LifestyleEphesus: Ancient marvels from brothel to multimedia museum

Ephesus: Ancient marvels from brothel to multimedia museum

The Library of Celsus is a symbol of Ephesus.
The Library of Celsus is a symbol of Ephesus.
Images source: © Adobe Stock

8:17 AM EDT, June 4, 2024

Here, sailors arrived for physical pleasures, and evangelists wrote their scriptures. Both Cleopatra and Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived here. Roman emperors threw grand parties here, and Saint John was writing his gospel then. Add to that an impressive library and an equally impressive brothel, which means we're in Ephesus, one of the most powerful cities of antiquity. During a vacation in Turkey, this is a must-visit point.

Ephesus is an ancient Greco-Roman city founded around the 9th century B.C. Right after Pompeii, it is one of the best-preserved ancient cities in the world. The first Christian community in Asia Minor was established here, and the first gospel was written. It is no wonder in 2015, Ephesus was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The power of the ancient city discovered... by accident

The discovery of the city's ruins was decided by accident because, if it weren't for the construction of the railway in Turkey, the ancient city might never have been uncovered. The history of archaeological research in Ephesus dates back to 1863 when British engineer John Turtle Wood, who was supposed to be building railways in Turkey, began searching for the remains of the Temple of Artemis. He was almost obsessed with it. And it's good he was because six years later, he managed to identify its location, and another five years were devoted to excavation work in that area, and the first artifacts were found.

Since that time, archaeological work has been ongoing. Even now – while crowds of tourists visit the city, archaeologists are still excavating, and with each passing year, we can see more and more.

The origins of Ephesus date back to the second millennium B.C. It was already a bustling city in Greek times. Its most famous citizen was Heraclitus, a philosopher living in the 6th-5th century B.C., whose motto was the famous saying "Panta rhei," meaning "Everything flows." After periods of Persian rule and then the successors of Alexander the Great, Ephesus became the capital of the Roman province. It attracted famous personalities, including Mark Antony and Cleopatra, who enjoyed their free time by sailing in the waters of the nearby bay on a ship with silver oars and perfumed sails.

At its peak, the population of Ephesus reached 200,000. Over time, however, the local river's mouth began to silt up, and after earthquakes, the coastline receded. Along with the loss of its port function, the city lost its significance. Currently, the sea is 3 miles from the city's ruins.

A wonder of the world, an impressive library, and a brothel

Ephesus was a highly developed metropolis. There were many public utility buildings here. Today, among other things, you can admire a theater for 25,000 spectators, where concerts by famous stars like Elton John and Luciano Pavarotti are currently held. The city also has a prytaneion, equivalent to a town hall, by which an eternal flame was kept burning at the Temple of Vesta. There are also two agoras – the representative one used for more official purposes and the commercial one closer to the port – and complex bathhouses because no one could enter the city dirty.

The symbol of Ephesus is the Library of Celsus, named in honor of the Roman governor who was buried in its crypt. The magnificent building was erected in the 2nd century A.D. by the son of the official, who sponsored the purchase of 12,000 papyrus scrolls. During the Gothic invasion in the 3rd century A.D., the library was burned down, but its incredible facade survived.

Here also stood the Temple of Artemis, considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Today, its only remnant is the stump of a lone column, but it was undoubtedly an impressive structure. The temple was surrounded by over 120 columns, each 66 feet high and with a diameter of 10 feet! Inside was a statue of Artemis, known here as Diana, revered as the goddess of fertility. The local museum houses two statues of the goddess, featuring her ample bosom.

All that remains of the Temple of Artemis today is the stump of a solitary column.
All that remains of the Temple of Artemis today is the stump of a solitary column.© Adobe Stock

Ephesus was also known for its brothel. To this port city flocked masses of sailors, eager for women after long voyages. Women from the world's oldest profession offered their services to them. An advertisement for this establishment can be seen on a sidewalk slab on one of the streets. It etched the image of a woman, a heart, a coin implying that nothing is for free, and a foot. The foot pointed the way to the house of pleasures and simultaneously served to check if a man was old enough to use the prostitutes' services. If the foot was smaller than the one on the slab, it indicated that he still needed to "grow up."

The city's residents also utilized the brothel. Concerned for their privacy and anonymity, an underground passage was invented that led from the library. This way, one could always convince his wife, shopping at the agora, that he was going to the library to read while actually spending time differently.

Ancient toilets

The city's life can be learned from inscriptions written in Greek. Among them are also regulatory provisions. They talk about the penalties for polluting the port. There is also a warning not to... "urinate on the walls within the agora." At the same time, a place was provided where one could take care of their needs. The ancient toilets are now a favorite spot where tourists take photos. Marble benches with holes, arranged in a square, could accommodate 48 men at once. Privacy was not a priority – reclining comfortably, not covered by any walls, patrons discussed politics, made deals, and exchanged opinions about women.

Ancient toilets in Ephesus
Ancient toilets in Ephesus© Adobe Stock | Gagarin Iuri

Admission to the toilets was paid, thanks to a decree by Emperor Vespasian, who explained that "money does not stink," thus deciding to support the state budget. This is also the origin of another saying, namely, "to have a warm seat." Before a wealthy resident sat on their place in the toilet, a slave would warm the cold marble slab (though the slave did not use the toilet himself) so that the master could sit on a warm and heated seat.

Time travel

Since last year, the city has had an Ephesus Multimedia Museum. It is a major attraction, especially for families with children.

The museum utilizes modern technologies such as touch screens, 3D projections, and virtual reality to present the history of Ephesus. Visitors can interactively explore ancient ruins and reconstructed buildings. Thanks to technology, the museum shows scenes from the everyday life of Ephesus residents, and visitors can feel the vibrations of an earthquake, the gust of wind, or almost touch the golden statue of Artemis or Cleopatra's garments. Starting in 2024, the entire setup, in which we are not mere spectators but citizens of the city, will be available with a Polish narrator (a professional actor who perfectly introduces the city's atmosphere).

Ephesus - how to get there?

The best way to reach Ephesus by public transport is from Izmir and Kusadasi. Tickets won't cost more than $5-$7.50. From the Turkish Riviera and Bodrum Peninsula, bus tours are organized. Their cost can be up to $105 per person, but besides transportation, we have a Polish-speaking guide, lunch, a visit to a winery with tastings, and entrance tickets to the ruins and museum in Ephesus.

If we decide to tour on our own, the entrance fee to the ancient city is 17 dollars, and for the multimedia museum, it's 4 dollars (an important point, especially with children, but it also guarantees amazing experiences for adults). The ruins of the city also look impressive, and the archaeologists have made efforts to perfectly combine authentic artifacts with reconstructed fragments.

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