Turkey: History echoes through Ephesus' marble streets

By Liza Kappelle

The ruins of Ephesus are still impressive, despite the tolls wrought by 2000 years of pestilence, fire and earthquakes. Photo / Thinkstock
The ruins of Ephesus are still impressive, despite the tolls wrought by 2000 years of pestilence, fire and earthquakes. Photo / Thinkstock

Cleopatra and Mark Antony spent a winter at Ephesus when the ancient seaport was famous for its wealth and luxury.

We only have half a day among its ruins, more than 2000 years later, but there's plenty of evidence left to help us envision their toga'd life.

At its peak Ephesus, or Efes, ruled first by Greeks and then Romans, was a seaport home to 250,000 people.

Now it lies some eight kilometres inland, in ruins due to pestilence, fire and earthquakes, and is home only to the ubiquitous cats of Turkey.

But the amphitheatre, its marble streets, temples, library and even its toilets offer glimpses of its past.

The very public toilets, carved holes in one long marble slab with no partitions, would have been pre-warmed for wealthy users by their slaves.

A carving, believed to be the world's oldest advertisement, shows the way to the local brothel.

The marble stones are deeply scored and scratched, presumably to prevent sandalled feet from slipping on the way to the shops or the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

For all you history and art buffs, Efes is just a few kilometres outside Selcuk, home to the Ephesus Museum and the smaller relics of the ancient site.

It's a picturesque town with orange trees, sunny squares and carpet shops and there are plenty of other nearby sights to see, including the Basilica of St John the Apostle and a small stone chapel, believed to be where the Virgin Mary lived out her last days.

We fell in love with nearby Sirence, an old Ottoman town. We reached it by winding up a valley past olive groves and citrus orchards to the steep streets of the village that has become famous for its olive oil, fruit wines and stunning views.

We tried the local fare at Artemis restaurant and wine house, a former school at the top of the village with stunning views and delicious food. The interesting menu can be found online.

If anyone has ever tried the "cow pea of sea", I'd like to know. We opted out.

After Ephesus, we travel by bus to Bergama, formerly known as Pergamon, where it's said parchment was invented.

This ancient city that was once famous for its library is composed of three main parts - the acropolis, the lower city, for the lower classes, and the asklepion, one of the earliest medical centres on record.

We stayed at Hotel Aristotle, billed as the town's only boutique hotel, which serves a breakfast of cheese and olives made by the hostess, and is only a short walk to the funicular that takes you to the hilltop ruins.

Less well known than Pergamon or Ephesus are the ruins of Assos, also known as Behramkale, in the province of Canakkale, where there was a temple of Athena overlooking the sea and where Aristotle opened an academy.

We see Assos on a day trip with Marco, an Italian who rents out flats to tourists in Istanbul and showed us his country house in a tiny village inhabited by subsistence farmers, braying donkeys, chickens and sheep.

Marco's "house of spirits" is lovingly restored but about half the stone houses of Erecek are in ruins - apparently attractive only to foreigners looking for a taste of the simpler life where coal is used for heating, passing traffic is all but nil and there is neither street lighting nor a shop.

We are charmed by the countryside as we wander past sheep herders, brooks and the olive-studded countryside.

But it is a hard life and Marco says many of the locals have packed up and moved to bigger towns.

IF YOU GO

Getting around: We travelled around Turkey with bus company, Metro Turizm, which was very cheap and comfortable but overheated. We also took mini-buses in some rural areas. Catch them from any otogar, aka bus station.

Where to stay: We rented a flat from Marco in Istanbul and stayed at his country house near Assos as guests. Accommodation can be viewed at lacasadimariapia.com.

Further information: See goturkey.com.

- AAP

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