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Published: April 25th 2015
I'm making good on my promise to write more blogs after I returned home on April 23. Actual date in Ephesus was April 7th, a beautiful warm day so welcomed after some chilly days in Istanbul. It was my second visit, the last being in November, 2000. Doesn't matter. I was still gobsmacked by the history, the casual ruins of ruins rolled over to one side of the main agora now, a walkway, but in ancient times marketplace.
Some history, I know boring, but it helps to put things into perspective. Ancient Ephesus was founded by the Athenians about 1000 B.C., it lay at the confluence of empire, trade, and religion. It was a major banking and merchant metropolis with a population of around 300,000. At that time the city had a good harbor with land that was fertile and well irrigated. It has since been silted up and is no longer a port. In the 5th century B.C. the goddess Artemis/Diana was worshipped and what was then considered to be the largest and most elaborate temple, about 200 by 400 feet was built to honor her. It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Sadly, only
one column is all that is now left standing.
Walking down the main agora, now called Marble St. (duh), guides love to point out the footprint and markings inlaid on a piece of marble (what else?) that supposedly pointed the way to the brothel. It dates from the Roman times (about 4 th century A.D.). The spiel goes something like this "careful health controls dominated the brothel, even more than in today's brothels. The men coming to the house, first washed and cleaned their hands and feet before entering a large salon through a hallway. The house, which had every kind of facility for cleanliness, was dedicated to Venus." Never having been to a brothel myself I was curious how the washing of one's hands and feet ranked so high on their cleanliness standards - but I digress.
Romans, we all know, took their bathing and toileting seriously. The latrina (needs no translation) was roughly a 25 foot square room. Along the outer walls were cut outs for butts. when in use there would be a small container of water by each 'seat' holding a foot long twig with some sort of material tied at the end that
could be used to clean the butt. In the center of the room was a raised platform where musicians, actors and other entertainers would perform. Apparently, going to the 'loo' was not a quickie thing.
The upper story of the baths (now destroyed) were heated with a series of forced hot water pipes. There was a pool having hot water (the caldarium), a warm bath ( the tepidarium), a cold bath (frigidarium) and a dressing room (apodyterium). The first building of the bath was in the 2nd century. In the 4 th century a woman named Skolasticia adapted it into the one we see in the ruins now.
It wasn't all pooping and bathing. Evidence has been found that shows the residents were great game players. Ulrich Schaedler, director of the Swiss Museum of Games (who knew?) has been researching intricately patterned playing surfaces that are scratched into the streets, steps, and porticoes. He is now comparing games played by Romans in the 2nd.century B.C. to those played later by the Arabs and Turks in the 3rd. Century A.D. and finding them completely different. Some of the games identified thus far are: Duodecimal Scripts or twelve points played
with 3 dice and 30 chips; Three Men Morris - a strategy game similar to tic-tac-toe; Pente Grammai or 5 Lines, players rolled a die and moved stones toward a center line. It was described as similar to Backgammon.
St. Paul is believed to have lived in Ephesus around 52 A.D. He was constantly fighting with merchants who were selling statues of Artemis as he was trying to convert people to Christianity. He wrote his first letter to the Corinthians while here as well as his Epistles to the Ephesians. Well, actually he was in prison (62 A.D.) when he wrote that. I still get a bit weak kneed when I stand in the Great Theater ( 25,000 seats) and think about Paul preaching there. But, wait there's more.... St. John, one of the Apostles, wrote his gospels while in Ephesus. The city is mentioned in the Bible in the Book of Revelations. John was entrusted with the care of Mary, yes, THAT Mary, and her last house is high on a hillside outside of the present days ruins.
Two of my favorites in Ephesus are the Celsus Library (135A.D.) It is an incredibly beautiful building that dominates
the view as you walk down the agora. It once held 12,000 scrolls. The walls were doubled when constructed to preserve them from the humidity. The library faces east so the reading rooms could get the best morning light. Amazing.
Perhaps my favorite sculpture/ ruin is the one of Nike, the winged goddess of victory. She holds a wreath made of laurel leaves in her left hand, an emblem of victory still used today as the winners of the Boston Marathon are crowned with a laurel wreath. In her right hand is a stalk of wheat. Best of all she is in a flying position.
I have some places that I would visit again and again for their history, their beauty, their energy, and spiritual magnetism. Machu Picchu is one, the Pantheon in Rome is another and Ephesus is added to my list.
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