Ephesus - a Fantastic Outdoor Museum of the Most Important Greek, Roman and Ottoman City
Updated: Nov 18
Come with us for a visit to a museum site that has been one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient Greece, Rome, Byzantine, the Ottoman Empire, and more for over 8000 years!
We are very happy to take you to Ephesus, or, in Greek, Ephesos, which is one of the most fascinating outdoor museums revealing the secrets of a fantastic city from the ancient world still available today. Ephesus was inhabited in the Neolithic Age as early as about 6000 BC and most likely the capital of the Hittites in the Bronze Age. The name from that period, Apasa, might be the origin of the current name.
Over the millennia the place grew to be the most important Greek city in the Ionian Asia Minor. One of its sources of fame, the Temple of Artemis was at about 666 BC on the seaboard at the Aegean Sea. The Romans continued maintaining the sea channel but since late Byzantine times, due to deforestation, overgrazing, erosion and soil degradation the coastline moved gradually over four kilometres west from the ancient Greek site.
The history of archaeological research in Ephesus goes back to the 1860s, when a British Museum expedition group initiated work on the site. In 1898 the Austrian Archaeological Institute was founded and it has played a leading role in Ephesus ever since. Today, many finds from the site are exhibited in the Ephesos Museum In Vienna (see our separate review from late June 2022).
One of the particularly fascinating parts of Ephesus are the Terrace Houses (for which you need a separate ticket), showing how the wealthy lived during the Roman period. In some estimations the population of Ephesus in Roman times may have been up to 225,000 people!
The public buildings in Ephesus are arranged in a rectangular street pattern going back to the Greek times. These include a theatre with a seating capacity of 25,000 spectators, the agora (marketplace) and a range of baths and gymnasiums. Visiting Ephesus with Mark Antony in 33 BC, Cleopatra saw the fantastic library of Celsus and its 20,000 book rolls which she took with her for the great library of Alexandria that Caesar later burned.
Apostle Paul lived in Ephesus from AD 52–54 and apparently, the Gospel of John might have been written there round AD 100.
Little by little he importance of the city as a commercial centre declined as the harbour was slowly silted up by the river. In AD 262, Ephesus was attacked and destroyed by the Goths and after this, it never regained its previous importance. Ephesus was partially destroyed by an earthquake in AD 614.
In 1304 the town surrendered to the Turks. Ephesians were incorporated as vassals into the Ottoman Empire in 1390 and eventually, by the 15th century, Ephesus was completely abandoned and the ruins of the temples were used as building blocks for new houses. Marble sculptures were ground to powder to make lime for plaster.
Although only 15-20 % of the site has been unearthed up to now, Ephesus is still one of the largest excavated museum sites in the world and your visit will mean a pretty long walk under direct sunshine. You need to wear a good hat covering your neck and ears or take an umbrella with you. Also do not forget to wear suitable shoes for walking and take a bottle of water with you!
Walking through the museum site also takes a bit of planning and you might wish to consider hiring a guide who can explain the history better as the signs are not always very helpful. If you come in through the Magnesian Gate, your almost two kilometre long walk will take you to the Main Gate. If you have left your car at the Magnesian gate, you need to walk back in the heat and have a new serious look at the wonderful Ephesus, or you can take a taxi or a horse carriage to return to the departure gate and your car. We would recommend ending at the Main Gate as the loos, café and shop are better there.
There is a good and clean loo with an easy access for the handicapped at the main entrance. The site is largely covered with the original marble plate paving which might make it a bit difficult (but not not impossible!) to move in a wheel chair or with a pram. There is also a number of places where you need to take the stairs to see the buildings so these parts are not good for the handicapped but we highly recommend your considering giving the museum a chance as the site is so large and full of wonderful things to see that it is still definitely worth a visit even if you cannot check everything in detail!
There is a small café at the Magnesian Gate, one in the middle of the museum track and a very nice one at the main entrance end of the tour.
There is a very nice and pretty large museum shop at the main entrance end (and a smaller one at the Magnesian Gate), definitely worth a visit for a few statuettes or similar for the mantelpiece of your fireplace. Outside the museum area at both ends, there are Turkish bazars with tons of nonsense including “genuinely fake watches” to buy for your least favoured nephew’s birthday.
If you are interested in the topic and plant to visit Vienna, you might wish to check separately our review of the Ephesos Museum in Vienna, Austria.
Ephesos Archaeological Site