Sunday, February 3, 2008

Ancient Wonder. Ephesus.

O
ne of the four major cities of the Roman Empire, Ephesus is a "must see" place for any traveller to Turkey - it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located near Sel├žuk, Turkey, we've planned a one day visit to wander among the ruins. For me, seeing Ephesus will remind me of Lei's and my day spent at Jerash, the Roman ruins located just north of Amman, Jordan.

The history of Ephesus goes back more than 3000 years. According to legend, the city was founded by Androclus, the son of Codrus, king of Athens, where the Meander (Cayster) River meets the Aegean Sea.

About 650 BC, Ephesus was attacked by Cimmerians who razed the city. A century later, Ephesus was conquered by the Lydians under the mighty king, Croesus. Under the rule of the Lydian kings, Ephesus became one of the wealthiest cities in the Mediterranean world. The defeat of the Lydian King Croesus by Cyrus, the King of Persia, prepared the way for the extension of Persian rule over the whole of the Aegean coastal region.

Ephesus remained under Persian rule until the arrival of Alexander the Great in 334 B.C., when it entered upon a fifty year period of peace and tranquillity.

After the death of Alexander in 323 BC, Ephesus came under the rule of Lysimachus, one of Alexander's generals, in 290 BC. Lysimachus decided to embark upon the development of a new city located 2.5 km away. Legend has it that Lysimachus soon realized that the Ephesians were unwilling to leave their old city. He had the whole sewage system blocked up during a great storm, making the houses uninhabitable and forcing the inhabitants to move.

Ephesus revolted after the treacherous death of Agathocles, giving the Syrian king Seleucus I Nicator an opportunity for removing and killing Lysimachus, his last rival, at the Battle of Corupedium in 281 BC. After the death of Lysimachus,the city was re-founded under the old name of Ephesus and became one of the most important of the commercial ports in the Mediterranean.

Ephesus came under Egyptian rule between 263-197 BC following the invasion of the Seleucid Empire by the Egyptians whose fleet swept the coast of Asia Minor.

When the Seleucid king Antiochus III the Great tried to regain the Greek cities of Asia Minor, he came in conflict with Rome. After a series of battles, he was defeated by Scipio Asiaticus at the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BC. As a result, Ephesus came under the rule of the Attalid king of Pergamon Eumenes II (197-133 BC). When his grandson Attalus III died without male children of his own, he left his kingdom to the Roman Republic - which included Ephesus. Ancient sources show that at this time the city had a population of 200,000.

When Augustus became emperor in 27 BC, he made Ephesus the capital of proconsular Asia, which covered the western part of Asia Minor. Ephesus entered an era of prosperity. Second in importance and size only to Rome, Ephesus became the seat of the governor, growing into a metropolis and a major center of commerce and trade.

Much of what remains today was constructed during the reign of Augustus including the Temple of Artemis which was one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. The city and the temple were destroyed by the Goths in 263 AD.
From the 1st century onwards, Ephesus was visited by Christian disciples (including St. Paul from 65 to 68 AD) attempting to spread the Christian belief in a single God and thus forced to seek refuge from Roman persecution. Legend has it that St John the Evangelist came to Ephesus with the Virgin Mary in his care. Some also say that it was here that he wrote his Gospel and was finally buried.

Ephesus remained the most important city of the Byzantine Empire in Asia (after Constantinople) in the 5th and 6th centuries. The emperor Constantine rebuilt much of the city though it was under his reign that the Temple of Artemis was destroyed. All that remains today is a single column. During the reign of Justinian I, the famed Basilica of St. John was built atop what was reputedly burial site of the saint.

The town was again partially destroyed by an earthquake in 614 and the harbour slowly filled with silt from the river, Ephesus began to fade as an important center of trade and commerce.

Invasions by the Arabs in the 5th and 6th centuries hastened the decline.

By the time the Seljuk Turks conquered it in 1071-1100, Ephesus had been reduced to a small village. The Byzantines resumed control in 1100 and kept control of the region until 1308. From then until 1425, control of Ephesus switched between the Ottomans and the Central Asian Empire lead by the infamous Tamerlane. In 1425, the region was again incorporated into the Ottoman Empire by Sultan Mehmed II in 1425 and it has remained in Turkish control since that time.

Ephesus is huge site so it will not be possible for Lei and I to see it all in one day. Even so, visiting the ruins of this ancient city that was once inhabited by the Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans will truly be a visit of a lifetime for me!