Ephesus, Turkey: Details of an Ancient City

Marble streets. The third largest library in the ancient world. The most well-preserved Greco-Roman amphitheater today. These are just some of the treasures you’ll find in the ancient city of Ephesus.



On the Anatolian outskirts by the Aegean Sea, Efes (as it’s locally called) flourished under the vast Roman Empire. So it’s no wonder that, like nearby Hierapolis in Pamukkale, much of the ruins we find today at Efes Örenyeri (the Ephesus Archaeological Site), are Roman. The Romans, however, were not the original settlers here; legend has it that an Amazonian queen gave Efes its original name: Apasa. Etymologists source the word to Hittite origins, but archaeology tells us this was a Greek city. One might say that this, along with the nearby Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), supports the argument of an Amazonian settlement here since Artemis was the patron goddess of the warrior women.

The Efes we know today is a harmonious blend of its mixed heritage. Here’s an interesting facet of the ruins: in this snapshot of a temple (left), we see a thousand years of history –encompassing Greek, Roman, and Christian– in a single photograph. We also see a blend of the three classical Greek styles of architecture: Doric (look for the simple design on the columns), Ionic (see the swirls that look like a ram’s horns?), and Corinthian (find the leafy protrusions; this was generally a less-common design theme).



Last week, we took a cursory walk through the streets of ancient Efes and explored its highlights. Today, we take a deeper dive into the art and architecture enjoyed by the once-great city’s residents.

Ephesus, as we say in English, was filled with craftsmen and their patrons. Sculptors were high in demand, as evidenced by statues, reliefs, and stone carvings all around the metropolis. The marble roads today are still lined with pedestals that once supported sculptures of statesmen and aristocrats, and a roadside alley is stacked with countless more.



The marble avenues are rich with historical figures and legends from Greek mythology. Below left is the Greek goddess of victory, Nike. Do you see the swoosh? Would you believe me if I told you this mythical deity was an inspiration for the name of the athletic brand? Below right is the statue of Greek writer Xenophon (not to be confused with Xenophon the Socratic scholar). It is said that he came to Efes, found a city incredibly wary of strangers, and is the original source of the term “xenophobia” …although etymology doesn’t commonly support this theory.



Oh, here’s another popular symbol. Do you recognize it?




It’s the Rod of Asclepius – that is, the rod belonging to Asclepius, a Greek god of medicine and the healing arts. (Fun fact: The symbol is still used by healthcare entities today…as is the often-confused caduceus of Hermes). This marble slab indicates a hospital was located here; across the street was a pharmacy.

Farther down the street is the partially reconstructed Temple of Hadrian. Notice Medusa on the inner arch? She was actually believed to provide protection, not bring about a curse. Then there’s the Gate of Hercules. Don’t worry, there is no Nemean lion or three-headed dog named Cerberus beyond those pillars.



Let’s walk the marble path; it seems no matter what detours we take, we always end up back here. It’s starting to feel a little like Oz, except the yellow-brick road we’re following isn’t yellow at all – it’s time-tested marble. Can you imagine how much of the city’s financial reserves must have been invested in beautifying the roads and public spaces? For instance, the column-lined esplanades…



the reliefs on walls and water wells…



the details in an indoor theater’s seating, like steps decorated with lion paws…



even the cow gargoyles (only found in Efes) sitting atop the city wall. From an archeological perspective, it’s a very curious design element.



The city sprawls outward and upward,



across green spaces and narrow alleys,



past water fountains,



under arches and into temples.



Efes, Ephesus, Ephesos, Apasa. The city intertwines its contrasting legacies into a beautiful tapestry of history: Greek and Roman, Asian and European, pagan and Christian, mythology and reality, rise and ruin. It has thus far weathered centuries of prosperity, decline, and renown; may time not weather our remembrance of it.