Some find it boring and some amazing. But the archeological sites are not mere ruins, they hold thousands of memories, history and secrets. We take you through the most famous Greco-Roman site of Turkey, Ephesus.
At the commercial square, the Agora, a couple, dressed in white ‘togas’ (a long tunique), is walking hand in hand under a blue sky. The young lady drags her partner to the market which is crowded as usual. The shopkeepers call out to the passers-by and scream their offers. You can find almost everything in Ephesus — clothing of fine silk and cotton, sandals, jewelry and precious stones, pottery and even products coming from Asia, Africa and elsewhere. Ephesus is indeed one of the most strategic ports and a commercial hub of the region.
From a distance, you can hear the bell of the Gymnasium, also known as the school. The classes have started for the young boys of Ephesus. They study history, music, astronomy, Greek, poetry, philosophy, mathematics and physics. The rich families who have gathered around the Gymnasium and also at the market are often accompanied by their slaves. The latter have absolutely no rights in the society and have to serve their masters from generation to generation.
Not far from the Agora, several devotees have gathered at the temple to pray and make offerings to the gods. Some of them also practice animal sacrifice, hoping to see their wishes come true.
The religion that is polytheist, plays a very important role in the life of the people of Ephesus.
Their principal temple notably venerates Goddess Artemis. In the Greek mythology, Artemis is the goddess of the nature, hunting and virginity. She has the power to create epidemics but also to stop them and protects the ports and all those going on a long journey.
This typical scene from the Greco-Roman life in the 1st and 2nd centuries BC has come straight from my imagination and my literature, as I sat on the ruins of the city of Ephesus.
I have been walking around for about an hour. ‘Excavations in this archeological site started in 1869. The ancient city of Ephesus was built four times in the history and the Ephesus we walk around today is the 3rd one,” says Yusuf, our local guide.
The entire area that covers almost 1600 hectares is very well preserved and many structures are still standing. One of the reasons it was listed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Ephesus was a famous port, but with the time, the sea went away and is now situated at about 8 kilometers from the ancient city.
With the Greeks and then the Romans, Ephesus saw occupations from various groups including the Lydians, the Persians, the Goths and the Ottomans.
A walk through history
Starting from the Agora, we have covered almost all the principal monuments, including the temple of Artemis that was built by the Greek in 356 BC and is considered to be one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. The temple covers an area of 125 m by 60 m, almost as large as a cricket field!
From the temple, you will also cross the public baths and the Celsius Library. The latter is maybe one of the most beautiful structures in the entire site. Built in 117 A.D, it used to host the tomb of Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, the governor of the Province of Asia. With a capacity of 12,000 scrolls, it was recognised as the third largest library of the period, after Alexandra and Pergamum.
The statues that you can notice at the foot of the columns that compose the facade are copies of the original that are kept in the museum or have been destroyed. They represent Sophia (Wisdom), Episteme (Knowledge), Ennoia (Intelligence) and Arete (Values).
I decide to sit here again, to admire the monument. Under the sun, the facade takes a golden colour, a perfect time for a picture. I feel a soft movement in my legs, a cat had come to greet me. You will indeed see many of them around, the only current inhabitants of the site seem to live a perfect life here. They bathe under the sun on the ruins and get plenty of caresses from the tourists.
At the bend of a path, I notice a well-preserved statue of a goddess. It’s Nike, the Goddess of victory, and indeed her movement matches perfectly with the brand sign that we all know…
A little further, our guide shows us some holes that he describes to be rich peoples’ homes. ‘Rich Greeks and Romans used to like luxury, even in their eating and drinking habits. They used to consume fish, pigs, goats and calf meat, wine, goat milk, vegetables and fruits. Wine was consumed every day but their used to mix it with water,” he explains. Food was indeed eaten with the fingers and they would never enter the house before removing their sandals, a few practices of the ancient world that seem familiar to us Indians. ‘And what about the poor or the slaves ?’’ I asked. ‘They had the left overs or millet, onions, lentils, garlic, lettuce. They were treated worse than animals at times,’’ he says, adding ‘ For example, before the rich used the toilets, the slaves had to sit and heat the toilet stones for their masters.’’
The tour comes to an end with a visit to the amphitheater, called ‘The Grand Theatre’ of Ephesus. It’s again a huge and well conserved monument with a seating capacity of 24,000 and a height of 38 m. Some members of our group start singing here. Their voices indeed reach out to the entire theatre. Some curious tourists also sit down there to listen to the Hindi songs and applaud at the end of the impromptu performance.