exploring ancient Ephesus in Turkey

Exploring Ancient Ephesus: A UNESCO World Heritage Site!

If you’re looking for an unforgettable and culture-filled experience, visiting the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey is just what you need! Ephesus is a UNESCO World Heritage site that has been captivating visitors for centuries with its fascinating history and beautiful architecture. From the famous Library of Celsus to the incredible Temple of Hadrian, this destination offers something extraordinary that nowhere else can match.

In this guide, we will look into why visiting Ephesus should be at the top of your travel wishlist. So, without further ado, let’s start our journey through time and explore one of Turkey’s most prized attractions!

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Ephesus was an ancient port city whose well-preserved ruins are in modern-day Turkey. The city was once considered the most important Greek city and trading centre in the Mediterranean region. 

Throughout history, the city survived multiple attacks and changed hands often between conquerors. It was also a hotbed of early Christian evangelism and remains an important archaeological site and pilgrimage destination. Exploring ancient Ephesus is an archaeological site not to be missed! 

Ephesus has always been a place I’ve wanted to visit. I love wandering around ancient sites and ruins, imagining what they must have been like in their heyday. 

As I walk around these places, I imagine who else walked in the same footsteps and how life may have been for the inhabitants. There is something about these historic places that sets my imagination alive! Ephesus was no exception, and it’s up there with the best historical sites I’ve ever visited; it was truly amazing!

How to visit ancient Ephesus in Turkey

History Of Ephesus:

According to legend, Ephesus was founded by a tribe of great female warriors, the ‘Amazons’. The original city is considered the site of the Arzawa Kingdom’s capital city, Apasa, meaning ‘city of the Mother Goddess’. Some scholars maintain that the sign of the labrys, the double-axe of the mother goddess which adorned the palace at Knossos, Crete, even originated in Ephesus.

Ephesus was inhabited from the end of the Bronze Age onward, but the location was changed due to floods and the whims of various rulers. Around 1200 BC, migration from North West Greece began bringing Ionian colonists. The cities that were established after the Ionian migrations joined in a confederacy under the leadership of the city of Ephesus. 

Under Greek rule, Ephesus became one of the wealthiest cities in the Mediterranean world. It was a learning centre and the birthplace and home of the renowned philosopher Heraclitus. This thriving city was where women enjoyed rights and privileges equal to men’s. There are records of female artists, sculptors, painters, and teachers. At night, the city’s streets were brightly lit with oil lamps, a luxury few cities could afford. 

Under the rule of King Croesus of Lydia between 560 and 547 BC, the construction of the great Temple of Artemis at Ephesus began. Then, in 356 BC, a crazed man called Herostratus burned down the Temple. The Ephesians rebuilt the temple even bigger. It was estimated to be four times larger than the Parthenon in Athens and became known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

In 546 BC, Ephesus fell to the Persian Empire; however, the city continued to prosper as an important port of trade. When the Ionian city-states rebelled against Persian rule in the 5th century BC, Ephesus remained neutral. It thus escaped the destruction suffered by so many other cities at the hands of the Persians. 

In 334 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Persians and entered Ephesus. After his death, one of his generals, Lysimachus, took over the city and renamed it Arsineia after his wife. In 281 B.C., Lysimachus was killed at the Battle of Corupedium and the city was renamed Ephesus again. 

In 129 BC, the Roman Empire acquired Ephesus after King Attalos of Pergamon left Ephesus to the Roman Empire in his will. Under Caesar Augustus, the city enjoyed its most prosperous time. Most of the ruins you see today, such as the enormous amphitheatre, the Library of Celsus, and the public agora, were built or rebuilt during Augustus’s reign. 

During the 1st century AD, Ephesus was visited repeatedly by early Christians, the most famous being Saint Paul, who preached and was ‘booed’ and chased from the theatre. However, Ephesian officials protected Paul and his followers and eventually, Christianity became the city’s official religion. 

In 262 AD, the Goths destroyed Ephesus, including the Temple of Artemis. Some restoration of the city took place, but it never regained its splendour.  

The Ottoman Empire took final control of Ephesus in the fifteenth century; However, the city was in dire straits, its harbour practically useless. By the end of that century, Ephesus was abandoned, its legacy left to archaeologists, historians, and the thousands of visitors like you and me who flock to the region each year to see these magnificent ancient ruins!

