The second largest city in the Roman Empire, one of the greatest seaports of the ancient world, commerically prosperous, and an important center of early Christian practice, Ephesus was first established at the mouth of the Cayster River (Küçükmenderes, “Little Meanderer”) between 1500 and 1000 BCE. The city was conquered by the Greeks after the Trojan War in the eleventh and twelfth centuries BCE. The Greeks themselves eventually named the place Ephesus and established an Athenian-style government there. After the time of Alexander the Great, the city was moved to the valley between Bülbül and Panayır hills, where its amazing ruins still stand today. Ephesus was destroyed by an earthquake in 17 CE, then rebuilt and enlarged by the Emperor Tiberius. Long a sacred site for Christians due to its association with several biblical figures, including Saint Paul, Saint John the Evangelist, and the Virgin Mary, Ephesus hosted the third Ecumenical Council in 431 CE. Today the site hosts thousands of visitors each year.
The extensive ruins include the Temple of Artemis, the Library of Celsus, the Gymnasium, the Agora, and a magnificent array of terrace houses still under active excavation. The Temple of Artemis, dedicated to the Goddess of the Hunt, is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today, only the foundations and one column remain from the temple that once measured a magnificent 425 feet long, 220 feet wide, and 60 feet high. Originally erected in 115-125 CE, the Library of Celsus was dedicated to Celsus, the Roman Proconsul for Asia Minor. The impressively restored façade towers over the other impressive ruins, and certainly forms the highlight of any visit. The interior measures 70 by 80 feet and once held an impressive 15,000 scrolls. Officially known as “The State Agora,” the market area is 360 feet square and was the city’s main commerical center. During the Hellenistic period, it was surrounded on all sides by arched shops. The theater, able to seat 25,000 spectators, was first constructed in Hellenistic times and later renovated by several Roman emperors. It was designed for theatrical performances and later hosted gladiatorial contests. The terraced homes of the most prosperous Ephesians—inhabited through the seventh century CE—boast truly luxurioius bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and formal dining rooms. The frescoes and mosaics are in breathtakingly good condition, often looking as though they were produced only yesterday.