Ephesus (Ephesos; Efes) is arguably the most famous and most significant ancient site of the Mediterranean world, with a history that spans Greece, Rome, Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire. Once a city of a quarter million souls, this five-thousand year old settlement has never been surrounded by a populous modern city (like Rome or Athens), and despite assaults against it by earthquakes and Christian vandals, many of its original buildings (with one notable exception) are in recognizable shape today. It is possible to wander around this marvel of Antiquity and, with little imagination, feel entirely part of a long-forgotten time (were it not for the hordes of visitors stomping every inch of it).
Situated near modern-day Izmir, Turkey, Ephesus is home to the frilly, two-story Library of Celsus, a forty-four thousand capacity amphitheater (the largest anywhere), two agoras, an odeon (for recitations), a bouleutherion (City Council), countless smaller temples, triumphant gates, one of the seven great churches of Asia (built by the Byzantines), the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, and the now-totally destroyed (see below), magnificent Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world and in its time the largest temple of the Hellenistic lands.
Famous citizens of Ephesus include, among many others, Heracleitus (the Dark Philosopher), Xerxes, Alexander the Great, Maximus the Magician, Julian the Apostate (who tried to bring back the ancient gods to Byzantium and paid the ultimate price for his efforts), and the Apostle St. Paul, the grand-daddy of the Catholic Church who kick-started the Christian attack, eventually to be completed by the Byzantine thugs, Emperor Theodosius and his cohort, so-called-Saint John Chrysostom, who notoriously razed the Artemis Temple to the ground for the sake of saving their constituents from idolatry.
This is my second visit to Ephesus, the first having occurred some thirty-five years ago, when I and the world were much more innocent and I had the site almost entirely to myself. I was mostly ignorant of the history and folklore of the place then, free to weave my own phantasies around it.
Now, somewhat wiser and burdened by too-much knowledge, I approach the ruins with reverence and an active search for its extra-terrestriality. I am looking for the portals to other realities that places like these offer to me. My visit this time around is part of my over-long goodbye to a wondrous winter in this magic land that is embroidered with so much history and such a wealth of artifact, such a profusion of tradition and myth and mystery, it makes me want to fragment into a million pieces and examine all of them in turn, to become one with each story, to understand the inexplicable, to find out where I come from, and maybe, just maybe, where I'm headed.
OMG, is Robert Redford here too?
Words by Byron Ayanoglu
Photographs by Algis Kemezys © 2012