Ionian Odyssey

Ephesus II: A Virtual Tour
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Ephesus ranked among the richest cities on earth for centuries, and it shows. There is much to see in Ephesus—too much to describe all here. What follows are some of the highlights that await the visitor to this amazing place.

There are two entrances to Ephesus, upper and lower. Use the upper, since you'll be saving the best for last, and heading downhill to boot. Once you pass through the gates, look for a small theater carved into the hillside.

You're looking at the 1,500-seat Odeon, which was built in 150 A.D. and used for lectures, musical performances and town council meetings. In ancient times, the Odeon was roofed, so have a seat and enjoy something the Romans couldn't—the view of the mountains.

Nor far from the Odeon along the road leading down into the city stand two marble pillars on either side of the road. They form the Hercules Gate, and each is decorated with reliefs depicting history's most famous strong-man.

Temples and Toilets
These gates form the entrance to Curates Street, one of the main arteries in Ephesus. The marble-paved street covers an extensive system of drainage pipes. Rows of shops once lined this scenic way, as did statues of the city's most illustrious citizens. All that remains are the pillars on which they stood.

The Temple of Hadrian, dedicated to the visiting emperor in 129 A.D., lies about two-thirds of the way down Curates Street on the right.

The rich Corinthian facade is typically Roman, far more flowery than the classical Greek Ionic fashion. Intricate reliefs of Medusa, Amazons, the Olympian gods and others decorate much of the facade.

Don't miss one of the most popular attractions in Ephesus a little farther on your right—the public latrines. Form definitely followed function here, right down to the beveled seats. Plant yourself on one of these marble commodes, because it's undoubtedly the oldest throne your backside will ever grace.

No Expense Spared
There's no way you can miss the monument at the bottom of Curates Street, the Library of Celsus, easily the most grandiose building in Ephesus. The library was dedicated in 120 A.D. by a son to his father, the Roman governor of Asia, Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus.

The library, one of the most important in the Roman world, once housed some 12,000 scrolls in niches throughout its walls. Wooden balconies gave people access to the scrolls, which were protected from heat and humidity by hollow walls. The scrolls perished in flames during the Gothic attack on Ephesus in 262 A.D.

Like a Hollywood set, only the facade of the library stands, but once you lay eyes on this gorgeous, Corinthian-columned wonder, you'll never forget it. Stare closely and see if you can figure out just why it appears so remarkable.

The Romans employed an architectural illusion—they lengthened the center columns and made the base convex—to make the building appear even grander.

Night Life
From the library, take a short stroll down the Marble Street and past the remains of the commercial market on your left. When you can go no farther, take a left down Harbor Street, the main boulevard of Ephesus.

Walk as far as you can go down this 1,700-foot-long, 36-foot-wide boulevard, which once led to the busiest harbor in the world. Admire the remains of the gymnasium and baths and try to make out the sea, now nearly three miles away.

This avenue marked the start of a royal highway that led into central Anatolia, and many an emperor entering or departing Asia Minor was greeted here by throngs of Ephesians.

Dozens of shops and colonnades crowned with statues and lamps flanked this popular gathering spot, making Ephesus one of only three cities in antiquity—along with Rome and Antioch—to boast street lighting.

That's Entertainment
When you get to the end of Harbor Street, turn around and enjoy the most impressive sight in the city—the mammoth, mind-blowing semi-circle carved into the side of Mt. Pion.

First built during the reign of Alexander's general Lysimachus in the 4th century B.C., the theatre was reconstructed and expanded during the first century A.D., and can seat 25,000 spectators.

Each successive row of seats is angled slightly steeper than the last, preserving the view of the stage and the acoustics all the way to the bleachers. And the acoustics are incredible—you can hear thick tourists at stage-level asking weary tour guides questions like "who were the Ephesians?" from the very last row.

Take time to find a good seat high up, enjoy a snack and a drink (if you packed wisely) and take a good long time to soak in the stunning view from atop this extraordinary theatre in this extraordinary city.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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