I was flat out sick the day we went to Ephesus. Like running a fever, chest all tight and struggling to breathe, worn the hell out sick.
Ephesus didn’t care.
She showed up for me anyway.
In shimmering waves of sunlight that could have been caused by the fever.
Or the copious amount of medication I was taking.
Or the fact that it’s just a damn magical place.
The world is full of places that we have seen images of a billion times – on tv, in movies, in other people’s photos, on other blogger’s websites. It made me wonder, before we left home, if there was any point seeing something in person that we’ve been over-exposed to in other images. Ephesus was one of those places. I knew well what it looked like. I had seen that damn library 452,671 times in pictures. It had a seen that, done that feel to it.
But I had never felt those worn sun soaked stone streets under my feet. I had never smelled the air – so clean and fresh coming down from those mountaintops covered in low scrubby trees that surround the entire city. I had never leaned against the stone pillars, closed my eyes and let the weight of the city’s history sing in my blood. And when we came down the hill and got the first glimpse of the library, I had tears in my eyes.
We all walked along quietly, lost in our own thoughts and perceptions. Occasionally, we would split off from each other, silently slipping into a building or courtyard to explore something that had caught our attention. The others would walk on, stopping for a rest here and there while the others caught up. It was an afternoon of solitary camaraderie.
Lily was taken by the theatres. More than once, she said “Mr. Wright would love this.” Mr. Wright is her English and Drama teacher at school and he spent part of the semester in Drama discussing Greek and Roman plays and theatres. I love how thoughtfully she says these things, wanting to share the moment with people who would appreciate them most. She said much the same thing about her World History teacher when we first heard the call to prayer in Istanbul.
If this massive and impressive piece of history were in the US, it would be roped off. Admired from a distance. Protected from flash photography. Not so here. We were only kept out of a very few places. We wandered over ancient streets, traced our fingers along ridges in ancient columns. Rested our tired feet by placing our butts on ancient stones.
No seriously. Toppled foundation stones lined the walkways and served as benches. We were dumbfounded and fought against mixed feelings about this, but exhaustion won out in the end. We ended up putting our butts on lots of ancient sites throughout Turkey over the following weeks.
At one point, I was resting outside the amphitheater, while Lily apparently was imagining an ancient version of Rent in togas, when an older lady came and sat beside me. I smiled at her. She smiled back. A few minutes later, her husband joined her and after some discussion with her, asked me if he could take my picture with her. I was too sick and tired to protest so I just posed and smiled. Through their limited English, he told me they were from Indonesia. I told him we would be going there on our travels. He was astounded. Several more family members showed up. He relayed my story, that my family was traveling and we would be coming to Indonesia. Wide eyes, big smiles, lots of wonderment and incredulity.
“How long you travel?”
“Maybe five or six months.”
“Ohhhh, long time!”
“All over the world?”
“No, my family is with me.”
“Yes, there are my children (pointing).”
“Ohhhh, son and daughter. Very good, very good!”
Much more smiling, hand shaking, patting me on my back and off they went.
The crowds at Ephesus can be intense. It is a big destination for the cruise ships. We were nearing the end of the travel season, but there was no lack of people filling the city. Often, we would wait for huge groups to pass by and then quickly take pictures with as few people in them as possible.
But once we walked out of the main city and took a small path leading to the left, we walked about 1 km to the site of the Church of Mary. This was the first church in history dedicated to the Mother Mary and site of the fourth Ecumenical Council in which Mary was declared Mother of God.
Things stilled, voices around us faded. We wandered up to the front of the church, left the main path and walked right up into the ruins. The front was lovely, but we were surprised at how small it was. And then we stepped around back. There were rooms and rooms and courtyards (all open air now – the roofs were long gone) all leading, one into the other, back and back as far as we could see. An altar. A fountain for holy water. A room with a cistern for baptisms.
On and on the church stretched back into the sunshine under a light blue full of white cottonball clouds, surrounded by rising green mountains.
I believe that places hold memories. Stories of the people who lived there and loved there.
I believe that places “feel” a certain way based on what has happened there historically. It’s why battlefields feel mournful and haunted and why fortresses feel powerful and why rocks that used to be temples and churches feel sacred. Places evoke emotions and reactions in us, not just awe and wonder, but sorrow, joy, longing, richness, suffering, devotion.
The Church of Mary felt sacred and calming and peaceful. We went into the furthest part of the church and sat on the stones in the sunshine, eyes closed, soaking it in. We were there for almost an hour and saw 4 other people.
Later that day, we walked to the site of the ancient Temple of Artemis – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. All that remains is a column and a few stones, but for hundreds of years, the city celebrated Artemisia where a procession of priestesses would carry the statue of Artemis from the temple throughout the city and citizens would line the path and have picnic lunches while waiting for the procession to pass by. It is still possible to hike this same path (it takes the better part of the day, is through the mountains and is not recommended to undertake without a guide. I wish I had felt better.)
The Temple of Artemis was destroyed and rebuilt three times. It is said that some of the pillars are now in the Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern in Istanbul.
I am not sure why this is, I accept that it could be a predisposition to my own gender, but cities always feel feminine to me. Ephesus was no different – a lovely full-bodied Mediterranean matron full of mystery and passion and faith.
She housed the lovers, Antony and Cleopatra, as they laid out their plans for over-taking the Roman Empire and started their epic love story.
She was home to Artemis of the Ephesians, whom I could write an entire post about, but suffice it to say she had a pretty powerful hold on this area for several hundreds of years.
She became the first place in the world to honor Mary as the Divine Mother.
Is it any wonder I loved Her so, this beautiful city of stone and sky?
We absolutely loved the small town of Selcuk that is the base for exploring Ephesus. We wish we had spent more time there. Our hostel, ANZ Guesthouse, was a gem. We still talk about how much we loved it there. The owners were amazing and generous in their hospitality, the food was delicious and the views were lovely (you could see the top of the column of the Temple of Artemis from the rooftop patio).