The culture and history of ancient Ephesus

The culture and history of ancient Ephesus

Ephesus (Turkey) – detailed description with photos. Interesting facts about Ephesus and location on the map.


Ephesus is an ancient city on the west coast of Turkey. It is located south of Izmir on the river Maly Menderes (in ancient times, the Cairo River). Ephesus is one of Turkey’s most famous landmarks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a striking cultural landscape that includes the heritage of ancient Greeks and Romans, Byzantines and Seljuks.

Ephesus is the largest archaeological site in Asia Minor. In Antiquity it was home to one of the most important ancient Hellenistic cities. Ephesus was built on the coast of the Aegean Sea, it grew and grew rich through trade. Subsequently the bay grew shallow, the sea receded, and that caused its decline. Earthquakes buried the city underground until it was discovered by archaeologists in the 1960s.

Ephesus. Celsus Library

Ephesus. Celsus Library

How to get there

Ephesus is located near Selcuk city about an hour away from Izmir. It can be reached from Izmir by train or bus.


The first city in the site of Ephesus emerged already in the Hittite era. It was called Apasha and was the capital of the kingdom of Artsava, which was hostile to them. In the 11th century BC Ephesus was settled by the Ionians and became the capital of the kingdom of Caria. The Ionians built here a classic Hellenistic city with the temples of Athena and Apollo. In the 6th century BC Ephesus was conquered by the Lydians. During this period the city reached its highest prosperity. The temple of Artemis was built here which was recognized as one of the seven wonders of the world.

Temple of Artemis

Temple of Artemis

In the 5th century, Ephesus was the site of a battle between the Persians and the Greeks, in which the latter were defeated. During the Peloponnesian War the city fought in alliance with Sparta against Athens. After the Corinthian War Ephesus was captured by the Persians and only freed by Alexander the Great. After Alexander’s death, Ephesus was taken by one of his generals, Lysimachus. Under him the city was moved to a valley closer to the mountains and fortress walls were built.

The ruins of Ephesus

The ruins of Ephesus

Ephesus became part of the Roman state in the 2nd century BC. In the 1st-2nd century AD under the Romans the city experienced a new rise. An impressive theater, the famous library of Celsus, temples and the aqueduct were built here. In the 3rd century Ephesus was ruined by the Goths. After the collapse of the Roman Empire the city became part of the Byzantine Empire, and in the 5th-6th century was one of its most important cities. In the 7th century Ephesus was destroyed by an earthquake, the bay became shallow. The city gradually fell into decay. In the 11th century there was a small village here and there was little reminder of the ancient city. In the 15th century Ephesus was finally abandoned. The city was discovered by archaeologists in 1860s.

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The sights of Ephesus

Ephesus is a unique archaeological site that is known primarily for sites from the Hellenistic and Roman periods, as well as early Christian structures.

Temple of Artemis

Temple of Artemis

The Temple of Artemis is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, an impressive ancient structure dedicated to the Greek goddess of the same name. The temple was an imposing marble building surrounded by 36 huge columns and decorated with sculptures. All that remains of the temple of Artemis are ruins. The most interesting finds are on display in the British Museum.

Library of Celsus

Celsus Library

Celsus Library is one of the main attractions of Ephesus. It was built by the Romans in the 2nd century AD. The library was one of the most beautiful buildings of the ancient city with an impressive facade with Corinthian columns.

Great Theater

Roman theater

The Roman theater is one of the most imposing structures of ancient Ephesus. The theater was originally built in the 3rd century BC during the reign of Lysimachus. It was later greatly expanded by the Romans. It is the largest structure of its kind in Anatolia and was used not only for plays, but also for religious, political and philosophical discussions.

House of Our Lady

The House of Our Lady

The House of Our Lady is a typical example of Roman architecture. According to tradition, this ancient house was where the Virgin Mary spent her last days, fleeing persecution after the death of Christ.

Basilica of St. John

Basilica of St. John

St. John Basilica is the ruins of an early Christian church dedicated to John the Theologian who lived and preached in Ephesus.

Isa Bey Mosque

Isa Bey Mosque

The Isa Bey Mosque was built in the 14th century and is one of the prime examples of Seljuk religious architecture.