Exploring Ancient Ephesus:

The Government Agora:

This is one of the first buildings you will see as you enter the Ephesus site. As you can see, not all of the original building remains, but you can still imagine how the area may have looked.

The Odeion Theatre:

This building was located close to the Government Agora and was used as a theatre for concerts and council meetings. The theatre was thought to originally have a wooden roof and held around 1500 people.

The Prytaneion:

The Prytaneion was what we would call a town hall. Inside the hall was a holly fireplace that would have been burning for hundreds of years. The town governor was responsible for not letting the fire burn out and was thought to be one of the most honourable jobs within the city.

Many of the Artemis statues now displayed in the Ephesus Museum were buried in this room. The building was once surrounded by large columns, some of which you can see in the picture below, with the main building covered partly by the mountainside.

Domitian Square And Temple

Walking past the Prytaneion, you will find yourself in a small square. On the right-hand side, you will find the remains of the Memmium monument. The stone figures around the monument are those of Memmium, his father, and his grandfather.

On the opposite side of the monument, you will find the Nike relief, which is in the flying position, holding a garland in one hand and a date branch in the other.

Kurets Street:

This street is probably the most photographed in Ephesus, and it’s easy to see why. This street starts at the Prytaneion, passes Domitian Square and leads onto the most fabulous views of the Celsus Library. 

One side of the street was used for vehicles and other pedestrians. Along the sides, there were many shops which are still to be excavated. The street was lined with large columns with statues and busts of the people who had done great things for the city.

Towards the middle of the street is a door called ‘Herakles Door’ made up of two columns. As you pass through, it is thought to bring good luck if you can touch both sides of the column.

Traian Fountain:

According to the inscriptions, this fountain was built in the cornice from 102-114 AD and was dedicated to Emperor Traian. It once had two pools, and water flowed from one pool to a larger pool that housed the emperor’s statue. The statue is now housed in the Ephesus Museum.

Hadrian Temple:

Hadrian’s temple is one of the few fully restored buildings within the Ephesus site. According to its inscriptions, it was built in 138 AD and was dedicated to the Emperor Hadrianus of Athens. This was one of my favourite buildings; as a lover of architecture, I was amazed by the level of detail on the friezes along the top of the temple, as you can see below.

Ceslus Library:

Celsus Library is what everyone wants to see at Ephesus! I was fortunate to be there before the crowds and see this beautiful structure in all its glory without hundreds of people walking around it. This place is what exploring ancient Ephesus is all about! It is such a fantastic structure, and you can imagine what it must have been like before it was destroyed. It is definitely one of my favourite historic buildings!

The library was built over the tomb of Roman senator T.Iulius Celsus Polemaeanus as a tomb monument. The building has three doors with now copies of statues in the niches. The original statues were taken to Vienna after excavations in 1910.

To make the building appear larger, they built the columns 15 cm higher in the middle than on its sides. However, this building is still huge! It’s only when you are up close and personal that you can really appreciate the size! 

The Commercial Agora:

Next to the Celsus Library, you will find the commercial agora. Most of this part of the site has been destroyed; however, you can still imagine how the square would have once looked surrounded by all the vast columns. Behind the columns would have once been shops, other commercial outlets, and a south gate opening up into the harbour. Unfortunately, this part of the site has yet to be excavated. 

Marble Street:

Marble Street led the way between the Celsus Library and the great theatre, so-called due to being covered entirely with white marble. 

Along the street would have been many dwellings and commercial buildings. Halfway down the street, you will find a marble square with carvings of a female bust, a foot and a heart pierced by an arrow. This carving is thought to be an advertisement, giving directions to the ‘house of love’.

The Great Theatre:

Towards the city’s exit, you will find the great theatre, the scene where Saint Paul was ‘booed’ and chased whilst trying to teach Christianity. You can still go inside the theatre; however, as they are still in the process of restoring, you can only walk along a small section.

Other areas to look out for whilst exploring ancient Ephesus are the beautifully preserved mosaics along Kurets Street, the public toilets, and some interesting inscriptions. If you are from the medical profession, watch for some familiar friezes.

