Visiting Ancient Rome In Selçuk (by Carmen)
The sun was setting over rolling hills. I had a wine glass in one hand. The calls to prayer began emanating from minarets throughout the town. It was a perfect moment at our sweet guesthouse in Selçuk. This was our first stop in Turkey and we had received a warm welcome of wine on the hotel’s terrace. I was immediately enchanted with the Turkish decor of thick carpets, a mix of patterned fabrics and comfy pillows.
Selçuk is best known for one magnificent, very special sight – the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Ephesus which peaked in the 2nd century AD. This archeological site is up there with the likes of Pompeii in terms of intactness. As we walked in I was immediately blown away by the huge theater built into the hillside. It could hold an astonishing 25,000 spectators. This generous capacity hints at the city’s large size, which is estimated at a quarter of a million people.
The true star of Ephesus lies just beyond the theater. Up a marble path, past the old agora (market) is the Library of Celsus. Based on the intricately carved exterior, I can l only imagine how grand and elegant this three story structure must have been.
From the library the main street leads up hill revealing more and more incredible buildings with each step. We even found evidence of more mundane spaces, such as the latrine. Advanced plumbing meant waste was swept away quickly. The Romans understood cleanliness thousands of years ago. It amazes me how far down Europe sank in the dark ages after the fall of Rome, when hygiene was practically nonexistent.
Also on the main street is a collection of lavish homes of the rich. They were large complexes with every inch of wall space frescoed or covered in marble. And the mosaics were spectacular, depicting animals or mythical characters such as Medusa or Poseidon.
All that scrambling over ruins got us hungry, so our first stop back in town a plate of chicken shish and juicy köfte (meatballs). After relaxing at the hotel, we headed out for a simple dinner of Turkish salads. These included stuffed peppers, sautéed eggplant, tangy thin green veggies, tomatoes with green beans and yogurt. With each new Turkish dish I tried, I was hungry for more.
Yogurt is a staple of Turkish cuisine and I love the traditional way to serve it. Cacık is a thinned yogurt mixed with cucumber, garlic, dill and lemon. Used to dip thick, spongy bread it makes for a delicious snack. We enjoyed some as we made our way through the lively Saturday market.
For the rest of the day we headed back to antiquity. First we visited the one remaining column of the Temple of Artemis. Once one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the temple once had 127 columns. Inside, the giant statue of Artemis a symbol of fertility towered over worshipers. The temple eventually fell into disrepair and the marble harvested for other uses. But the footprint of the structure is still visible and impressive.
We rented a scooter to visit one more historical site. Virgin Mary’s believed final residence is outside Selçuk in a pretty mountain valley. We had expected a spiritual place but it turned out to be a rather simple chapel with one wooden, handless statue of Mary. The government charged to get into the park and it just felt like people went in, lit a quick candle, and left. Definitely not our favorite visit in Selçuk.
Another sunset on the terrace made up for it. We were welcomed with another glass of wine and the hotel owners even fixed up Nathan’s shoe that had broken that day. We relaxed, watched the moon rise and got ready for our bus to Cappadocia.