Ephesus: "Quite a Group!"

06 November 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

The "usual suspects" and several "unusual" ones are associated with the ancient seaport known as Ephesus:

Anatolians, Ioanians, Lydians, Persians, and Romans, and historical figures Androclus, Croesus, Herostratus, Alexander, Nero, Hadrian, St John, Virgin Mary, St Paul (Letter to the Ephesians) and Emperor Justinian. Quite a group!

I don't know how many tens of thousands of tourists visit Ephesus each year. I assume that many come for the day from a cruise ship docked at Kuşadasi. They come in groups with a guide who points out the many historical influences on what the guidebook calls "the best preserved classical city in the Eastern Mediterranean." Greeks, Romans, Christians, Jews, Muslims - all played a role in the history here.

I do not dare to describe the ruins of Ephesus. They are extensive and of course include all the "usual suspects" to be found in a classical city: walkways, columns, gates, fountains, temples, a gymnasium and baths, and a grand theatre that seats 25,000 people: each successive range of seating up from the stage is pitched more steeply than the one below, thereby improving the view and acoustics for spectators in the upper seats.


Don't be shocked. The Romans thought of everything. Two "everyday" buildings drew my attention:

The Latrina. "On three sides of the open peristyle court are U-shaped marble seats with holes (toilet seats). A deep sewage pipe was located under the seats allowing for the fast sterilization of the toilet drains and the rapid removal of bad smells. The clean water passing through the channels in front of the toilet seats gave the people the means to clean themselves up. In this place people lifted the togas they wore and could use the facilities in a group at the same time." * (Talk about a "group" activity! Tell me, when was the last time you sat on a marble toilet seat?)

The Love House. (Do I really need to provide any detail? The guidebook has no mention of any group activity here....)

The two-story multi-columned white marble façade, the symbol of Ephesus, the Library of Celsus provides a fitting climax to my visit to this ancient city. Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus was the Governor of Asia Minor. When he died in Rome in 70 CE, he bequeathed sufficient funds for the construction of the library. Initially, the library held 12,000 books (papyrus scrolls).

The lovely statues in the niches of the columns are copies of the originals. The statues symbolize wisdom (Sophia), knowledge (Episteme), intelligence (Ennoia) and valor (Arete). Ancient virtues. Modern ones? Quite a group!

On the steps of the library I noticed a menorah carved into a marble step. I can only suppose that the librarians paid tribute to the contributions of the Jewish community. Along with several other people before me, I left a small pebble on the carving -- normally the common practice of Jews leaving a token of remembrance on a gravestone.

Just before the exit gate I wandered 400m down a dirt path to the ruins of the Church of Mary. Built in the 4th Century, an Ecumenical Council convened here in June of 431. The 195 Bishops discussed the divine nature of Jesus Christ and proclaimed that Mary was actually the Mother of G-d. In 1967, Pope Paul IV, who visited Ephesus, prayed in this church.

Meryemana (Mary's House) lies high on a forested hillside 7km outside Epehesus. Historians claim that Mary spent her last days here. Meryama has a colorful history replete with persecution of Christians, dreams and visions, a group of priests and their chance encounter with farmers, archeological digs, and the visits of three modern day Popes.

More than one million people visit Meryemana each year. The tiny chapel with its surrounding gardens is a quiet and picturesque place for pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims. To Muslims, Mary is Meryemana, Mother Mary, who bore İsa Peygamber, the Prophet Jesus. Below the chapel, a wall is covered in bits of cloth or paper as Turks leave a wish at the site.

For all of us visitors, Turks and foreigners of every religion, Ephesus and the environs is a well-preserved "classical city." ** Of course, it is more than "classical." The historical, architectural, artistic and religious perspective is also ancient and biblical, medieval and modern. No wonder large groups pour ashore and travel by the busload. There is something for everyone here.


* "Ephesus." Akan Atila. Guney Books. Antalya, Turkey. 2009

** I said "well-preserved" rather than "best-preserved." My favorite classical sight is still Jerash in northern Jordan.

PS As an independent traveler, I wander into areas of Ephesus that the group leaders avoid. But sometimes if I hear some English, I attach myself (with a smile) to a group and listen in. And if I hear some Spanish, I get curious. In Ephesus, one enthusiastic group caught my attention.

I practice my broken Spanish: "Hola. ¿Dónde viven ustedes? (Where do you live?) You can imagine my shock and glee when one of the men answered "Miami!" Hialeah, in fact. Well, we compared notes and posed for photos. "El Grupo de Miami." I'm the skinny one in the group. Just call me "flaco."

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