Ephesus and Beyond

7 reasons why you should stay longer in Selçuk

Selçuk (pronounced ‘sell-chook’) is a small farming town located in southwestern Turkey, whose claim to fame are the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus, located 3km from the town.

That’s all most people know about it and is the main reason that the town is a popular stop on the traveler’s trail. Most travelers stop here for an overnight, see the ancient city, then move on to their next destination. But there is much more to see and do here that warrants an extended stay of at least two or three days.

In this post, I’ll show you the things that make this town unique, suggest cool things to see and do, share some of my travel tips for Ephesus and the Artemision as well as give you directions on how to get to these sites by public transport or on foot.

But first, let’s start with the number one thing that keeps me coming back again and again.

#1. There’s nothing like it’s small town charm

Aside from seeing the sites, I enjoy returning to Selçuk because it’s small town charm continues to draw me in. Nestled between mountains, the town’s verdant backdrop provides one with a tranquil setting where you can slow down from your travels for a bit and get in tune with a slower rhythm of life.  The town center is quite compact and everything is within walking distance. Even Ephesus.

Statue in Selçuk town

Tractors share the roads with cars, storks nest in ancient aqueduct ruins, random chickens, roosters and goats stray about and in the springtime white mulberries fall from the trees. There’s a calm openness to the town which is reflected in the interactions you will have with local people.

One of Selçuk's quite side streets

One of Selçuk’s quite side streets

In my experience, an impromptu conversation over coffee led to an invitation on a fishing trip and left me the recipient of a few fresh roses, bought from a passing street vendor by a stranger I’d just met; all because I told him it had been my birthday a few days prior. Such is the friendliness of the people of Selçuk.

There’s really no place like it.

#2. There are so many sites to see right in town!

Selçuk may be a small place but it’s full of historic sites worth exploring right in the town center. You can wander through the remains of a mix of cultures and empires that span history’s timeline. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Christians, Seljuks and Ottomans have all left their mark on this town.

~Ayasoluk Castle~

The sprawling fortress that dominates the town was built by the Byzantines in the 6th century and was used until the 18th century by the Ottomans. According to historians, there have been castles built on this hill since the Neolithic era.

The castle ruins make a great place to see sweeping vistas of the town and its surrounding mountains

The castle ruins make a great place to see sweeping vistas of the town and its surrounding mountains

~Isa Bey Mosque~

This is the oldest mosque that is still active in Turkey. It was built in 1375 and is considered one of the most beautiful examples of Anatolian architecture.

Some of the stone and columns used to construct this mosque were taken from the ruins at Ephesus and the Artemision.

Isa Bey Mosque

Outside Isa Bey Mosque, Selcuk

Outside the mosque’s entrance are vendors selling touristy kitsch

~St. John’s Basilica~

The Church of Saint John was built in the 6th century near the castle, just below Ayasoluk Hill. It was from the city of Ephesus that John was banished to the island of Patmos in Greece, where he wrote Revelation.

Entrance to St. John's Basilica

Entrance to St. John’s Basilica

Years later, he was pardoned and brought back to Ephesus where he lived the rest of his days. Legend has it that his remains are buried in a tomb somewhere, possibly beneath this church.

#3. You will encounter the occasional farm animal around town

Selçuk is a farming town. Whether it be roosters crowing, chickens crossing the road or goats roaming aimlessly, you will occasionally be reminded of this by encountering a physical being in passing.

Goat on a ledge in Selcuk

How sweet is this little thing?

#4. Storks nest on top of ancient Roman aqueducts

From March to August, you can see storks nesting among the ancient Roman aqueduct ruins in town. They return to Selçuk every year from Africa in order to mate and nest, then head back to Africa at the end of the summer. While they’re here, they are quite the tourist attraction!

Storks nesting in Selcuk aqueduct ruins

Stork's next, Selcuk

#5. The Saturday Market

The colorful Saturday market takes place right in the center of town. It begins at the crack of dawn and runs until about three in the afternoon. The array of fruits, vegetables, olives, nuts, fresh cheese and bread for sale make it a great place to sample some local flavors and score a picnic lunch to take along with you to Ephesus.

A village woman selling her bounty at the market

A village woman selling her bounty at the market

Teas & Turkish Delight for sale

Teas & Turkish Delight for sale

It will also give you a chance to try out some handy Turkish phrases like “Ne kadar?” meaning “How much?” and “Teşekkür ederim” (tesh-a-koor ed-er-reem) meaning “thank you”.

