Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Dessicated remains

A couple of thousand years ago, the Virgin Mary decided to uproot herself from the town where her son was crucified by the Romans, and retire to the metropolis of Ephesus in another part of the empire which is now modern Turkey. This city was so vast, that only about one third of it has been uncovered, but it would take you all day to wander around half of it - which H.I. and I did a few years ago. We got half-way up the main shopping street, but gave up after about an hour because of the 120 degree heat and relentless sun. The facade above is what remains of the Great Library.

Like all great cities, Ephesus was a mixture of shops, theatres, domestic terraced houses, baths, court-houses, streets, squares, schools, libraries and many other forgotten institutions. The amphitheatre (below) held 25,000 people. It was also a huge port which brought goods and people from all over the empire, dropping them off virtually in the heart of the city. Then, one day, the sea dried up and the town died.

We had hired a little white, Fiat Uno from Bodrum, and as we drove across the vast, arid plain which was once the sea-bed which bordered on the port, we tried to stay cool in the car (which had no air-con) by winding the windows right down in the two doors. It was as if there were a mad demon clinging onto the outside of it, pointing a hair-drier straight into our faces, set to maximum. We spent all day drinking about a gallon of water each, and drank no alcohol at night - the very idea of the slightest hang-over in that weather was unthinkable. A friend of mine had been in that part of Turkey the previous week, when the weather had been even hotter, and he had broken an egg onto the pavement outside his hotel to see if it would fry. It did.

A few weeks before we left England, I had a dream about an ancient port which was one of those rare, incredibly lucid and full-colour ones. I found myself walking around the crescent-shaped quay with strange-looking, wooden sailing boats moored up beside it, and stone-built shops on the other side, built against the rising land behind. The waterfront was bustlingly busy, and trade at the quayside shops was brisk. I realised in my dream that this was a Roman port, and was elated at being given the opportunity of seeing it first-hand.

At Ephesus, we made our way down from the ruined town to the old port, and as we went round the corner to the quay, I saw the exact same port as in my dream - but all the people were gone with the sea, and the stone shops were empty. About 6 feet down from the edge of the old harbour, the dry and dusty plain began and stretched as far as the eye could see - well over the horizon beyond.


  1. A great post, Tom; it made vivid for me the reality of what Ephesus was, and is now.

  2. Hello Tom:
    We should very much like to spend time discovering Turkey which does, we believe have so many wonderful treasures such as those which you detail here. Ephesus would definitely be on the itinerary.

    We can fully identify with your description of the heat as it resonates so closely with our experiences of 35C+ today and for the remainder of the week. The air through open windows is exactly like a hairdryer on full blast.

  3. Beautiful. How did the sea go away?

  4. That looks an amazing place to visit. Are you pulling our leg about the dream though?

  5. I'm trying to find a joke that involves ancient Virgins, tiny Fiat Unos, déja vu, and Latin. So far no luck.

  6. My first tour of this area was about thirty five years ago Tom - Pergamum, Didyma, Troy, Hierapolis etc. Ephesus made a profound impression on me and it was so peaceful there. About ten years ago, while holidaying on Samos, the farmer and I went over for the day to see Ephesus - it was heaving with people and the walkway to get in was full of stalls selling things. The magic had gone.

  7. All to do with tidal silt, Sarah T. I will be doing something on Ostia Antiqua soon - but funnier, I hope.

    The dream was real, Sue.

    Sounds like the magic had come back to me, Weaver. I suppose it depends on what they were selling?

    Thanks to you others with no questions to answer.