When St. Paul came to this Turkish port almost 2,000 years ago, it was known for its coveted marble, huge amphitheater, and one of the wonders of the ancient world, the Artemis Temple. After St. Paul left, it was a budding Christian community. In fact, about 70% of the sites mentioned in the New Testament (such as Galatia, Antioch, Tarsus, and of course Ephesus) are in present-day Turkey. These historic sites have made Turkey a favorite tourist and vacation area for Europeans over the last few years. If you book a trip at one of Turkey’s Aegean Sea beach resorts, you can take advantage of draws like Ephesus, whose ruins are majestic and have been compared to those in Pompeii.
Known as Efes in Turkish, Ephesus is just off of Turkey’s coastal highway between the present-day cities like Bodrum and Izmir. During St. Paul’s time this was one of the central shipping and trading hubs within the Roman Empire. Ephesus was wealthy and awe-inspiring enough to draw its own tourists. They would come to see Artemis Temple, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ephesians considered Artemis the goddess of fertility and built the temple to tower over the harbor high enough to be seen by coming ships. Unfortunately for us modern-day tourists, the Artemis temple no longer stands on the landscape of the ruins, but there’s still plenty of things to show the grandeur of this ancient town.
Visitors enter the main archaeological site through the half mile long main street. Bathhouses and the Odeon, a parliament building, are almost completely restored. The City hospital remains are along the street too, and you’ll see its entrance marked with a staff entertwined with a serpent which is a sign of the Greek god Asklepios, the god of medicine. This hospital was successful in treating mental and physical conditions like anxiety and phobias.
Also unearthed have been mansions of the some of the city’s wealthiest and largest. The walls are covered in multicolored marble, which the area is still famous for. These homes also had pipes carrying hot and cold water to toilets and baths in parts of the corridors between the rooms. The floors of the rooms are decorated in mosaics that show everything from maidens to hills and geometric designs.
But you’ll find some of the most impressive architecture down the boulevards of the ancient town after a 15 mile walk passing columns. The Library of Celsus, a three story tall building, used to house the third largest collection of written works in the Roman Empire. The entrance statues were made by the city’s artists’ guild whose work was heavily requested. About a two minute walk away from the library is the 24,000 seat theater built at the former head of the main road leading to the harbor.
The harbor was essential to the city’s wealth, but silt carried by the Kaistros River eventually prevented ships from being able to receive large cargo ships by the first century. Therefore, fortunes for Ephesus declined in the years after St. Paul left. The sea today is seven miles away from the location of Ephesus.