Wildchills in the single digits, grey skies, and missing my Sweet Scottie Dog, have me feeling a little down in the dumps. So, to shake off the doldrums, I’m clicking my heels and returning to the Aegean cruise that took us to ancient Ephesus.
Ephesus was a port city whose well-preserved ruins are now in modern-day Turkey. The city was once considered the most important Greek city and trading center in the Mediterranean. Throughout history, Ephesus was ruled by many civilizations, including the Romans and Egyptians.
It was also a hotbed of early Christian evangelism.
Today, Ephesus remains both an important archaeological site and Christian pilgrimage destination. An UNESCO city, Ephesus is (was) also home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Temple of Artemis.
Come along as we visit the Home of Mary, Apostle St. John church, and explore the extensive ruins of Ephesus. Then, return in the evening for a candlelight dinner set beneath the dramatically floodlit Library of Celsus.
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Cruising the Aegean
We spent the first two days of our Small Ship Greek Island Cruise in Nafplio and Mykonos. It was part of a fabulous weeklong, Treasures of the Greek Isles voyage aboard the masted Windstar (I have no affiliation).
Next on the itinerary was Kusadasi, a beach resort town located on Turkey’s western Aegean coast. Its seafront promenade, marina, and harbor are lined with hotels and restaurants. A major cruise ship destination, it’s also the jumping-off point for visiting the archeological site of nearby Ephesus.
Prior to our departure, we booked, Kusadasi, Best of Ephesus — a six and half hour guided tour. Described as moderately strenuous, the excursion included many steps, along with a great deal of walking on rough and uneven terrain. We did just fine.
Travel Tip: There’s so much to do and see in one day in and around Kusadasi. You definitely will want an experienced guide and operator, with a tour that fits your interests and abilities.
House of Mary
Our first stop, was a thirty-minute ride away to the House of the Virgin Mary, situated on a mountain high above the ancient site of Ephesus.
Archaeological evidence dates the little house to the sixth century, but foundations were from the first. Now a chapel, the domed building is a major site of both Christian and Muslim pilgrimages.
Ephesus is mentioned multiple times in the New Testament, and played a vital role in the spread of Christianity. Apostles Paul and John visited there, winning many converts. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is thought to have spent her last years there with John; safely hidden from the Romans. If true, it would also mean Mary’s Assumption into Heaven happened in Ephesus rather than Jerusalem.
Prompted by the supposed visions of a German nun, there are many fascinating stories about the house’s discovery, archeological excavations and reconstruction. Presently, the sanctuary is under the care of the Franciscan order.
Outside the shrine is a “wishing wall” where personal intentions on paper or fabric are attached. Located nearby, is a water fountain/well, believed by some pilgrims to have miraculous powers of healing or fertility.
The House of Mary also has an enormous significance for Muslims, for whom Mary was the mother of one of the great prophets of Islam. According to our Muslim guide, Maryam is viewed as a sublime and sincere woman who can intercede with God.
Besides the sacred spring, a main focus of Muslim visitors is the Quran Room — supposedly the bedroom of Mary. Its interior walls are adorned with verses and Islamic symbols, while the rest of the building is dominated by Christian symbolism.
Later in the day, we also visited the ruins of the Basilica of St John.
Built over a much more modest pilgrimage site, the massive sixth-century basilica once included six large domes, arranged in a cruciform plan. Under the largest central dome, was believed to be the grave of the apostle.
Located within what was once an estuary, Ephesus comprises successive Hellenistic (Greek) and Roman settlements, which followed the coastline as it retreated westward.
Over time, Ephesus was destroyed by earthquakes, abandoned, and buried under a mountain of rock, earth and rubble. Excavations have revealed grand monuments of mostly the later Roman Imperial period.
A frequently photographed fragment, described as Winged Nike.
Lost Wonder of the World
Unfortunately, little remains of the famous Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Even in antiquity, the famed temple drew pilgrims from all around the Mediterranean.
It was of such tremendous size, that the temple was double the dimensions of the Parthenon! After having just seen the Parthenon several days before in Amazing Ancient Athens, it was hard to image.
Sadly, little remains of the once massive temple, besides a column and pile of rubble — although some remnants reside today in the British Museum.
Fortunately, two world-famous statues of Artemis were unearthed from the temple’s ruins and are on display at the nearby Ephesus Museum. Goddess of fertility, all those “balls” are actually breasts ladies!
Tourist Tip: It takes two to three hours to walk the site. Make sure you have sun protection, a hat, good walking shoes and water. Although you could explore Ephesus on your own with a map and reading guide, our Turkish guide was outstanding and greatly enhanced our visit. It was also nice to have a cool, air conditioned bus to drop us off at one end and pickup at the other.
There are a number of primary sites to see while visiting extensive Ephesus.
Temple of Hadrian
Far less glamorous, but quite remarkable are the town’s ancient public toilets for men-only. All together in one room, the toilets are arranged side-by-side in long marble benches — with holes for up to 50 people to use at once!
Because Ephesus had an advanced sewage system and plenty of slaves, the latrines were likely quite clean and
Considered one of the highlights of Ephesus, are the two-story Terrace Houses. Built into a mountain slope, the buildings are accessed by steps, with their roofs forming terraces for those houses above them. Undergoing meticulous restoration, these beautiful, luxurious homes of wealthy residents include spacious rooms decorated with whimsical frescos of birds, flowers, gardens, gods and mythical creatures.
Entrance requires a separate ticket. We could have chosen an Ephesus tour that included the Terrace Houses, but that would have meant skipping the Christian sites and mountain views. So I guess we’ll just have to return some day!
Here is an example of some of the tile mosaic floors we were able to see. Terrace Houses had heated floors, running water, pools and baths.
