Our trip through Turkey is necessarily going to be conditioned by the existence of highways, electricity, the internet, blogs, and the like. At times, the sheer material and ideological weight of our current time makes it difficult to perceive the depth of the past in a country like Turkey. Every speck of dirt from Edirne to Antalya seems to yield an old ruin when you scratch it too hard. Pressed under modern housing districts or freeways, those historical layers remain invisible. At certain sites, however, the past retains a monopoly on our attention.*
Ephesus was one of the largest cities of Roman antiquity, a port city––the harbor is now a silty swamp––and center of commerce, culture, and religion. Of course, the most famous instance of religious significance is the great Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Only a solitary column remains standing, but it testifies to the immensity of the structure and its centrality to the economy and geography of the city. The Artemis cult dominated the city, a major draw for pilgrims and, nearly as important, their silver coin. Whole sections of the city’s economy depended on tourism, which means that, in crucial ways, not much has changed:
Because this region is geologically active, earthquakes are the most common culprits for the decline of cities, and Ephesus met the same fate as a series of powerful tremors triggered rapid declines in the later Roman era. Now the city has been painstakingly excavated and duly transformed back into a tourist trap. i want to say something about how the arc of history bends towards justice, but it might count as blasphemy.
The Matter of Cats:
Suffice to say that these bandits made their homes in the ruins. If you ever come upon Ephesus, make sure to prepare for cats.