EPHESUS, Turkey — There's something about strolling along an avenue of white marble that makes it natural and pleasant to slip back in time 2,000 years or more.
And after you've noticed the chariot wheel ruts in the pavement, it's easy to imagine Alexander the Great riding by as he did on this avenue in 334 BC, after taking Ephesus from the Asia Minor Greeks.
As you approach the 24,000-seat Grand Amphitheater, also of marble, you can visualize St. Paul being arrested on its stage in AD 66 for preaching about a new god. This is the same amphitheater that now is filled every May during the annual Turkish folkloric festival. Its fine acoustics are still enhanced by gentle breezes from the Aegean Sea.
The venerable city-state of Ephesus, born about 1300 BC, makes a mockery of time. Its ruins and landmarks can transport you instantly backward or forward over the centuries, depending on the remains of which monuments, temples, fountains and other structures you are observing.
One of the greatest archeological sites, Ephesus brings out the archeologist in all who see it. It reveals much about the lives of the people of the Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires who inhabited it over the years.
Brochures of Aegean cruises and of bus tours through Turkey tend to list Ephesus merely as one of the sights. It's much more. Once you've experienced this city that lived for 2,600 years, you'll wonder why it's not featured like the Acropolis, the Roman Forum or the Pyramids.
Fifteen hundred years ago Ephesus was the third most important city in the Western World, behind Rome and Antioch. With a population of 240,000, it was a wealthy city and, appropriately, had civilization's first bank.
Scientists from Austria, Turkey, Germany and the United States are helping this Shangri-La of antiquity to emerge from the dust of the undulating hills of Turkey's lovely Aegean seacoast. The topography and climate are like Southern California's. The exposed architecture is abundant, although only one-fifth of the four-by-nine-mile "metropolitan area" has been uncovered. It was really several cities born at different times.
With its rich religious background, Ephesus has attracted pilgrims for centuries. It contains two important Christian shrines. A chapel marks the supposed last home of the Virgin Mary, who was brought to the city by St. John. The Vatican has commemorated the site. Remains of a church, completed in AD 565, rise above the grave of St. John.
Written by St. Paul
One of the seven original Christian churches was built in the city. The New Testament book of Ephesians was written by St. Paul to the early Christians here.
Near St. John's basilica is the Mohammedan mosque of Isa Bey, completed in 1375 and fairly well-preserved. The city also has a temple that was built for worship of the Egyptian god Serapis. Built by Egyptian colonists of Egyptian granite, it was later converted into a Christian church.
Before Christianity, most Ephesians worshiped Artemis (Diana), goddess of fertility. They built her a great marble temple with 1,237 columns, each more than 60 feet high. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Only the foundation remains.
The temple was financed by wealthy Ephesians and by contributions of young women who occupied a brothel. Illegitimate offspring from the establishment were supported by the community as the children of Artemis. A sculptured footprint in the pavement near the old port still points the way for sailors to the bordello.
The main thoroughfare along which most modern tourists walk is the marble-paved Street of Curetes. It ends, or begins--depending on which direction you're walking--at the beautiful, partly restored Library of Celsus. It was the third largest library in the Mediterranean world, behind those of Alexandria and Pergamum, and contained 50,000 parchment scrolls.
The Street of Curetes must have presented a spectacular sight during the days of Roman rule. The gently sloping roadway is lined with the remains of a magnificent array of white marble temples and statuary, most of them honoring Roman emperors. The handsomest temple, still impressive after nearly 2,000 years, glorified Emperor Hadrian. It so pleased him that he lowered the city's taxes.
Ruins of a Hospital
Beside the street are ruins of a hospital bearing the reassuring Latin inscription: "Nobody dies here," and the remains of two agoras, or small malls. Above the arches of one are remnants of homes of the wealthy, who didn't have far to go for their shopping.
Segments of a network of red clay pipes, showing in breaks in the marble pavement, show that the street was washed and cooled by flowing water on hot summer nights.
Curetes Street also had an elaborate 18-holer. Not for golf but as a public restroom with marble seats. A stream of water still flows three feet below the seats.