Ephesus has been an important center throughout its history. First it was a trade center of the ancient world because of its unique location on a strategic trade route to Anatolia, then a religious center of the early Christianity and today, a popular tourist center.
Ephesus (Turkish Efes) was an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia, three kilometers southwest of present-day Selçuk. It was built in the 10th century BC on the site of the former Arzawan capital by Attic and Ionian Greek colonists. During the Classical Greek era it was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League. The city flourished after it came under the control of the Roman Republic in 129 BC. According to estimates, Ephesus had a population of 33,600 to 56,000 people in the Roman period, making it the third largest city of Roman Asia Minor. Ephesus was the location of one of the seven churches of Asia that are cited in the Book of Revelation. The Gospel of John may have been written here. The city was the site of several 5th-century Christian Councils, it is also the site of a large gladiators' graveyard. Emperor Constantine I rebuilt much of the city and erected new public baths. The town was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 614 AD. The city's importance as a commercial center declined as the harbor was slowly silted up by the Cayster River (Küçük Menderes), the resulting marshes caused malaria and many deaths among the inhabitants. The loss of its harbor caused Ephesus to lose its access to the Aegean Sea, which was important for trade. People started leaving the lowland of the city for the surrounding hills. The ruins of the temples were used as building blocks for new homes. Marble sculptures were ground to powder to make lime for plaster.
Ephesus contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. Only an estimated 15% has been excavated since 1863. The ruins that are visible today, including the largest outdoor theatre of the ancient world, give some idea of the city's original splendor. There were two agoras, one for commercial and one for state business.
The Library of Celsus, the façade of which has been carefully reconstructed from all original pieces, was built in ca 125. Celsus paid for the construction of the library with his own personal wealth, and is buried in a sarcophagus beneath it. The library was mostly built by his son Gaius Julius Aquila and once held nearly 12,000 scrolls, making it the third richest library in ancient times after the Alexandria and Pergamum.
The Odeon has the shape of a small theatre with the stage building, seating places for about 1,500 people and the orchestra. It had a double function, first it was used as a Bouleuterion for the meetings of the Boulea or the Senate. The second fuction was as a concert hall for the performances. It was built in the 2nd century AD by Vedius Antonius and his wife, two wealthy citizens in Ephesus.
The Temple of Hadrian is one of the best preserved and most beautiful structures in the city. It dates from the 2nd century but underwent repairs in the 4th century and has been re-erected from the surviving architectural fragments. The reliefs in the upper sections are casts, the originals being now exhibited in the Ephesus Archaeological Museum. A number of figures are depicted in the reliefs, including the emperor Theodosius I with his wife and eldest son.
The Temple of the Sebastoi (sometimes called the Temple of Domitian), dedicated to the Flavian dynasty, was one of the largest temples in the city. It was erected on a pseudodipteral plan with 8 × 13 columns.
The Great Theatre, located on the slope of Panayir Hill, opposite the Harbor Street, is the most magnificent structure in Ephesus. It was first built in the Hellenistic Period, in the third century BC during the reign of Lysimachos, but was rebuilt and enlarged during the Roman period, making it the largest in Anatolia with the capacity of 25,000 seats. The theatre was used not only for concerts and plays, but also for religious, political and philosophical discussions and for gladiator and animal fights.
The city of Ephesus was famed for the Temple of Artemis (completed around 550 BC), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In 268 AD, the temple was destroyed or damaged in a raid by the Goths. It may have been rebuilt or repaired but this is uncertain, as its later history is not clear. Now all that is left of the once magnificent building is one inconspicuous column, constructed of dissociated fragments discovered on the site.
It is believed that the evangelist St. John spent his last years in the region around Ephesus and was buried in the southern slope of Ayosolug Hill. Three hundred years after his death, a small chapel was built over the grave in the 4th century. It was changed into a marvelous basilica during the reign of Emperor Justinian (527 -565 AD). The monumental basilica was in the shape of a cross and was covered with six domes. Raised by two steps and covered with marble, the tomb of St John was under the central dome, once carried by the four columns at the corners. The columns in the courtyard reveal the monograms of Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora. With the invasion of Turks, the chapel was used as a mosque in the 14th century; unfortunately the Basilica of St John became unusable due to the serious earthquake in the same century.
Isa Bey Mosque is one of the most delicate examples of Seljukian architecture, situated below the basilica of Saint John. The mosque was built by the master of Syrian architecture Ali son of Mushimish al -Damishki, between the years of 1374 and 1375. The mosque was styled asymmetrically unlike the traditional style. The location of the windows, doors and domes were not matched on purpose. The columns inside are constructed from earlier ruins in Ephesus, making an interesting contrast to the mosque. The mosque was repaired in 1934.
House of Virgin Mary is located on the top of the "Bulbul" mountain, 9 km from Ephesus, enjoying a marvelous atmosphere hidden in the green. It is the place where Mary may have spent the last days of her life. It is believed that she may have come to the area together with Saint John, who spent several years in the area to spread Christianity. Mary preferred this remote place rather than living in a crowded city. The house is an example of typical Roman architecture, entirely made of stones. In the 4th century AD, a church, combining her house and grave, was built. Today, only the central part and a room on the right of the altar are open to visitors. Another interesting place is the "Water of Mary", a natural spring at the exit of the church area, where rather salty water, with curative properties, can be drunk by all.
Paul VI was the first pope to visit this place in the 1960's. Later, in the 1980's, during his visit, Pope John-Paul II declared the shrine of Virgin Mary a pilgrimage place for Christians. It is also visited by Muslims who recognize Mary as the mother of one of their prophets. Every year, on August 15th, a ceremony is organized to commemorate Mary's Assumption.