Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ephesus - Hot Dust of Centuries in the Footsteps of Saints

An Apostle shook the dust of Ephesus from his feet and moved on. The sea left its silt here and also departed. All her people are reduced to dust. Only the heat remains and the glare of marble, a searing memory of what was.

Today's shore excursion began with the usual assortment of people cutting in line to be the first on a bus. It's much like the sun rising in the east. The ride to Ephesus is about 30 minutes through a lusher countryside than I expected--orchards of peach, olive, fig, mulberry and pomegranate. There were good views of the port of Kusadasi (KOOSH-ah-DAH-seh), Turkey as we climbed up from the coast, the Ruby Princess gleaming white in the distance. Our guide pointed out several luxury homes, looking down on the Aegean, that are selling for less than US$100,000. I could live here.

Our first stop was a shrine to the Virgin Mary, in a small hilltop home where she is rumored to have lived out her last days on Earth in the company of the Apostle John. Apparently, the house was largely rebuilt above the foundations, and some liberties may have been taken with its reconstruction. Photography is not allowed inside as a mark of respect to the shrine, so the smattering of bikini tops and short-shorts in the queue made for something of a cultural dichotomy. Thomas and I lit a couple of small votive candles, and Thomas found the healthiest kitten we've seen yet just outside the shrine. The setting is pleasant, amongst tall shade trees, and at several hundred meters elevation the temperature was comfortable. I could understand an apostle retiring here. I filled up a water bottle at a natural spring just below the shrine. Immediately adjacent to this is a regularly-recycled prayer wall, an embankment covered with many thousands of supplications written on any available bits of paper, tissue, or wrappers. I wonder how many visitors have left without a bit of their t-shirt. The wall is reminiscent of an architectural piñata.

Below (l) Prayer wall at the Shrine of the Virgin Mary; (c) Thomas lights a votive candle after exiting the shrine, thankful for a safe trip; (r) the house of the Virgin Mary and the Apostle John. John is known to have started the first Christian community in the area, and Mary is traditionally believed to have accompanied him to Ephesus.

26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her,“Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:26-27

We motored back down to the valley of the lazy, looping Meander, a river from which comes the term "meandering." A little schooling in physical geography is always enough to get my blood flowing. Silting from the river covered the first two versions of Ephesus, and Phase III was eventually abandoned for the same reason. That and an earthquake. Now the coastline is five kilometers down-river from the ancient port, so property values have plunged. However, the silt also preserved the town for modern archeological excavations, which have only uncovered about 15% of its sprawl. Apparently, in antiquity Ephesus was one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean. Today, the closest breathing population is in the interior town of Selçuk.

One lady stayed on the bus. She found out the terrain was uneven and said she didn't want to hurt her back before an engagement tomorrow. Didn't she read the program? That was money well spent.

The thing that struck me first after passing the city gates was the engineering. Half-buried terra cotta pipes and an aqueduct evidenced a deep understanding of fresh- and waste-water transport. There are many places in the world today that don't have the basic services we've seen in ancient Greek and Roman settlements. Then there was the heat, intensified by polished roadways of reflective, white marble and packed crowds similar to that which the ancient thoroughfares experienced. We were set to bake at 40C for two hours, and pathways were slick from dripping sweat. There was no smell of brimstone here. It's too hot for the devil.

Terracotta water pipes from the Roman era. In the richer section of town, houses had cold and hot running water (in winter) and closed sewage disposal to the lower section of town where there were large public toilet facilities (across from the Celsus library), which were continually flushed with the "grey" water from the houses. That waste did not run into the clay pipes, but in covered stone-block canals. 

Some people like visiting ruins in the off-season, when there are no crowds and it's cooler. However, the crowds of tourists evoked for me the bustle of the ancient city. In my imagination, I could fill in the gaps in the ruins and picture the city as it was on a summer day in AD 100.

The craftsmanship of the architecture, public monuments, and even the private homes makes it easy to fill in the gaps of the ruins and imagine what the town was like at the time of Saint Paul, who preached to the Ephesians in their 25,000 seat great amphitheater. It was a bit like Delos in that respect; you tour a day-in-the-life as you weave between the public and private areas.

The Celsus library is one of the best preserved and most impressive of ancient Roman-era structures. The multi-story front edifice reminds me of great North American public buildings, and other libraries come to mind, built in places like Chicago, Cleveland, or New York during the early 20th century, before we started settling for quicker construction with cheap materials. Apparently it took six years to build the original and seventeen for archeologists to reconstruct just the front facade. The library and monuments in the main avenue -- including a fountain of Trajan and the imperial temple of Hadrian -- were all neatly scripted with Greek lettering. Not for the first time I'd like to understand written ancient Greek, though the guides tell us it's the same to modern Greek as Old English is to the modern vernacular. Also, the statuary is much better preserved in situ than at the other sites we've seen, though some of the main pieces are careful facsimiles, and the originals are in museums. The ubiquitous British Museum was active here and permanently "borrowed" a few pieces as per normal, so you still need to go to London to see the real thing in some cases.

