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Posted at: Apr 16, 2017, 12:07 AM; last updated: Apr 16, 2017, 12:07 AM (IST)

Marvel made of marble

Once a prosperous city in Turkey and the most important port to the east of the Roman empire, Ephesus is in ruins now

Ranjita Biswas

They built a city of marble, not just mausoleums or individual structures. The streets were lined with marble, and on both sides were solid marble structures, and commemorative gates and temples. That’s Ephesus, ensconced on the west coast of Turkey in the Asia Minor region which Greeks called Anatolia. They built a city of marble, not just mausoleums or individual structures.

Ephesus was founded by Ionian Greeks in the 10th century BC. Near this was the worship place dedicated to a pagan goddess; they adopted her calling her Artemis, goddess of fertility and hunting. Later, in the first century BC, the Greeks built the Artemesium, a huge temple dedicated to Artemis, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It covered an area as big as a soccer field. But, after being destroyed by invaders, today only a lone column indicates where stood this iconic temple. The Romans took over the city in the first century AD.

Ephesus was once the most important port to the east of the Roman empire. Legends say that Cleopatra and Mark Antony came here for their honeymoon and stayed on for a month. Such was its reputation for wealth and beauty. They revisited the place another six times.

The region around Ephesus was known as the bread basket of the Roman empire. Eventually, the Caystros river that drained the basin dried up, the sea got silted up and its importance as a port declined and citizens abandoned the place.

The once prosperous city, now in complete ruins, takes about half an hour from Turkey’s port of call, Kusadasi. Many of the cruise ships on the Aegean Sea anchor here for visitors to savour this historical place. Tourists also drive up from Izmir (ancient Smyrna) a little over an hour away.

In its heyday, Ephesus was spread over 8 km. At the heart was the Curetes Street, built during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, entirely made of marble blocks. The street took its name from the priests who were called Curetes. The rich and the powerful had houses lining this street. In front of the shops were roofs to protect the pedestrians from sun or rain.

Not only as a commercial centre, Ephesus, was also known as a centre of learning. Curetes Street led to the famous Library of Celsus, the biggest in the empire in the second century. Scholars and politicians made a beeline to the library. Those days it stored between 12,000 and 40,000 books, many written on goatskin, the guide tells you. There were seven high schools in the city. The medical school was also very famous and excavations have brought out tools used in operations, treatments, etc. Nearby its ruins, you can see a huge slab with the images of Nike, the goddess of victory for the Greeks. Nearby is the open theatre, a signature of Roman culture that could hold 24,000 spectators.

Ironically, during first century BC and second century AD, Ephesus was also known as the capital of slave trade. Apostle St. Paul preached gospel for a long time and eventually, people embraced Christianity. Ephesus is also famous as a pilgrimage centre as Virgin Mary is believed to have lived here in her last years. The House of Virgin Mary on top of the Bulbul hills nearby is said to be the first church dedicated to her.

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