Basilica of St. John, Ephesus, Sirince, House of Virgin Mary
09.27.2013 - 09.27.2013
We had a choice of locations to use as our "base" while touring the area around Ephesus: Izmir, Kusadasi (most cruise ships harbor there), Selcuk, or Sirince. I'm glad we settled on Izmir; the hotel where we're staying is very nice, city is attractive, vibrant and centrally located, and there are lots of nice places to eat. While we loved Cappadocia, the green hills and sea are a welcome change of scenery from the stark landscape of Cappadocia.
The Key Hotel is beautifully situated right along the waterfront on Izmir bay. Ever since we arrived yesterday we have enjoyed the view from our room looking directly out onto the waterfront and bay. Ferries and fishing boats criss-cross the bay, while men fish along the water's edge. Numerous restaurants and bars are spread out for as far as we can see to the right, each boasting that they have the best and freshest seafood. To the left a wide esplanade borders the waterfront and across from it, mid-rise apartment homes rise up the nearby hillsides. The city reminds me of some other city that we have visited but I can't quite put my finger on which one. Auckland, perhaps?
Feeling like we lost a valuable day of vacation by traveling all day yesterday (though there was no way around it), we are ready to hit the ground running today. Evren and Muzo pick us up at 9:30 am and we head out of Izmir towards Selcuk and Ephesus, about 50 miles away.
Basilica of St. John
Our first stop of the day is the ruins of the Basilica of St. John, built by Emperor Justinian (of Hagia Sophia fame) in the 6th century. It is believed that the apostle St, John the Evangelist spent his later years in the area around Ephesus, perhaps accompanied by the Virgin Mary - more about that later. In any event, he was the only apostle to die a natural death and not be martyred. Supposedly he lived to be over 100 years old, and when he died a small church was erected on his gravesite. Emperor Justinian then erected the Basilica on top of that earlier church's site. The Basilica was leveled by an earthquake in the 14th century and its ruins, on a hilltop in Selcuk just below a Byzantine fort, provide an excellent vantage point to view the surrounding countryside. Two thousand years ago, before the Cayster River silted up, the first Ephesus was located here and was a port city on the Aegean.
Many years ago, the sea would have filled the area in back of where we are standing.
Tomb of St. John:
Leaving the site I inquire about restroom facilities, and Evren gives me a lira, and directs me to a "gypsy bathroom" which he predicts will be like none I have ever seen. Huh? Yep, he got that right. There is no attendant in the bathroom (Evran got his lira back), so I am free to take photos without offending anyone. Plastic flowers adorn every square inch of the bathroom:
I never did figure out the mothballs that had been placed in the sink drain.
Did they think they smelled good?
Don't they realize those fumes are harmful?
A short drive away from the Basilica of St. John, we arrive at the ancient site of Ephesus - one of the highlights of our trip to Turkey. A few facts about Ephesus in case you were sleeping during that history class in school:
* Earliest records of the city date back to the 11th century BC, and it declined significantly following the 6th century AD
* It fell to Alexander the Great in 334 BC, and was held by his successors until it fell to the Romans in 133 BC
* In addition to St. John, the apostle St. Paul lived here for three years, around 60 AD. He famously preached in the massive theatre. Interestingly, most scholars believe that the Bible's Epistle to the Ephesians was actually composed by someone else, although tradition holds that it was written by Paul while imprisoned in Rome.
* During its peak, Ephesus was the capital of all of Asia Minor and had a population of over 250,000.
* The Artemis Temple at Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. It was destroyed in the 5th century by a Christian mob.
* Only 20% of Ephesus has been excavated.
We are extremely lucky in that our visit takes place on a day when no cruise ships are in port in Kusadasi. If you want to take this into account when planning your visit to Ephesus, I recommend that you check the calendar at http://ports.cruisett.com/schedule/Turkey/357-Kusadasi_(Ephesus).
The colonnaded walk is lined with Ionic and Corinthian columns
An archway near the meeting hall
The Odeon (meeting hall)
The Prytaneion (city hall). The eternal flame of Ephesus would have burned here.
Believe it or not, this was a port city, and the sea would have reached the plains in distance here.
Here we are posing on the Curetes Walk.
You can see how many people are here even on a "slow" day.
The Fountain of Trajan (a Roman Emperor)
The Hadrian Temple
That's likely Tyche, the Goddess of Fortune, on the front arch, and Medusa on the back arch.
Next we reach The Terrace Houses, which require a separate, additional ticket, but are definitely worth it. Inside are the remains of the three storied homes of seven rich citizens of Ephesus. In an interesting public-private partnership, an immense roof has been erected over the terrace houses and an elevated walkway runs throughout. The roof protects the houses from deterioration from weather, and the elevated walkway provides a birds-eye view of of the houses and on-going archeological work and restoration. Inside you can see the beautiful courtyards, marbles, mosaics, and frescoes that adorned the homes of these wealthy Ephesians. Simply stunning.
Exiting the terrace houses we arrive at the most photographed site in all of Ephesus, the Celsus Library. Capable of holding 12,000 scrolls, this library was once the third largest in the world, only behind Alexandria and Pergamum (which we will visit on another day). The structure is designed to appear larger than it actually is by employing some architectural design tricks (e.g. convex facade base and central columns and capitals larger than outer ones.). Whatever. It really is impressive and we can't resist posing in front of it.
No visit to Ephesus is complete without a visit to the massive Greco-Roman amphitheatre. We take a brief walk around it before wandering down to the Harbor Walk and then leaving Ephesus.
As at practically every tourist site throughout all of Turkey, there is a large open air market selling trinkets and souvenirs as we exit Ephesus. This particular vendor certainly gets my award for honesty, even if he doesn't sell many watches.
Our late lunch is at the lovely outdoor cafe "Cici" in Sirince, up in the hills not far from Ephesus. We enjoy some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, our first delicious taste of gozlemeler (a tasty savory flavored thin crepe), stuffed squash blossoms, and the ever-present kebabs.
The oven where the women cooked the gozlemeler
After lunch we wander through Sirince's market, then Evren treats us to some baclava, as well as some traditional Turkish coffee. Frank, of course, takes advantage of the coffee stop to check messages on his Blackberry.
House of the Virgin Mary
Ancient legend and traditions hold that after Christ's crucifixion the Virgin Mary traveled to Ephesus along with the apostle John the Evangelist, and lived and died there. Around 1818 a stigmatized German nun (who never left her cell) had a vision about the house of the Virgin Mary, and in 1884 a book was published containing her detailed vision of the house and its location. Using this book, a priest and team of monks began investigating the area around Ephesus, and their research led them to conclude that the ruined foundations of a house on the wooded slopes of Mt Coresso near Ephesus were located on the site of the Virgin Mary's house.
The Roman Catholic church has never officially taken a position on whether the location is officially recognized as the Virgin Mary's house, but the German nun was declared a saint in 2004, and four popes have visited the site.
We don't know whether the legend, vision, research, etc. have all yielded an accurate conclusion, but since we are in the area, decide to stop by and take a look. I rather wish that the site had been left as it was found, with only a ruined building foundation, but instead a chapel has been built on the site.
On a much less reverent note, Evren has told us that there are three water fountains as we leave the shrine: "Drink from the first one if you desire Health. Drink from the second one if you desire Wealth. Drink from the third one if you desire Happiness. But you can't drink from all three. Because that will give you diarrhea." We elect to play it safe and not drink from any of them!
The potent fountains
Our day of touring concluded, we head back to Izmir to enjoy a beautiful sunset.