Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Aegean Coast
Ephesus (Efes) is one of the greatest ancient sites in the Mediterranean. During its heyday in the first century BC, it was the second-largest city in the world, with only Rome commanding more power. Many reconstructed structures and ruins, including the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, can be seen here.
Before there was Izmir, there was Smyrna, an ancient Roman city on the Aegean coast of Anatolia (now Turkey). Evidence of this fact in modern-day Izmir is most apparent upon visiting the ancient Agora Open Air Museum (also known as Izmir Agora or Smyrna Agora). Agora was the name for a “public gathering place or market” in ancient Greek city-states.
The Agora of Smyrna is one of the best preserved ancient agoras in the world today, in large part due to the excellent Agora Open Air Museum on site. Built by Alexander the Great and later rebuilt following an earthquake, the still-standing columns, archways and structures offer a glimpse into what a Roman bazaar must have looked like.
But there’s more than just the remains of an ancient city here; on the edge of the ancient agora lie the remains of a Muslim cemetery, with many gravestones dotting the perimeter. Walk through Colonnades of Corinthian columns and among statues of ancient Greek gods and goddesses to ponder the past.
A holy shrine to the supposed death place of St. Mary, the House of the Virgin Mary (Meryem Ana Evi) in Ephesus is a standing testament to the home of the beloved mother of Jesus (Meryem Ana or Meryemana in Turkish). Many believe that the house was indeed the place where she spent her final days, and today you can visit the restored stone house, which now serves as a chapel.
Serving as sacred territory for Christians and Muslims alike, the Virgin Mary's House has called hundreds of thousands of visitors and pilgrims since its discovery in the 19th-century. Remnants of the chapel date as far back as the 6th-century, and serves as the place where its caretakers, the Lazarist Fathers, conduct mass every day. Despite the altar placed within, the house still contains a bedroom and kitchen, decorated with pictures of Mary and candles.
Many believe that the spring that runs beneath St. Mary's House is blessed and possesses the power to heal, and once you enter the house, you can see left behind crutches and other apparatus’ that were apparently left behind amid miracles.
The Temple of Artemis, or Artemision, was a Greek temple in present-day Turkey dedicated to the goddess Artemis. It was one of the original seven wonders of the ancient world. It was built not far from Ephesus just outside the present-day town of Selcuk. The temple was completely rebuilt several times throughout history after being destroyed on multiple occasions by both nature and human factors. Little remains of the temple in its original location today since archeologists brought much of the ruins to the British Museum.
The Temple of Artemis is only a couple of miles from Ephesus, making it an easy attraction to visit. Visitors can still see one tall column and a handful of marble pieces from the foundations of the structure, and the historical location is fascinating. From the site, you can also see the ruins of St. John's Basilica, located on a hill in Selcuk.
Pergamon (Pergamum) is an ancient city dating as far back as the 5th century BC. Credited with the invention of parchment, this once great seat of learning and culture had a library with over 20,000 volumes and a medical center - the remains of which can still be seen today.
Listed in the Bible as one of the Seven Churches of Asia, Pergamon flourished until the 14th century when, under Ottoman rule, it was abandoned and left to decay. Today, much of the remains of this once magnificent city lie underneath the modern-day city of Bergama but, thanks to Pergamon’s hilltop position, the remains of its most important buildings are still visible.
The Acropolis of Pergamon is clearly visible from anywhere in Bergama and closer inspection will reveal two partially reconstructed temples (Temple of Trajan and the Temple of Athena), ancient aqueducts and the incredible hillside theater, which is said to contain the steepest theater seating in the world.
The Bergama Asklepion (Pergamon Asclepeion), an ancient medical center honoring the Greek god of healing Asklepios, has existed since the 4th century BC when it was built in the ancient city of Pergamon (now Bergama). Built around a spring with waters that were believed to be sacred, the columns and walls still standing today once surrounded rooms for psychotherapy, massage, herbal remedies, baths, mud treatments and dream interpretation.
The Roman period brought the Asklepion its most notable patients, including emperors Marcus Aurelius and Hadrian. The influential physician Galen, who wrote about 500 works on medicine, practiced here in 2 AD.
Enter the structure as health seekers once did through the Sacred Way, a path that connects to the Akropol. In the first courtyard there is an altar featuring a serpent, the emblem of modern medicine, and other structures include a small theater, a library and the circular domed Temple of Asklepios.
