On our first full day in the Ephesus region, we hired a guide and explored the major tourist attractions: Artemis Temple Ruins, Ephesus and the Terrace Houses, House of the Virgin Mary, and the Basilica of St. John. While a guide is not absolutely necessary, you definitely learn a lot more about the sites. Our guide was recommended by a friend. Her name is Dilan Can, she speaks English (and Italian) and her whatsapp is +90 505 635 95 11. She was $200 for the full day in August 2021. We would definitely recommend her as well. You do need to provide your own car. It is easiest if she can fit in your car with you. Luckily, none of the drives are very far, so us being squeezed in was ok!
We met up with Dilan at 8:30. Our first stop was the Temple of Artemis. While it provided nice background information, it delayed us getting to Ephesus and I’d suggest doing Ephesus first to cut down even more on crowds. It was really hot in August, and if you can get up and at the site at opening (which is at least 8 am, possibly earlier), I’d suggest it. I struggled a lot in the heat (heat triggers migraines in me, so full sun and hills are not my friend).
The Temple of Artemis is called the Artemision and was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The oldest finds here are from the 13th/14th century BC! However, it was built in the 6th century BC and took 120 years to build. It was massive and was almost double the size of the Parthenon in Athens! It burnt down by a man, Herostratus, whose sole goal was to become famous! He did become infamous, so I guess he got his wish. This happened on the same night Alexander the Great was born. It is said that Artemis did not protect her temple because she had left it to oversea Alexander’s birth. It was later rebuilt and then later destroyed again. Not much remains of the temple today. This is an excellent article if you want to learn more about the site.
The sky was very weird during our visit! Turkey had been having a number of forest fires and while they were farther south than we were, the winds brought smoke. This made the sun very red and blocked and gave a weird orange tint to everything. This cleared up later in the day, but my morning photos are very warm color-wise!
Next, we headed to Ephesus. Fun fact: According to legend, Ephesus was founded by a tribe of Amazons (great female warriors). On our Eastern Turkey road trip a year ago, we saw (from a distance), an island in the Black Sea near Giresun. said to be home to them. Ephesus is super super popular and you’ll encounter a lot of tour buses. We spent a lot of time trying to avoid the unmasked tourists!
If you do not have your own driver, you’ll likely start at the top of the hill, park, walk down, and then have to walk back up. Tour buses drive down and pick up their passengers at the bottom. Another reason to get there early-so the walk uphill isn’t too hot! You could start at the bottom and work up, but the most well known sites are at the bottom, so it’s a bit anti-climatic that way.
Interesting facts about Ephesus:
Founded from the end of the Bronze Age onward, but mostly known for its Ionian Greek occupation starting in 1200 BCE. There was also Hellenistic and Roman Ephesus. Most of what we see today is from Alexander the Great’s successor, Lysimachus, and was founded in 4th century BC.
Ephesus was a center of learning and women had equal rights to men. Women were artists and teachers.
The Celsus Library is the most famous image of Ephesus and was the third largest library of the time (after Alexandria and Pergamon).
From the 1st century onward, Ephesus became more important to Christians and Saint Paul, the Virgin Mary, and Saint John all visited or lived in the area.
For more facts, read this article.
Do you know what the picture above is? Did you guess toilets? You’d be right! This large, L shaped space had a long row of toilets. Water ran under the holes to wash away waste. In front of the holes (just off camera view) was a channel of running water as well. This is where people would wash themselves. Wealthy people got to sit upstream. You can guess why! The kids are very glad we no longer share washing water after using the toilet.
We spent about 3 hours exploring Ephesus. It is big! The library and larger amphitheater are the bottom. About halfway down are the Terrace Houses. These are an extra charge (Musekart does not apply and children must pay too). However, the combo ticket does cover them. It is a covered, active, archaeological dig site. The houses have paint and art. It is a lot of stairs, but at least it’s shady! Here are some more facts about the Terrace Houses.
One important thing to note is, once inside the site, there is only one small spot to buy water or snacks and there are no bathrooms (aside from at the entrances). The small snack stall is near the exits from the Terrace Houses and near the library. They sold water bottles, sodas, and some packaged snacks. Not much place to sit. The line can get long.
By the time we reached the library, we were HOT. Or at least the kids and I were! We found a shady spot away from the crowds through the arches to the right of the library and had a break in the shade eating a snack we brought.
The final stop at Ephesus was the amphitheater and then we worked our way back uphill. There is a gift shop, though we liked the one at the museum better.
Next stop was LUNCH! There are a number of spots inside Selçuk. We ate at a nice, outside, covered restaurant. DD fell asleep at the lunch table, she was so worn out!
We then headed out to the House of the Virgin Mary. According to the Bible, Jesus asked St. John to watch over his mother. Mary went to John to Ephesus in AD 37 and lived her for her remaining years. Both Muslims and Christians revere this shrine and both faiths make pilgrimages here.
This is up a mountain, so be prepared for some twists and turns. You pay an entrance fee prior to entering the parking lot. Then you’ll park and walk down the hill, past some cafes, to the house. Inside the house, you can buy candles if you want to light them in honor of someone. The kids enjoyed lighting and putting up their candles.
The house is small and the visit does not take long. There are some cafes and shops. We were not impressed with the gift shops (unless you want a rosary or similar), but had a snack and tea break. We also enjoyed our figs that our guide had bought earlier.
Our final stop of the day was St. John’s Basilica. It was built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. It is believed to be the burial site of St. John the Evangelist, who lived in Ephesus during the 1st century. There are some lovely views as well.
By this point we were all pretty tired! The kids wanted to swim and I desperately needed to cool off as well to get rid of my migraine. We were quite happy to jump into a cool pool! The menfolk went off into town to forage for food and we enjoyed another spread of cheeses and Turkish food for dinner.