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Turkey - Day 9 - Ephesus and nearby

Basilica of St. John, Ephesus, Sirince, House of Virgin Mary

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.


Posted by BeachGlass 10:01 Archived in Turkey Tagged st. virgin mary john ephesus. Comments (0)

Turkey - Day 10 - Izmir City

Taking it easy and seeing the city sites

On our next to last full day in Turkey, we decide to take it easy. I have developed a cold and cough, so perhaps a little rest is in order for today. Evren says it will actually be better if we change our planned itinerary around and see a bit of Izmir City today (Saturday) while things are open, and then go to Pergamum tomorrow (Sunday) before heading to the airport.

Izmir is Turkey's third most populous city (after Istanbul and Ankara) and is located on the site of the ancient city of Smyrna along the bay of Izmir. Current population for the metro area is around 4 million people. It is reputed to be more relaxed, liberal, and westward-leaning than Istanbul, and I certainly pick up this vibe as we travel around the city

We start out by going to Asansor, a 19th century elevator that was built to transport Izmir residents from near sea level up a sheer rock cliff to a largely Jewish residential neighborhood up above.


From there we head to Konak Square to view the clock tower that is the symbol of Izmir. The clock, built in 1901 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Sultan Abdul Hamit II's coronation, was one of 58 that were built to supposedly encourage Turks to adopt western time-keeping habits. Next to it is a tiny mosque built in 1755, decorated with beautiful blue Kutahya tiles. Swoon, swoon.


We then go for a walking tour of Izmir's shopping area, which in many ways resembles the shopping areas we saw in Istanbul. But unlike Istanbul, local people rather than tourists are shopping here. I actually enjoy people-watching in places like this as much as I do seeing what is for sale.


At one point Evren stops to buy some candy for us, and in paying for it, tosses the coin on the shop's front step. I've forgotten what he calls it, but there's a name for this "first money" earned by the shopkeeper each day, and leaving it on the doorstep is supposed to make it a prosperous day for the merchant. It's a charming tradition.


I'm interested especially to see what Muslim women wear in Turkey. As a secular nation, nothing is dictated or required in terms of dress for women. Since arriving I have seen both ends of the spectrum, from religiously devout Muslim women who have covered every inch of their skin except for their hands and a slit for their eyes, to women (whom I assume are Muslim, but might not be) who are wearing revealing clothing that almost makes me blush. The fully shrouded women have been few and far between (only a handful), but I observe that probably the majority of Muslim women wear a full head scarf and conservative clothing. Often this includes a long overcoat - even in very warm weather.


What really surprises and befuddles me is when I see very conservatively dressed Muslim women out walking arm-in-arm down the street with women friends who are not dressed conservatively as they are. And I have seen that on many occasions, and wonder at the dynamics of a relationship where friends have fundamental differences on issues such as appropriate dress. It's fascinating to me, but our male guides have not been able to shed any light on this topic for me.

On the topic of dress, while we are in the market, Evren points out this display, which is for swimming attire for Muslim women.


We continuing walking through the market and have lunch before heading to Izmir's ancient Agora.



Izmir's first Agora (bazaar) built on this site for Alexander the Great was destroyed in an earthquake in the 2nd century, but it was soon rebuilt by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.


Tiring of sight-seeing we decide to kick back and take the rest of the day off. Boarding a ferry, we travel across Izmir's bay to take in views from the water, the street scenes, and enjoy a cold beer.


Dinner that night is at one of the restaurants along the waterfront where many locals are gathering to watch their football (soccer) team play on restaurant and bar TVs. There is a bit of a chill to the night air, and restaurants have blankets readily available for patrons to bundle up in to keep warm. I enjoy a some pide (Turkish version of pizza) while Frank has lamb, and then we head back to the hotel to start packing for the trip home.

Posted by BeachGlass 10:33 Archived in Turkey Tagged izmir Comments (0)

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