Upon arrival in Selçuk we discover our tiny hotel is nearly under the ruins of a Roman aqueduct marching across the city on its way from the mountains to the ancient city of Ephesus. We are also surrounded by restaurants and pedestrian streets. What could be better?
We see a huge castle up on the hill above the city so set off to investigate. The heavens open, we spend most of our visit in heavy rain but discover something even more fascinating than the castle. The ruins of the Basilica of St John which was built over the grave site of St John the Evangelist grab our attention. We return to our hotel to dry out and begin researching Christianity in this area. Our theological questions pile up pretty quickly.
The next morning we visit Ephesus, taking a fascinating walk through history. We’d left our hotel immediately after breakfast by taxi to the upper gate of the site. Our aim: to enjoy the morning light and avoid the masses of narcissistic selfie-tourists.
Our taxi driver suggests taking us to Mary’s house which he tells us is on the way. Mary’s house is well past Ephesus. Not on the way by any calculation. Another lie. He’d more than quadruple his fare if we went for the ploy. Of course he doesn’t mention the added expense were we to fall pray to his deception.
As it is, we arrive at the gates of ancient Ephesus just after opening and are soon striding along a marble paved street that was originally laid down by ancient Greeks. All around us lie toppled marble columns and row upon row of broken marble lintels. The brick arches of a public bath stand firm against the ravages of time and earthquakes. An amphitheater rises into the hill above. Then, gleaming in the sunlight, the still huge and glorious facade of the Celsus Library. This is the iconic sight in Ephesus and we are walking down a street directly towards it with very few other people.
There are however two young women doing the selfie thing on the steps in front of the library. Legs are being arranged, hair flipped, chins raised, arms extended, bosoms thrust out. How much posturing can a couple of selfies take? Five of us wait for the show to end. It seems endless so we cat-call in derision of the nonsense. The players in the pathetic little drama remain oblivious. Once they leave, an Australian couple, a young European woman and we, have our turns to take pictures of the nearly 2000 year old marvel. Our puny selves are insignificant in comparison and unworthy of photographs.
We continue through the commercial agora and then to the Church of Mary and the Bishop’s Palace. We’ve now seen and read enough to be thoroughly captivated by the idea of this area being a popular destination for early Christian evangelists. We retrace our steps back up through the city. The streets now throng with bus loads of other tourists but we’ve taken our pictures and enjoyed the morning tranquility. Now we take our time to read all the explanations. We sit on the marble seat of an upper row in the amphitheater and chat with a man who has been in Turkey for twenty months teaching restorative justice ideas to lawyers and judges here. He tells us it’s been an interesting experience. We are left with the feeling that his efforts have been less effective than he might have wished. Looking across the remaining pillars of the state agora to the basilica which once held the Roman court, we decide some ideas might take a while to change.
Ephesus well visited, we grab another taxi and head up the hill to Mary’s house. Hefty admission paid, we visit the tiny church that now marks the spot. This is a place of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims alike. Muslims also revere Mary as the mother of a respected prophet. This makes me wonder – as I do frequently – about the animosity that prevails between some Christians and some Muslims. If people wanted to – they’d probably find more commonalities within the two beliefs than differences. At least in this place, people worship together.
Our taxi roars back down the hill to Ephesus. Of course the driver wants to increase his fare by taking us all the way to Selçuk. He seems to think it is impossible for us to walk.
We know better – there is a signposted walking trail. Does the local taxi driver really not know it exists or has he been telling a lie?
The trail descends through olive and orange orchards. The trees are laden with ripe fruit but there are no pickers. Some oranges are rotting on their branches, both oranges and olives are strewn on the ground. We decide to pick a couple of oranges. We’ve both walked through many orchards and never before stolen a farmer’s hard-won produce, but these orchards show no sign of recent care. As we walk along, we see we aren’t the first to help ourselves – not that that makes our thieving right. We add our orange peals to those already on the trail and enjoy sweet juicy Christmas oranges still warm from the sun.
Back in Selçuk, we discover that the museum right across the road from our hotel is unexpectedly closed. We mention this to our hotel owner – who had highly recommended that we see it because it is so interesting. He explains why it is closed and assures us we are missing nothing as there isn’t much to see. So… which time was he telling the lie?
We enjoy a delicious meal in the restaurant next door then turn in for an early night. Our alarms are set for 4am.