Ornate columns also surrounded the atriums of Ephesus’ most opulent dwellings.
Always in the city center, brothels were considered a necessity since Roman soldiers were not permitted to marry. Mostly in ruin, only the lower floor of the brothel remains. An erotic figurine found in the brothel is on display in the Ephesus Museum.
Remains of the brothel and bathing pool are located near the lower right side of the marble road.
Ephesus’ most impressive edifice was built in the first century to honor Tiberius Julius Celsus, General Governor of Rome’s Asia Province. Built by Celcus’ son after his death, his sarcophagus lies beneath the building.
Lost in a fire in 262 AD, are the thousands of precious scrolls once housed in the library.
Fortunately, the beautiful exterior of the library and four marble figures still exist to enjoy. Symbolising wisdom, intelligence, knowledge and virtue, the original statues are now protected in the museum.
Tourist Tip: Be sure to pause and locate the menorah carved into the marble steps of the library — evidence of Jewish life in Ephesus. In several other locations throughout the city, there are also carings of a simple fish used by the early Christians. Seeing religious symbols used by both persecuted groups was moving. And, we might have missed them completely without our guide pointing them out.
This was my favorite monument in all of Ephesus. It was also the setting for our special Windstar passenger-only dinner later that evening. More on that in a bit.
Exiting the area in front of the Celsus Library, you will pass through a large arch.
On the opposite side is the Roman Lower Agora, or marketplace.
Excavations and reconstruction continue as archeologists continue to attempt put Ephesus back together again, piece-by-piece.
At the end of the marble road is the beautifully preserved theatre seating 24,000 people. Today, it is sometimes used for special performances
Climb to the top of the theatre for an impressive view of Efes and The Arcadian Avenue, a striking road once lined with marble columns and statues.
In ancient times, when Ephesus was one of the world’s most important ports, this marble road led all the way to the water.
Have you ever heard of Ephesus or been there? I was surprised to find the experience visiting there right up with past destinations like Pompeii, the Roman Forum and the Acropolis.
Next, we visited the Ephesus Archaeological Museum located in nearby Selcuk. Although relatively small in size, the museum includes an incredible collection of Greek and Roman statues, carved reliefs, and artifacts.
Among the most famous sculptures are the two big Artemis’s, Head of Socrates, Head of Eros, and Eros with Dolphin.
Interestingly, the relics are grouped according to where they were excavated from the ruins of Ephesus. That made it easy to visualize. Along with these halls, various architectural and sculptural artifacts are exhibited in the inner and middle gardens.
Afterwards, we enjoyed a delicious Turkish lunch at a lovely restaurant that sat above a scenic marina.
Then, on the way back to Kusadasi, we stopped for a fabulous view of the harbor and our ship.
Back in town, we were brought to a luxurious building for a carpet weaving demonstration while sipping on Raki. Sip friends, it’s potent stuff! Maybe to loosen a wallet or two, LOL?
Raki, or Lion’s Milk, is a sweetened, often anise-flavoured, Turkish national drink (alcoholic).
The demonstration and show and tell of different types of rugs, materials and techniques was really interesting. They had us all walk in bare feet to feel the luxurious texture. Afterwards, they were very persistent — especially if you showed the slightest interest. But it was very interesting and fun, and I’m glad we spent time there.
Travel Tips: Careful in booking both an Ephesus tour and where you shop. I’ve seen lots of reviews that said tours were little more than an excuse to sell carpets. Our tour was booked via Windstar. They also certified the carpet store for both quality and guaranteed shipping back to the USA.
Do barter — it’s expected. Then walk away and the price will drop again! I mistakenly showed interest in a gorgeous black pattern, silk runner. Originally quoted at $7,000 (eek!), the price dropped to about $2,700 as we walked out the door (as I recall). Still too rich for something I didn’t need.
Rather than explore the town or shop in Kusadasi, we returned to the ship for some downtime before the much-anticipated evening’s activities.
Enchanted Evening in Ephesus
Windstar is known for hosting a signature event on each of it’s cruises. On our itinerary, that included an evening back at Ephesus.
We entered Ephesus as the site was closing for the day and dusk descended. A trio of musicians and waiters with trays of wine greeted our arrival. Hubby and I were among the first to be seated for the candlelight dinner.
As delicious as the dinner was, it was the incredible setting that made the evening so extraordinary. As the sun set, lights illuminated the ancient monuments of Ephesus.
Sitting in the shadow of the Library of Celsus was the most amazing experience of our entire vacation! We and our fellow 135 passengers had the UNESCO city all to ourselves. Definitely a WOW!
Isn’t it breathtaking?
Musicians played on the library steps and Turkish waiters in white tie served a sumptuous meal. I had goosebumps, it was so thrilling!
Sad as I was for the dinner to end, the walk to our transportation back to the ship was incredible in itself. Along the way, columns and the grand theatre were also illuminated, as torches lit our way back down the long marble road.
At midnight, the Windstar sailed out of Kusadasi to our next destination, Patmos, Greece. Little did we know we’d spend the next evening sheltering in port from the wrath of a rare “medicane.”
That’s a story for another post!
New Year, New Goals
One of my goals this year, is to get my digital travel photos in order. When we go on vacation, I take a lot of pictures! Before starting Debbee’s Buzz, I was able to keep up. But now, between travel and blog photographs, I’ve gotten way behind.
So, as I work through my travel photos, I’ll be publishing travel logs of more destinations and experiences — scattered between my tablescape, craft, and holiday posts. Plus, I figure it’s a good time of year to reflect back on vacations in warmer climates.
Do you have a trip or two planned for this year? If so, where are you headed? We’re thinking Ireland in 2020 — experiences or tips to share?
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