Pre-Roman ancient ruins are just a day trip from Kusadasi in the ruined city of Sardis, the capital of the kingdom of Lydia from the 7th to 6th centuries BC.
For a time Sardis (Sart, today) was renowned throughout classical antiquity as the richest city on the planet, known for its legendary supply of gold washed down from the Tumulus Mountains. The term ‘rich as Croesus’ refers to that gold and the last Lydian ruler, King Croesus, who is thought to have invented gold coins.
In fact, settlement here dates back to Paleolithic times, but most of that history lies underground, destroyed by millennia of earthquake activity. Nowadays, the site is famous for its impressive Roman ruins, built hundreds of years after the city’s initial burst of fame, in around the 2nd century AD.
On a visit to the site you’ll see a grand double-story framework of columns and architraves outlining the extent of the Roman-era gymnasium. The baths here date from the 3rd century AD, and shops once lined the nearby street of marble stone. Fine capitals carved with acanthus leaves and classical curlicues have survived, along with mosaic tiled floors and statues.
You’ll also see the Synagogue with its marble court and mosaics, the acropolis and the celebrated Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Don’t miss the example of the Romans’ communal toilets, with a shared row of seating suspended over a latrine. The town’s arena was destroyed by an earthquake nearly 2,000 years ago, and there are more recent ruins dating from the Byzantine period.
The story surrounding the Cave of the Seven Sleepers recalls the story of a several young men who sought refuge in a cave out outside Ephesus to escape persecution under Decius, roughly around year 250. Indeed, this courageous group refused to obey the greedy king, which had forced his entire kingdom to worship idols he himself selected, and chose to flee their homeland and pursue their faith in God instead. They woke up some odd 200 years later, only to find out the world had completely changed and Ephesus had become a place of freedom for all Christians. They all died a natural death many years later and were all buried in the cave in which they had slept for so long. The grotto was quick to become a major pilgrimage site, and several people asked to be buried there along with the Sleepers over the following centuries.
Today, the area surrounding the Cave of the Seven Sleepers is technically fenced off but most visitors take advantage of the poor state of the structure to climb over and get full access to the cave, where they can visit the church in which the sleepers were buried; there also are numerous 5th-century terracotta lamps, which depict scenes from the Old Testament and various pagan scenes from Greek and Roman mythology and prove the existence of paganism in the region.
Izmir Clock Tower ( İzmir Saat Kulesi) is a historic clock tower in Konak Square in the center of Izmir, Turkey. The Levantine French architect Raymond Charles Père designed the Izmir Clock Tower. It was built in 1901 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Abdülhamid II's accession to the throne. The sultan actually celebrated his 25th anniversary by having more than 100 clock towers built in public squares throughout the Ottoman Empire. The clock on the Izmir Clock Tower was a gift from German Emperor Wilhelm II.
The tower is 82 feet high and decorated in an Ottoman style. Four fountains with three water taps each are set around the base of the tower in a circular pattern, and the columns are inspired by Moorish designs. The clock tower has become the symbol of Izmir, and it appeared on the back of Turkish 500 lira banknotes from 1983 to 1989.
The ruins of the ancient city of Ephasus are located in Selcuk, Turkey. The city was a major port city in its time, but the port has since silted over and the shoreline is quite a distance away. One of the important sections of the ruins are the Ephesus Terrace Houses, which are on a hill across from the Hadrian Temple. There are six units on three terraces, the oldest dating back to the 1st century BC. It was used as a residence until the 7th century AD.
Two of the houses are now open as a museum, and they give visitors a glimpse at what family life might have been like during the Roman Period. The houses contained mosaics on the floors and frescoes on the walls, which are now protected. They had central interior courtyards, and although most of the houses were two stories tall, the second levels have collapsed over time.
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Isa Bey Mosque (İsa Bey Camii) was built in 1375 near the ancient city of Ephesus in what is today Selçuk, Turkey. Parts of the mosque were built using stones and columns from the ruins of Ephesus and the Temple of Artemis. It was designed asymmetrically instead of a more traditional symmetric layout and includes a large courtyard. The mosque uses a Selcuk style of architecture rather than the Ottoman style that was used more often in later years.
Visitors can admire the facade on the western side which is covered in marble and carved with geometric designs and calligraphy inscriptions. You can all see the brick minaret that has survived over the centuries on the north side of the mosque and two domes in the center. The mosque sits below the citadel near the Basilica of St. John. From the mosque, you can look up at the impressive ruins of the citadel and the basilica. The view from the hill where the basilica sits gives an impressive perspective of the mosque as well.
