Ephesus has been an important city both in Ancient Greece and Roman Empire. As you walk through the streets of Ephesus, the best preserved Roman ruins of the Eastern Mediterranean, you may feel like a Roman citizen living in ancient times. Ephesus Travel Blog post is designed to promote the best things to do in Ephesus in 2023.
Visiting the ancient city of Ephesus is a great historical experience. However, the region where Ephesus is located has such a rich culture that everything is not just about the ruins of Ephesus. In this article we will try to introduce the beauties that will take a few days to discover. I hope you enjoy things to do in and around Ephesus and have a nice holiday.
Things to Do in Ephesus (Travel Blog 2023)
When you see things to do in Ephesus, you will realize that it is not a good idea to come to Ephesus for a day trip. Most visitors miss the sights around the ancient city of Ephesus as they come to the region with cruise ships and day trips.
Ephesus is within the borders of Selcuk, a beautiful town in the city of Izmir. For those who visit Ephesus, it is a good idea to stay at hotels in Selcuk. There are budget-friendly small hotels and nice restaurants where you can find local Turkish cuisine. Things to see in Selcuk include a Roman Aqueduct, a Byzantine Church and Ephesus Archeology Museum.
In the Ephesus Travel Blog, we will present things to do for those who come to Ephesus from Istanbul, Bodrum or Kusadasi. You can trace Rome and Byzantium both in the ancient city of Ephesus and in the surrounding Selcuk district. You can also find insider advice on places to stay around Ephesus and guided tours of Ephesus at the bottom of the article.
1. Ephesus Ancient City
The ancient city of Ephesus dates back to 1000 BC. The legendary founder of the city, Prince Androcles, found Ephesus with the prophecy of the oracle of the Temple of Apollo. (You may find the foundation legend at the bottom lines)
Having a strong cult of mother goddesses, Ephesus was the religious center during the period of polytheistic religions. Initially dedicated to the goddess Cybele, the city later adopted the cult of the goddess Artemis.
Ephesus was the most important of the city states called the Ionian League during the Ancient Greek period. During the Roman Empire it was the capital of Asia Minor. Therefore, it was a lively trade center and had a population of around 250,000.
Ephesus, which was a center of pilgrimage thanks to the Temple of Artemis during polytheistic religions, maintains this feature even today. This is because it has an important place in the history of Christianity. Since Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived here for a time, Ephesus is on the Christian pilgrimage route.
It is worth noting that Ephesus is the third largest Roman ruin in the world. The three most important monuments in Ephesus are the Temple of Artemis, the Library of Celsus and the Temple of Hadrian.
After talking about Ephesus Ancient City in general, I felt the need to open a separate title for some historical artifacts in Ephesus. In the lines below, we will talk about Artemis Temple and Celsus Library, which were of great importance in history, in a little more detail.
2. Temple of Artemis
There is only one column left from the Temple of Artemis, which was once one of the seven wonders of the world. Carrying out archaeological excavations at the Temple of Artemis, JT Wood said that once there was the statue of Goddess Artemis on this column.
The Temple of Artemis, which was built in the 6th century BC, was a magnificent building rising above 127 columns. The temple, which was damaged by earthquakes and fires, was rebuilt several times. However, with the abandonment of the polytheistic religions after the 4th century, it could not return to its glorious days.
It is claimed that the columns of the Temple of Artemis were used in the construction of Hagia Sophia, although its reality has not been proven precisely. These 8 massive columns supporting the dome of Hagia Sophia are the most remarkable elements of the building. You can see more interesting details like this in the Interesting Facts About the Museums of Istanbul blog post.
3. Library of Celsus
The Library of Celsus, known as the largest library after the Alexandria and Pergamon libraries during the Roman period, was built in 114 AD in memory of Celsus Polemaeanus, a senior bureaucrat in the Roman Empire.
Before Celsus was elected as a consul in 92, he was a famous commander in the Roman army. Rising in his political career over time, Celsus became the Asian Governor of the Roman Empire and thus reached the climax of his influence.
Tiberius Julius Aquila, Celsus’ son, was determined to immortalize his father’s name in Asian provinces. Therefore, he started building the Celsus Library, which stands today in all its glory in Ephesus, the Capital of Asian States of the time. When Celsus died in 114, he was buried in the tomb built for him in the western part of the building. The library was completed 3 years after Celsus’ death, in 117 AD.
