Ephesus came under Roman control in 133 BC. The Romans constructed many public buildings and gates; baths and temples were donated by the city's wealthy citizens. The canny city leaders curried the favor of the emperors by dedicating temples and other monuments to them. When Augustus became emperor in 27 BC, he made Ephesus instead of Pergamum the capital of proconsular Asia (the western part of Asia Minor). In 29 BC, a temple was erected to the goddess Roma and the deified Julius Caesar. From then on the cult of emperor worship was promoted there. Stamped on coins are the titles, "First of all the greatest," and "The first and greatest metropolis of Asia." The city's beautiful location, together with the fertile soil and excellent climate, made it a very desirable place to live. Important Roman highways met at Ephesus. Because of its location on the most direct route to the eastern provinces, Ephesus had few equals anywhere in the world. However, despite the efforts of no fewer than two emperors, the harbor, the city's lifeline, continued to fill up with layers of silt carried by the Cayster River, already a problem before the arrival of Paul, and John after him, to begin their missionary activities.
Even some nineteen hundred years after Paul, Timothy, Aquila, Priscilla, Apollos and John walked its streets, Ephesus (now Efes; near modern Seljuk) still attracts visitors from every corner of the world and is a prime destination for Aegean cruises. Unmatched in terms of sheer magnitude, Ephesus appeals to everyone, from the serious archaeologist to the casual tourist. No modern city was ever built on the site after its final abandonment. Here visitors see remains buried under layers of silt, uncovered and rebuilt by archeologists from different countries over some 125 years. You can sit in the great theater where plays were performed and where a riot erupted during a meeting organized by the silversmith Demetrius whose business was affected by St. Paul's missionary efforts (vividly described in Acts 19). You can freely wander the marble streets, marketplaces, temples, town hall, shops, library and homes, imagining the grandeur of this once great city.
Above, Google Earth view of the Ephesus site. Only an estimated 15% of the city has been excavated. Note the three main roads, including that heading west from the Great Theater, ending at the completely silted harbor, the loss of which killed the city after a long, illustrious history. Most of the surviving remains belong to the Roman imperial period (from about 27 BC onwards). Interactive map of the ruins.
Touring the Ephesus site
Ephesus is considered one of Turkey's great outdoor museums. The road south to the ruins from the highway to the modern port of Kusadasi passes the Gymnasium of Vedius and the horseshoe-shaped Stadium (below) built in the Hellenistic period; rebuilt during Nero's reign, 54-69 AD. Evidently it was used for athletic contests and races; the rounded end was for gladiator combats and wild animal contests.
The road south from the stadium takes you to the street coming from the former harbor. To your left, carved into the west slope of Mount Pion (below), is the impressive 25,000 seat Theater, the scene of the riot vividly described in Acts 19. Under the Romans, Beginning about 40 AD, the Romans expanded and renovated the theater into the massive structure seen today. The acoustics are still excellent. In the foreground are remains of the Theater Gymnasium. 360° views of the Ephesus theater
Below, view west from the theater. A 1,600-foot-long road once connected the city to its thriving port. It was named "Arkadiane" for the emperor Arcadius (395-409 AD) during whose reign was remodeled. With a monumental gateway at each end, the 35-feet-wide thoroughfare was flanked by 15-foot-wide colonnades, backed by buildings and shops. To the right of the street (north) are the remains of baths, gymnasiums and other structures built during the reign of Hadrian (117-138 AD), all intended for the physical and educational development of the people. This was the site of Ephesus' own Olympic-style games. Left of the street (south) was the large (360-foot-sqaure) commercial agora, with its many shops.
Heading south from the theater on a street designated Marble Way you come to the Library of Celcus (below), a grandiose structure built 114-117 AD by Gaius Julius Aquila to honor his deceased father, Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, governor of the Roman province of Asia. It also served as his father's tomb. At its peak it is said to have housed 12,000 manuscripts. The facade has been restored by a team from Austria. Statues in four niches flanking the three entrance doors represent the qualities of Celcus: wisdom (Sophia), knowledge (Episteme), intelligence (Ennoia) and goodness or excellence (Arete). The building faces east so the reading rooms could take advantage of the morning light.
Next to the library is the Mazeus-Mithridates Gate (above right), which served as the entrance to the Commercial Agora, where the apostle Paul may have labored as a tent-cloth maker in one of its many shops to support his evangelism efforts, some 39 years before John received his revelation. The triple-arched gate was built by two former slaves to honor emperor Augustus who granted them their freedom.
From the plaza before the library, the so-called Curetes Street heads east, passing the Scholastika Baths (below), originally built in the 1st century AD and rebuilt in the 4th century AD by a wealthy Christian woman named Scholastilka. Rich and poor alike made use of this and other such complexes, all free of charge. Ephesus had at least five large gymnasiums/bathhouses.
The Scholastika baths complex included dressing rooms, hot and cold baths, massage and anointing chambers, public toilets (below, dating 1st century AD) and even a large brothel.
