Ephesus (Turkish: Efes) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with magnificent Roman ruins. It's in the Central Aegean region of Turkey 4 km west of Selçuk and 19 km northeast of the beach resort of Kuşadası.
This page only describes features within the ticketted area of Ephesus or right by its gates. That city began on the site of present-day Selçuk, where the museum holds antiquities found here. The Selçuk page also describes outlying sites such as the House of the Virgin Mary.
The city of Ephesus can be traced back to the 10th century BC, and human settlement here is thousands of years older than that. The river was navigable from the sea, and a trading port grew up at Selçuk 4 km east, which may have relocated from time to time as the river meandered in its lower course. Its estuary was a stinking midden-cum-malarial swamp, so from about 290 BC the city migrated west to its present site. From 129 BC the new Roman regional superpower took over: they began by looting the place but stayed to embellish it, and most of what you see nowadays is their work from 100 BC to 260 AD.
The place was wrecked by the Goths in 263 AD but rebuilt, and continued to prosper in the Byzantine Roman era. It was an important centre for early Christianity; St Paul preached here, and Ephesus in 431 AD hosted the Third Ecumenical Council which continued the task of defining orthodoxy and condemning heresy. And they sort-of hosted the Fourth in 449 AD, but that in turn was condemned as heretical by the True Fourth at Chalcedon in 451 and didn't count, unless you were Eastern Orthodox, so the church became divided over how many unifying Councils it had ever held. Meanwhile in the real world the coast retreated, fierce enemies stalked the land, and earthquakes roiled the city. By the 7th century Ephesus had lost its port, its livelihood and value, and declined into a small village. Its stonework was pilfered for re-use but the site was not built over. Serious archaeology and restoration got started from the end of the 19th century and these continue.
Ephesus is a year-round site. It has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry and sunny summers, with noon temperatures pushing 36-37°C. Always wear sun protection such a big floppy hat even on cloudy days, as a lot of UV penetrates the cloud and there's little shade. Winters are mild and wet, but the site is well-paved so you can dodge the puddles.
Get in edit
By dolmuş edit
Dolmuşes run from Selçuk Otogarı to the northern/lower gate every 10-30 min according to season, and cost about €0.50 (8 TL in 2022). They actually connect to Kuşadası along D515, so there's a good dolmuş service here.
There are no dolmuşes to the upper/southern gate.
To get to Selçuk or Kuşadası see those pages "Get in" for long-distance routes. Both have excellent bus connections, and Selçuk is on the IZBAN suburban railway with trains every hour or two from Izmir.
By taxi edit
Most visitors (including coach tours) explore Ephesus from the southern upper gate: reached by taxi from Selçuk for about €2 (30 TL as of 2022). Leave by the lower gate via dolmuş or another taxi.
From Kuşadası a good plan is to negotiate a taxi day-trip, with the driver awaiting you at the lower gate. But many taxis can be found onsite as well.
By tour edit
Since Ephesus is one of Turkey's top sights, tour coaches converge on it from far and wide—you can probably even find a tour starting in Istanbul. (Ignore very cheap or free "tours" - you will be trapped for hours in Uncle Mehmet's souvenir shop then be rushed through Ephesus.) Cruise ships call at Izmir or other nearby ports to bus in their passengers.
By road edit
Independent travellers with their own car can day-trip (though it will be a long day) from any of the Aegean resorts. The site is by the junction of D550 and D515, and well signposted.
On foot edit
You could walk the 4 km from Selçuk to either gate, but you also have a lot of walking to do around the site.
Nevertheless, doing one direction by dolmuş (to/from the lower gate) and walking the other, you can make a stop by the 1 Cave of the Seven Sleepers.
Fees and permits edit
As of Sep 2023, entry is 700 TL (about €24.15), with an additional charge of 320 TL (about €11) for the Terrace Houses.
Parking at either gate is 50 TL (about €1.75).
The site is open daily 08:00–17:00 (Oct to mid-April), and 08:00–20:00 (mid-April to Sept). The Terrace Houses open half an hour later and close half an hour earlier.
Consider buying a Turkey Museum Pass–any admission gate can sell these, 3,500 TL (about €120) as of Sep 2023. There's a wide range available, but the one for this region is the Aegean Pass, 2,200 TL (about €76) as of Sep 2023. Most attractions included charge less than Ephesus so you probably need to visit four or more others (within 7 days) to make the Aegean Pass a saving.
Get around edit
The grounds of Ephesus are seen entirely on foot, and take 90 min to 2.5 hours (plus 30 min for the Terrace Houses). Pathways are signed clearly and easily navigated. The paving of the main avenue is suitable for wheelchairs and strollers, but with lumpy bits and potholes around ongoing works. This huge site always has ongoing archaeological excavations, maintenance works, and stabilisations after the latest earth tremor or storm, so you might find any individual sight barricaded off.