The ruins of the ancient Roman city of Ephasus are located in Selcuk, Turkey. The city was the second most important city in the Roman empire during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. One of the popular sections of the ruins is the Public Latrine, next to the Hadrian Temple and the Bordello. The public latrines were the city's public toilets, and they were built in the 1st century AD as part of the Scholastica Baths. These baths were built to provide the city with the modern conveniences of public works, including 36 marble toilets.
Visitors can still see, but not use, the toilets that are lined up along the walls. There was an uncovered pool with columns surrounding it which supported a wooden ceiling. Underneath the latrines was a drainage system. There was also a trough with relatively clean water near where your feet would be. People who wanted to use the toilets had to pay an entrance fee.
A visit to St. John’s Basilica allows a glimpse into the history of this ancient site, built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixth century. It is believed that the church sits on the burial grounds of John the Apostle and was designed in the shape of a cross. At its completion, it was covered by six domes, with many of the walls presumably once covered in frescoes.
As nearby Ephesus began to lose significance, the Basilica of St. John was converted into a mosque, hit by an earthquake and completely destroyed by a Mongol army in 1402. All that remains today are various bricks and stones alongside the marble columns that once held up the structure, but recent restoration gives visitors the context to visualize and understand its former status and significance.
Many combine their visit with a walk to the nearby Ayasuluk Fortress atop Ayasuluk Hill, where St. John is said to have written his gospel. A climb up offers great views of the surrounding area.
The Temple of Hadrian at Ephesus is one of the highlights of the ruins of Ephesus in Turkey. It was built around 118 AD and is actually more of a monument to Hadrian, Artemis, and the people of Ephesus. Hadrian's temple is small, but there is a beautiful arch on the outside, a porch, and a small main hall. The porch is supported by pillars and Corinthian columns. A statue of Hadrian once stood on a podium in the temple, but it has been lost. On the front of the porch are bases with the names of Galerius, Maximianus, Diocletianus, and Constantius Chlorus inscribed on them, indicating that the bases might have once held statues of these emperors.
Panel reliefs on the inside depict Medusa warding off the bad spirits, the mythological foundation of Ephesus, and various religious scenes. The reliefs seen today are plaster replicas, while the originals are protected in the Ephesus Museum.
The Library of Celsus is the most famous part of the ruins of Ephesus in Turkey. It was built between 110 and 135 AD by Gaius Julius Aquila in honor of his father, Celsus Polemaeanus. Unfortunately his father died before the Celsus Library was completed, and his tomb was placed in a special room beneath the ground level of the building. A statue of Athena was placed at the entrance to the tomb because Athena was the goddess of wisdom.
The Library of Celsus was two stories high and had three entrances in the front. The entrances were designed with exaggerated height in order to give the building the overall appearance of being bigger than it was. The building faces east which allowed plenty of morning light to shine into the reading rooms. The Celsus Library was once the third largest library in the ancient world, after Alexandra and Pergamum, and could hold more than 12,000 scrolls.
The Izmir Archaeology Museum (İzmir Arkeoloji Müzesi) is located next to the Ethnography Museum, not far from the city’s Konak Square. It was first opened to the public in 1927, but found its place in its current location in 1984. Many of the museum’s rich and varied artifacts derive from the Bronze Age, or from the Greek and Roman periods.
This vast archaeological museum features various exhibition halls arranged across different floors, including laboratories, libraries, and conference halls, covering an area of some 5000 square meters.
It’s estimated that there are approximately 1500 artifacts on display here, with items from the ancient city of Smyrna, as well as from a number of other ancient sites in the area, including Ephesus, Pergamon, Miletus, Aphrodisias, and Iasos.
Kadifekale, also known as the Velvet Castle, presides over the town from its vantage point on top of a hill of the same name.Built by General Lysimachos, a successor of Alexander the Great, Kadifekale appears to have acted as both a castle and a fort, giving clear views over much of the city and across to the Gulf of Izmir.
Restoration work is underway, but travelers can see the castle gate, Roman cisterns, watch tower and some castle walls upon visiting. The views from the castle ramparts are not to be missed.
The Fountain of Trajan is a building in the ruins of Ephesus in Turkey that was built in the 2nd century AD. It is a two story building that was constructed in memory of the Roman Emperor Trajan. There was once a giant statue of Trajan and a pool with water flowing from beneath him. The statue was created with Trajan's left foot on the ground and his right foot on a ball that represented the world. Trajan ruled during the height of the Roman Empire, and showing him standing on this ball was meant to represent him as the ruler of the world. The left foot of the statue can still be seen today.