What else to see in Ephesus:

  • The Magnesian Gate, the ruins of the ancient city gate.
  • The Agora is a Roman square. An ancient acropolis was found in its northeast corner.
  • Temple of Isis, dedicated to the Egyptian goddess and destroyed during the reign of Emperor Augustus.
  • The Odeon is a small theater with a stage for 1,500 spectators.
  • Street of the Curets – stretched from the gates of Hercules to the library of Celsus and the agora.
  • Trajan’s Fountain – One of the finest Roman monuments in Ephesus. It was built in the early 2nd century and is dedicated to the Roman Emperor Trajan.
  • The Temple of Hadrian is one of the best preserved structures of the ancient city. It was built in the 2nd century.
  • The Marble Road is a path leading from the theater to the library of Celsus. The road was built in the 1st century. Here you can see the drawings, which are known as the first advertisement in history.
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Interesting facts

  • At its height, Ephesus had a quarter of a million people.
  • The Great Theater could seat about 24,000 spectators.
  • The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus lived in Ephesus.
  • The library of Celsus was one of the largest in the world and contained 12,000 scrolls.
  • Ephesus which in ancient times was located on the shores of the Aegean Sea, is now located 6 km away.

Interesting Tours

Old Antalya - Journey to the Past

€150 for a guided tour

Old Antalya – a journey into the past

A stroll through the winding streets of the historic city center with ancient squares, towers and mosques…

Photo encounter with Istanbul

200 €170 for the tour.

Photo date with Istanbul

Capture yourself in the most interesting scenery of the city on a walk with a professional photographer.

The Ancient City of Ephesus


After Jesus was crucified, Mary, together with the apostle John, whom the Savior entrusted with taking care of his mother, left Judea. It was dangerous to stay: persecution began against the followers of Christ. She settled in present-day Turkey, not far from Ephesus, one of the most developed cities of the time.

No one knew about her whereabouts except John, even the locals who often came to the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, not far from where she lived, could not find out about the presence of the Virgin. There is a hypothesis that this is where she died and was buried.

The ancient city of Asia Minor

The city of Ephesus is located in Turkey, six kilometers from the Aegean Sea, three kilometers from Selcuk. On the geographical map, you can find this ancient city at the following coordinates: 37° 56′ 23″ N, 27° 20′ 27″ E.

Several thousand years ago Ephesus was considered one of the most famous and richest cities of the ancient world.

The extremely well chosen location on the coast of the Aegean Sea could not but contribute to the development of trade, science, literature, art. The city was so successful that it had the right to mint its own coins (many of them depicted both objects and animals associated with Artemis – a torch, bees and deer).

The Goddess Artemis Temple

Temple of the Goddess Artemis at Ephesus 5775 4.2 3

People settled here long before Ephesus was founded. The city founded here was called Apasha (Apasa) and it was the capital of the kingdom of Artsav.

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The Ancient City of Ephesus The Ancient City of Ephesus The Ancient City of Ephesus The Ancient City of Ephesus Ephesus Ephesus Ephesus

The Ionian Greeks led by Androcles, son of an Athenian ruler who was ordered by the Delphi’s Oracle to set sail for Ephesus and found a city at a place indicated to him by fire, fish and wild boar. He realized that his quest was complete when he saw fishermen roasting fish on a fire in one of the coves of the Aegean Sea. After one of the sparks hit a bush and it caught fire, a boar jumped out of the thicket.

This city in Turkey was situated in a place extremely favorable to trade and therefore continued to flourish, even though it was constantly changing hands:

  • in the 6th century B.C. it was ruled by the extremely wealthy Lydian ruler Croesus, whose money was used to build the temple of Artemis in Ephesus;
  • After his death the city came under the dominion of the Persian kingdom for a century;
  • In 334 B.C. Ephesus was conquered by Alexander the Great;
  • in 190 B.C. it came under the rule of the Roman Empire – this period is characterized by a huge number of uprisings, because the huge taxes and dissatisfaction with the rule could not help but anger the freedom-loving inhabitants of the city;
  • In 226 the settlement was conquered by the Goths and the city fell into decline;
  • Ephesus revived only two centuries later, when it became one of the most important cities of Byzantium;
  • In the 7th century a strong earthquake destroyed the city, burying many buildings. By this time the sea gradually receded from the city, the access to the waters was lost, trade declined and the population started to leave the city;
  • Ephesus was deserted by the 15th century.

The streets of Ephesus

The wealth of Ephesus can be judged even by the remnants of the paved roads: almost all the streets of this ancient Turkish city were paved with marble or natural stone. There were usually shops along the edges, the streets were decorated with sculptures, columns covered with fine mosaics, and there was a sewer under the ground.

