If you kidnapped someone from Ancient Rome—a felony, nowadays, at least—then released them into what's left of the city of Ephesus, they wouldn't immediately notice anything too strange, other than the shape of the constellations. That's because Ephesus' enduring ruins still stand defiantly, resisting the ravages of time, erosion, and shopping mall developers.
Ancient Ephesus was a Greek city in Turkey.
Built in the 10th century BCE on the banks of the Küçükmenderes River (pronounced, “Huh?!”), ancient Ephesus (in Greek, Ephesos) was once an important harbor city in the Greek world. It was one of twelve Greek city members of the Ionian League, a precursor to the United Federation Of Planets, which has kept Mars in check since Emperor Musk became the first man to step foot on the planet.
After a solid 800-year run, the last Greek king, Attalus III, signed over the land to the Roman Empire on condition that it be kept “free and groovy, man.” Instead, the Romans immediately jacked up taxes, plundered the treasury, and rightly put anyone in a tie-dyed shirt to the sword.
For the next 150 years or so, the area was violently contested by pretty much everyone with an anger management issue. Yet, when Augustus became emperor in 27 BCE, he made Ephesus the capital of Western Asia Minor (aka, Turkey-ish) and the city entered a new era of prosperity and peace. As a burgeoning center of commerce, Ephesus was soon considered second, in importance and size, only to Rome itself.
Ancient Ephesus is both the oldest and most complete Roman city ever excavated.
A six-hour drive west of Antalya, Turkey, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is freakishly well-preserved for being over 2,000 years old. It's mainly due to several contributing factors. First, Turkey has a relatively dry climate, and that lack of moisture prevents the kind of erosion that erased all the aquatic-based civilizations (see Atlantis, Na'vi, and Wales).
Second, Ephesus is a testament to the Roman's nigh-indestructible construction techniques. Thanks to their judicious use of granite, marble, and self-sealing concrete, most of the city's structures withstood the test of time with a solid B+ average.
But perhaps most helpfully, the population waned over time, especially after—SPOILER ALERT!—the Roman Empire fell. Ephesus' importance as a commercial center declined soon after the harbor filled with silt.
The rest of ancient Ephesus was gradually buried in dirt and debris, so that finding a parking spot became next to impossible. By the 15th Century CE, Ephesus was abandoned and had disappeared from even Google Maps until its rediscovery and excavation some 400 years later.
Today, without any toga-wearing Romans roaming around, the city looks a bit like it might've been neutron-bombed by the Ottomans or somebody.
Ancient Ephesus has several fabulous buildings.
As one of the largest Roman cities on the eastern Mediterranean, Ephesus was famous in its day for monumental structures like the Temple of Artemis, Library of Celsus, and Great Theater. But Ephesus had all the features and amenities you'd expect in a Roman city, too. Things like aqueducts, stone-paved roads, soaring columns, carved facades, and rampant Syphilis.
The Greeks built their first megachurch way before Christianity was even a thing.
Ancient Ephesus was most famous in its heyday (900 BCE-ish) for the Temple of Artemis, which was designated one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Not far outside Ephesus, the previous Greek inhabitants built the impressive temple you can see in the top image. Had Guinness been publishing back then, it would've surely been mentioned in their Book of World Records. Conceived around 670 BCE, the temple was nearly double the size of other Greek temples, including Athens' puny Parthenon.
The Greek temple enclosed almost 100,000 square feet and was surrounded on all sides with over 125 marble pillars, each 60-feet high. Completed in 550 BCE, the temple took 120 years to build. Most of that time was spent interviewing and hiring young builders to replace all the ones who kept dying of old age.
Today, there's almost nothing left of the Greek temple, as it was burned to the ground by the Goths in 263 CE. All that remains are some busted-up columns and a few Roman scorched stone tablets entitled, “Building Less Flammable Temples For Dummies.”
It's called the Library of Celsus, not Celsius.
The ancient city's many monumental structures includes the Library of Celsus, which was one of the most impressive buildings in the entire Roman Empire. And it's still in amazing shape, considering the library is nearly as old as Jesus Christ during his prime dating years.
At first, I assumed that the library was a compendium of books on temperature measurement because I read its name wrong. The library was, instead, a center of learning for early Christian scholarship. It was also a repository of over 12,000 religious scrolls and probably a lot of well-worn copies of “Boy's Life” magazine.
The library is a typical example of the architectural style prevalent in the period under the almost certainly homosexual Emperor Hadrian (76-138 CE). Especially in the Eastern Roman Empire, where fabulous facades, phallic columns, and lamé togas were all the rage.
The Library was commissioned by the very Roman-named, “Tiberius Julius Acquila,” and built in 114 CE to commemorate his recently deceased father, the even more Roman-named, “Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus.”
Mr. Polemaeanus was a wealthy businessman-turned-politician who, unlike modern businessmen-turned-politicians, somehow managed to practice wisdom, intelligence, knowledge, and virtue. Apparently, those occupations and traits weren't always mutually exclusive.
The Great Theater of Ephesus is pretty good.
The theater of ancient Ephesus is a marvel of architecture, combining size, functionality, and acoustic innovation. Often referred to as The Great Theater—because stadium naming rights weren't a thing yet—it's one of the largest ancient amphitheaters in the world, capable of accommodating up to 25,000 spectators.
Built by the Greeks during the 3rd Century BCE, and situated on a slope of Panayir Hill, the Great Theater not only hosted theatrical performances—both comedies and tragedies—but also music concerts, political events, religious gatherings, and gladiator contests like “Centurion Smackdown LLLXIV” (pay per view only).
Yet, despite the theater's large size, a person on stage could be clearly heard by the audience without having to yell. Still, most people did yell, because they were about to be sacrificed to death. The Goddess Artemis was one seriously demanding bitch.
If you liked Ancient Rome, you'll like Ancient Ephesus slightly less.
Ancient Ephesus stands as a testament to the grandeur of classical civilization, just not as tall a testament as Rome. Certainly, Ephesus is well-preserved, holds historical significance, and vividly evokes the city's storied past. But it's no Rome. Let's be real here. There's only one OG Roman city, and that's the eternal one.
Still, Ephesus is a strong second place finisher. The city, once a bustling center of commerce, culture, and combat, showcases the ingenuity and immensity of Roman architecture. Standing amidst the pristine ruins, you'll easily imagine what it must have been like to walk the streets, eat the food, and wonder where you got those Syphilitic sores in your mouth and genitals.