Readers of this blog are by now certainly aware that last month I took a 15-day bus trip throughout Turkey. As I have stated, I was amazed at how modern Turkey is and how clean and up-to-date it is as a nation. The last time I was in Turkey was about forty years ago. At that time it had a great deal of poverty, tons of low-level housing, and had only a glimmer of its present-day spic-and-span veneer.
What a surprise greeted me this year when I arrived in Turkey with its new, sleek glow. I, like many others, though would have to readily admit we did not go to Turkey because of its new appearance and polish. We were there to see the ancient side of Turkey. I returned mainly because when I was there nearly a half century ago, I was doing little more than going from my vacation in the Greek isles through Turkey, making my way back to Paris where I lived at the time. ‘Practically all I saw was the third-world aspect of the country. I had very little notion of how rich its ancient heritage was.
I only became enlightened to this fact on the bus I was taking at the time from Kusadasi to Istanbul, where I would catch the train to Paris. Along the way, our bus passed a small sign that pointed to a place called Ephesus. A German tourist seated next to me asked me if I had been there. I replied no and he gave me a look of surprise. He said that was a pity because Ephesus was one of the most marvelous ancient cities of The Roman Empire. Its ruins, he pointed out to me, were one of the glories of Turkey.
Since that very day I decided to return to Turkey and see what I had missed at Ephesus. I read about the place when I got back to Paris and felt like I had really been remiss by not having paid this place some attention. Forty years later, I finally made it to Ephesus and truly it is remarkable and amazing.
I remember this August when I was driving in from the airport to the hotel where I was to meet up with my tour group, my taxi passed a large billboard near the airport that stated: Turkey—The World’s Largest Museum. Truly this was the gist of my 15 days in this remarkable country. I felt like I was in one vast museum. Such experiences help writers express their emotions, adventures and stories.
Two years ago I wrote a mystery entitled TEDDY BEAR MURDERS with the main character being an Agatha Christie type Miss Marple, loosely based on some of my experiences as a high-school teacher. This past year I came out with a sequel entitled MURDER IMPOSSIBLE, which takes place on a cruise ship to the Mexican Riviera that I had taken the previous summer. Now my main character is visiting Ephesus and the third novel in this series will be called MURDER AMONG THE ANCIENTS.
The antiquated city of Ephesus that I had missed 40 years ago was one of the largest and most important in the Greco-Roman world, and the Ephesians had their fingers on the pulse of progress. The Scholastica Baths, built in 1st century included the budding versions of many modern conveniences. Ephesus had advanced public works, including municipal toilets with more than a dozen marble seats in place that can still be seen (and sat on, but please don’t use) to this day. A series of 36 holes designed to handle your business stretch across three long benches, and a trough where relatively clean water flowed underneath them. It is said that if things were chilly, the upper class Ephesians would send their slaves down to warm the seats for them in anticipation of their arrival. To garner use of the luxury of plumbing, one had to pay a fee to enter, and citizens enjoyed a small pool, mosaic floors and pleasant company while socializing in the public toilets.
One of the most interesting things to me about Ephesus was the number of feral cats at the ruins. In the USA, a feral cat means one that is wild and would not let you get near it on a bet. However, these Ephesus cats love people and are total scene stealers. They let you pet them and they do everything they can to get your attention. They are not necessarily looking for handouts of food. They all look well-fed. They love posing for photographs and act as though they are generally interested in all of the goings-on at Ephesus. I had two that came and jumped up very near me where I was sitting. I spoke to them and they acted as though they had known me years. Shortly though, a Russian tour group came nearby. The two cats pricked up their ears and with a quick kitty smile jumped up and left me post-haste as much as to say that they were busy elsewhere. The Russian tour guide posed his group in a circle to give his pitch in Russian on Ephesus. The two previously-mentioned kitties went over and stood with the group and listened to the tour guide as if they understood Russian perfectly. Some members of the group petted them and took their photos. Amazing. If you are a cat lover, this will give you one more reason to love Ephesus.
I with my 18 Australian fellow tourists, along with Rod my tour companion, walked the 6000-year-old stone streets and soaked up the ancient vibes of Hittites, Greeks, Romans, and even Antony and Cleopatra. The exotic pair traveled here with their entourage, among them Cleopatra’s sister, who was murdered in Ephesus in 41BC. Cleopatra was here on these very stones. Nineteen hundred years later these streets are now home only to more tour groups than you can imagine as well as these happy felines attention grabbers.
The largest Roman city outside Rome itself, Ephesus was home to the temple of Artemis – one of the seven ancient wonders – and an outdoor theater that was probably the biggest in the ancient world.
Multiple aqueducts supplied the metropolis with clean water. Paul and John, two of Jesus’ apostles, are associated with the area. Over 250,000 people are thought to have lived there, working in the markets, washing in the communal baths, filling the streets from dawn to dusk.
The highlight of Ephesus (and the location of the murder in my third book) is the Library of Celsus, the restored façade of which is visible from most anywhere in the city. It was dramatically impressive, both inside and out. Today the noise from the dozens of tour groups milling around the library make it seem more like a fairground than a place of historical interest. Hundreds of selfie photos are being taken at any given time.
A little further down the road lies the Great Amphitheatre, where Elton John gave a concert in 2001. (available on you tube.) (Feature Photo.). Able to house up to 25,000 people for plays and gladiatorial contests, and still used for special performances today, it was the one place that didn’t feel crowded. The steep climb to the top served to put a few people off (including me), and the sheer size of the theater meant plenty of room for everyone. You can go to you tube and see some of Elton John’s concert at this theater in 2001.
In classical times, Ephesus was a city that mattered and nowadays it matters even more. It is a marvel and well worth my waiting for forty years to enjoy. It also provided me with the inspiration for a new book and for that I am grateful.