Ephesian Musings

Walking through Ephesus last Sunday (we can do that freely now that we have our Museum Cards) we couldn’t help but speculate on why people visit the site.  Certainly it is impressive – a huge and partially restored Roman City of some importance.  It is also well known thanks to the Biblical references, the fact that it’s on the Paul Trail and that it is generally well publicised by travel agencies and tour reps.  People have heard of Ephesus, but that doesn’t explain why they want to go.

Oh, those who are into their biblical tourism or archaeological tourism or Roman history will find it fascinating.  But those, I think, are the same people who also go to less frequented sites.  And, with the massive crowds in Ephesus, they are in a minority.

We understand that Ephesus is convenient for the cruise ships that stop at Kuşadası.  Those cruise ship tourists are not necessarily interested in Roman history although they do tour Ephesus in droves.  Hilary was told recently that 80% of the tourists in Ephesus come from the cruise ships.   This is probably inaccurate because a significant number come from organised overland tours, but it remains true to say that the vast majority come from highly organised tours.

A lot of people come to Kuşadası for sun, sex and booze (we have the sand in Pamucak and few of them make it this far, unless they’re on the jeep tour but that’s a different story).  Perhaps they do Ephesus to add some ‘culture’ into the heady mix.  But why do they feel the need to add that ‘culture’?

It looks like there are plans to increase the number of tourists going to Ephesus.  Already there are people wandering around in Roman costume along with a couple of wooden constructions.  On Pamucak beach are a couple of mock galleys, and there are plans to dredge the channel up to Ephesus harbour.  This dredging may take a while and there are two road bridges which would need to be raised plus, once near the harbour the dredging may slow as archaeologists get interested in what may be found.  The term Theme Park Ephesus starts to spring to mind.  But what sort of tourist would be interested in sitting on a mock galley for an hour or so as it travels up a newly dredged channel, quite possibly to be greeted by mock stalls staffed by people in Roman costume?

We are interested in history.  Oh, strictly amateur but both of us have been heard to say that if we had our time again we might well want to be archaeologists.  We love crawling through ruined sites, trying to make sense of them.  We often reserve the guidebook to be read after we’ve formed our own impressions.  So, we guess, we don’t always know exactly what we’re looking at.  I think, though, that we do know what to look for, and mostly get it right.

The questions remain….  What do people get out of their trip to Ephesus?  Why do they go?  What do they find enjoyable?  And why don’t the vast majority go to the very many other, equally wonderful, sites around Turkey?


20 responses to “Ephesian Musings

  1. I suspect that it has been used for any number of movies – which might explain the crowds, in part at least.

    • Hilary’s first thought – not as many as Petra (where they sell Indiana Jones paraphernalia at the entrance). Not sure which movies it was used for. The site is now fairly carefully curated. They used to have the camel wrestling there but it has now been moved to a less sensitive area. We shall ask people who’ve been here longer than us.

  2. Ephesus was the most spectacular of the sites I visited in Turkey this September though I agree there are a number of other interesting archaeological sites well worth visiting in the country

  3. It sounds amazing, and I have always wanted to go, but there’s nothing like crowds to spoil the magical atmosphere of a place like this. Shame really…

    • Why Ephesus specifically? There are so many wonderful sites in this part of Turkey, most of them far less touristed than Ephesus. We love Magnesia and Claros. Priene is also amazing, and though not as deserted as it once was, much quieter than Ephesus.

  4. I guess its the most famous one, but looking at your blog I can see lots more places that would be right up my street – Herakleia looks great. There is something quite magical about a slightly overgrown ancient site like that. Interesting blog by the way!

    • So many places round here where you can soak up the atmosphere without interference! Many of them also have wonderful wildlife. Ephesus is great (especially the terraced houses) but often extremely crowded. Towards the end of the afternoon it does get much quieter, but it’s only in the middle of the winter that you can get the place more or less to yourself.

  5. Gwen and I went to Kuşadası years ago, and we went to Ephesus and had a guided tour with about a dozen other people. The guide was excellent and I thought the site was fascinating, but we were the only ones taking any interest, everyone else seemed hot, bored and irritated. The guide even remarked on it. Near the end he said something sarcastic, like ‘Don’t worry, the torture is nearly over.’, and not in humorous way.
    I wondered then just like you did, what the hell they were doing there. I had recently seen a program on Paul, and the guide did a bit which was in the program where he stood in the theatre and declared ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” I thought this was fantastic, but everyone else was just waiting for it all to be over. It wasn’t the guide – he was great, and it wasn’t the site, which is visually impressive and filled with fascinating detail. It is almost like people visit out of a feeling of obligation.
    I’ve thought about it several times since, and I’m surprised that you seem to have come away with the same impression from exactly the same site.