Next comes the Temple Hadrian (below), built before 138 AD by P. Quintilius and dedicated to the emperor Hadrian, who visited the city in 128 AD. Re-erected from the surviving architectural fragments, its facade has four Corinthian columns, two round, two square, supporting a curved arch with a relief of Tyche, goddess of victory. In front are square bases for statues of the emperors who ruled between 293-305 AD: Diocletian, Maximian, Constantius I and Galerius.
Below, frescos in one of the so-called "Houses on the Slope" on the opposite side of Curetes street from the Temple of Hadrian. They consist of six upper-middle ca=residences on three terraces at the lower end of the slope of Mt. Coressos. The oldest dates to the 1st century BC. The mostly two-storied residences had central courtyards open to the sky and cold and hot water. Living and dining rooms were on the ground floor, bedrooms and guest rooms were upstairs. Clay pipes under the floors and behind the walls carried hot air to heat the homes.
Another monument to a Roman emperor follows, a fountain dedicated to Trajan (below). Built around 104 AD. it is one of the finest monuments in Ephesus. A statue of Trajan stood in the central niche on the facade overlooking the pool, but only one foot remains.
Looking west along Curetes Street (below), one of the city's three main streets. Archaeologists named it for the Curetes, a class of priests in the Temple of Artemis. Running diagonally from the State Agora to the Library of Celsus, it was lined with shops, workshops and inns. Curetes Street was part of a processional route to/from the Temple of Artemis.
Below, Square of Domitian, once the site of a huge three-story temple dedicated to Flavian Sebastoi" or "Divine Flavians," the trio of emperors that ruled the Roman empire 69-96 AD (Vespasian and his two sons Titus, Domitian). Titus was the general who destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD; Domitian was the ruling emperor at the time John wrote Revelation. One of the largest temples on the city, its plan had 8 x 13 columns. The Ephesus temple is one of the few remains connected with Domitian; after he was assassinated his name was scratched out of all inscriptions mentioning him.
Odeum or Odeon (below center), a small theater built about 150 AD. It seated about 1,500 people and was probably covered and used for lectures and concerts. It may have also served as a bouleuterion, a meeting place for the city council (boule). In the foreground is part of the large State Agora, originally built in the 8th century BC and reconstructed in the 1st century BC. This large space was surrounded by the Varius Baths, Basilica (but not a church), Odeum, Prytaneion, Pollio and Bassus Fountains and the Flavian (Domitian) Temple. In the center of the agora was a temple that recent findings suggest likely honored the emperor Augustus. This large plaza was the city's governmental center.
360° views of the Ephesus odeum
Below, remains of the Prytaneion (Ephesus city hall; seat of the Prytaneis or executive council). The building contained the hearth of the goddess Hestia, where a sacred flame, symbolizing the well-being of the city, was kept constantly burning. Built in the 3rd century BC, the ruins seen today date to the reign of Augustus. During excavation archeologists found three Artemis statues in the vault. They are now in the Ephesus museum.
Below, computer reconstruction of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was four times larger than Athens' Parthenon (425 feet long and 220 feet wide, with 127 columns, each 60 feet high, in double rows). The sanctuary was reached by a flight of ten steps and like other Greek temples was open to the sky. The worship of Artemis was at the heart of Ephesus' life and economy. Because Artemis was considered powerful and protective of her temple, people from all over the world deposited money there, which in turn was loaned out at high interest rates. Every year the city held two huge festivals honoring Artemis: Artemesia in April; Artemis' birthday in May. Ephesians would process along city's main streets carrying images of Artemis from the temple. At the harbor, the images were washed to restore her virginity; she was the perpetual virgin. Worshipers engaged in sex with thousands of temple prostitutes; through orgasms they became one in spirit with the goddess. Such was the religious atmosphere of Ephesus at the time of John, and the daunting task faced by the city's fledgling Christian community.
I have seen the walls of unbreachable Babylon, along which chariots may race, and the statue of Zeus by the river Alphaeus, the Hanging Gardens and the Colossus of the Sun, the great man-made mountains of the lofty pyramids, and the gigantic tomb of Maussolos. But when I saw the sacred house of Artemis reaching the clouds, the others paled...
-Antipater of Sidon, Greek Anthology 9.58
The site of the Temple of Artemis was lost for over a thousand years and only rediscovered in 1870 after six years of patient searching by an expedition sponsored by the British Museum. The scant remains were buried under 20 feet of silt and not within the city as expected, but about 1Â˝ miles north on swampy ground (to cushion the blow of earthquakes). Today the location (below) is marked by scattered remnants and a single re-erected column constructed of dissociated fragments discovered at the site.
In the distance is Ayasoluk hill (Turkish corruption of the Greek Haghios Theologos "divine theologian") where, during the reign of the emperor Justinian (527-564 AD), the inhabitants moved after the troublesome harbor became unusable. On the lower slopes of the hill Justinian built the Basilica of St. John (below) over a tomb believed to be that of the apostle and author of Revelation. The monumental church was cruciform in plan and was covered with six massive domes. The supposed tomb of St. John is marked by a square marble platform with columns at each corner, in the area once covered by the main dome. In the 14th century AD the church was devastated by an earthquake. If the church were fully restored, it would be the seventh largest in the world. It is now an open air museum.