Experience Roman life at Ephesus Turkey

It was a boiling hot July afternoon, around 35°C in Selçuk, Turkey.

Everyone in our group was struggling slightly with the heat, except for our tour guide who stood under the blazing sunshine the entire day, and was the only one wearing full-length trousers.

“It’s not hot today. It’s only hot when it’s over 40°C”, he said, smiling coolly.

We booked two excursions on our week-long stay in Turkey, and one of them was a day trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ephesus, a vast ancient Greco-Roman city founded in 10th century BC.

Excavations began around 150 years ago here, but it’s estimated that only 10% of it has so far been uncovered.

“It’ll take another 1,000 years to finish finding the rest of the city, so we’ll meet here again then”, our guide joked.

Ephesus was one of my main reasons for wanting to stay near Izmir in Turkey, and it was one of the best things we did on that trip.

Pictures I’d seen prior to my visit didn’t do any justice to the sheer scale of this city. Even just the 10% of it that’s so far been found, the site is absolutely enormous – it took a good 3 hours to explore the place, and that’s excluding the terrace houses (which were closed during my visit).

While the size alone is enough to amaze you, more impressive still is how well-preserved the ruins are, and how much you are able to be a part of it; walk down the wide marbled streets, touch the columns which line each side, take a seat in the once public restrooms, or climb the steps of the amphitheatre – it’s probably the closest you’ll ever come to experiencing how people lived 2,000 years ago.

Walking through what is believed to be the main street of the city, you can still see where shops once lined along each side. Some signs could still be made out next to the buildings, giving clues to what they might have once sold or provided – a spice shop, local bath, and perhaps a brothel!

But at the heart of the site is where you’ll find the most impressive building, the Library of Celsus.

Said to have held 12,000 scrolls, it was the third-largest ancient library, and was built in honour of Roman Senator Celsus Polemaeanus who’s buried underneath it.

library of celsus

The front of the library was destroyed by an earthquake sometime around tenth or eleventh century A.D., but has since been reconstructed by archaeologists in the late 90s. After trying to get a decent photo of the incredible façade, another long marble street will lead you further out of the city.

Eventually coming to a small cross-road, another column-lined path extends to the left. You can’t see the end of as it’s not been fully excavated yet, but it’s believed to lead all the way to the harbour since Ephesus was once a market trading town. But before you even notice that, the grand coliseum appears on the right hand side.

Capable of seating around 20,000 people, you’re invited to stand on the stage to try out the acoustics. Apparently some modern-day concerts have been held here (such as Elton John), but they’ve since been stopped due to potential damage to the historic site.

ephesus coliseum

History buff or not, Ephesus is definitely a must-see. Just make sure you wear comfy shoes, and bring lots of water and sunscreen (the only break you’ll get from the sun is by hiding behind columns!). I’d also recommend going with a guide if you’re interested in finding out more about its amazing past.

Feature image by A H T

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