Archaeological findings show that there were over twelve thousand manuscripts in the Celsus Library. The library, which was used until 262, was badly damaged in the fire that year. The earthquakes in the following years turned the library into a ruin. Despite all these disasters, Library of Celsus is still the most iconic building of Ephesus.
4. Ephesus Museum
Ephesus Museum, located in the center of Selcuk province, is a place you can easily find. You can see the famous Statue of Artemis in the museum where the artifacts from Ephesus Ancient City are exhibited. This statue, which was taken from the famous Temple of Artemis I mentioned above, symbolizes abundance and fertility.
The Ephesus Archeology Museum also has Gladiator Stels, which you will not see anywhere else. These memorial stones, erected in honor of the gladiators, have reliefs depicting the fighters’ clothing and weapons. Although many who visit the area only see the ruins, this museum is also among the best things to do in Ephesus.
5. Basilica of St. John
Basilica of St. John is a church built in late antiquity near Ephesus. Saint John, one of the disciples of Jesus, came to Western Anatolia with Virgin Mary when Jesus died in 30s. It was thought that Saint John was buried around Ephesus after he died.
During the Byzantine Empire, the famous emperor Justinian decided to build a church where Saint John’s tomb was located. Justinian, who also built structures such as Hagia Irene and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, is known as the most remarkable emperor in Byzantine history.
While Justinian built the Basilica of St. John, he took an example of a famous church in Istanbul. He built the new church similar to the Church of the Holy Apostles, which was the first monumental church in Constantinople. This church was built by Constantine the Great after Constantinople was declared the Roman capital.
St. John’s Basilica was built between 548 and 565. Only ruins have survived from the church, which is located 3.5 kilometers from Ephesus Ancient City. Those traveling to Ephesus should definitely add this church to their must-see list.
6. The House of Virgin Mary
The House of Virgin Mary has an interesting history. According to traditional Christian history, after Jesus was crucified, his mother emigrated to Ephesus and died there. However, it was not known exactly where Virgin Mary lived until the 19th century.
A German nun named Anne Catherine Emmerich, who lived between 1774 and 1824, saw some religious delusions and turned them into a book. Based on the book that the nun wrote about what she saw, the researchers found a chapel in Ephesus in 1881.
The building, presumably to be the chapel of a Byzantine monastery located here in the 6th century, was associated with Mary. It remains a mystery how Catherine Emmerich, who had never been to Ephesus in her life, knew the location of a chapel that could be found as a result of long archaeological excavations.
The House of Virgin Mary is filled with curious tourists today. It is considered as one of the stops on the Christian Pilgrimage Road, which started in Europe and continued until Jerusalem. Visiting the house of the Virgin Mary is among the best things to do in Ephesus in 2023.
7. Ayasuluk Fortress
Ayasuluk Fortress is located on the highest hill of Selcuk Province. During the archaeological excavations in the region, remains dating back to the Neolithic Age were found.
The first castle here was built in the Byzantine period. However, it changed hands after the Seljuk Empire entered Anatolia aftermath of Battle of Manzikert. The fortress, which was strengthened during the Seljuk period, had 15 watch towers, living spaces and mosques. However, many of these historical buildings are in ruins today.
If you go to the castle, which has a bird’s eye view, you can take beautiful photos. However, as archaeological excavations continue, some parts of the castle are sometimes closed to visitors.
8. Isa Bey Mosque
Isa Bey Mosque, built during the Seljuk period, is one of the most beautiful works of 14th century architecture. Surrounded by high walls, the courtyard reflects a great stonework. There are reused columns in the courtyard and in some parts of the building that had been taken from an old Roman bath.
The name of the architect who designed the building was noted in the mosque inscription, which reflects the beauty of Turkish calligraphy. Isa Bey Mosque, one of the oldest examples of Turkish mosques in Anatolia, is definitely a place to be seen.
9. Byzantine Aqueduct
The Byzantine Aqueduct, which passes through the Selcuk district, attracts the attention of tourists as a place where storks nest on it. You may want to photograph the historical aqueduct located very close to the Isa Bey Mosque and St. John’s Basilica, which we mentioned in the upper lines.
There are many places to see about Roman history in Turkey. If you are interested in the magnificent water systems built by Rome, you should definitely see the Valens Aqueduct in Istanbul.