The ornate facade of the building includes Corinthian columns and Composite columns, which were a combination of Corinthian and Ionic columns. The pool was approximately 66 feet by 33 feet and surrounded by columns and statues of Dionysus, Satyr, Aphrodite and the family of the Emperor. These statues are preserved in the Ephesus Museum.
Şirince, a small village of just 600 inhabitants, has a long history that is intrinsically linked to Ephesus; indeed, rumor has it that it was founded by freed Greek slaves who named it “ugly” in Turkish to deter others from following them after the fall of Ephesus. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the name was changed to Şirince, which means ‘pleasant.’ Nowadays the mountainous village is mainly known for its many preserved whitewashed stucco homes, bucolic and lush setting, as well as its fruit-based wineries and olive groves. The Church of St John the Baptist, although neglected by Turkish authorities, still houses fantastic Byzantine frescoes. Most tourists tend to visit for one day as part of excursions to nearby Selçuk, but there’s a handful of guesthouses and cafés for overnight guests as well. Visitors should be aware that Sirince gets very crowded on the weekend.
Built in 1625, St. Polycarp Church is the oldest Christian house of worship in Izmir. Dedicated to St. Polycarp, who had been converted by John the Apostle and martyred by the Romans, the barrelled-shaped church features colorful murals, remarkably restored by a Frenchman who infamously inserted his likeness.
Konak Square (Konak Meydanı) is in the center of Izmir, marked by its iconic clock tower that serves as a common meeting point for travelers and locals alike.
Since being built in 1901, the Izmir Clock Tower has become a symbol of the city. It stands in front of the Izmir governor’s official residence (konak) from which the governor oversees the province. Between the tower and the konak sits a small mosque, surrounded by the city hall and bus station. The eastern end of the square, when facing the water, is marked by Konak Pier, from where visitors can hop a ferry for a view of the coast and Izmir from the water.
Walking around Konak Square, the sights and sounds of nearby bustling cafes, restaurants and shops are hard to miss. The palm trees and waterfront give the area a distinctly Mediterranean feel, and from the center of the square, the shops and religious sites of Kermeralti Grand Bazaar are just a few steps away.
One of the greatest ancient Roman cities was Ephesus, and its ruins are located in Selcuk, Turkey. It is one of the most popular sites to visit in Turkey. Near the ancient Agora, visitors can see the remains of the Temple of Domitian and Domitian Square. The Temple of Domitian, formally known as the Temple of the Sebastoi, was built in honor of Emperor Domitian's family, and it is the first structure here known to be dedicated to an emperor. Though not much remains of the temple today, archaeologists have learned much about its structure.
Visitors can see the remaining foundation of the temple and imagine what it might have once looked like. It was approximately 165 feet by 330 feet and sat on vaulted foundations. The northern end was two stories tall and was accessed by stairs, which can still be seen today. There were also several columns on each side of the temple. Reliefs from some of the columns can still be seen here as well.
Situated within the four-story former St Roche Hospital, the Izmir Ethnography Museum (İzmir Etnografya Müzesi) houses some fascinating artifacts relating to the Seljuk period of Turkish history, exploring everything from camel wrestling and weaponry to jewelry and embroidery. The site makes for an interesting visit with photographs and dioramas to browse, plus various examples of local arts, crafts, clothing and customs from the period, demonstrating the way of life in Izmir and its surroundings.
Notable displays include a collection of illustrated manuscripts and a number of folkloric artifacts, including a collection of Bergama and Gordes carpets.
The Baths of Varius was a bathhouse built in the 2nd century AD in Ephesus in present-day Turkey. The north and east walls of the original building were carved from natural outcroppings of rock. Several renovations over a few centuries gave the building a unique look, including the addition of a hallway that was 130 feet long and covered in mosaics from the 5th century. The baths covered a large area and had several different rooms, including separate rooms for cold, warm, and hot water. There were also private rooms for a few wealthy citizens of Ephesus. It is believed one section functioned as a gymnasium.
The Romans place a high value on personal cleanliness, so the Baths of Varius would have been an important building in ancient Ephesus. Most but not all sections of the baths have been excavated, and no restoration work has been done yet. Some sections are in decent shape, but it might take some creativity to imagine what other sections once looked like.
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