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Cruising in Europe: Ephesus, Turkey

I must have said, “Wow,” a hundred times while I walked around Ephesus, Turkey. The ruins where we stepped were thousands of years old, but it was so easy to picture it as the thriving metropolis. Even though I’m years behind on posting about this trip, and the details are a little on the fuzzy side, I’m still in awe of the opportunity to visit such a remarkable place.

When my mom started planning our cruise, we both really wanted to visit Turkey. When else would we get to step foot in the Asian continent? It was perfect timing, especially considering the country’s current state. We only had one day in Ephesus, but it was extremely packed; we did as much sightseeing as possible, and that started with our decision to hire a tour guide. Sure, we could’ve stayed near the boat and called it a day, but we were in Turkey, for crying out loud: we had things to do and places to see! We started our day by looking at the Basilica of St. John (yup, the Saint John), and then we went to Ephesus.

Discovering Ephesus, Turkey

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If Ephesus sounds slightly familiar to you, but you can’t put your finger on why, think about the Bible. Ephesus = Ephesians. Pretty cool, right? This port city was once a religious center for early Christianity, a trade center for the ancient world, and today serves as a living history lesson.

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Gul warned us that even though it was September when we were there, the tourist season was still in full force. And once we turned a corner it was blatantly obvious how accurate she was. 

Still, standing there in such a packed street took me back in time. I imagined the city in its hay-day since that main road is where history literally took place. It was thrilling to think of what it must’ve been like.

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They’re actually still excavating Ephesus (hello, Turkish archeologists!), so it was really neat to be there while the were out uncovering new portions of the old city.

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All along the main road there were photos of drawings depicting what each building probably looked like in its original form. It’s amazing how much they’ve uncovered and have put back together over the years. Not to mention, I was constantly blown away with the attention to detail with architecture. Even down to the mosaics on the floor, the design elements were stunning. 

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And then there was the scale of everything. You could tell Ephesus had a lot of powerful people living there based on just the pure size of some of the buildings. The gigantic structures and the attention to beautiful detail made left me in awe. 

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The Terrace Houses in Ephesus, Turkey

Within Ephesus is a section called “The Terrace Houses,” which are where they believe very important people lived since it’s located right smack dab in the middle of town. The tour company we took explains them like this:

“Every terrace on the stepped street was a home entrance. All were peristyle (with a small pool in the center) and the rooms were arranged around the pool. Most houses were three-story not higher than 20 or 25 m. Columns were on all sides and the floors were marble. There was running water to the houses, either from a fountain or along the side.

In some houses there were even cisterns and wells. Light came in from the open peristyle, but not enough to keep the houses from being dim, since there were no windows. The houses were lighted like the baths were. The floors were mosaic, the walls had frescoes or colored marble. The precious finds from the houses are on display in the Ephesus Museum. The houses were built up the first century AD and were used as late as Heraclius’ time (611-641) doubtless with multiple restorations.”

Amazing, right? In the following pictures you’ll see a wall that looks like marble. The archeologists are basically putting together a ginormous, real-life puzzle. If it’s up on the “wall” that means they’ve found the pieces. Watching them work—digging, brushing, uncovering—was a stunning sight to see.

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The Library of Celsus, in Ephesus, Turkey

I wasn’t prepared for what I saw next. Already blown away with everything else within Ephesus, we turned yet another corner and saw the library. Originally built in honor of Roman Senator Celsus, it held more than 12,000 scrolls. It may sound strange to say since I stood there in ruins, but I could imagine how magnificent it must have looked.

Wikepedia tells me that the interior was destroyed by an earthquake in 262 A.D., and the outside was destroyed by another earthquake in the 10th or 11th century. Then, in the 70s, archaeologists re-erected it to what you can see today. It’s seriously so cool that they can do that!

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Now is a good time to mention how unbelievably hot it was the day we were there. We picked our trip for September, thinking things would cool off from the summer, but it was still 100+ degrees outside. I was pregnant, too, so the heat hit me even harder than usual. I truly can’t even imagine being there in the dead of summer!

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The last piece to our Ephesus tour was the ginormous stadium. Like everything else in Ephesus, I wasn’t expecting to see such a grand stadium!

It was first built in the Hellenistic Age—before Christ! Then, it was used for ceremonies and sports, but at the turn of the 3rd and 4th centuries, gladiator and wild animal fights took over. Apparently, Christians were also persecuted and thrown to the lions, but when Christianity became the official religion, they destroyed it and built the “Persecution Gate” as a symbol for the sufferings.

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My mom and I took an obligatory, “we made it through the heat” picture at the end of the tour. My dad met us at the end of the ancient city since the walk would have been way too strenuous for him.

And of course, since we were, in fact, in a tourist area, there was a plethora of Turkish stalls ready to take our money. We only gave in to some fries and a soda (and I’m sure I had something else to eat since I was eating for two)! 

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I don’t know if I’ll ever get to visit Turkey again (I’d love to see Istanbul), but I’m so thankful for this opportunity. Have you visited Ephesus? Did it blow your mind? What did you think?

Catch up on the other posts from this cruise series:
Venice, Italy
Bari, Italy
Corfu, Greece
Santorini, Greece
A Santorini Sunset
Basilica of St. John; Ephesus, Turkey

When you discover and visit the ancient city of Ephesus, Turkey, prepare to be wowed around every corner! Come explore this remarkable place

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7 Comments

  1. This is so awesome, and I’m so jealous! We were actually just on a Greek Island cruise, but because of everything going on in Turkey they didn’t have us port in Kusadasi like we were supposed to. I’m glad we were safe, but I was sad that I couldn’t say I’d been on Asia, or seen Ephesus and walked where Jesus did!

  2. Love the fact that you got to visit this cool ancient city. I’ve never been to Ephesus, but I did get to spend six weeks working on an archeological dig in Aphrodisias several years ago. Seeing your pictures reminded me of how amazing it is to live and walk among the masterpieces of the ancients. What made the greatest impact on me was seeing the imprint of an ancient plaster maker’s hand on the back of a plaster panel. I’m glad you had such a great time!

  3. That is so great you got to go there! We were there on a cruise in 2009. It is weird to see all those people there since when we went our smalll tour were the only ones. And it wasn’t too hot 😉

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