The Ancient City of Ephesus

Also along the road were barred pits in which those convicted of murder or rape were imprisoned – where anyone who passed by had the right to spit as a sign of condemnation. The central streets of the city were considered Marble and Kuretov, and from the sea the center was accessible by Portovaya Road.

Port Street

Along Port Street, which was 530 m long and eleven meters wide, there were pillars. Passing the port baths, the church of Virgin Mary (where the Virgin presumably once lived) and the theatrical gymnasium, the street led to the Great Theater, which was founded by the Greeks in III B.C. It had a seating capacity for about 25,000 spectators and was the biggest theater in the area (it was 18 m high and had 66 rows). In this building not only theatrical performances, but also politicians, philosophers and religious ceremonies were held.

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If you turn left from the theater, after a while the traveler found himself on the edge of the city, where there was a stadium that existed since ancient times. The Greeks used it for sports competitions, the Romans used it for gladiatorial fights, and during the persecution of Christians they set lions against the followers of Jesus.

When Christianity became the main religion here, the stadium was destroyed, and in its place the Gate of Persecution was erected in memory of fallen Christians.

Interestingly, near the former stadium is the church of the Apostle John, the only disciple of Jesus, who died his own death. The basilica was erected over his supposed grave (however, when it was opened, the body was not there) – and now in this city of Turkey on all sides of the earth flock pilgrims: to worship the Virgin and revere John.

The buildings of Marble Street

From the Great Theater to the right led the Marble Street, which was 400 meters long. At the end of it was the library, which was under construction for twenty years between 114 and 135 for Tiberius Julius Celsus (he died before the work was finished and was buried in the building: his tomb was found in the basement of the building).

The Celsus Library was the third largest, after the Alexandria Library and the Bergamo Library that held over 12,000 manuscripts. The building itself had two tiers and a lecture hall. The facade of the library was decorated with the statues symbolizing knowledge and wisdom, as well as the Corinthian columns.


The central columns were longer than the side ones, so the building looked considerably taller than it really was. What also attracts the attention of archeologists is the underground passage that connected the library with the public house across the street.

It was on Marble Street that one of the very first advertisements was found, which indicated the proximity of the brothel – a footprint depicting a woman’s head. Apparently, this establishment was very careful to observe the rules of hygiene: a visitor was allowed into the building only if his hands and feet were clean, if not, the client was given everything he needed to cleanse himself. There was a large hall and swimming pool on the first floor of the building, and several smaller rooms on the second floor.

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Kuretov Street.

At the beginning of Kuretov Street, which adjoined Marble Street, there was a building that housed baths and public toilets. Dressing rooms, restrooms, steam rooms and swimming pools were located on the first floor, while massage and beauty parlors were located on the first floor.

Also on this street in the “Houses on the Hillside” lived very rich and distinguished people. These structures were erected so that each house was a terrace for the next building. Across the street from these houses was the Temple of the Emperor Hadrian, in front of the entrance of which ancient craftsmen had installed sculptures of emperors.

The Ancient City of Ephesus The Ancient City of Ephesus The Ancient City of Ephesus The Ancient City of Ephesus Ephesus Ephesus Ephesus

At the end of Kuretov Street, almost on the edge of the city, was the Little Theater (Odeon), which had a seating capacity of fifteen hundred. Here the local council met and theatrical performances were given. Nearby was the Municipal Palace, in the main hall of which the eternal flame burned as a symbol of the heart of the city, and in the building itself both official receptions and religious ceremonies were held. Across the street was the state agora, where merchants from all over the empire came and traded slaves and held various festivities.

Temple of Artemis

The most significant structure, for which this city in Turkey is known even today, was the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, erected at some distance from the settlement in a marshy area (this was done so that the frequent earthquakes did not destroy the shrine).

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Because the building was dedicated to the goddess Artemis, so revered here in Ephesus, marble was the main building material. The temple was built in the first half of the 6th century BC with money from the Lydian ruler Croesus and was so beautiful and majestic that it immediately gained recognition as one of the wonders of the ancient world.

The temple of Artemis in Ephesus was built twice – two centuries after the construction was completed, it was burned by Herostratus, who wished that his name would go down in history forever. Alexander the Great allocated money to reconstruct the shrine of Artemis in Ephesus and the grateful Ephesians exhibited his portrait in the temple, ordered from the most famous artist of the time.

The new temple of the goddess Artemis in Ephesus survived until the 4th century AD and was destroyed after Christianity was officially adopted and paganism was forbidden: the marble was taken apart for the construction of other buildings, destroying the integrity of the construction, and the shrine of Artemis in Ephesus gradually got bogged down.

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