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Ephesus Article Series

1 – Ephesus throughout the years

Currently situated in the delta where the Cayster River (Kaystros in antiquity) reached the Aegean Sea, Ephesos (Ephesus) was moved a number of times due to natural causes. One of the leading centers and important ports of antique Ionia, the city was gradually pushed away from the sea by the fertile alluvial deposits, fully losing its port quality throughout the course of 2500 years after being pushed in by 9 km.

Up until 1990, the oldest finds in Ephesus belonged to the Mycenaean tombs -in which Mycenaean objects were found- dated back to 1400 B.C. The artifacts excavated from these tombs are currently exhibited in the Tomb Finds Hall. In the 1990s, during the excavations operated by the Ephesus Museum, another prehistoric settlement was discovered in Ayasuluk Hill, which was dated back to 3000 B.C. Today, in the southeast past of the city, new finds from excavations conducted in Çukuriçi Mound date the origins of Ephesus back to 8200 B.C. There is a Çukuriçi Mound exhibit case in the Museum where you may find the oldest artifacts dug from the area.

Ephesus Map

Ephesus Map

Even though it is dated much further back, Ephesus lived its heyday in Hellenistic and Roman times. A major-ity of the ruins visited today are from this period. According to the myth, Ephesus was found in the skirts of the Mount Panayir (Pion in antiquity) by Androklus, son of Kodros, King of Athens around 1000 B.C. When An-droklus decided to go over to Anatolia from the Greek Peninsula to start a new city, he went to see the Delphic oracle as directed by tradition, and the oracle told him that the place to raise the city would be shown to him by a fish and a wild boar. Androklus and his companions arrived at the Aegean shore, and as they were searing fish on the pan, a spark of the flames set the bush on fire. A wild boar hiding behind the bush was startled by the flames and started running, at the sight of which Androklus and his friends followed the boar; and remem-bering the oracle’s words, they built their new city at that spot! The originals of the Temple of Hadrian friezes narrating this myth in relief are exhibited in Ephesus Museum while the copies are on display at the temple in the historic site.

Leaving myth aside, a group of immigrants from Attica to Anatolia actually came to the area and started to live side by side with the local people. The city mentioned as Apasas in Hittite documents from 2000 B.C. was probably Ephesus. Karian, Lydian, and Lelegian Anatolian communities made up the pre-Ionian population of the city. Some antique sources mention the Amazons as the founder of Apassas. While the original marble piece depicting an Amazon is in Vienna, a copy is exhibited in the Artemis Hall of the Seljuk Ephesus Museum.

Even though many names of Ephesus are mentioned along with Apasas, the name Ephesus was the most widely known in history, making it to Turkish as “Efes.” In 7th century B.C. and in the first half of 6th century B.C., Ephesians established good relations with the state of Lydia, until the attack of Kimmerians, a Southern Russian clan related with the Scythians.

In 560 B.C., the city was under the siege of Kroisos, the king of Lydia. The King granted a major source of funding in order to build the Temple of Artemis, which would bring the peoples together. The temple, carrying on the mother goddess culture that has prevailed in this land since ancient times with an Anatolian twist on the Greek goddess Artemis, attracted people of belief from all around the world to Ephesus for years. The Temple of Artemis is known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Ephesus, which would eventually be situated in the valley of Mount Panayir and Mount Bulbul (Koressos in antiquity) in the Hellenistic Period (330 B.C. – A.C. 200) where the ruins are today, encircled the temple from the second half of 500 B.C. to early 300 B.C. A majority of what remains from this edifice and its vicinity, which provided immunity to all the people in its holy circle, is displayed in the Artemis Hall of the Ephesus Museum in the form of art objects and artifacts – along with a portion that is in the British Museum. The most valuable monuments in this hall, the two big Artemis statues have been found in the City Hall (Prytaneon), which may be seen in the historic site today.

When King Kroisos was defeated by the Persians in the west banks of Kizilirmak, like all of Lydian land, this land was dominated by the Persians in 545 B.C. Ephesians joined the Delian League in 479 B.C. and helped destroy the Athenian fleet by giving their support to Spartans in the Peloponnesian Wars (431 – 406 B.C.). The city was re-dominated by the Persians in 386 B.C. and the situation ended was concluded with Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia (336-324 B.C.) defeating Persians and capturing Anatolia in 334 B.C. In 356 B.C., a mentally unstable person by the name of Herostrates burned the Temple of Artemis in the hopes of going down in history.

