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Exceptional Ephesus

October 20, 2012

On day three of the cruise, we arrived back in Turkey at the port city of Kusadasi.  Kusadasi is a major city but nowhere near the size or craziness of Istanbul.  Apparently it is where many Turks who live elsewhere have their summer houses, and it seemed perfect for that sort of thing.

We had our longest tour of the trip lined up for the day – a visit to the ancient ruins of Ephesus, the house of the Virgin Mary, and the Basilica of St. John.  Let me preface this by saying that I always go into group tours with a tiny bit of skepticism.  What if the tour guide is a pervert with halitosis? (Been there. Pompeii. Don’t ask.)  What if the content is boring and we have one of those annoying people in the group who ask a million questions when we just want to keep moving?  (Probably been that person, let’s be honest.)  What if the whole thing is a miserable experience and I’m stuck in the middle of, say, Turkey and can’t skip out?

Irrelevant photo. Actually, this cat looks skeptical, right?

Thankfully, our tour was the exact opposite of all those scenarios – the tour guide, Muge, was fantastic, our group was all very friendly and seemed to want to keep moving, and the sites themselves were phenomenal.

Our first stop was the house of the Virgin Mary, where she is believed to have lived at the end of her life in the hills above Ephesus.  The house is perched way up on a hill surrounded by trees with beautiful breezes and plenty of shade.  That Mary knew her real estate.  My favorite part of that site was the wishing wall, where locals and tourists alike write down their prayers and wishes and tie them to the wall to seek Mary’s blessing.

After a brief visit up in the hills, we headed down for the main event: the ancient ruins of Ephesus.  Ephesus was an ancient city that archaeologists believe was first settled around 5000 BC.  Since that time, a litany of other civilizations has settled there.  Ephesus was always a port city, but every few hundred years the port would get filled in with silt and the city would have to move in order to reach the water.  The result today is a sequence of different cities with preserved ruins.  The city that we visited, the Roman Ephesus that flourished between about 300 BC and 300 AD, used to be right on the water.  Today it’s about 5 miles inland.

Ephesus is known to be one of the most spectacularly preserved ancient sites in the world and it blew us all away.  The only comparable site I’ve visited is Pompeii, but really there was no comparison.  The only downside to this fabulousness was the crowds.  According to our tour guide, the Ephesus ruins see an average of 10,000 visitors per day; on our day, she predicted it was closer to 20,000.

I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but the bottom line is this:  If you get the chance to visit Ephesus, do it.  Even if you think ruins aren’t your thing.  Even if you’re highly skeptical of tours.  Even if you hate crowds.  Go.

After Ephesus we loaded onto the bus and headed to the Basilica of St. John.  This was the church built in honor of John the Apostle, who lived in Ephesus from about 37 AD through the end of his life.

It lies in ruins because like most Christian structures built in the first century AD, it was ravaged during the many religious wars in the region.  However the ruins show what must have been a fabulous church, and it is perched on top of a hill overlooking the city and out to the Aegean Sea, which made for some fun photo ops.

We had fun clowning around and taking pictures before loading back on the bus for the Ephesus Archeological Museum (meh) and finally lunch at a beautiful hotel on a cliff overlooking the Aegean.

Taking a dip in the baptism pool at St. John’s Basilica.

Upon returning to the main city of Kusadasi, we shopped around and got a super cool demonstration on how Turkish carpets are made (also known as Oriental rugs).  The section the woman has completed below has taken her three months.  Three months!  It really is an art and was a very interesting demo.  Afterward, we had to escape the clutches of the carpet salesmen, who in the tradition of Turkish sales people were super pushy.  Despite having to sidestep a hard sell, it was worth it to learn about the history of this regional art.

Finally we shuffled our tired feet back on board in time for sunset cocktails.  Cheers to another wonderful day!

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