    • We think you are right Dave. Many people who vacation in Kuşadası or nearby book a tour as part of their stay, probably as you say out of a feeling of obligation or should visit, rather than actually wanting to do so. Also, people do visit when it is very, very hot and, even for enthusiasts, it can be quite a trial (no shade, no water you haven’t carried in yourself). .

  6. Many of the visitors I met during my 10 years in Selcuk visited Ephesus because it is the most complete ancient site – you can actually get a good idea how people lived there. The other sites are compelling, but considered more daunting to visit without a car, not speaking Turkish, and having little time to see it all. But Istanbul, Ephesus and Cappadocia were the trilogy of Turkish must-sees.

    Of course, Selcuk gets those tourists most interested in history and archeology, not the beach and beer crowd (which is why we lived there!) Also political and big-money reasons to bring those groups to Ephesus, but won’t get into that here. Are they still doing gladiator shows?

    I’m afraid to say it might be fun to sail in a galley up a canal to the old harbor – I’ve always tried to imagine what it used to look like, with the sea right up to the Temple of Artemis site.

    • We think many people do the trilogy of must sees, Istanbul, Cappadocia and Ephesus, it is continually advertised and we see the tour buses plying the route. There are others who do the Selçuk sites, Ephesus, the Basilica and Maryemana, commonly as part of a religious themed tour – not that it ever was Mary’s house. We recently went to the Basilica, there were people present on a pilgrimage. We guess with both of these tours the people actually want to see Ephesus, and are obviously a different set of people from the sun and beer crowd.
      We haven’t seen a gladiator show, but they may still be happening. We tend to avoid Ephesus at its most crowded and hot, which we guess, would be when these things would most likely happen.
      We also think it might be fun to sail a galley up to the old harbour, but wonder who will take this up. Certainly not the cruise ship guests, they are whisked around at an alarming pace, Ephesus, the museum, maybe a lunch, then a leather outlet. Might be really popular with the guests at the all inclusive places down at Pamucak.
      The main worry about all this is, of course, the ecologically sensitive wetlands. We understand that the area around the canal will be ‘appropriately landscaped’ and can only hope that this takes the needs of the wildlife into account.

  7. . . everything is commodified to squeeze the last bit of profit. Ephesus is convenient, cheap to get to and can be ‘sold’ as a high ticket item. These tours are really a joke when you examine the itinerary and realise how little time is actually spent on anything other than extracting cash from the punters.

    • We tend to agree. However, many of the official guides who live locally are extremely knowledgeable and interesting people. I’m not sure how you would ensure that you got such a good guide, but those people certainly exist!
      It is also good for the local economy, we know people who work in those leather outlets and they are able to provide well for their families.

  8. After many years in travel, I’m sad to admit that only about 5% of visitors are really interested in the history of out adopted home. Even lots of folk who have moved here are not really keen on the archaeology.

    • We are interested in history. We first came to Turkey (on holiday) as part of a quest to ‘collect’ as many theatres as possible (photographically). We fell for other aspects of the country – the scenery, nature and people. We do recognise that not everyone is a history buff, but still wonder why people with no real interest in history feel an urge to visit Ephesus.

  9. So they can say they’ve been there. I once asked an American tourist in Dubrovnik why he was there when he didn’t seem to like it. He and several others replied in the same way. It’s the herd instinct and points gathering, if you’re not actually interested in history. I’d like to go to Ephasus, but because of its importance in the ancient world.

    • Well, if you do come to see Ephesus you can stay with us. We’re within walking distance. (Please leave psychokitty at home).
      I’m trying to work out which places are worth points. And how a place gets to be worth points… Bergama (Pergamon) for instance was also really important in the ancient world, but is much less visited.

  10. I love Ephesus…..whenever we visit my in-laws in Izmir I always make a point of visiting Ephesus. Just the history and archaeology fascinates me…..I usually spend a whole day there………I’ve been lucky most of the times because we go kind of off season so it is less crowded from the tourists from the cruise ships.
    My husband being born in Bergama, had never been to Ephesus till we got married years ago….and I took him with me. Mind you he did go to the beaches in Kusadasi though he mentioned quite often in the summers.But he did see the ruins in Bergama, he said he played amongst the ruins as a kid.

    • We love the sites at Bergama – we were impressed by the mosaics in the museum which we think recently opened, or re-opened. Ephesus though, does seem to be increasingly crowded all year round and, as you probably know, there are efforts to try to attract even more people.

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