I had this conversation with my dad a day before my flight to Turkey:
Papa: Are you going to Ankara?
Me: Huh? Where is Ankara?
Papa: It’s the capital of Turkey.
Me: WHAT!!! Istanbul is NOT the capital of Turkey?!? O.O
LOL. Okay, I didn’t know that. I always thought that Istanbul is the capital of Turkey. Apparently, it’s not. Haha. Ankara is the center of the Turkish government and the second largest city after Istanbul. But I will not talk about Ankara because we didn’t go there. I was just amused to learn that it’s the capital of Turkey. This entry is about the third most populous city of the country… Izmir, which lie on an area that extends along the outlying waters of the Gulf of Izmir and inland to the north across Gediz River’s delta. During the ancient times, it was known as Smyrna until March 28, 1930 when it was formally named Izmir.
We flew to Izmir from Istanbul on the morning of January 26, 2015. We were picked up in our hotel by a representative of our travel agency, Magnificent Travels, at around 5:00 am. We were taken to the domestic terminal of the Ataturk Airport. We had our booking details emailed to us by Nihat of Magnificent Travels and we checked in at the Turkish Airlines counter. The domestic airport is quite busy and there were a lot of baggage x-rays but the check in and even the flight was smooth. We arrived at the Izmir Airport after one hour. A tourist coach picked us up and delivered us to a partner tourist agency in the city. Our tour of Ephesus started at 9:00 am.
Another van picked us up and this time, we already had a tour guide (pardon me, I forgot his name hahah!). He gave us an overview of what will happen and where we will go on that day tour. Our first stop is the House of the Virgin Mary, a shrine located in Mt. Koressos. To us Catholics, it is a very important site. It is believed to be the stone house where Saint John took Mary, the mother of Jesus, to live until her Assumption. Being here not only evokes a sense of wonder but also a sense of gratitude in our hearts, for the safe journeys so far and the feeling of seeing a place important to our faith. Even though the Catholic Church has never pronounced in favor or against the authenticity of the house, it was surreal for us to think that this is where the Virgin Mary might have lived. She was real, she lived a normal life, and we are walking on grounds that she might have walked. WOW.
Our guide explained that the house was discovered in the 19th century by following the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich, a Roman Catholic nun and visionary. In a book published by Clemens Brentano after Emmerich died, she provided a number of details about the location of a house where the Apostle John lived and the topography of the area. Take note that Blessed Anne Emmerich lived in Germany and haven’t seen Turkey or the area of Ephesus in her life. Abbey Julien Gouyet, a French priest following the descriptions, discovered a small stone building on a mountain overlooking the Aegean Sea and the ruins of the ancient Ephesus in Turkey. This is how the House of Mary came to light.
The house is now a modest chapel with garden landscapes and devotional statues. It is not allowed to take pictures of the inside but you will read descriptions of it here. A large statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary is displayed at the altar.
Outside the chapel is a wishing well where pilgrims leave their personal intentions by tying pieces of fabric or paper. We saw pictures there too. Our own prayers and intentions are already in that wall.
A souvenir area can be found near the gate. Proceeds go to the maintenance of the place when you buy items here.
The place is quiet and solemn making it the best place to start our trip to discover Ephesus. We asked for guidance and protection from the Blessed Virgin Mary and I’m pretty sure now that she heard and prayed for us. 🙂 After, we descended the mountain (don’t worry, we didn’t hike or trek or anything like that. Vehicles can go up Mt. Koressos through winding roads. From the roads, we can already get nice views of the ruins of Ephesus. We also had glimpses of the Aegean Sea in the distance. If we looked further, we can already see Greece! Haha! Ahhhhh we were so excited!!!
We started the tour with a drizzle. We were afraid it will rain but thankfully, the skies cleared and when we arrived at the gate of the ancient city of Ephesus it was already sunny. It was cold too… perfect for strolling along the cobble and marble streets of the ancient city. What a weather break! Woot!
TIP: Before entering the gate to the ancient city, buy the necessities you need like bottled water, umbrella, rain coat (if it’s raining or threatening to rain) and go to the restrooms already. Once inside the ancient city, there will be no restrooms and stores to buy these. Remember, it takes 2 hours or more to walk from the entrance gate to the end! You can buy your needs in this store just across the park entrance:
And here is the gate of the ancient city:
The entrance fee of around 30 TRY (46 SAR) is already included in our package. Our tour guide took care of the tickets. TIP: Here’s a site on how to travel to Ephesus along with the hours and ticket prices: http://wikitravel.org/en/Ephesus if you want to go DIY.
The ancient city of Ephesus was built in the 10th century BC by the Attic and Ionian Greek colonists. It was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League and had a population of 33,600 to 56,000 people in the Roman period making it the third largest city of Roman Asia Minor. If that sounded like your World History in school to you, well it is. Also, if you were paying attention to your Theology and bible classes (provided you are Catholics like us), you’ll know that Ephesus was cited in the Book of Revelation. The Gospel of John may have been written here!!! It is the site of the 5th century Christian Councils (ever heard of the Council of Ephesus? Yup!). Walking on these ruins is walking in history! Oh my gahd, my professors in World History in high school and college would be envious! Haha! Kidding.
