Part 7 - Kusadasi (Ephesus)
Kusadasi also kissed us awake with a sunny smile. The castle on Pigeon Island glowed in the morning light, and even early in the morning there was a hustle and bustle in the port terminal. Tour buses and boats were waiting for the passengers, the shops in the port’s shopping mall opened their doors, cafes and restaurants were preparing for the onslaught, and the tour guides of independent tour operators were lining up at the exit of the terminal.
Our agenda of the day was the classic among Kusadasi excursions: Ephesus, preceded by a visit to the „House of Virgin Mary“. We had booked with Ephesus-Shuttle, who had received great reviews on the internt. We already found this confirmed in our previous, very pleasant email exchange and their exemplary reaction to the changes due to our changed itinerary. Two other couples had joined us via the CruiseCritic Roll Call, so we were a manageable group of 6 who was greeted with a name sign at the exit of the port. Shortly after, we were sitting in a spacious Mercedes van and started our tour. On the way to the first stop, Melih, our tour guide, formally introduced himself again and gave us some information on the area, Turkey in general and, of course, a few introductory words on the House of Virgin Mary.
The present veneration of this site dates back to the alleged visions of the nun Anna Katharina Emmerick, who, at the beginning of the 19th century, is said to have described in detail the house and the place of death of Virgin Mary.
Below the house as it exists today, fragments of a building dating back as far as the 1st century AD were found, which proponents regard as evidence of its authenticity. As a consequence, the place is very popular and has a press of people.
When we walked towards the house from the parking lot, which was filled to the last spot, a mass was being celebrated in front of the building, and visitors of the mass were singing a hymn to the tune of Beethoven’s “Ode of Joy”. With those sounds, there seemed to be a certain layer of mystique in the air above all the hustle and bustle and the humming tangle of the different languages.
We lined up with the queue of visitors of the house and were soon channeled through the few rooms of the building.
Inside, there are photos of the nun Emmerick and an altar with a kindly smiling statue of the Virgin Mary. It is strictly ensured that no photos or videos are taken. But at the exit there is a picture of the altar, which can be photographed.
At the exit of the House of Mary, many believers light candles for their relatives, loved ones and to a certain extent at the same time probably for themselves, too. Their hopes and wishes shine in the flickering flames of the many lights until the candles burn down and other visitors express their intercessions by means of this custom in their place.
Below the house there is a spring. In the belief that it would bring good fortune to drink from this spring, visitors crowded around the wells just as much as they had at the entrance to the House of Mary before.
Just a few meters behind the fountains we found a wall filled with secret wishes. Wishes written on paper or scribbled on tissues were tied with small ribbons to the ever-growing layers of hope and superstition.
The wishes put down on paper were probably as diverse as the different languages spoken in this place – peace for the world, personal happiness and prosperity, good wishes for family and friends, perhaps a new car … there´s probably nothing that couldn’t be found here. For the youngest visitors, the idea seemed to be just as exciting as the idea of writing a wish list to Santa Claus.
We met with Melih again and continued our journey to Ephesus. Melih also used this trip to give us some basics on our next destination.
The oldest evidence of human presence near Ephesus dates back to a time around 5000 BC. Over millenia, the area developed under various peoples. The resulting city was repeatedly moved and ulitmately relocated to its current site around 300 BC. At the time, Ephesus had direct access to the sea. At land it was located at a crossroads of several important trade routes. From 133 BC, Ephesus belonged to the Roman Empire and became one of the largest and most important cities of the entire empire. Historians estimate that up to 250,000 people once lived there. The many ruins in their different states of preservation still bear witness to these impressive developments. It is assumed that there are many more houses and temples besides the buildings already uncovered.
We entered the ancient city at the upper end in the area of the upper Agora.
Besides the scattered columns and ruins of some temples, which are hardly recognizable as such today, you notice the theater dating back to the 2nd century. It had room for about 1,500 visitors and was used both as a meeting place of the senate (Bouleuterion) and a concert and theatre hall (Odeon).
