Sunday, April 11, 2010
This morning I opened the travel section of the LA Times and what should I see first but a big quarter-page ad for Turkey, showing a wonderful picture of Ephesus.
"Oh, I've been there," I said to myself and immediately was transported back to that time in 1992 when a group of us who belonged to an Istanbul organization called "FARIT" ("Friends of American Research in Turkey") had a stupendous tour of Aegean Turkey. Of all the things I saw in Turkey, none took my breath away like seeing Efes (the Turkish name for Ephesus). Of course, it was also one of the few places of which I had any background knowledge - Ephesus of course being prominent in the New Testament - but to be honest with you, nothing I'd ever seen about Ephesus prepared me for what I saw. It truly was unbelievably beautiful.
While the buildings and statuary are amazing, there is so much more to see. It is a city - in ruins, of course, but still a city. Underneath the marble-paved "Sacred Way" or "Marble Way" you can still see the remains of an elaborate water and sewer system. That's not particularly beautiful but interesting as all get-out. There are public latrines - not for the use of tourists but for the people who inhabited the city so long ago. Old houses. An amphitheater. A gymnasium. It's all there, far more than I ever expected to see.
The beautiful Library of Celsus is what most people think of when they picture Ephesus, because it is certainly the most visually dramatic. Tiberius Julius Celsus, a famous Roman administrator, died in 114 AD and his son had this library built as a monument and mausoleum. Celsus was buried inside an elaborately decorated marble sarcophagus found under a library wall.
According to the book "Turkish Coast," one of the Insight Guides, British and Austrian archaeologists excavated the site in the 19th century. The Austrians smuggled out most of the relics found there, but returned the artifacts when the Ottoman government threatened to ban all future Austrian excavations in the Near East.
Originally, Ephesus enjoyed prosperity as a port of trade connecting Europe, Asia and Africa and was dependent upon having a fuctioning harbor. Its decline began when the harbor was ruined by silt accumulation that occured at the mouth of the Kaystros River that ran into the Aegean Sea. Today the city is three miles from the Sea.
There is much left for us to feast our eyes on. Having one day at Efes is simply not enough time, but that is usually all we get. If I were to go back to Turkey again for any length of time, you would know that I would certainly want to go visit Ephesus again, and again. But until that time comes (and I'm not holding my breath) I have to content myself with looking at the pictures I took when I was there and remembering those amazing things.