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Ephesus: An Ancient City Full of Surprises

House of the Virgin Mary
The former House of the Virgin Mary

Turkey is full of historical surprises, as I learned on my third day. It all began with an early morning Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to Izmir on the Aegean coast.

The highlight on our itinerary was a visit to Ephesus, an ancient city with a history dating as far back as the 10th century B.C. But first, we had the opportunity to visit the former House of the Virgin Mary.

House of the Virgin Mary

Situated near Ephesus, a small stone structure discovered in the 19th century is thought to be the Virgin Mary's last home.

Restored, it now functions as a chapel and place of pilgrimage for Catholics. The interior is sparsely decorated, with a Virgin Mary statue on an altar in an alcove at the far wall.

Off to the side is a smaller room where she was thought to sleep. No photography is allowed inside.

Outside, candles are available for the faithful to light, three fountains offer water for drinking (some believe these waters have special powers), and there's a wall of visitors' wishes written on napkin-sized pieces of cloth.

The claim that the Virgin Mary lived her final years here may still be up for debate, but that more than a few popes have visited it in the 115 years since its discovery lends the site credibility.

The main road through Ephesus
The main road through Ephesus


The ancient city of Ephesus, first inhabited by the Greeks as far back as the 10th century B.C. and later by the Romans, was in use until the 15th century A.D., totaling 2,500 years. That's a lot of history!

The entrance to Ephesus is rather humble. It's not until you begin walking deeper into the site that the grandeur of this former city starts to show itself.

The Library of Celsus at Ephesus.
The Library of Celsus
The Library of Celsus
A detail of the library's facade

A highlight for everyone who visits is the reconstructed two-story facade of The Library of Celsus.

Its height towers over all other structures, aside from the theater built into the hillside at a distance. 

Up close, the details of the sculptures and columns become clearer.

Ancient toilets at Ephesus.

Less grand though just as interesting to me were the bathrooms, which featured holes cut in stone, one after the other, leaving one wondering whether there was any sense of privacy back then.

Related: Best Places to Visit in Turkey

The 25,000-person theater
The 25,000-person theater

Past The Library of Celsus is the 25,000 person theater, possibly the largest in the ancient world.

Here, theatrical performances were held as well as gladiator fights.

The theater faced the road leading to the old harbor, back when the sea level was high enough to meet Ephesus's edge. The city must've been an incredible sight in its heyday.

Tomb of John the Apostle
Tomb of John the Apostle

Basilica of St. John

If learning the Virgin Mary may have spent her last years around Ephesus was a surprise, so too was it to find out the same of St. John, author of the Book of Revelation.

In the 4th century, 300 years after he died, a small chapel was constructed over his grave. In the 6th century, the larger basilica was built.

Above the basilica is a castle, though we didn't have time to explore it during our visit.

Temple of Artemis
View toward the original site of the Temple of Artemis

Temple of Artemis

The biggest surprise of the day came in the form of a single unassuming column in the middle of a field.

It's viewable from the hill upon which the Basilica of St. John was built. In the photo above, it's barely visible at the center far right.

This column represents the Temple of Artemis's location, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Based on the foundation, the Temple of Artemis was four times the Parthenon's size in Athens.

The temple marked my second visit to a wonder of the ancient world (the first being the Great Pyramids at Giza).


My visit to Ephesus was in partnership with Turkish Airlines. 

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Jessie Voigts

Wednesday 24th of June 2015

It's lovely to see these extraordinary photos - what a place!!

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