Ephesus is one of my favorite places ever, in the whole world.
Turkey, in fact, is a country rich in history and for me, one of the top wonders of the world. In our modern day, it is turbulent and warring sometimes. When we travel, we always check on the website “US Government Travel Warnings,” which gives information on where you should and should not travel, medical information, and visa and passport requirements.
My husband, Rick, and I did that before our spring, 2010 trip, and we were good to go.
International airports are not far from Kusadasi, Turkey, and cruise ships land regularly alongside the ferries from Samos, Greece.
In Kusadasi, a resort town of 250,000 residents, tourism is the main industry. Hotels for all tastes, shopping, wineries and restaurants abound, as well the wonders of the ancient ruins of Ephesus, Didyma and the house believed to be the last residence of Mary, mother of Jesus.
Bus tours take visitors to most sites, and back into thousands of years of history.
As our bus made its way out of the city, my mind took me back to Idaho. I am forever reminded how similar the world is in geography and how beautiful it all is. Headed for the home of the Virgin Mary and the great Biblical city of Ephesus, the landscape was farmland, pine trees, rich blue sky and mountains.
Ephesus (EFF-a-sis) is 35 miles north of Kusadasi. My excitement was barely containable. I was really going to set foot on the same marble the saints walked, and see the same sky.
I couldn’t wait to stand at the top of the coliseum, whisper to Rick down below and see if he could hear me. I wanted to test the ancient Roman acoustics.
Souvenirs play a big part of sightseeing for many people but I am not one of them. The treasures you find in a foreign port are interesting because of cultural differences, but it is easy to lose yourself in a souvenir search rather than the intended mission.
This brings me to our first stop, a Turkish carpet store. How could one go to Turkey and not buy a carpet or rug or at least take a look? On an intersection, on a dirt road, there sat the rug factory.
As we filed off the bus, eyebrows lifted and folks smirked. You just never know what lies around the next corner or inside a local minit mart. One of the delights of travel, like the proverbial box of chocolates.
At first glance, a small one-story building. What we didn’t notice were the many levels beneath the main floor. The owner of the shop instantly took me back to the TV series, The Addams Family, and Gomez, the mustached father with the black hair and sparkly dark eyes.
We slowly made our way into the small building to see how the silk is spun by silk worms, and how the girls sit for hours and hours on bended knee weaving the rugs. We went down the narrow stairway, several floors. Great place for an attack of claustrophobia.
Ushered into a large room with seating along the walls, we sunk into the rich carpet on the floor. Seated in a huge circle, Gomez stood in the middle of the room directing young girls bringing us apple juice.
The show began. Young men, all with muscular builds, came through the double doors and started tossing giant rugs into the middle of the floor. Like a deck of quickly dealt cards, the large and small rugs flew through the air as if guided by a genie; they landed in a pile in the middle of the room. It was as good as any circus act I have seen.
We were told to get up and find one we liked. We watched as people selected their rugs and instantly, the rug throwers were at their side giving the price of each. Even knowing the girls had labored for hours and hours on these fantastically beautiful rugs, the thousands of dollars they cost was not for us.
It was time for us to leave. But the boys directed us to the opposite end of the building where we went through one flight of stairs and into another room, where rows of display cabinets displayed gold and diamonds. I noticed Rick mopping his brow as he was barraged with aggressive salespeople.
This went on, through leather goods, plastic toys, candy bars, beverages and picnic tables. Ah, a table. We found one and grabbed a local beer as the stragglers emerged in a retail haze.
Onward to the last place the mother of Jesus lived.
According to church history, a German Catholic nun had a vision in 1812 of a stone house where John took Mary from Jerusalem when conditions there became unsafe. Although the nun had never been to Ephesus, she described the place in detail. Her visions later led to the house outside Ephesus, built into a cave, where Mary is believed to have died at the age of 64.
Paintings of Mary and St. Paul dated from the 6th century were uncovered at the site, which was consecrated as a place of worship by the Vatican and visited by Pope Paul VI in 1967 and Pope John Paul II in 1979.
Up the hills we went, overlooking the valley below.