Melih vividly explained to us the function of the building. Thanks to his explanations and faced with the size of the Odeon, we got an idea of how impressive this site once was.
Then he took us down the ancient Curetes Street leading to the lower part of Ephesus.
Inevitably, we immediately noticed a strangely arbitrary and seemingly ugly construction – the Memmius Monument.
Much to our relief, we understood from Melih that the original memorial of the governor Gaius Memmius from the 1st century BC obviously didn’t look like this but had been rebuilt as an architecutral collage stemming from cubism. We wondered whether Memmius would have agreed with it ...
We made another stop near the realtively inconspicuous remains of the Hercules Gate. With us some other groups of tourists from different nations. In front of a relief of Nike, the winged goddess of victory, all visitors were told the same anecdote in different languages. Not only because of its name, but also because of the symbol recognizable on the relief, the depicted beauty of Greek mythology was introduced to everybody as the “goddess of tennis shoes” .
On the ancient marble stones of the Curetes Street we slowly approached the most famous attraction of Ephesus but made a few other stops on our way.
One of these stops was the Trajan Fountain dating back to the 2nd century AD.
Just behind it stands one of the most beautiful and best preserved buidings on this road. A temple dedicated to the Emperor Hadrian, who had visited Ephesus in 128 AD.
Opposite the temple a piece of the mosaic-covered sidewalk has been preserved in front of the town houses which belonged to the wealthy citizens of the time. A “keeper” of the colorful piece of art seemed to be less impressed than we were.
Apparently a must for every visitor are the latrines, which were part of the former bath houses. According to our guide, they served less as a place of disposal but were rather a meeting place for early morning chats and exchange of news. In cold seasons, apparently, a slave was even sent ahead to warm the cold stone.
Through an opening you get into one of the houses, which is presented and described as a brothel since a statue with an oversized phallus was found there during excavations.
Against the backdrop of the spectacular Celsus Library we took a photo of our little group.
Now we had time to take in the beautiful facade of the most famous and perhaps most beautiful structure in Ephesus.
No visit to Ephesus is complete without a stop at the ancient theatre. Its size is simply impressive. If you climb up the stands and imagine how 25,000 people cheered and shared the thrill of spectacles and gladiator fights while ships sailed into the port at the end of the illuminated promenade, you don’t only feel like in the movie “Gladiator”, but you also get an idea of the significance and dimension of this ancient metropolis.
We left Ephesus at the main entrance and bought a refreshment at one of the numerous stalls.
On our way back we had the opportunity to look at the Temple of Artemis, and then our driver took us back to the port of Kusadasi. This excursion was really worthwhile and a true highlight to us.
Before returning to the ship Birgit and I went for a short walk through town, which we already knew from our previous visit the year before.
We headed for a little local cafe which we remembered well from last year. We sat down on the low stools, drank an apple tea and watched the people walk by, most of whom seemed incapable of resisting the merchants’ calls, as they were packed with shopping bags.
Then it was time to go aboard again, since we had another highlight on that day’s agenda – the Ultimate BBQ. It started with a cocktail reception on the grass of the Lawn Club with a band playing live music in the background. During the reception we got into a nice conversation with Julie, the Guest Relations Manager, who also introduced us to lovely Executive Chef Tato Garcia.
And then Tato heralded the beginning of the BBQ and proved that he wasn’t just a good chef but also a natural entertainer.
The following dinner was beyond words... After excellent starters like shrimp cocktails and truffle/goat cheese flatbread, the chefs prepared the main course on the barbecue and dressed it on various platters under the watchful eyes of Chef Tato.
As hard as we tried, we couldn’t possibly manage to empty the platters - not even one of the two or three placed on each table. Even though we tried our best with those delicacies, it was just too much.
The following choice of desserts almost felt like torture.
The food, the location and the atmosphere were simply great and a befitting ending to this fulfilling day. When we signed the bill, we were, again, pleasantly surprised. The waiter had noticed that I didn’t drink alcohol and, therefore, hadn’t tried any of the wines on offer. Without any expectaions on my part, he had adjusted the bill of the BBQ accordingly.
What a beautiful day!
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