Turkey is a country full of big ticket attractions: there’s the lunar landscape of Cappadocia, the snow white canvas pegged across a sheer cliff face at Pamukkale, and, of course, the heady East-meets-West brew that is Istanbul, to name just a few. The ruins of Ephesus near the Western town of Selcuk are widely considered to be up among such distinguished company, and rightly so. For anyone visiting Turkey with even a passing interest in Ancient History, a trip here is a must.
The story goes that Ephesus was founded by the Greek king Androclus, who built it on the spot where he slew a boar. Said boar had been escaping from a forest fire started by a fish which, previously caught and in the middle of being cooked in a pan, jumped out and toppled the coals, which started the forest fire in the first place. Still with me? Well, in this age of regular public transport ferrying you to and from the site, my route to the ruins was only slightly less convoluted than that of Androclus.
My out-of-town Hostel was supposedly a 45 minute walk away from Ephesus. That’s only if you don’t take a wrong turn, like I tend to do when left to find my own way to things. Call it a defective internal compass. Before I knew it I was utterly lost among the steep, rock-scarred, densely-forested peaks that surround the ruins…and the ruins were nowhere to be seen. In scorching heat my only option was to grit my teeth and clamber to the top of one of the peaks to see if I could secure a suitable vantage point.
Those of you who’ve read my Kilimanjaro and Three Peaks Challenge blogs will know that I’m a keen mountaineer. But that’s normally on mountains with clearly defined paths. I’m not going to document every single mishap I encountered on this unplanned trek, but encountering a herd of roaming cattle blocking my path, ripping my trousers in two places on some brambles, and sliding in the most undignified way (on my backside) down the wild mountainside, accumulating a litany of scratches and bruises in so doing, were among them. But you know what? I got some breath-taking aerial views of Ephesus, the countryside and Selcuk in the process. Bonus!
The 45 minute walk was more like, er, two and a half hours in the end. But it was worth it when I finally rocked up at the ancient site. Epic in scale, the impressively preserved remains of this once vast ancient city unfurl like a multi-layered, never-ending Greco-Roman diorama. Huge, pillar-lined streets are flanked by impeccably-preserved half-monuments in just about every direction. The Library of Celus, the theatre and the temple of Hadrian are among the more eye-catching sites, but the whole thing demands every bit of your attention.
It is, indeed, very possible to get lost among them…not ideal in the baking heat when you’re somewhat fatigued from hours-long mountain trekking, perhaps, but an enjoyable experience all the same! Ephesus may not feature a single ‘elite’ ruin on the scale of, say, the Parthenon, but as a collective set of ancient monuments it is right up there with world-renowned sites the Pyramids, the Colosseum and indeed the Acropolis, all of which I have been fortunate enough to visit. As a place to evoke ancient times, Ephesus is unsurpassed; and believe me, experiencing it was worth every cut, bruise and blister!