The Grand Tour of Ephesus on a Mediterranean Cruise

by John Hutton

Rich with history, the theater at Ephesus
Rich with history, the theater at Ephesus

One of my favorite shore excursions, was my day in Kusadasi, Turkey while on a Mediterranean cruise, which included a visit to the Virgin Mary’s house,the ruins of Ephesus and the Basilica of St. John.

We started by going up to see the Virgin Mary’s house high on a hill, and what struck me first was how scenic and beautiful the area is, with mountainous landscape lush with trees I had never seen before.

The Virgin Mary’s house was a real sight to see. Upon arriving, I noticed the baptismal font. You could see the pipes just above the ground that took the water to the font.  I took pictures throughout the house, including shots of statute of the Virgin Mary just outside.  Inside the house, you see an altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary and as well as religious items given by previous popes.

As I continued to walk around outside the house, I went down one level and a little further along I came to a prayer board to the Virgin Mary. This board had special requests from people asking the Virgin Mary to intervene for them. Further on, I noticed a grove of olive trees with green olives on them. I had never seen olive trees before, and was fascinated by the way their trunks were twisted from age.

On my way to Ephesus I saw that the land was now flat but I realized that the area that I was seeing was the prime agricultural region which was full of cotton bushes, pistachio groves, apricot — to name a few.

There were actually four towns of Ephesus — the reason for this is that every year the river would flood and form deltas. The people could not always clean up the deltas so they built the towns further inland. As a result of this recurring flooding the area is very fertile.

The town of Ephesus is a site to behold. Upon coming to Ephesus you see the Theater of Odeon, the baths, irrigation reservoirs for holding the water and sending it to the baths.  After the baths, we passed the Temple of the Vestal Virgins, which had been destroyed by Constantine when he outlawed the pagan religions and introduced Christianity.  After the main gate we noticed the Tablet of Nike propped up, and saw the source of the familiar swoosh logo.

As we continued down the hill, the huge Library of Celsus came clearly into view. Scrolls were held in the library niches to keep the humidity away. The library is a two-story façade, which shows how advanced this civilization became.

I also marveled over the mosaic tiles that were laid out in front of the rich people’s homes. Next I came across Hadrian’s Arch – really two arches. The first arch is dedicated to Hadrian. The second arch is dedicated to Medusa and you can clearly see the snake-like hair. To the right of Medusa is a fresco of the female Amazon warriors.

Next we came to the public toilets which were located on the high ground and the waste was removed by gravity. This favorite photo spot also shows just how advanced the Ephesians were.

One beautiful building caught my eye, with tall walls and doorways going from one room to another. This was clearly a very wealthy person’s house.  However, it was thought to be a brothel – but the sign clearly states that it was a private house wrongly called “Brothel 1st – 7th Century.”  One of the most unusual items to be found in Ephesus is the early pictograph left behind by the early Christians to tell the Romans that they were around. The symbol is a circle with horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines inside and symbols of fish above and below it.

Next, I went into the market and then came to Harbour Street which runs from the front of the theater to the old harbour. What was unusual about this road was that it was the only street which was lit up at night by olive oil torches.  Finally, I came to main theater of Ephesus were St. Paul preached to the Ephesians. The huge theater is still used today for summer plays and concerts.

I then headed out to the Basilica of St John, consulting the map so I could orient myself as to where everything was. For reference, I took a picture of what the church looked like in its original form — it was a very beautiful building and quite large with at least five domes.  The basilica includes the tomb of St. John. In the background behind the Basilica there is a large fort that was once used by the Turkish Branch of the Knights Templar. I marveled at the magnificent marble columns and arches.

After the tour of the Basilica was over I arrived in the Port of Kusadasi, and had a wonderful two hours looking at the stores and shopping.  I went to one merchant’s shop and looked around, priced some Turkish Tea. After wandering some more, I went back to the first merchant, and had some fun bargaining with him over the price. I had him include two boxes of Turkish Tea plus the Turkish Drinking Tea set for a fixed price. This was the first time I had ever bargained and I found it quite a bit of fun!  Next I went to another merchant and I bargained with him on the price of 1kg of Mixed Turkish Delight.

Ephesus remains one of my most memorable cruise destinations because it is rich in history and brings things alive.  Here I did things, including bargaining, that I never thought I would dare try.