Ephesus is the most famous, the most complete, and, on the downside, probably the most crowded ancient site in Turkey. Nevertheless, it really is a ‘must see’ – if not on your first visit to Turkey, then certainly at some point.
The admission ticket also covers entry to the house of the Virgin Mary. Though this is obviously of interest for religious reasons, it is not otherwise the most interesting of buildings – and probably has somewhat tenuous religious links anyway.
Ephesus itself though is simply breathtaking. However, I always have mixed feelings about the place. As an overall spectacle, it is stunning. The downside though is that Ephesus was excavated very early in archaeological terms (the 1930s), and unfortunately pretty much rebuilt as a tourist attraction. Hence many of the columns, arches, etc., are pasted together with incredibly ugly grey cement. The advice is to ignore the detail and enjoy the whole.
Frescoes in the terrace houses
The one exception to this is the ‘terrace houses’. This is a relatively newly excavated area, opened in the last couple of years, which is absolutely breathtaking. As it costs extra to enter, it is also fairly uncrowded. It is a covered area of a significant size, on the left as you get towards the library – you can’t miss it, looks like a giant aircraft hangar. Inside is a whole hillside of houses, with the most incredible frescoes, and including an almost complete basilica. It really is the most fascinating experience, especially the glass bridge 3 stories in the air as you get towards the end of the tour, which is not for the faint hearted.
The tour can be done either on your own, or you can hire a private guide – these are extremely good, and cost around £30. A guide will know all the history, and will be able to explain what things are far better than you can work out yourself (such as the Nike ‘tick’ on the statue of the Goddess Nike). They will also usually be fairly flexible over timings, route, etc.
Ephesus needs to be 'walked through' - you start at the southern end, and walk through to the north. Although there are car parks at both ends, it is probably best to park at the north end and then take a taxi to the south, so you can then just collapse into your car when you have finished.
Although you can get cold drinks and ice cream half way round, you may find it easier to take your own drinks – it is a long dusty walk, with little shade, and you can easily spend 2-3 hours walking around, and certainly no less than 1 hour.
The walk down the ‘high street’, library of Celsus at the end (terrace houses under ‘aircraft hangar’ to the left)
Starting from the south, the walk through Ephesus feels pretty much like walking down a modern day high street – there are shops along either side, interspersed with houses and the major public buildings – the bouleuterion, the Temple of Hadrian, the stunning facade of the library of Celsus which you aim towards for most of the first part of the walk, the latrina (always a favourite with the kids!), the agora, and finally the huge theatre (pictured at the top of the page). Like many of the Turkish sites, it is very easy to imagine an ancient lifestyle in such a well-preserved setting. Although the 'high street' is the obvious route, it is well worth exploring off to the sides, partly to escape the crowds for a short while, and partly to see some of the less well known monuments.
If you have time, it is also worth a subsequent drive into Selçuk for a visit to the Ephesus Museum, which contains many original pieces from the site, as well as a scale model of the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), and to the 6th Century Basilica of St John the Apostle. The ruins of the Temple of Artemis are also on the outskirts of Selçuk, but other than a coupe of columns, very little remains, and it is on the whole quite a sad waterlogged site.
Getting there by car
From Yenice, take the northerly route back towards the the Muğla road, and then turn left. At the main Muğla traffic lights take the D550 towards Aydin and Izmir. Continue on the D550 following signs to Aydin / Izmir. At Aydin, take the E87 towards Izmir, and then follow the signs to Selçuk and then Ephesus (often signposted Efes – just like the beer). At one point, you have a choice of using the motorway or not – although the motorway is a toll road, it is not expensive, and probably the easiest route. Selçuk is signed from the motorway. Approximately 170 kms, allow 2.25 hours by car.