While the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus has fallen on hard times, Ephesus itself is one of the most stunning places I have ever visited.
At first I didn’t have a good sense for what it was about. One goes through the entrance gate and you see a few ruins and think, oh, look at those broken columns, aren’t they picturesque. Then you keep walking until you crest a hill and the panorama of Ephesus unfolds below you. That’s the moment that makes the breath catch in your throat, for finally you realize that Ephesus is still a Wonder of the World.
Individual pictures don’t do it justice, for it is the sheer size of Ephesus that overwhelms a visitor. As I descended its main street, I passed one incredible marble structure after another—a theater and temple, then a row of wealthy houses, then a brothel and bathhouse.
At the base of the hill stands the façade of a library that once was one of the largest in the world. Turning the corner, I saw an amphitheater built to hold more than 20,000 people. Turning once again, I saw the remains of a marketplace were merchants once traded goods from around the world.
All of these treasures are set in a peaceful valley cradled by low-lying mountains, so that if you squint your eyes just a bit, it’s not hard at all to imagine how it must once have been here, back in the days when pilgrims flocked to the Temple of Artemis and sailing ships filled the harbor below.
The air is clean and fresh and the sun shines brilliantly, and you think, what an incredible thing it is to be standing right here, right now, in this place.
Part of what makes Ephesus so fascinating are its small details. In a row of houses that are being laboriously reconstructed are mosaics that look as fresh and vivid as if their owner had just stepped out to the market to buy olives and bread.
Along the central thoroughfare there’s an etched footprint that directs sailors coming from the harbor to the brothel just up the street. When you stand on the top level of the amphitheater, you can easily hear things said on the stage, proving that the incredible acoustics of the place still resonate.
Ephesus is a place to walk slowly, drinking in beauty and absorbing its history by osmosis. (Below is a brief video clip, to give just a little sense for what it is like.) Honestly, if there is such a thing as a time machine, I think one boards it in Ephesus.
Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.