You may enter or exit by either gate, both have parking lots and taxis. However, only the lower/northern gate is served by dolmuşes. If there is not a taxi, ask the closest shopkeeper and they may be able call one, or the parking lot attendant.
- 1 Upper Gate (Southern Gate). Entering from the upper gate (like most do), you walk north and downhill, which is easier, so that's what the tour groups do.
- 2 Lower Gate (Northern Gate). If you enter by the lower gate, it's a gentle gradient up, but you will walk against the general flow. Either way, individual travellers may have enough chances to enjoy gaps between tour groups.
Most visitors enter through the Upper Gate, which brings you to an agora (market place), the scrappy Baths of Varius, a stoa (colonnaded walkway) and Odeon (amphitheatre and council meeting place, originally roofed). This would be impressive in any other site, but wait till you see the big one further along. Follow the stoa and crowd past the Prytaneion (meeting place of the city chiefs), Temple of Domitian, statue of Nike, and monument to Memmius grandson of Roman dictator Sulla. Pass through the Gate of Hercules onto Curetes Street descending northwest, the ancient city's main boulevard, which gives way to the following main sites:
- 2 Fountain of Trajan (Trajan's Nymphaeum). A grand public fountain along this part of the street, astride the main water conduit; its statues have been moved to the Selçuk museum. The water system and fountain were erected from 102 AD by the initiative and personal expense of Claudius Aristion, as the inscription is at pains to have you know. The water was not only for washing and drinking but powered mills, including a sawmill for marble. Aristion at times held just about every great position in the city. He fell foul of political skulduggery but was rehabilitated and was sufficiently esteemed to be buried within the city.
- The flat foot. A curious direction sign carved in the street outside the Nymphaeum. Its pictogram reveals that it was pointing the way to a brothel: the House of Pleasure lies that way, but there were others. (At Ephesus you only see the grand stone buildings along main drag, but this was just the nucleus of a sprawl of lesser structures, all the wooden or wattle shibeens, brothels, stables, livestock yards, hostels, workshops and humble dwellings that time has swept away.) The carving is thought to be from life, from someone with modern European shoe size 40, a middle toe longer than the big toe, and pes cavus or "flat foot" - maybe the Bawd or Madame? Various ribald interpretations are possible, one being that if your foot couldn't fill the carving, or if your money couldn't fill the adjacent notch, then the working girls didn't want your custom.
- 3 Temple of Hadrian (Hadrian Tapınağı) (200 m down the street opposite the Terrace Houses). It's an attractive compact structure from say 117 AD—that's shortly before Emperor Hadrian busied himself building a wall across northern England, and perhaps the dedication to him came later. It was excavated and re-constructed from its fragments in the 1950s. Medusa is one of the carvings on its portico.
- 4 Scholastikia Baths. A bath complex along Curetes Street opposite the Terrace Houses.
- 5 Terrace Houses. This is the only site within Ephesus with an additional admission fee, and it's worth it. This was the upmarket residential quarter, built on the slope above Curetes Street, and blinged with marbles and mosaics. Excavations began in the 1960s and continue, with the whole area under a protective canopy and with raised walkways and interpretive boards.
- 6 Octagon (on the main street). A puzzle—it contained the body of a 15-18 year old woman but had no inscription. She died circa 50-20 BC, when only the most high-ranking nobles were buried within city walls. A legend has grown that this was Arsinoë sister of Cleopatra, but that story doesn't stand up. As if in a scene from an Indiana Jones movie, the body disappeared in Germany during World War II, so modern forensics cannot be brought to bear.
- 7 The latrines (Latrine and richly furnished insula). A compulsory photo stop, a splendid marble 48-seater by the Octagon. Only the residents of the Terrace Houses and a handful of other plutocrats had their own sanitary fittings. Everyone else had to use the communal crappers, of which this is the best preserved. It was roofed, and beneath the seats flowed spent water from the bathhouse. Backsides were cleansed with sponges on sticks - after use these were rinsed in the flow then dunked in vinegar to await the next customer. Analysis of the slurry showed that citizens were riddled with intestinal worms, disseminated from other human and animal backsides further up the food and water chain.
- 8 House of Pleasure. It probably wasn't the brothel that its excavators supposed. Ephesus had plenty of those, but given its position this must have been about the most expensive and publicly visible des-res in the city. The name arose from all the erotica found within, but this was more likely private porn in an age that lacked cameras and the internet. Some priapic examples are in the Selçuk museum.
- 9 Library of Celsus. The magnificent facade is known from all the tourist brochures. It looks timeless yet is a modern reconstruction. Celsus was a Roman general born in Sardis who rose to be consul in 92 AD; he's not Celsus the Grecian scholar of a century later. The library faced east to make best use of the morning light. Built from 117 AD, it held 12,000 scrolls, surpassed only by ancient Alexandria and Pergamon. The interior and contents were destroyed by fire in 262 AD, when the city suffered both earthquake and invasion by Goths. The facade survived until an earthquake in the 10th / 11th century. So it lay in shards and fragments for 1000 years until reconstructed in the 1970s, as far as possible from original material, along with its intricate carvings. Its statues are of Sophia (personifying wisdom), Episteme (knowledge), Ennoia (intelligence) and Arete (excellence), qualities that might rub off on the library's users and even more upon its benefactors. The interior has been left in ruins: it was a single chamber (modest compared to the facade) and is believed to contain the mausoleum of Celsus himself - an unusual burial arrangement suggesting his family put up the money for the library.
