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Aegean Turkey

Ayasoluk Hill

Developed from the original name of Ayio Theologo given to the hill venerated as the resting place of Saint John the Theologian, who arrived in Ephesus with the

Virgin Mary.

The remains of the huge Basilica of St John, being excavated using funds from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and an American Christian foundation based in Ohio, are on the top of the hill reached through the Gate of Persecution.

The Temple of Artemis

The temple was burnt to the ground by a lunatic named Herostratus, whose self-confessed motive which he duly achieved was a desire to go down in history. The Ephesians immediately set about building an even more magnificent building, which was only partially completed when Alexander the Great passed through in 334 BC. He was sufficiently impressed by what he saw, though, to offer to pay for the building costs himself. This time the benevolent offer was tactfully declined by the Ephesians, saying that it was not proper for a god to make a dedication to another god. The completed temple was magnificent, becoming known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Ephesus (EFES)

Known as the ‘first and foremost Metropolis in Asia’, Ephesus had a long and illustrious history, reaching its golden era as the capital of the Roman province of Asia. The city has also enjoyed a great deal of attention in modern times and the classical ruins uncovered are the most extensive and impressive anywhere in Turkey. Crouched between the scrubby slopes of Mount Pion and Bülbül Dagı, the grandest surviving buildings are the great theatre and the Library of Celsus, although ongoing excavations have revealed much more of interest besides. Still, despite the intensive efforts of archaeologists, it is estimated that only a fraction of the city has been unearthed. It is, however, a glorious white marble fraction, which gives an unrivalled glimpse of life in a Greco-Roman city. The popularity of the site has brought with it the inevitable commercialization and the coach loads of camera-toting tourists can be a distraction. Though looking on the bright side, with a bit of imagination the crowds can help to give a more accurate impression of what it was like to be in a living, breathing Roman centre.

History

Legend has it that the first Ionian settlement was established by Prince Androclus who arrived with his followers from Greece in 1000 AD.
One day while Androclus and some fishermen sat cooking, one of the fish jumped off the brazier with a hot-coal attached to its tail. The coal set fire to a nearby thicket in which a boar was sheltering. The boar fled, fulfilling the prophecy and the Ionians built their city on the site.

Ephesus gave its fickle allegiance to the Seleucids, the Ptolemies, Antiochus the Great and Pergamum, before coming under the control of Rome. It was as the capital of the Roman province of Asia that the city reached its zenith, becoming the most important trading centre on the Aegean coast with a population of over 250,000.

The Virgin Mary (Meryem Ana)

Remarkably little is known about the life of the Virgin Mary after Christ’s ascension to heaven and her last days are shrouded in mystery. It has been suggested that this was deliberate in order to avoid her becoming a focus of reverence, or hatred that could distract from the extraordinary story of Christ which had become central to the emerging Christian faith.

Orthodox schools of thought hold that Mary died on Mount Zion in Jerusalem after John was martyred there in 44 AD. However, conflicting stories tell how she accompanied John to Ephesus, where she lived out her days on a mountain south of the city. Although there is no evidence to support either story in the bible, local Christians from the village of Kirkince, now known as Şirince, traditionally made a pilgrimage into the mountains on Assumption Day.

In the 19PthP century, Lazarist priests from Izmir set out to discover the exact spot where Mary had lived. They interviewed local monks and used the descriptions given by Catherine Emmerich, a German nun, who had seen Mary’s house in a dream. Miraculously, despite never having visited the area, Catherine Emmerich’s recollections of the dream were detailed enough to help lead the searchers to the foundations of a small building.

Once news spread of the discovery, a steady stream of pilgrims began visiting to pay their respects and a small guesthouse and chapel were built. The site was officially recognized by the Vatican and Pope Paul 6 celebrated mass there in 1967. Its potential for tourism was belatedly realized by the local government and today hundreds of thousands of people visit the site each year. A service is conducted on Assumption Day (15 August) each year to commemorate Mary’s accession into heaven, and is attended by both Orthodox Christians and Muslims, who revere Meryem Ana as the mother of a great Prophet.

Şirince

Nestling in the fertile hills, 8 km above Selçuk, is the former Ottoman Greek village of Şirince, meaning ‘loveliness’. The setting amongst the vineyards, orchards and meadows live up to its name and strict controls have helped preserve the village’s many old buildings. It was once a sizeable place with an industrious population of over 9,000 Greeks, several churches, a school and a hospital.

Aphrodisias

It is the Greco-Roman ruins including the Temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, which attract most visitors.

The on-site museum, crammed with statuary carved from the creamy local marble by some of the most gifted ancient hands, is excellent.

Originally called Ninoe after the Akkadian fertility goddess who had a shrine here, the town developed quickly after its association with the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. This assimilation of an existing cult into the Greek pantheon turned out to be very fortuitous for the town. Aphrodite was the mother of Aeneas, the mythical founder of Rome, and her temple attracted a large number of pilgrims as well as the patronage of Roman emperors, like Julius Caesar, who claimed direct decadences from her.