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Old stuff day number two in Selçuk – Ephesus

(written by Nancy)

Last night for dinner we ended up at a little restaurant in the middle of town (which is just a 5min walk from our guesthouse) and had some delicious lentil soup and shared a Turkish pizza.  The restaurant owner was rightly proud of his lentil soup, saying we would not find the likes of it anywhere else in Turkey.  It was very good, and hit the spot in the cold weather.  We woke up to blue skies today, which meant it would be a bit warmer than yesterday.   That was good news for our explorations today, as we took on the big attraction here, the Ephesus archaeological site, which is located just about 3k out of Selcuk.

We opted to go on our own today and not to take a guided tour, as we did not want to be rushed through the site and the other nearby sites that they usually do on a tour.  The guidebooks and others recommend a guide but I think it’s doable without one.  There are many signs at the various ruins and you can rent an audio guide for 10TL (~$5).  The site runs down a hillside, with gates on the top and bottom of the hill.  We took a taxi to the top gate (15TL) and walked down through the site to the bottom gate.  It is not high season yet so the crowds were not too bad but there were still a significant number of people there – many coming in on big buses.  We heard lots of languages spoken – German, French and Japanese to name a few.  I can just imagine what the site is like during the busy season.  Our guesthouse owner said that it gets to the mid-thirties (100+) in the summer here so an early season visit also avoids the heat.

The site is very interesting and well worth a visit.  You have to use your imagination a bit to see what would have been a bustling city, as not many of the ruins have been reconstructed.  There are signs that show the plans of the various buildings and the streets, and explain the various uses.  As with many of the sites in Greece, there are multiple arches, gates and temples that were built to honor the various emperors and mythical beings.  We saw evidence of the advanced heating system that Dave mentioned yesterday – very clever people, those early Greek/Roman folks.  It’s a bit hard to get your head around who controlled the site and when as there were waves of civilization that came through at various points in time.  Regardless of who happened to be “in charge” at any particular point in time, the civilization seemed to be quite advanced.  Much of the site has not yet been excavated.

The most impressive part of the site is generally thought to be the Great Theatre, which sits toward the bottom of the hill, along a road that originally went to the harbor (it’s since silted over). Unlike some of the sites in Greece at Ephesus you can walk around and in many of the ruins, including the two theatres.   It had seating for over 24,000 people and was used for speeches, music, and of course gladiators.  If you can ignore all the people chattering around you it is easy to sit on the steps and imagine two gladiators fighting while the crowd cheered.  The audio guide also noted that John the Baptist gave a speech at the Great Theatre that almost resulted in a riot – it took several hours to calm the crowds down, as Christianity had not yet overtaken paganism in the area.

We also visited the terrace houses that are found at the site.  There is a separate entrance fee to go into the terrace houses but it is well worth it.  The site is being excavated and reconstructed with the help of an Austrian historical group and funded by several Austrian and Turkish companies.  The excavations are covered with a complicated membrane roof system that protects the ruins without placing too much weight on or around the ruins.  The terrace houses are thought to have been occupied by the more wealthy residents of the city, as they are full of grand rooms with marble floors, walls with paintings or marble cladding, and intricate mosaic flooring.

The reconstruction of the terrace houses looks like a very complicated task, as I am sure all of these reconstructions are.  Because the site has been hit by several earthquakes over the thousands of years it has existed the marble floors and walls are now in millions of pieces and it looks like one big huge puzzle exercise to reconstruct.  There are tables covered with pieces carefully laid out, awaiting discovery of the remaining pieces to fill the gaps.  It’s hard to imagine how people do that – how often have you said, while trying to put a puzzle together, that you are sure you just saw the piece that you know fits there but now you can’t find it?!  Anyway, the mosaics, paintings and grand spaces were very impressive – some of the houses had baths even, and you could see the water pipes and heating along the floors.

We finished up our tour with some gozleme at the bottom and walked the 3k back into town in the sunshine.  This afternoon we looked at our maps a bit more to try to work out our route for the next couple of days.  It is nice to have the luxury of time, not having to worry about getting out of the country quickly.  We will slowly work our way down along the coast the next couple of days and try to explore some of the peninsulas along the way.  Off tomorrow to head toward Soke.

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