We said goodbye to Cappadocia and headed off to the big city of Kayseri for our flight to Izmir on the western coast of Turkey. The journey was mostly uneventful, however, there were a couple of amusing incidents. The first one occurred upon our flight’s arrival at the appointed gate of the Izmir airport. 150 people exited the plane onto the jetway to find the door from the jetway to the terminal locked. Can you imagine the perplexed look on 150 faces wondering what to do now, stuck in a steaming hot jetway, with nowhere to go? Shortly before panic set in, an airline employee came to the rescue with a key to the door. The next “interesting” incident was with the driver who was to take us from Izmir to Selçuk. We were picked up at the appointed time, however, as we hit the highway he became totally distracted. Always pleasant and eager to please, he was intent on pointing out every peach, fig and olive field along the way to the woman sitting in the passenger seat. It wouldn’t have been so bad except he slowed down and lost a little control of the vehicle each time he did this. The American husband of the recipient of the driver’s attention kept yelling at his wife to stop talking to the driver so he could concentrate on his driving. At any rate, we reached our destination in one piece.
We spent two nights in the delightful village of Selçuk, just outside the Ephesus historical area. We dined in the town center under the remains of an ancient Roman aqueduct and had two fabulous dinners there.
We signed up for a mini-group tour that would show us the sites of interest in nearby Ephesus and surrounding area. Ephesus was first a major Greek City, then a major Roman port. In the Roman period, Ephesus had a population of more than 250,000 in the 1st century BC, which also made it one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean world. We spent the better part of the morning with our guide following the main street through the ancient city, walking by an auditorium and several temples, culminating at the magnificent remains of the Library of Celcus and a stone road that led to the harbor (the city is now 4 km from the ocean). The nearby auditorium once seated 25,000 people and was second in size behind the Colosseum in Rome.
You can expect that Ephesus will be packed with tourists (even cruise ship tours visit here) but it is well worth the visit. These are some of the best preserved ruins from the era. I would also recommend visiting with a tour guide – you will learn far more about the site that you would from a solo visit.
After a buffet-style lunch we drove to the top of a mountain to visit the House of the Virgin Mary. Since the 19th century, The House of the Virgin Mary, about 7 km (4 mi) from Selçuk, is purported to have been the last home of Mary, mother of Jesus in the Roman Catholic tradition, where she lived until her death. It is a popular place of Catholic pilgrimage which has been visited by three recent popes. It was a beautiful setting and we enjoyed viewing the wall of prayers that has grown outside the home. Pilgrims leave their prayers or wishes on pieces of paper that are tied together to create the wall.
Of course, our tour ended with obligatory stops at shops where we got demonstrations of local craft works and the hard sell to buy things afterwards. We visited a government-subsidized rug factory and a chini pottery shop. Chini pottery is made strong by the addition of quartz and after firing, are hand-painted in beautiful, bright colors. You see these bowls all over Turkey. It was also quite fascinating to watch the detailed work done by the rug weavers which is now a dying art in Turkey, hence the government subsidization in an attempt to keep this beautiful craft alive. The demonstrations of their crafts at both places were actually quite interesting and informative.
Our final stop was at one of the seven wonders of the Ancient world: The Temple of Artemis. Unfortunately, there was not much to see: one reconstructed column and a bunch of ancient rubble strewn around. Even our guide was not overly impressed, telling us about other structures in the area that are in much better condition.
Here’s a short video of our visit to Ephesus: