March 29, 2013

The weather on our last day of site visits was just right. It was clear and the temperature was moderate.

Celsus Library at Ephesus

On Thursday evening there was some discussion among the group about Friday’s schedule. Some of the group wanted more time at Ephesus in the afternoon and also wanted some time to look around (and shop) in Selçuk, where we were staying. In the end, about half the group went to see Claros and Belevi and we all went to Ephesus. Patricia stayed in Selçuk in the morning and says she didn’t buy much.

Claros and Belevi were among the smaller sites on our trip.

Model of temple of Apollo at Claros

We first visited Claros, which was the site of a temple and Oracle of Apollo. It is not surprising that the location was a religious site as far back as 9th century B.C. The oracle was on a par with the oracles at Delphi and Didyma and I feel fortunate to have seen all three. This temple was another of those which was not situated in a city and that gave it some additional “power.” It is situated in a flat, somewhat low area with long views in most directions. Unlike most of the other sites we visited, we were unable to walk around on the temple and other ruins. That is because most of the ruins were under water.

Claros–largely underwater

The water was not deep and we could see the floor of the temple and where the entrance to the oracle was under a few inches of water but the land surrounding the ruins was very marshy and I don’t think any of us wanted to test the stability of the land. Seeing the ruins in and just under the water gave the place a slightly ghostly feel. Of special note here were the frogs that were so loud that they nearly drowned out John Lee as he was telling us about the location.

We then drove on to the Belevi Mausoleum (or tomb). While this site is very close to a modern highway, it looks to have very few visitors. It was the second largest mausoleum in the area after the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus—which makes it the largest now given the state of the original Mausoleum today.

What looks like a pile of rock is the Monument at Belevi

Its central portion was carved out of the local rock and there is still a small quarry in front of it that shows some pieces before they were fully completed. The tomb was constructed around 300 B.C.. On the south side one can see the burial chamber that was carved out of the main block. I liked this site in part because we could see that the construction had not finished and that the in-progress parts showed signs of what I would call assembly-line processes. On one decoration block you could see cookie-cutter pieces of a design and on the next block you could see the designs completed. I wondered if there were “artists” who specialized in certain pieces of the decoration process but we will never know. Belevi is another example of the borderlands theme because it has elements from Persian, Greek, and even Macedonian cultures. We were able to wander all over the small site and climb on the lower portions of the tomb itself.

After a quick lunch in Selçuk the entire group went to Ephesus. Patricia and I have been there before and were looking forward to visiting again. I mentioned the temperature at the start of this post and Ephesus is one place where a comfortable temperature is important. There are usually hordes of people jamming the Ephesus site and, combined with warm or hot weather it can be unpleasant. Today we had a good combination of comfortable temperature and a relatively small number of people.

Ephesus is unlike any of the other sites we visited on our trip. It is both quantitatively and qualitatively different. It is quantitatively different because of its size; it is spread out over a larger area and gives one a sense of a city-like layout. This is true (to me) even though Priene had more side streets one could walk than Ephesus does. The stadium is larger; the library is probably the largest (shell of a) building than others we saw elsewhere.

Qualitatively is a harder call to make. Up to this point in the trip we had seen many examples of impressive temples and decorations and ruins. Here, for some reason, much of what we had seen comes together and shows off the huge city and individual investments that went into making Ephusus an important city more than 2,000 years ago. I think my “qualitatively different” opinion is also influenced by our visit to the Terrace Houses, which I had not seen on previous visits.

I hope you don’t think that by quantitatively and qualitatively different that I am implying “better” because that is not my intention. It is just different in those two dimensions.

After an introduction by John Lee and Yildirim, we had an hour or so to walk the streets of Ephesus and visit some of the things we had seen before. It surprised me that we remembered so much from our previous trips. I vowed that I wasn’t going to take the same photos that I took previously but I am sure that I have about an 80% duplication rate. There are some things here that catch my eye from the rows of columns, to the agora, to the theater, the Celsus Library, and so many others.

The highlight of this visit for me was our guided tour of the Terrace Houses. Dr. Hilke Thür, of the Austrian Archaeological Institute was our guide. She has many years of experience at Ephesus and in the terrace houses. Why “terrace houses”? Because the 6 houses under excavation and reconstruction are on the side of a hill just off the main street.

View of the terrace houses at Ephesus

These houses are also known as the houses of the rich and that seems appropriate. Everything we saw in the covered and protected area said “here is money on a large scale.” The houses were occupied from around the 1st century B.C.E. to around the 6th or 7th century C.E. An enormous amount of work has been done to not only to excavate and reconstruct but also to understand daily life around that time. Dr. Thür was very informative and answered as many of our questions as she could and even speculated when necessary. I took lots of pictures and you will have to rely on them because once again a verbal description of what we saw and learned just won’t do the site justice.

Reconstruction in one of the Terrace Houses at Ephesus

I will mention the marble walls and floors with marble from multiple quarries, the hot and cold water systems, the running water in the latrines, the large rooms with painted decorations that can still be seen, and the beautiful mosaics on the floors.

On our way out, while Patricia was looking at (not shopping for) jewelry, one of the vendors sidled up to me and said he had authentic, ancient coins. I was going to ask him if he mistook me for an ignorant tourist, but realized that’s still pretty much what I am no matter how much I have seen or think I know.

This was the last day of the field trip and we had one last group dinner at a fish restaurant in Kuşadası. Our bus driver, “the Kaptan” once again proved his skill at maneuvering by getting our large vehicle right down to the portside. The restaurant was efficient and the food was good. They brought out the 3 large fish we were to eat and we decided to have them cooked in salt. It was quite a production.

Fish in salt at last group dinner in Kuşadası

On Saturday people headed back home by direct and indirect routes. Patricia and I had enough time to walk down to the shopping area in Selçuk for some last minute purchases. On the way back we stopped by a bakery and picked up some small nibbles for lunch at a price that seemed too little to keep the place in business.

There are more pictures on the pictures page.

Here is the trace of our last day on our field trip. For details, go to the larger map and zoom in and turn on on the satellite imagery.

View Larger Map

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