10. Grotto of the Seven Sleepers
Grotto of the Seven Sleepers is one of the most interesting places to visit in Ephesus. In order to properly understand the legendary events that took place here, it is recommended to take a guided tour on your Ephesus trip.
Many Roman emperors in history had implemented a policy of persecution of Christians. Christians fleeing from the Roman soldiers took refuge in rural geographies such as Cappadocia. The underground cities, valleys and rock churches you will see in Cappadocia today are proof of how Christians resisted these conditions in those days.
There was a similar situation in Ephesus. Legend has it that in 250 AD, the Roman emperor Decius punished seven faithful Christians by imprisoning them in a cave. Christians who fall asleep in the cave wake up like a normal person after 200 years. Christianity was then free on the territory of the Roman Empire.
They live the rest of their life in the city of Ephesus in peace. When they die, they were buried in the same cave. Therefore, the cave, which has Seven Sleepers, is on the pilgrimage route of Christians. The Grotto of Seven Sleepers is located about two kilometers from the ancient city of Ephesus.
11. Sirince Village
Sirince Village is one of the most beautiful places to visit near Ephesus and Kusadasi. It has a warm atmosphere with its red-roofed houses and cobblestone streets. Before the Turkish-Greek population exchange after the First World War, mainly Greeks lived here. After the exchange, Turks from Greece settled here.
The fact that Sirince is on a high hill surrounded by trees gives it a distinctive beauty. In this small town, famous for its fruit wines, you can taste delicious wines and eat good food. One of the oldest historical monuments in the town is a church dedicated to John the Baptist. It contains frescoes dating from the Byzantine period.
12. Pamucak Beach
Pamucak Beach is located 8 km from Selcuk city center and 6 km from Ephesus Archaeological Site. Pamucak, which is a wonderful beach with a length of 11 km, is also known as Ephesus Beach. The width of the golden sandy beach is about 80 meters. Kucuk Menderes River meets the sea from the middle of the coast in Pamucak.
Pamucak Beach is highly preferred for its blue flag clean sea and sandy structure, as well as being suitable for water sports and camping. In addition to many touristic facilities, Pamucak has a picnic area in the forest, a camping space and five-star hotels.
The Foundation Legend of Ephesus
In the Ephesus Travel Blog post, we talked about things to do in Ephesus so far. However, one of the most important things that makes Ephesus interesting is the foundation legend of Ephesus.
According to the legends, Ephesus and Istanbul were founded in similar ways as both cities began with the mysterious prophecies of an oracle in Delphi, Greece. Legend has it that, Androcles, the son of the King Codrus, sought the advice of the oracle of Temple of Apollo after his Father died.
He wanted to leave Athens and make a new start, but he didn’t know where to go. The oracle advised Androcles to go to the East, cross the Aegean Sea and land there; he said: “The fish will give you a signal, and the pig will guide you.”
So, Androcles crossed the Aegean Sea and anchored his ship at the bay where Kucuk Menderes River meets the sea. He and his men started fishing, and one of the fish jumped to the floor. Then, a pig came out of the bushes and stole the fish and ran away. Androcles chased the pig up a hill and then hit the pig with his arrow.
The fish gave the signal, and the pig guided them, and Androcles founded his new city where he killed the pig. This city, which Androclos founded in 1000 BC, would be one of the most important cities of ancient times.
Ephesus is definitely among the most beautiful places to visit while traveling to Turkey. Before ending the Ephesus Travel Blog, I will give you some suggestions on which guided tour you can take in Ephesus and where you can stay near Ephesus.
There may be long queues at the entrance of Ephesus in tourist season. For this reason, buying guided tour tickets for Ephesus ruins will save you time. You can buy a skip-the-line ticket by clicking this link and join a guided small group tour to Ephesus. Although these tickets are more expensive than standart Ephesus entrance fee, they allow you to visit the archaeological site with a guide.
The best places to stay near Ephesus are Selcuk, Sirince, Kusadasi (picture above) and Izmir. Selcuk is the closest one to Ephesus. However, you can also choose places like Kusadasi, Sirince and Izmir. According to your travel plan, each will give you some advantages. For more information on the subject, you can review our article on where to stay in Ephesus.
Ephesus Travel Blog 2023 by Serhat Engul
Tim Neeble says
Amazing blog! Turkey has been always on my list! Can’t wait to go there sometime soon!
Serhat Engül says
Hi Tim, thank you for the review.