Episode 252 – Ephesus, Turkey

April 16, 2022. 73°F/23°C

#myvikingstory

We docked today in the port of Kusadasi Turkey, a picturesque city port where we were greeted by Turkish dancers. Honestly, every country we’ve visited has been SO glad to see a cruise ship back in their ports after two years of COVID19 restrictions. We’ve received the warmest of welcomes everywhere.

But, our exploration of ancient sites beckoned, so on to Ephesus.

If the name of this city isn’t familiar to you for its ruins, perhaps “Ephesians” will ring a bell from its New Testament references. The city was an important centre for early Christianity. Paul ‘s 1st Letter to the Corinthians, and the Gospel of John, were both written here in Ephesus in the first century A.D. , and Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians was written while he was imprisoned in Rome. It’s another reminder that we are travelling through the “Holy Lands”, with significance to all 3 of the world’s largest modern religions: Christianity (since the first century A.D.), Islam (founded in the early 7th century) , and Judaism (dating from the Bronze Age), as well as a place where for centuries Greek and Roman gods were worshipped. How fitting that we are here in this place while all three of the current major monotheistic religions are celebrating: Easter, Passover, and Ramadan.

Ephesus is one of the largest Roman archaeological sites in the world, and an easy 30 minute drive from the cruise ship port at Kusadasi where we were docked for the day. Archeological digs were begun here in 1863, funded by the British Museum, but abandoned 11 years later due to what was felt at the time to be a lack of significant finds. The ongoing digs here are being done by the Austrian Archeological Institute, who took over funding excavation of the site in 1895 and have not stopped since, with the exception of a short hiatus between 2016 and 2018 while the Austrian and Turkish governments resolved some political issues.

We did the included walking tour this morning, since it touched on the ancient sites we wanted to see. Ephesus is one of the best preserved ancient cities in the world, but as you can imagine, any city founded in the 10th century BC and abandoned in the 15th century AD is going to be in ruins, but these ruins have a story to tell.

The current ruins date mainly to the classical and Byzantine Roman periods, from 129 BC to 1308 AD, but during that span of time the city and temple were destroyed by the Goths in 263. Constantine the Great rebuilt much of the city and erected new public baths, and then the Ottomans conquered the city and remained there from 1309 until abandoning it sometime before 1500 AD.

We walked on a combination of new boardwalks, centuries worn stairs, and original marble slab walkways. In some places, new sections have been added, but those are made obvious by the fact that the new marble is perfectly flat and has straight edges.

On one walkway (not this one) we saw a Roman era iron handle in a slab of marble, allowing the slab to be lifted for access to the sewer system.
It was an ancient manhole cover!

There were excellent signs on the site explaining the ruins, which supplemented our knowledgeable guide’s commentary, so it just made sense to take photos of them and match them to Ted’s pictures.

There are artifacts stacked and displayed throughout the site, all waiting to be fitted back into their proper place.
Centre: One of these shops could well have belonged to Paul the Apostle, who was a tentmaker during his time living in Ephesus. Bottom: the agora field is filled with archeological finds, sorted by type (pillars, headers, bases, etc)
Remnants of the aqueduct system.
It was easy to imagine toga-clad men sitting here discussing politics. The walls would have been decorated with friezes, and the floors with mosaics. The Ephesians were “doing business” in the latrines in more than one sense.

The façade of the magnificent Library of Celsus, restored in the 20th century. The library once housed 12,000 scrolls – until Marc Antony gifted them to Cleopatra.

I’m in the bottom left photo purely for size perspective. a library without reading material is hardly worth entering.
Top: sideview of the library, showing that only the façade has been reconstructed. Bottom: another view of the library from the street leading to Ephesus’ upper gate. It is a huge site, with years and years of work and research still to be done,

Perpendicular to the library is the three-arched Gate of Augustus (below), built to honour the Roman emperor.

In addition to a library, Ephesus also boasted a brothel. Remember that this was a busy port town – the coastline was here is ancient times – and sailors who’ve been at sea for months want to party. Archeologists uncovered a sign cut into the marble road that may be the world’s first advertising. Note the foot beside the carved image of a woman at her dressing table, indicating not only the direction of the brothel, but apparently implying that you needed a foot at least that big to go there. It was no place for boys!

More “graffiti”, this time with secret Christian symbolism. Our guide showed us how to find the Maltese Cross within the circle.

The casino, (below) currently protected with a wooden roof while archeologists continue digging there. Its function was determined by the archeological find of gambling tokens, combined with references to its existence in Roman era writings.

After touring the Ephesus archeological site, we were treated to a demonstration of Turkish rug weaving, beginning with soaking the silkworm cocoons in hot water to allow a single thread to be unravelled. One peanut shell-sized cocoon can yield a strand 1500 yards / 1200 metres long.

The man on the left used a traditional “broom” to tease a single strand of silk from a cocoon soaked in hot water. Yes… just ONE single strand!

We watched a weaver creating an intricate pattern using the typical Turkish Gordian knot style. Rugs are knotted completely by hand, meaning a small room-sized rug can take anywhere from 8 months to a year to make, with a weaver working the equivalent of 35 hours per week at a loom.

After the rug demonstration (accompanied by turkish coffee and pastry), having determined that with no physical home we were definitely not buying a rug, we wandered through the bazaar into downtown Kusadasi, and then along the beautiful waterfront. Since I hadn’t spent thousands on a hand-knotted rug, I bargained for a pair of blue leather sandals, and also bought (with no bargaining) 7 varieties of Turkish sweets, including my favourite, rosewater Turkish delight.

Two of our favourite sculptures from the harbour area. Left: just outside the fish market. The empty stool of the fisherman has allowed the cats to check out his catch. Right: something about the facial expression of this marble pigeon, part of a temporary sculpture competition, just made me smile.

Ted and I both love places with vibrant pedestrian-friendly waterfronts. This is yet another place we could see ourselves spending much more time.

In the Aegean, in the sunshine, with our beautiful ship in the background.
It doesn’t get any better than this.

We enjoyed a wonderful Mexican themed dinner with two other couples in the Chef’s Table (too busy talking to get a photo of the octopus ceviche), followed by sparkles: Cruise Director Kate’s shoes, and flautist Suzanne Godfrey’s dress.

Upon returning to our room, we discovered that the Easter Bunny had arrived early. What a life.

At the end of the day, Ted and I agreed that Viking deserved a really big hand for treating us absolutely royally.

One of the many wonderful sculptures in the Kusadasi harbour.

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