goths in 268 AD and eventually closed in the early 5th century. Scant remnants remain.

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