LSA CA Classics Ambassador and Runshaw Classics Sixth Former Ronnais Lloyd headed east this summer for her own classical Odyssey around Turkey: here she takes us around two ancient sites, Ephesus and Pergamon. Check back next Sunday for part two of her travel diaries, featuring Troy and Istanbul!
Our journey started by waking up to the beautiful sunrise over the Aegean Sea on our balcony in Kusadasi. Shortly after fuelling ourselves with a lot of Turkish coffee and food, we drove to Ephesus along the original ancient port road.
During the 42°C heat, we paid a visit to the House of the Virgin Mary, to see her shrine; the Church of St John built in marble by Justinian, to see his tomb; and the city of Ephesus – even with only 8% of the city excavated we were in for a huge surprise at how large the ruins are, especially as one of the first things we saw was the Royal Colonnade! It’s impossible to keep this short when there are so many excellent things in Ephesus but the Memmius monument that depicts Sulla and the Temple of Domitian are two things that deserve a name drop.
After exploring for a while, we made our way down the Curetes Street. Made entirely out of marble, it was a hazard for clumsy people like me; I slipped but actually managed to stay upright unlike many other tourists! Part of the Sacred Way and named after the religious brotherhood the Curetes, the road was significant in the processional route in the cult of Artemis. Boarded by a stoa with houses, shops and mosaics on the pavement, as well as honorific statues (we saw one of a doctor called Alexandros), I can just imagine how lively the street must have been.
Further down the street we swiftly exited the Roman toilets, to find ourselves amazed by one of the most beautiful buildings, the Temple of Hadrian. Supporting the arch depicting Tyche, a local goddess of victory, were four Corinthian columns. The founding of Ephesus with Androklos shooting a wild boar (which Herodotus mentions), Dionysus in a procession, and the Amazons are just some of the things depicted on the frieze.
Certainly, the most well-known monument here is the Library of Celsus, which most tourists spent about ten minutes posing in front of. Reflecting the architectural style under Hadrian, the two-storey façade on a podium was commissioned by Aquila for his father, the senator Celsus. With the burial chamber of Celsus underneath it can be interpreted as a heroon. Decorated with Corinthian columns, next to the three large doors are statues representing Wisdom (Sophia), virtue (Arete), knowledge (Episteme), and thought (Ennoia), highlighting these key philosophical virtues.
To the side of the library and leading to the commercial agora is one of my favourite monuments, the Mazeus and Mithridates Gate which was dedicated primarily to Augustus by two ex-slaves whom he freed and sent to Ephesus. It has three arches: the middle arch is slightly behind the other two giving the gate more depth. I think it is remarkable that two former slaves had such admiration and respect for the imperial family and even managed to afford to build it out of marble!
At the church of St John, we could see the ruins of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Temple of Artemis. It’s a shame very little survives now, practically only one column. Enormous, it measured 115m by 55m, with 127 columns according to Pliny the Younger but now it’s believed that there was a double colonnade. The oldest parts of the temple can be traced back to the 14th century BC, and Mycenaean ceramics have also been found, which suggests that a sanctuary dedicated to Cybele was present before the Artemision that dates to the 7th century BC. After a fire started by the deluded Herostratus in 356 BC destroyed the temple, it was rebuilt in the Hellenistic period (Strabo says it was built and destroyed seven times)!
As you can imagine the heat was exhausting, with very little shade, so as soon as we arrived back into the hotel I got changed and jumped straight into the pool!
Completely different to Ephesus, Pergamon was built next to a marble quarry rather than a port. The city had a huge Acropolis and an Asclepion. Our tour guide Mehmet, who we had for the whole trip, actually help excavate this Asclepion – of course I had to put him through his paces but I found he couldn’t answer all my questions and I’m sceptical of some things he said.
Similar to Epidaurus, the complex had a library and many other facilities to occupy the patients for however long they stayed. Informed by Aelius Aristides’ Hieroi Logoi, some of the treatment methods included at the Asclepions were: incubation with priests interpreting their dreams; hot and cold mud baths (purification); treatment with healing herbs; diet treatments; massages with vegetable oils and creams; blooding letting with leeches; emptying of the intestines; and sunbathing. They even had a sacred fountain that contained Lithium Bicarbonate to relieve stress.
What’s unconventional about this site is that, according to Mehmet, the Asclepion was not used to heal physical problems, but psychological problems – this thesis is supported by the fact there was no cemetery surrounding the hospital complex. Patients were typically geniuses or artists that people believed were crazy or too clever; interestingly Galen was both a patient and a physician! According to Mehmet, the incubation rooms, the foundations of which alone survive, could hold a maximum of 80 people at a time. The theatre held a capacity of around 4,000 people – considering there was only 80 spaces in the incubation rooms, it showed that not only patients but visitors too came to the sanctuary.
Once having a cold and refreshing Efes, we caught a cable car up to the top of the Acropolis. In the centre was the stunning Temple of Trajan. Construction began under Trajan but was enlarged and completed under Hadrian, successfully strengthening the bonds with the imperial family. The temple was surrounded by a portico with a single colonnade, 9 columns on the longer sides and 6 on the shorter side.
From the edge of the Acropolis, we could see the only Greek theatre in Asia Minor and one of the steepest in the world, with spectacular sites of the modern city. This was built during the 3rd century BC and is thought to have seated 10,000 people. Astonished by the colossal size of its foundations, I next visited the site of the Great Altar of Zeus. Built c. 150 BC, the stairway itself was almost 20m wide and the altar had an impressive depiction of a gigantomachy taking up over 100 panels (the altar today is on display in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin).
To finish off the day we watched the most amazing sunset over the Dardanelles, drinking cocktails!
Part 2 of Ronnais’ Odyssey will be available on Sunday 18th August.