Ephesus: My Textbook Come to Life

Ephesus, the world of my textbooks and the Bible come to life.

Only 10% of Ephesus has been excavated, my friend told me.  You look around, up to the hills, and can imagine the city sprawled out so much further than the ruins around you. How crazy that what seems like so many different buildings, a huge site, is only a fraction of how it would have been in the early centuries AD and before.

The bustling of tourists helped me imagine the bustle that would have made the streets seem alive back when this was the high street of an ancient Roman settlement. The Roman baths were what I was excited to see after spending time learning about them in my A level course in the weeks prior to my trip. When they were built they would have been all mosaic floors and gilded statues, but were now, of course, rather barren and desolate. It was such a strange mix of lingering grandeur in the columns and engravings and realistic abandonment in the wide gaping spaces.

At the end of the main street rose the grand facade of a building that could be seen from the top of the hill. The anticipation to explore it rose as you meandered through the other sites on the way. When it was reached, we found it was a library.

Standing at the centre, it looked a bit like the prayer chamber in a mosque, I felt the temptation to recite something grand, or to read some famous extract. I could imagine the citizens gathering to hear a piece of important classic literature being read out – the account of an adventure, or a poem like Virgil’s. The reason the place to stand is a semi – circular apse is the same as why it is in many mosques I suppose, in order that one can speak into the curve and have their voice projected out behind them. These days it would feel bizarre to do a public reading with your back to the audience! It actually took our group a few minutes to realise that a library in the ancient world would have been a place to hear public readings, not to sit in silence in a warm room, nor a place to borrow books from. This was because many people in the ancient world didn’t know how to read, so these public readings would have likely been how people became acquainted with contemporary and historical literature.

We entered a few theatres and my friend showed me that you could stand in a certain point in the orchestra – the small semi circle at the bottom of the rising theatre – and your voice would be amplified across all the seating. Ancient architecture was incredibly designed. Right at the end of our trip we sat in the larger theatre on the site and read Acts 19 together from the Bible. Sitting in the very temple where Paul was accused by the sellers of statues to Artemis, brought the story to life. The mob of citizens, the violent bubbling of voices chanting for two hours without interruption, the confusion as ‘most of the people didn’t even know why they were there’ (Acts 19:32) and then the voice of a city clerk, cutting through the chaos with authority. He asked the men to take their disagreements to the courts, which would have been in the basilicas I had been learning about only the week before in my A level.

This trip to Ephesus painted a picture for me of the ancient history that I’m growing to love, it made stories of the Bible come to life and the architecture held a richness of beauty and skill that even an untrained eye like mine was able to appreciate.

So, here is my list of top tips for if you plan to visit Ephesus yourself:

  • Leave at least 3 hours to explore the ruins,  but if you are a big group, or want to see absolutely everything, you may need more time that that.
  • Ephesus is sprawled out along one main road, so if you can organise with your transport to drop you off at one end and pick you up at the other, this can be really helpful.
  • Bring Turkish lira or euros to pay your entrance ticket. Once you are in there are a couple of sites that require an extra ticket, so check what the prices online and know how much you’ll need.

The sellers by the site did not seem too pushy, but if you don’t want a tour guide or ‘genuine fake sunglasses’ as one shop was advertising, make sure you politely refuse. If you do want a tour guide negotiate a price at the start, remembering that you’ll also need to tip the guide at the end. The sites are well sign posted, so between the signs (which were in Turkish, English and French), a map and a little online research beforehand, you may find you don’t need a guide.

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