(Just make sure you know your numbers in Turkish so you know how much to pay!)

#6. Cool Places to Hang Out Like This

Selçuk has lots of chill spots like this where you can laze around on cushions, drink tea, have a beer, smoke some nargile hookah) or simply kick back and enjoy life.

Hint: You will most likely find one like this in your guesthouse.

These also make great places to watch the sunset.

Sunset over Selcuk

And now … Selçuk’s crowning jewel (and the reason you have probably come in the first place):

7. The Ancient City of Ephesus, the Artemision & The Efes Museum

Click here to go straight to the directions on how to get to Ephesus & the Artemision by bus and on foot.

According to legend, Ephesus was originally founded by the Amazons, the female warrior tribe. Known as ‘Efes’ in Turkey (which is also the name of the country’s most popular beer brand), the ancient city was the fourth largest in the eastern Roman Empire. By the 2nd century BC, Ephesus grew to become a leading political and intellectual center as well as one of the wealthiest cities in the entire Mediterranean. It was most famous for its Library of Celsus, which held over 12,000 scrolls of ancient teachings from around the world.

I’m going to take you through a few of the site’s highlights.

After validating your entry ticket, you may see some actors performing mock gladiatorial battles, setting the stage for your Ephesus experience.

Mock gladitorial battles staged at Ephesus

The first major sight you will come to is the Ephesus Grand Theater, built into the slope of the hill.

Seating 25,000 people, this was the central gathering place for the city’s entertainment– from plays and musical performances to political and religious events.

Ephesus theater, photo by ultimatejourneys, 2.0CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Note: No matter how early you arrive to the site, Ephesus gets packed with tourists really fast!

Ephesus Theater

A little further on your right is the majestic Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates, a beautiful example of the intricacies involved in Hellenistic design.

It is a triumphal arch built to honor the Roman emperor Augustus after he granted the two slaves their freedom.

Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates

Gate of Mazeus and Mithridates detail

Stepping through the gate you will find a prime example of the elegant building construction from the city’s heyday.

It’s also the most famous and photographed monument of Ephesus in our modern world (watch out for incoming selfie-sticks) – the Library of Celsus.

Library of Celsus Ephesus

The library held over 12,000 scrolls in its time, containing teachings and wisdom from all over the ancient world. Sadly, the library was destroyed by a fire in 262 AD and all of this knowledge was lost. But, if you look in the building you can still see the niches where the scrolls were held on the inside walls. However, that is all you will see – the inside is empty.

Library of Celsus, Ephesus

The library’s three entrances are flanked by four female statues that represent virtue (arete), knowledge (episteme), intelligence (ennoia), and wisdom (sophia), giving us insight into what qualities the inhabitants of the ancient city held in utmost importance.

Library of Celsus, statue of "Ennoia" or "Intelligence"

The statue representing “Ennoia” or “Intelligence”

Walking along the main street, you will come to the Temple of Hadrian on your left.

Curates Street, the main artery of Ephesus

Curates Street, the main artery of Ephesus

The Temple of Hadrian is the most attractive edifice on Curetes Street, the main road that cuts through the ancient site. The temple is dedicated to the Roman Emperor Hadrian who visited Ephesus several times. It is more of a monument dedicated to the Emperor, who was one (of few) that the Ephesians favored, rather than a temple.

The keystone of the front arch has a relief of Tyche, the goddess of victory. In the relief behind this, there is another relief of Medusa, a symbol of protection against evil.

 

Hadrian's Temple Detail

Across from Hadrian’s Temple are the Terrace Houses. These were the “houses of the rich” and give a little insight into how the rich folk lived in the Roman period.

Visiting them is not included in the ticket price – you have to pay an extra 20TL to go inside. If you have been to places like Pompei or Herculaneum, than I suggest you pass on this.

I myself didn’t enjoy the experience because you have to follow a trail of wooden planks suspended above the houses, sandwiched back to back between a long line of sweaty tourists, pushing their way forward through the site. Meaning, if you want to hang out a few seconds and really look at something, you couldn’t because you were pushed along.

I would say save your 20TL for something else, but here are some shots for you to decide if it would be worth it for you or not.