Paying more attention to the lovely landscape, I was surprised to see about 15 buses and multiple cars all trying to find a parking spot in a large, but not large enough, paved parking lot. Bus drivers squeezed in just inches from each other.
We joined a long line of people leading to a small, stone building. A large stone wall just outside the back door held lit candles and flowers for the Virgin Mary.
The cost of admission is $3.50 if you are with a tour. If not, it is $27 per person. So it pays to get on the bus and go through the shopping gauntlet.
Fairly soon, we were in the entry way, with a carved stone room with a curved back wall where more flowers and candles graced an archway over an altar.
Outside, a fountain is famous for healing waters, and fireplace ashes have similarly taken on healing powers.
I am a skeptic. On a trip to Oman to see Job’s Tomb, we learned that it was one of 12 such sites. In Mary’s home, candles and books were for sale, and it was hard to feel any spiritualism.
The Bible does not mention Mary’s last resting place or home, but my excitement had not waned for Ephesus -- just a few miles away.
Walking down the worn and uneven marble streets under a brilliant blue sky, the tall marble columns stood guard over Ephesus, where St. John, St. Paul, Christ’s apostles, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, walked. I sat on the nearest fallen column to soak in the glory of this Biblical city.
Not only is it humbling, it is breathtaking. The oldest sources record that the town was inhabited by the Carians and the Lelegians in 2000 BC.
The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was completed there around 550 BC but was destroyed in 401 AD by a mob led by St. John Chrysostom. (The Temple of Apollo, Artemis’s twin, is in the nearby city of Didyma.)
St. John established Christianity in Ephesus and St. Paul visited the city twice. According to Archaeology magazine, “He caused violent protests when he preached sermons in monotheistic Jewish synagogues in order to spread the word of Christianity in polytheistic Ephesus.”
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the 10th book of the New Testament, was probably written from Rome when he was imprisoned there, but scholars dispute whether he wrote it or it was written later, by several others mindful of his teachings and style.
In Paul’s time, Ephesus was a city in conflict. Pagan worship was strong and Christianity was coming into bloom. Walking the streets, we saw ruins of both eras, with small Christian symbols on felled columns and walls as well as pagan ruins, side by side.
Over hundreds of years, Ephesus ultimately came to ruin as silt filled in the river, and the city lost its port and importance. Earthquakes and malaria contributed to its demise. A once thriving metropolis of 300,000 people, it sits today as an amazing reminder of the greatness of ancient times.
Walking down the marble streets, an under-ground sewer system can be seen. Three feet wide and a foot deep, it may have been better than our current system. Not much maintenance was required.
More imposing is the magnificent Library of Celsus, where scrolls were available for public reading. As you climb the nine stairs to what is called the salon of the library, only two of the four columns remain. Statues symbolizing justice, virtue, wisdom and knowledge were once a point of beauty here.
Built in 110 AD, the library originally had three floors. The grave of Celsus is preserved in the back of the building and as you pass through the narrow corridor, you will see a beautiful sarcophagus of white marble.
It is believed that an underground passage lead from this magnificent building to the brothel across the street.
Outside the courtyard of the library, carved in stone, there is clearly a large foot (about a size 13) advertising the direction to the public baths and brothel.
Scaling the stairs to the top of the theater and the coliseum and looking over the magnificent ruins was an emotional experience for me.
Can one hear a whisper? Well, not a whisper, but a spoken word. From the stage, as Rick looked down from the top, approximately 100 yards up,
I spoke in a normal voice, twice.
“Isn’t this spectacular?”
His arms shot up; touchdown.
Later we walked along the wide marble road and ran our hands over early carvings and writings on ruins that are older than two millennia. The reverence of the crowd of hundreds of people was clear; the place humbles all.
Just for a moment, one can picture the hordes, their shorts and red sun dresses transformed to ancient Roman robes. I wondered if I was stepping where the apostles stepped. Did I sit on a stone Mary touched?
The Bible and the times were with us. Behind the coliseum, we passed the burial grounds and tombs of ancient gladiators who fought in the arena where we had just sat.
A walk in Ephesus brings to life the reality of a very important past. It stirs the soul and whispers to the heart.