Ephesus was one of the most ancient and important Greek cities of Anatolia. It is located in the province of Izmir, at 30 km away from Kuşadası. The city was famed for the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
Ruled over the centuries by Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires; the city of Ephesus was one of the largest and most important cities in the ancient Mediterranean world, lying on the western coast of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). It was one of the oldest Greek settlements on the Aegean Sea and later the provincial seat of Roman government in Asia. Situated at end of the Royal Road , the city was a western terminus of East-West trade and boasted one of the most important Mediterranean harbors for exporting products on to Greece, Italy and the rest of the Roman West. Of Turkey’s superb array of ancient cities, Ephesus (known as Efes in Turkish) is by far the best preserved. In fact, with the possible exception of Pompeii, one could argue that it’s the world’s finest surviving example of a Greco-Roman classical city.
As a center of religious piety Ephesus was important: the city itself developed from the earliest time around an ancient shrine of the earth goddess Artemis (Roman Diana) and became her chief place of worship. From the earliest time of the Christian era Ephesus was a key city in the expansion of Christianity. St. Paul used the city as a hub to launch proselytizing missions into Greece, and later the city was home to important cults including those of St. John and the Virgin Mary. On the other hand, The Mosque of Isa Bey and the medieval settlement on Ayasuluk Hill mark the advent of the Selçuk and Ottoman Turks.
.Excavations have revealed grand monuments of the Roman Imperial period including the Library of Celsus, terrace houses and the Great Theatre. Little remains of the famous Temple of Artemis, one of the “Seven Wonders of the World,” which drew pilgrims from all around the Mediterranean. Pilgrimage to Ephesus outlasted the city and continues today for Christians. Two important Councils of the early Church were held at Ephesus in 431 and 449 CE, initiating the veneration of Mary in Christianity, which can be seen as a reflection of the earlier veneration of Artemis and the Anatolian Cybele.
Ephesus was also the leading political and intellectual centre, with the second school of philosophy in the Aegean, and Ephesus as a cultural and intellectual centre had great influence on philosophy and medicine. Ephesus was the birthplace and home of the great Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus. Women enjoyed rights and privileges equal to men and there are records of female artists, sculptors, painters and teachers. At night the streets of the city were brightly lit with oil lamps, a luxury not many cities could afford.
To the north of the Agora is one of the most outstanding remains of ancient Ephesus: the Great Theatre. The theatre extant today was built in the Roman period upon a much older Hellenistic foundation. Like the Odeum, but much larger, the Theatre is a semi-circular auditorium built into the western slope of Mt. Pion with orchestra pit and stage at the front. According to John Wood, who excavated it in the 1866, the theatre is 495 feet in diameter and could sit some 24,000 people in three levels of seats divided into twenty-two rows. The Theatre was used for large meetings of the entire city population (the demos), festivals like the annual procession of the city’s goddess Artemis, and any other large gathering for which the Odeum was too small. (It is very likely that this Theatre was the site of the mob protest against St. Paul reported in Acts 19.) When Wood excavated the theatre he discovered a number of inscriptions lying about the stage relating to state embassies, religious festivals, city benefactors and Roman emperors.
The temple of Artemis is known as one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. It has been built in the areas of Ephesus on a flat area which has over the centuries turned into a swamp. If you visit Ephesus today, you can only see the ruins of the foundations of this marvelous construction of the Hellenistic Age, entirely made of marble and full of sculptured columns’ capitals and shafts. The Temple of Artemis (Artemisium) made it onto the established list of Seven Wonders because of its size and beauty; the location right next to the sea (which since antiquity has retracted several kilometres) must also have contributed to the mesmerising effect of the building. Indeed, the Temple of Artemis was often cited as the greatest of the seven wonders by those who had seen them.
Begun c. 550 BCE, the marble temple would take 120 years to complete. The temple measured 129.5 metres (425 ft) in length and was 68.6 metres (225 ft) wide, almost double the size of the 5th-century BCE Parthenon at Athens (69.5 x 30.9 m). It had 127 columns which were 18.3 metres (60 ft) high and 1.2 metres (4 ft) in diameter. The columns were arranged in a double row on all four sides, eight or nine on the short sides and 20 or 21 on the long sides. Those columns on the facades were decorated with relief figures from Greek mythology. The decorative frieze of the temple carried scenes involving Amazons, who were, in Greek mythology, supposed to have sought shelter at Ephesus from Hercules.
Artemis was also called Cynthia, from her birth place, Mount Cynthus in Delos. She was Apollo’s twin sister, daughter of Zeus and Leto. She was one of the three maiden goddesses of Olympus: the pure maiden Vesta, gray-eyed Athena who cares but for war and the arts of the craftsmen, and Artemis, lover of woods and the wild chase over the mountain. She was the Lady of Wild Things.
The most beautiful remaining of this temple are today exhibited in the London British Museum. Today some remains of the temple are its foundations, and a single column has been erected from composite remains which, rather than giving an impression of lost grandeur, gives a melancholic air to the site which was once one of the most wondrous in the ancient Mediterranean.