Monday, January 19, 2015

Exploring Ephesus

Merhaba! Greetings from Izmir. We've made it safely from the beautiful coast of Kusadasi to the bustling city of Izmir. 

However, before making the trek to our location, we packed our day to the brim with three fascinating sites.

First up was Ephesus. Known to many as one of the earliest breeding grounds for Christianity, Ephesus provided us with exploration of its rich history, as well as the religious diversity occurring in the city during ancient times. Biblical mentions of Ephesus, especially in our reading of chapter 19 of Acts, gives it historical relevance and allows us to glimpse into the workings of religion in Ephesus during that time period. The stories reference synagogues that disciples prophesied in, demonstrating the prevalence of Judaism in the region. The text also reveals the cult of Artemis that existed, in which many Ephesians worshipped the goddess for whom the Temple of Artemis was built (one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World). 

Our text also revealed the influence of Egypt on the Romanized city. Due in large part Cleopatra and Mark Antony's use of the city as a military base in their fight for the Roman Empire, Egyptian cults remained prevalent. This, coupled with extensive commerce that occurred as a result of the city's coastal positioning, allowed the Egyptian cults to prosper and remain in the area. 

We began our tour of Ephesus from the city's upper gate, immediately entering the portion of the city dedicated to the elite. Upon entering the city, our guide Saba explained the early history of Ephesus. While leading us through courts, the Temple of Isis, and a theater, he spoke about how although Androculus founded the Greek city in 133 BC, Peragmon eventually bequeathed Ephesus to Rome, and the Romanization of the city began. During the time that followed, Ephesus became the capital of the Asian part of the Roman  Empire. Ephesians remained in the city until 1924; soon after, excavations began and continue to this day. Still, only 10% of the city as been uncovered.

One of our next stops leads us through Heracles gate: the division between classes that brings us into the public area of the city. This gate acts as a symbol of the divisive caste system in place during that time. To the side stands Hydreion fountain, one of the over 20,000 monumental fountains erected in the city. According to Saba, the fountain was used both to wash the city streets when guests visited and to wet the streets in order to keep heat from reflecting off of the marble path during summer months.

Next we travelled through a labyrinth of Roman baths, shops, and former houses to arrive at the library. One of the most recognizable ruins uncovered at Ephesus, the library offered us the perfect spot to pause for a group picture, as well as a lesson in architecture. We discussed how the architecture reflects the city's multinational background. Because the city was also a hub for commerce, its wealth allowed structures to be built that showed off a multitude of different styles.

After some further independent exploration of the remaining ruins, we headed to the Ephesus Museum to look through artifacts uncovered at the original site. This unique opportunity allowed us to make connections between our readings, discussions, observations at the site, and the museum's collection. 

Our final stop on the way to Izmir, Isabey mosque, was a mosque made entirely out of recycled material from the Ephesus site. This final site allowed us to incorporate one more example of the religious diversity surrounding Ephesus even today. 


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