- 10 Commercial Market (Tetragonos Agora) (the open area past the library). Flanked by Curetes St which here turns north and becomes known as Marble St. Only a few columns remain of the Temple of Serapis in the southwest corner of the agora, but dedication to this Egyptian deity indicates the scale of trade between Ephesus and the Nile, and there were probably ex-pat Egyptian merchants living in town. The temple was begun in the 2nd century AD but may never have been finished.
- 11 Great Theatre (Tiyatro). A grand 24,000-seater set into the hillside, built from 200 BC and extended in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, but never roofed. It has been used for major rock concerts but is now too frail for anything that rocks harder than a chamber quartet - see below for the acoustics. St Paul came here intending to preach against the pagan cult of Diana, but he saw the size of the hepped-up crowd chanting her name, and legged it.
- 12 Arcadiane (Harbour Street) (runs west from the Great Theatre for 500 m). Nowadays, you can only access the top end. It's named for Emperor Arcadius, who reigned 395-408 AD and repaired the much older street. He turned it into a monumental avenue designed to impress arrivals, but its archways have been lost.
- 13 Ancient Harbour (Coressus Harbour). Originally at the foot of Arcadiane. Visitors and goods landed and cleared customs here at least until the 2nd century AD. Then the area silted up, and the city fought a 500–year battle, dredging and cutting navigation channels to try to retain sea access. You can't reach the harbour, but from the higher ground look over fields and highways with traffic scurrying away to an unseen Aegean.
- 14 Church of Mary (Meryem Kilisesi) (near the lower gate). A cathedral built around 500 AD over an earlier basilica. It's the likely site of the Third Ecumenical Council of 431 AD - these defined early Christian orthodoxy, with the First in Nicea in 325 AD and the Second in Constantinople in 381 AD. The Third upheld previous doctrine but found new heresies to fulminate against, and this time the miscreant was Nestorius, who sought to distinguish God from Jesus the man. The Council thundered that they were identical, and therefore Mary was Theotokos, bearer of God and not just of Christ. She is so known today in Orthodox iconography. In Revelation Chapter 2, Ephesus is the first of the "Seven Churches of Asia" addressed by St John of Patmos circa 90 AD, though he was referring to a small semi-secret congregation. St John commended Ephesus for hating the teachings of the Nicolaitans, which were so despicable that no-one knows what they were.
- Test the acoustics at the Great Theatre, if it's quiet and you're not competing with too many droning tour guides, and preferably with a companion in a back row to signal audibility. Declaim poetry or one of the great speeches from Shakespeare if you don't trust your singing voice. You'll discover that the focal flagstone is a sweet spot where you're clearly heard, and your voice comes resonating back to drum upon your chest. Move just one metre away and the effect drops off, and after two metres it's gone. The same happens at well-preserved amphitheatres elsewhere, you have to stand central to hold your audience, and this illustrates how oratory and stage performance must have worked in the unamplified ancient world. The other big lesson is that you can't sort-of know the great poems and speeches, you have to nail them word-perfect.
- Skydive: Efes airport and dropzone are next to the lower gate. See Selçuk#Do for practicalities, but you may see skydivers under canopy from within the site.
Souvenir shops by the two gates are poor value even if you haggle them down. You're better buying in town, especially for pricier items such as leather goods.
Never buy "Roman coins" or other so-called antiquities touted in or around the site. For sure they are fake. The problem is that Customs aren't so sure, so when you try to leave the country, they'll detain you long enough to miss your flight while they confirm that these are trash and not illegal exports.
Eat & Drink edit
There are no facilities within the ticketted area, but small cafes outside both gates. Efes Restoran (open daily 09:00-23:00) is a larger cafe by the lower gate, where most visitors are emerging and gasping for refreshment, but it gets rotten reviews. Try to hang on till you get back to town.
Ephesus has 4G from all Turkish carriers, which extends along the highways to Selçuk and Kuşadası. As of Sept 2022, 5G has not rolled out in Turkey.
Go next edit
- Selçuk has the Ephesus Museum, displaying artefacts from the ancient city. Within town is the Byzantine Church of St John, and further out are sights such as the House of the Virgin Mary.
- Kuşadası is the raucous beach resort nearby. The Greeks and Romans would have loved it.
- Bergama might be a three hour drive, as it's north of Izmir, but it's another superb site for the ruins of Pergamon.
|Routes through Ephesus|
|Ends at ← Selçuk ←||N S||→ Kuşadası → Becomes (S)|