Ephesus — which is famous for being the home of the Ephesians of New Testament fame — is definitely worth seeing. Here’s a primer on the basics you need to know before going:
It’s an abandoned ancient city filled with Roman ruins.
Ephesus is an ancient city in Turkey that sits between two hillsides at the mouth of a silted-in harbor. It’s only a few miles inland from the Aegean Sea and a popular cruise stop. It was built by Greeks in the 10th century BC on top of ruins from even older civilizations. It went through many phases of growth and decline. First it was controlled by the Greeks, then the Egyptians, the Romans, the Byzantines, and finally the Ottomans. The city also played a major role in the New Testament; St. John, the Apostle Paul, and Mary the mother of Jesus are believed to have spent time in the area.
It suffered multiple earthquakes and attacks, and for the past 500 years has been an abandoned ghost town of impressive marble ruins, cypress trees, and herds of sheep.
It’s best on your own and in the winter, but worth it anytime of the year.
Winter keeps the crowds at bay and is perfect for hiking and exploring the ruins. We all loved the chilly winter weather — it was in the mid-40s when we visited in mid-January. The winter is the off season for cruises, which also helps keep crowds small and makes it easier to appreciate Ephesus’ ghost town-like ambiance.
During our entire visit we only saw two tour groups, and a handful of other individuals exploring the ruins on their own. The complex is huge, which means we had whole stretches of time where the only others we encountered were cats.
My parents marveled at the contrast with their previous visit five years ago in the summertime. Their previous experience was in a tour group during a brief cruise stop. My dad described that experience as being rushed from site to site along set routes that felt like conveyor belts of jam-packed people. But even with the crowds they loved it, and were excited to go back.
The Little Theater and Celsus Library steal the show.
There is so much to see at Ephesus, and simply exploring is a joy. Little red self-guided tour-books are sold in shops all over Selçuk and at the museum store just inside the upper gate entrance. Our guesthouse also had a guidebook, and we borrowed the one in English for the day. Even though there are lots of worthwhile sites — including toppled temples, marble streets, a large amphitheater, and public toilets — by far my two favorites were the Little Theater (the Odeon) and the famed Celsus Library.
Spring for the Terrace Houses.
The Terrace Houses are located within the ancient city of Ephesus, and are basically a complex of Roman mansions for the über rich. It’s an additional fee, and separate ticket to enter the Terrace Houses, but well worth it. The walls are covered in Roman wall paintings done in the Third Style, and floors are covered in tiny mosaic tiles depicting fish, gods, and geometric designs. Apartments had their own private baths and internal courtyards encircled by columns. It was pretty incredible. Another bonus: We had the entire terrace houses to ourselves while we were there. Both tour groups skipped it.
Tickets are purchased at either entrance. The Terrace Houses are located near the Celsus Library, and housed in a large modern metallic structure to protect the delicate frescoes and mosaics from the elements.
The best base for visiting Ephesus is the city Selçuk — it’s easily connected to nearby airports via trains and busses. Plus, you can literally walk to Ephesus from the city center.
If taking a taxi to the ruins, get dropped off at the upper gate (entrance). Set a time in advance for your driver to return and pick you up at the lower gate. This allows you to maximize your time taking a one way downhill stroll through the ruins without having to back track. Your hotelier can arrange a taxi for you.
The currency exchange is always fluctuating, but in January 2016 our tickets for Ephesus only cost about $13 each, and that included the additional ticket for the Terrace Houses.
Give yourself plenty of time to explore. I recommend at least 3 – 4 hours.
I highly recommend staying at Homeros Pension and Guesthouse. It’s warm, friendly, eclectic, and one of my favorite places we’ve stayed in awhile.
— Laura Rowley