Ephesus: a short introduction…

Ephesus. Where should I even begin? I am completely blown away by this city.

Well, to start with, the history of the area surrounding Ephesus goes back to maybe 6000 BC, to the stone age. This city’s story involves such a huge cast of characters: Hittites, Carians, Lydians, Amazons, Greeks, Persians, Romans. There are gods and the children of gods, great kings, conquerors, heroes, generals; King Croesus of the Lydians and Alexander the Great of Macedonia, just to name a couple. For many years during the Roman period, it was the second largest city in the empire, after Rome itself, and with a population of 250,000 it was also the second largest city in the world at that time. It lies nestled between mountains on either side and it used to sit directly on the Aegean coast.

One of the important things to know about Ephesus is that this once vibrant coastal city, the capital of Asia Minor, lost its main strength as a port as its harbour slowly silted up over the years. There were many efforts to dredge the harbour, but it was impossible to prevent nature taking its course. The ruins of the city are now 5 kilometres from the sea. You can stand at the edge of the white marble Harbour Road, looking out over a lush, grassy plain and try to imagine it blue instead of green, full of ships loaded with rich cargo from all over the empire, carrying wine, olive oil, copper, beautiful crafts and goods from all around the Mediterranean world. The ships would have docked here, in what is now a field, bringing all kinds of delightful things to the inhabitants of the bustling marble city. While conjuring up this image in your mind, you can hear the cheerful jingle of bells dangling from the necks of goats in an adjacent grassy patch shaded by tall hedges and trees.

Eventually, Ephesus was moved to the nearby area of modern day Selçuk – where the Basicila of St John was built- and consequently, the old city was abandoned. The Artemisium lies about halfway between old Ephesus and Selçuk.

Contemplating this scene brought to mind a short meditation I once read about change:

The end of accumulation is dispersal,

The end of building is ruin,

The end of meeting is parting,

The end of birth is death.

There is certainly something melancholy about the inevitability of change, and you can’t help but feel a sense of loss when walking around the ruins of an abandoned city thousands of years old, once part of a proud empire. But at the same time, it is uplifting and awe-inspiring to consider the past achievements of the human race. The people who built this city and lived their lives within it are long gone, and likewise, our lives are short and what we do and who we are will eventually be forgotten. But that doesn’t make our time here any less valuable. And who knows? Someday people might be wandering around the ruins of our cities and towns, contemplating what our lives where like. I wonder what they’ll think of us?

Ephesus continued: the Church of the Virgin Mary

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