The first thing I noticed in Selçuk, Turkey, was that there was no obvious way to cross the train tracks. We had arrived via train from Izmir airport, but as the cars slowly chugged out of the station everyone else simply jumped off the crumbling platform and walked across the tracks.
It was a fitting first impression of Selçuk — a modern town filled with ancient ruins and people who have been getting things done for literally thousands of years.
Selçuk lies within walking distance of Ephesus, an incredible ancient city ruin that is most famous as the home of the Biblical Ephesians. Many people consequently blow through the town on cruise tours, hitting a few big sites over a couple of hours. But that’s a shame because it’s actually a charming, unpretentious, and historically significant site that’s worth lingering in.
After crossing the tracks with the locals, we marched up a hill alongside the ruin of an ancient aqueduct, then found rooms at Homeros Pension, an atmospheric guesthouse that smelled of incense and had a wood-burning stove to keep us warm.
Selçuk has several big claims to fame. Perhaps most significantly, it is the site of the ancient Temple of Artemis, a massive Greek structure that was built (or, re-built from an earlier version) in the 300s BC and became one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.
Today, the site of the temple is marked by a single, reconstructed column. When I visited, it was surrounded by tall grass and there wasn’t a person in sight. I couldn’t get a great photo, but here’s what it looks like up close:
Even more than the Temple of Artemis, I enjoyed wandering through the surrounding neighborhood. The buildings are a surprising mix of finely-restored homes and guesthouses, old mosques, and ruins of crumbling plaster and tile that appear to have long fallen out of use.
Selçuk’s most visually impressive site is its castle, which towers above the town. The castle is an old Ottoman fortress, and there isn’t much information available on site (though there is a cool sign showing it in various stages of restoration).
However, the castle and adjacent Basilica of St. John were — according to on-site information — visited by various New Testament figures including John the Apostle, who may have composed his gospel there.
If nothing else, the castle offers impressive views of the surrounding region. And like virtually everywhere during my visit to Selçuk, we had the entire place to ourselves.
On my way down from the castle, I noticed the many large stork nests perched on various old ruins.
After a day of wandering Selçuk’s ruins and streets, we headed back for a home cooked dinner at Homeros Pension (25ish lira per person). It was delicious, and we spent the evening chatting with a couple of other travelers who had used their day to visit the Tomb of the Virgin Mary (a pilgrimage site with a rather tenuous connection to Mary herself.)
In retrospect, Selçuk was a highlight — probably the highlight — of the entire trip to Turkey. It wasn’t exactly easy to get to, requiring a flight and a train ride from Istanbul, but it was absolutely worth it. And if I go back to Turkey (or, when I go back), Selçuk will absolutely be on my itinerary.
If you go: There are regular, cheap flights from Istanbul to Izmir, but if you see a good fare book it quickly, as prices change often. Trains and buses go from the airport to Selçuk. Trains are the cheapest option, but bus schedules may be more convenient.
If you’re traveling in the winter, you will not need a reservation for lodging. If traveling during the peak season, call or email ahead as it gets much busier.
There is a good, family-run Turkish pizza restaurant on the main drag called Oz Efe Pide Salonu. During my repeat visits, the father of the family made the food, the mother served, and their boy did homework at one of the tables.
— Jim Dalrymple II