Selçuk and Ephesus, Turkey

I spent two very pleasant nights in a little hostel/guest house outside of Selçuk living the backpacker life among American and Australian travellers who sat up late around a bonfire drinking local beer and comparing all the other places they’ve traveled.  They were all really nice people and one group of them offered me a 6 hour lift in their rental car as I was leaving (I ended up going another way) but  I have generally found it a little hard to relate to my fellow American travelers, especially those who are just out for a week or two doing the visit more as a vacation than a visit and eager to tell me about the great hot springs they found two stops ago.  I guess I can regard the experience as yet another ethnographic study.

The main attraction of Selçuk, naturally  is the archaeological site of Ephesus (or Efes, to the Turks) so that is where we were all making our way.  I walked from the hostel taking a really beautiful back road path that the owner pointed out and spent the best part of a day wandering around the excavated site and appreciating the beauties if white marble against green hillsides.  Ephesus has a very long history – it was once a very important port and has been occupied since the bronze age.  It was a Greek city – Alexander the Great was welcomed there in triumph after his conquest of Persia – and then a Roman one – Antony lived there with Cleopatra for a while before they were defeated by Augustus at Actium in 31 BC .  Constantine rebuilt it following a destructive visit by the Goths in the 3rd century AD and Justinian (of Hagia Sophia fame) repaired earth quake damage in the 6th.  The silting up of its harbor (which is now 6km away) during the Byzantine era led to a decline and eventual abandonment with the locals carting off marble for their own construction purposes or to burn for lime and by the time the Seljuk Turks arrived to conquer it in 1090 it was an unimportant village and it was abandoned completely by the 15th century.

For modern purposes this was all to the good.  Contemporary residences and construction would mask or prevent archaeological excavation and might have lost much of the historical value of the site.  Excavation begun in the late 1800s and continuing today has unearthed an amazing amount of (mostly Roman era) buildings.  Most impressive of all is not the beautiful Library of Celsus facade but the Roman Terrace housing which is protected under a large roof structure and has some amazingly restored/preserved dwelling places complete with sub-floor heating structures in private houses, frescoed walls and mosaic floors on three levels.  I spent hours wandering around it and then sitting and sketching – I managed to create a pencil sketch I didn’t hate.  Its really been one of the highlights of the trip – far more impressive than any of the Roman sites I visited in Italy.

After I dragged myself out of the cool protection of the terrace housing I put up my umbrella against the blazing sun and walked out into early afternoon to find the site nearly empty of tourists – all gone away on their buses to get lunch in town or on to the next site  – so I wandered around for another few hours and then rode to town on a local minibus rather than walk the 4KM as I was out of water.  All in all, a splendid day of tourism.

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