Below, the Library of Celsus is one of the most beautiful structures in Ephesus and one of the largest libraries of the ancient world. Originally built in 117 A.D. and containing over 12,000 scrolls, it was a monumental tomb for Senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, a governor of the Roman province of Asia. The grave of Celsus was beneath the ground floor, and over it there was a statue of Athena (the goddess of the wisdom). In the photo immediately below right, Thomas stands beneath a careful facsimile of the original statue of Sophia (Wisdom).

Ionian and Corinthian columns.

Thomas in front of "Nike,"the winged goddess of victory. She even has a "swoosh" in her robes. Nike holds a laurel wreath in her left hand, the emblem of victory, and a stalk of wheat in her right hand (or is it a palm branch?). This dates from the Roman era and was discovered amongst ruins on the Square of Domitian.

Dad peers from behind the temple of the Emperor Hadrian.

It's all Greek to me. Despite the mainly Roman antiquity of what we saw, you could tell this was a Greek city.

The ancient brothels were spatially larger than the library, which says something about consistent priorities through history. The two structures shared adjacent real estate, and the prostitutes were apparently nicknamed "librarians," probably because the library is where patrons told their wives they were going. Maybe the goods at the Celsus weren't as interesting to check out. Apostles don't preach to fellow saints, so Mary and John up the hill evidently had plenty of sinners to work with. After making lots of converts himself, Paul was kicked out of Ephesus by the souvenir shops of his day. God wasn't good for their wallets.

This part of Turkey is geologically in Western Asia, but for cultural purposes its ancient history is more European, Classical Greek and Roman. In the walls of the brothel we were shown evidence of indoor plumbing and central heating, two things that disappeared in the dark ages and generally didn't return to the Europe until the 20th century. Comfortable beds may be lost to the continent forever.

We saw evidence of air conditioning and hot and cold running water. This was in a building formerly used as a brothel.

But some things haven't changed; toilets in ancient Ephesus were public pay-for-use. We've paid a few euros recently for dodgy restrooms in modern Greece. The ones at Ephesus were perhaps some of the world's first flush toilets. Gravity-fed flowing water continuously washed away waste. There were no stalls in the "latrina," however, so one really got to know one's neighbor in the midst of doing his business. I may now look back on the old trough urinals at Flushing's Shea Stadium with more fondness.

Our last stop in Ephesus was the great amphitheater. Saint Paul's evangelizing work there is mentioned in Acts, Chapter 19. Tom and I sat up in the bleachers and tested the acoustics by talking to Dad down on stage. Every other visitor to the city was doing the same thing simultaneously, so it was more of a cacophony than a soliloquy. No one will remember what we orated twenty centuries from now; I forgot in less than twenty minutes.

Dad explores the great theater at Ephesus, site of the events of Acts, Chapter 19. The arcuate trench immediately in front of him was likely for draining rainwater. We saw something much like this in another amphitheater on the island of Delos.

Leaving the site, we braved the gauntlet of hustlers hawking "ancient" coins and other knick-knacks in a shopping bazaar at the exit. The ancestors of these swindlers chased Paul out of town when he criticized the inspiration for their statuary. We must have appeared less discriminating, and I'll always buy a postcard if I can put a local stamp on it. Curiously, all of our guides have us "meet" at such places, which we may incidentally "find interesting." At least this one told us the antique pocket change was fake.

Thomas found another healthy and playful kitten near the souvenir stands. On the balance, the Turkish cats we saw had several more lives left than the bedraggled skeletons we mostly came across in Greece.

Our last stop was a Turkish carpet shop at the port of Kusadasi. For once it was a thinly-veiled retail detour I didn't mind. The showroom was air conditioned. We were treated to a pastry and beverage of choice while the staff rolled out the wares and a prop artisan gave a short weaving demonstration on the loom. I opted for a Turkish coffee in an espresso-sized cup; Tom had a cold apple tea and Dad a local beer. The bottom half of my coffee had the consistency of chilled lava. I scooped it up and ate it anyway. I may as well have had the full experience. But I forgot to have my fortune told from the overturned grounds, however. I'm still here, so I must have had a future. Who would have known fortune telling was a charade?

There was no hard sell of the carpets, though I've read that's not the case at all local shops. Dad bought a hybrid wool and silk carpet runner for the floor in front of Mom's bed. We were on a Princess Cruise excursion, and authenticity and shipment are guaranteed by the line. His purchase will arrive at home in several weeks. I was sorely tempted by another carpet of silk and wool, but Stacey sent me back a text saying I should watch the purse strings.

Dad closes the deal at the Matis carpet gallery.

Back on the boat, Tom finally beat me in a game of chess. A page has turned, and the manly thing to do is never play him again.

Shortly before departing, the ezan of a Muezzin drifted on the wind, melodiously calling the faithful to prayer. I would stay here longer if we had the time. No dust will be shaken off my feet. But Ruby Princess is now pulling away from Turkey, headed for Santorini and probably more cats. I'm headed poolside.

August 12th, 2013