How To Get To Ancient Ephesus:

Ephesus is located 19 Km from Kusadasi in Turkey, about five miles inland from the Aegean coast. Most visitors take a trip to Ephesus from Kusadasi or Izmir, about an hour’s drive from the ancient site.

Travelling From Kusadasi:

If travelling independently, you can take a taxi to Ephesus from Kusadasi for around €20 one way. If taking a cab, always agree on a price first; most taxi drivers will wait and take you back to Kusadasi, and the cost should be no more than €50.

Regular buses also leave the Kusadasi bus station and can drop you off in Selcuk; from here, you can grab a Dolmas or walk to Ephesus; the cost should only be a couple of euros.

Travelling From Izmir: 

You can take one of the many tourist buses straight to Ephesus from the bus terminal in Izmir. It takes approximately 1.5 hrs and costs about €2. It is also possible to get the train from Izmir Airport or Izmir Basmane station straight to Selcuk. The journey takes about 1.5 hrs and costs about €3.

Travelling From Istanbul: 

At a push, you could explore ancient Ephesus as a day trip from Istanbul, but you would have to rely on flights. I suggest staying overnight in Kusadasi, which will give you more time to explore the area. Turkish Airlines and Pegasus offer daily flights to Izmir with prices starting from as little as €40 return! To check prices and see more great flight deals, I recommend using Skyscanner.

Are you looking for somewhere to stay in Kusadasi? If so, I recommend using Booking.com.

Private And Group tours:

If you aren’t comfortable visiting Ephesus independently, then various tour companies can take you and even offer guided tours of Ephesus, giving you a more detailed insight into the area’s history. 

If arriving into Izmir or Kusadasi via cruise ship, you will probably have the option to take various excursions, usually for a over inflated cost. One way to get around this is to take local excursions that help the local economy and typically cost much cheaper! I recommend using Viator. Here are just some of the options available:

Ancient Ephesus Visitor information:

Entrance Fees:

Ephesus – €40

If you are going to visit other sites besides Ephesus in Western Turkey, there is a seven-day Museum Pass, which provides multiple visits to many sites without waiting in lines, and you can make significant savings. 

Valid for Ancient city of Ephesus, Basilica of St. John, Terrace Houses in Ephesus, Archaeological Museum of Ephesus, Ancient city of Aphrodisias, Temple of Didyma, Ancient city of Smyrna, Ancient City of Miletus, Ancient City of Priene, Ancient City of Sardis, Ancient City of Pergamon, Asklepion of Pergamon and many others. You can buy the pass at any ancient site for €95

Opening Times:

April – October

Opening Time: 8.00

Closing Time: 19.00 

November – March

Opening Time: 8.00

Closing Time: 17.00 

Best Time To Visit Ephesus:

Ephesus can be visited all year round; however, it can get busy in the summer. If you don’t like crowds, I recommend visiting in the shoulder season. I visited in May 2019, and there were hardly any people. It felt like the perfect time to wander around this archaeological wonder!

Tips For Visiting Ephesus:

  • Getting a guide will make the experience more enjoyable; our guide pointed out some things you wouldn’t usually notice and was extremely knowledgeable about the whole area and its history. 
  • If you want to take lots of fabulous photos, bring a wide-angle lens as many buildings are very close, making it difficult to get some good shots.
  • Make sure you wear comfortable shoes as the ground can be very uneven.
  • Bring plenty of water and sunhat if you visit Ephesus in the summer. The site has hardly any shade at all.
  • Be sure to have a little haggle with the shop owners selling souvenirs as you exit the site; lots of bargains are to be had! 

Final thoughts:

If you are interested in history or architecture, I thoroughly recommend a trip to Ephesus. The site itself is so well-preserved that you can imagine what it must have felt like to live during this time. Nothing can prepare you for how amazing this place is!

Thanks so much for stopping by; I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read and make it to the end! I have lots of exciting new content in the next few weeks, so make sure you pop back to catch up! 

Remember to follow our social media accounts for more travel inspiration and updates. 

Happy travels!

A guide to visiting ancient Ephesus in Turkey
A guide to visiting ancient Ephesus in Turkey

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