The visible ruins in this place today is just 15% of the entire site excavated. The place is so huge it took us more than three hours to walk and gawk at it. Of course, we also took lots of pictures making our walk longer than usual. Our guide stops at some areas to explain some important buildings and areas but we were so caught up with taking pictures and being amazed (like children left at a toy or candy store) that he usually resumed explaining even without us. Haha! Our fellow tourists in our group were delighted. We just catch up when we can. Haha!
So we start the tour shall we?
One of the most special areas of the ancient city is the Library of Celsus. If not for the earthquakes and fire that ravaged these areas in the olden times, it would probably be still standing tall. Today, only the facade stays. Libraries have a special place in my heart because of its importance to my school days. I am a bookworm that’s probably why I was drawn to this place (even though it doesn’t have books anymore!).
Opposite the library is the ruin of a brothel. If I were you, you have to listen to your tour guide why there is a brothel in the ancient times and why on earth would they build a brothel in front of a library! That is just so wrong! Hahah! Anyway, let’s go on…
And here we come to the most interesting structure in the ancient city of Ephesus (if it were for me, it would be the Library seriously haha!)… the Grand Theater! It is the largest one in Anatolia and has a capacity of 25,000 people. The stage building is three storeys and 18 meters high. It was used for concerts, plays, political and philosophical discussions and also for gladiator and animal fights (I shudder at the thought of bloodshed)!
We wanted to stay longer to visit and see every nook and cranny of this place but we didn’t have time. Our group was already way ahead of us so we trudged back to our tourist coach and bid goodbye to the ancient city of Ephesus. It was an awesome, awesome walk. Our imaginations were running wild. It felt like we lived and breathed in the same space as the emperors and people of this once prosperous and rich Roman city. TIP: Take your time taking pictures but be mindful of the time too. Follow the time given to you by the tour guide and don’t delay your tour. He will usually say “I will give you 30 minutes to roam around, etc.” or “At 1:00pm, we meet at the last stall outside the gate.” Listen and abide by it. Don’t let your group be infamous for “Filipino time (always late)”. Haha!
Are you kidding, our tour is not yet done! We had one more stop before we went for lunch. The Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world!
Our jaw dropped upon seeing one of the seven wonders of the ancient world… are they serious? This is it?! Well, that is what remained of it. We were quite disappointed but we understood when our guide explained the history of the place. You might be thinking, “wow that is one strong column that stood the test of time and natural calamities!!!” Uhmn nope. That single column was constructed with dissociated fragments that were discovered on the site. Here is what the Temple of Artemis looked like way, way before its ultimate destruction in 401. It was truly beautiful!
After half a day of touring, we were famished. Our tour guide took us to a restaurant that offered a buffet Turkish cuisine. As usual, the mezzes were there. We didn’t know we signed up for a vegetarian diet because all we saw were vegetable dishes! Where were the kebabs and shawarmas? Hahaha! The lunch meal is part of the tour package but the beverage were not. We felt being robbed of 7 TRY (10.66 SAR) every time we buy drinks and water but oh well. TIP: Buy bottled water on the stores you pass by and bring them in the restaurant to avoid buying the overpriced drinks.
After lunch, we were taken to a leather factory. Turkey produces high quality leather and if you’re in Turkey, you should buy any leather product as souvenir. We went to Populer Leather. They held a mini fashion show for our group. Models came out wearing their latest leather clothes collection and we were really smitten with the reversible leather jackets: they’re two designs in one! After the fashion show, we were led to their show room and we get to touch the sheepskin/lambskin leather… so soft! But they really expensive too. They said they supply the world’s luxurious brands with leather products so you get a DKNY leather jacket from here at a cheaper price. Probably. Haha! TIP: Haggle, haggle, haggle.
After the leather factory, we were taken to a ceramics factory where they showed us how to make the ceramic plates, jars, and figurines. I love the designs they painstakingly put in the ceramics and the endless of colors that adorn them. If I only have the space in my luggage to take them (and if I’m not such a clumsy klutz sometimes), I would have bought a lot but I had to settle for a medium-sized pink plate decorated with flowers and swirls. It’s now sitting pretty in my table. They provide ample packaging to support the ceramics so that it won’t easily break. TIP: Ask for more bubble wrap to protect your precious item.
Some tourists might find the leather and ceramic factories stops not necessary but my friends and I enjoyed it because we like crafts and knowing how things are made. We enjoyed looking at the fine leather and dainty ceramics. Of course, they’re also what we consider as shopping! Haha! After the ceramics store, our Ephesus day tour came to an end. The van dropped us off at the town’s mini bus station so we can catch our 4:30 pm bus to Pamukkale. The package covered our tickets so we just had to get them from the booth. We’ll be on the road for three hours. Since we still had some time to lounge around before our bus ride, we sat in one of the roadside restaurants and nibbled on beef skewers and Turkish spinach pancakes. I also had my first full glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice! It was so sweet and refreshing!
At 4:30 in the afternoon, our bus arrived. We placed our luggage in the trunk and boarded the bus. Ephesus was truly a sight. Apart from bits and pieces of history, our minds and hearts were filled with we and gratitude for the opportunity to experience this place. We were elated in Ephesus!
After three hours, we arrived in Pamukkale. But because I take such a long time to write and resize photos, it will take me more than three hours to publish the next entry on Pamukkale. Again, please stay tuned! 😉