Inside the terrace houses of Ephesus

Terrace Houses, Ephesus

Inside the Terrace Houses

~The Artemison~

The Artemision is a separate site from Ephesus, located 15 minutes walking distance from Selçuk town. I’ve included it under the Ancient Ephesus heading in order to maintain the fluidity of this post. The Artemision is  a quick stop off on the way to the ancient city and as such, I have also listed the directions to the sites together.

The Temple of Artemis, also known as the Artemision, is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was originally constructed in the first days of Ephesus and took 120 years to build.

The temple housed the mystical statue of Ephesian Artemis, the Mother Goddess, inside of it which you can see today in the Efes Museum. (See below.)

To give you a rough idea of how amazing this ancient wonder must have been, its dimensions were 425 feet long by 225 feet wide and each of its 127 columns was 60 feet high!

A mini replica of what the Artemision looked like in ancient times, from the Ephesus Musem

A mini replica of what the Artemision looked like in ancient times, from the Ephesus Musem

In 356 BC, the same night Alexander the Great was born, the temple was burned down by some crazy guy named Herostratus because he wanted his name to become immortal and remembered throughout history. It was completely rebuilt three times until its final destruction in 401 AD.

All that remains at the site today are some foundations of the temple and one haphazardly put back together column. Over the years, the area turned into a swamp which is now home to some geese and duck families.

The lone standing column of the Artemision

The lone standing column of the Artemision

Artemision, Selcuk

Artemision, Selcuk, Turkey

It make take some exercising of the imagination to see the vision of grandeur that this temple site once was, but it’s not hard to see why this beautiful and serene patch of nature was chosen for a massive temple dedicated to the Mother Goddess.

INDIE TIP: Beware of the pushy guys that will try and sell you postcards when entering or leaving the site. There is no one manning the site and sometimes you have to be a little forceful in your tone to get these peddlers to leave you alone.

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And now for the logistics…

HOW TO GET TO EPHESUS & THE ARTEMISION BY BUS

On the left hand side of the otogar (bus station), you will find dolmuşes that say “Efes” on them. Drivers on this route speak English.

If you are headed to the Artemision, let the driver know and they will drop you off at the entrance. They will only stop here by request.

If heading straight to Ephesus, make sure you tell the driver you are going to “Efes” or “Ephesus” so they know to stop there. They will drop you off in the parking lot where all of the tour buses park.

HOW TO GET TO EPHESUS & THE ARTEMISION ON FOOT

The Artemision is about 15 minutes from town, while the walk to Ephesus is a bit longer, about 30-40 minutes, with a bit of hill involved.

From town, with the bus station on your right, cross over the main road (near the museum) and walk straight down the nicely paved, mulberry-tree-shaded sidewalk along the highway road – Dr. Sabri Yayla Blv.

You’ll pass a Jandarma (Turkish military) zone on your way.

Don’t be alarmed at the signs, no one will bother you. Just keep walking.

About 15 minutes in, on your right, look for the entrance to the Artemision.

Entrance to the Artemision, Selcuk Turkey

Entrance to the Artemision

Ok, you’ve seen the Artemision, now you’re back on the same highway road to Ephesus. Keep heading straight and you will pass a little park with exercise machines. You’re almost there. Look out on your left for the brown highway sign that says “Efes”.

Cross the highway (make sure no one is coming first!) and keep walking through vineyards, walk up the bit of a hill on your right, past people giving horse and carriage rides and keep walking until you reach the parking lot where you’ll find vendor stalls, tour buses and at last, the ticket booth. Congratulations, you made it!

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Last but not least, something you must do after seeing the sites…

Visit the Efes Museum.

The main reason for visiting this museum is to see the Ephesian Artemis statues that were housed in the Artemision.

This one is called the Archaic Artemis and is from the 2nd century AD. She is a stunning site to witness in person and being in her presence leaves me speechless every time. Her mysterious beauty combined with the divine energy she gives off stirs something deep inside of me that I can’t put my finger on.

Ephesian Artemis

The Ephesian Artemis

Intricately adorned with animals, insects, fruits and flowers, and wearing the city of Ephesus as her crown, I think the ancient Ephesians truly embodied their Mother Goddess properly.

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I hope I have shown you that Selçuk is more than just Ephesus and is a destination worthy of more than an overnight visit. When it comes to Selçuk, my advice is to travel deeper, stay a little longer, and you’re bound to fall in love with the town just as I did.
In my next post, I’ll be talking about the different public transportation options and links from Selçuk for your onward travel.



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