In the time of Alexander the Great’s generals who took over after his death, Ephesus too was in chaos, as the rest of the Hellenistic world. A new era began in the city when General Lysimachus came to power. Lysima-chus moved the city, which would turn into a marsh once the Cayster River brought alluvial deposits, to the val-ley of Mount Bulbul and Mount Panayir. Therefore, we should regard Lysimachus as the true founder of the city we visit today. The sarcophagus dug out of the mausoleum, which is thought to belong to Lysimachus, is one of the most striking objects in the Ephesus Museum.

Successors of Alexander, Seleucians and Ptolemaians came to power after the reign of Lysimachus. The city was handed to the Pergamum Kingdom with the Treaty of Apamea in 188 B.C., and in 133 B.C., when Roman Empire inherited the Pergamum Kingdom; the city remained within the borders of the empire’s Asia Province. Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.C.) rearranged the empire and the provinces. A new city arose out of the reconstruction efforts. Wealthy commerce port Ephesus with its monumental buildings became the capital of the empire’s Asia province. A majority of the artifacts in the Museum are dated back to this period when the city was in its prime.

The city of Ephesus had a time of peace and quiet from the time of Emperor Iustinianos (483-565) to the 7th century. When Byzantium Empire divided the provinces into military regions from 7th century on, it was the capital of Thrakesion region, not the Asia province.

Initially, the Christian population of the city was harassed due to the dominance of strong pagan beliefs, but the visits of leading figures such as St. John – St. John the Evangelist or St. Johannes – and St. Paulus and especially Virgin Mary in the 1st century rendered it one of the most important pilgrimage centers of Christian-ity. The church in Seljuk where St. John is buried is one of the first seven churches of Christianity and it is still an important pilgrimage place as well as the church which is constructed on the bases of the house where Vir-gin Mary had lived –althought there is no evidence for this- who is a holy figure for both Christians and Mus-lims, attracts a larger host of visitors. The church, dedicated to Virgin Mary and located in the ancient city, hosted a very important meeting for Christianity. The council of 431 congregated here to arrive at a highly de-cisive resolution and approved the hypothesis that Christ is the Son of God. In Ephesus Museum also exhibited are objects and pieces of buildings from excavations around St. John and Ephesus, conveying the first Christian beliefs in the city.

As Byzantium got increasingly weaker, the city was under siege a number of times in the 7th and 8th cen-turies during Arab incursions to Anatolia and with the population on the fall, the parts of it on the northern hill-side of Mount Bulbul were abandoned due to the challenges of defending it. Around the 10th century, when the port, connected to the sea only through a winding, narrow channel, was completely filled with alluvial deposits, Ephesus was vacated and was moved to Ayasuluk –Seljuk today-, where it initially started out around the
Basilica of St. John.

The first Turkish settlement was initiated in 1081, when Caka Bey established a coastal seigniory in the Izmir region. Ephesus-Ayasuluk was definitively captured by Aydinoglu (Son of Aydin) Mehmet Bey in 1304. Aydinogullari (Sons of Aydin) adorned the city with many buildings a major one of which is the Isabey Mos-que.

When Yildirim Bayezid made Aydinogullari Seigniory an Ottoman land in 1389-1390, Isa Bey’s request to stay in Ayasuluk was accepted. After the War of Ankara in 1402, Timur dominated entire Anatolia and came to the city of Aydin, made Ayasuluk his base, and before long, captured the castle, the city, and the towns in the region. In 1426, during the reign of Murad II, Ottomans recaptured Ayasuluk. While the settlement in the 15th century gave the impression of a crowded city, after the 16th century, it increasingly lost its popularity due to the presence of the thriving Izmir and Kusadasi ports. The Seljuk-Ottoman history of the city may be seen in the ethnographic Arasta section of the museum, where many long-forgotten handcrafts are displayed.

Half-deserted Ayasuluk was slightly reinvigorated thanks to the train station operative in 1867 on the Izmir-Aydin railway line, but the real rejuvenation came when the antique Ephesus city was brought to day-light.

The excavations carried out by the British Architect-Engineer J. T. Wood in the name of the British Mu-seum, who was actually on a railroad-construction mission between Izmir and Aydin, lasted from his arrival to the region 1863 to 1874. A marathon of excavations started in 1895 by Vienna University. The excavations are active to this day, on and off.

The partially revealed antique city –it is said that a mere twenty per cent of Ephesus is fully revealed- hosts thousands of visitors as a historic site, while the collection of the Ephesus Museum complete the picture of the story of the city and bring it to the present.

Next : The Hall of the Terrace Houses: Life at “Home” in Ephesus

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