Thursday – October 13, 2011 –
After sailing down the Turkish Riviera during the evening from Bodrum, we arrived at 8 a.m. this morning in the Turkish city of Kuşadasi. The weather was beautiful today and sunny.
Upon finishing breakfast, Mom, Dad, Jeff and I disembarked the Wind Surf and boarded a bus for our day to tour to Ephesus. We had pre-booked the tour in advance for $89 which would take us on a tour of the religious antiquities of this part of southwest Turkey. Our Turkish tour guide, Märt, was absolutely fantastic with his educational background in Biblical archaeology. Although Muslim, he is also a war veteran of the NATO war in Afghanistan and has such interesting perspectives on historical and modern events.
Our first stop of the morning was the Meryem Ana, or the House of the Virgin Mary. The house dates from the 6th century A.D., but the foundations originate from the 1st century A.D. The house is both a Catholic and Muslim shrine located on the Mt. Bülbüldagi. According to stories, it’s where St. John took Mary, mother of Jesus, after the crucifixion.
The lines were long, but Märt told us some fascinating information as we waited to enter. Apparently, the house was discovered in the 19th century by following the visions of the Roman Catholic nun and visionary Anne Catherine Emmerich. According to legend, Mary lived here until her Assumption into heaven. Pope Benedict XVI even visited in 2006. Upon entering the front, you could see that the small home has been turned into a chapel with an altar. I said a quick prayer before exiting through the side door. Outside thousands of pray candles were lit by devoted visitors. Nearby, I lined up at the sacred fountain for holy water. I bought a bottle of the water to bring home and admired the thousands of prayer notes that pilgrims had attached to a prayer wall. It was definitely a spiritual and moving place to visit.
We then hopped back on the bus and headed to Ephesus. During ancient times, it was one of the 12 cities of the Ionian League. The city was famous for the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, built in 550 B.C. It was destroyed by the Goths in 268 A.D. and nothing much remains but pieces of a single column. However, we learned that some of the columns were originally used in Istanbul’s Aya Sofya.
However, the most famous part of Ephesus centers around the biblical New Testament. Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia and the Gospel of John was likely written here. The Apostle John preached here and the city hosted several 5th century Christian Councils.
It was marvelous walking down the old streets, and you felt like you were being transported back to the times before Christ. After the Goths sacked the city in the second century A.D., Byzantine Emperor Constantine rebuilt much of the city and helped erect new public baths. However, the city was heavily damage by an earthquake in 614 A.D. Ephesus declined when the harbor became silted up by the Cayster River.
One highlights for me was seeing the Library of Celsus, completed by the Romans in 135 AD, which supposedly stored 12,000 scrolls. We also saw the theater which held more than 25,000 spectators for drama productions and gladiatorial battles. The city also had the most advanced aqueduct system in the ancient world. Before leaving, we visited the magnificent Roman Terrace Houses, which are still being excavated inside a building constructed over the site. These houses belonged to the wealthy and were located directly opposite Hadrian’s Temple. The frescoes and mosaics were well preserved under rubble through the centuries and looked like those you have seen from Pompei. We had the huge honor of meeting one of the site’s discoverers, an old Turkish archaeologist who discovered the site with fellow students in the 1950s. Märt interpreted for him and the man was very nice and generous with his time.
After visiting Ephesus, we boarded the bus to visit the nearby Basilica of St. John. Much of it has been destroyed during earthquakes through the centuries, but it was not hard to imagine how magnificent it was centuries ago. Byzantine Emperor Justinian I ordered it built in the 6th century, and it had a cruciform plan with four domes along its longitudinal axis and two flanking the central dome, to form the arm of the cross. The Apostle John is buried under the central dome. Above the site, we heard the Muslim call to prayer from a nearby minaret. Turkey is such a diverse country with a fascinating past and present!
On the way back to Kuşadasi, we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant with fabulous views of Kuşadasi Harbor. I had lahmacun, a Turkish-style, thin dough pizza with a spicy mixture of ground lamb, onion and tomatoes. It was delicious and we had baklava for desert.
Upon the departure for Kuşadasi, we made our final stop in town at rug and carpet shop. Turkish merchants make the finest silk carpets in the world. We were given a tour of the carpet-making demonstration, starting with secrets behind cultivating the silk. Not many people anymore do this the traditional way with an old weaver block, so we were privileged to see an older man demonstrate the process. He is one of the last men in the world who is still a master of the craft.
After leaving the carpet shop, we explored the town for souvenirs before boarding the Wind Surf. I went to my room, put on my swimsuit and went to the rear hot tub on the upper deck. I admired the views of the Turkish Riviera as I relaxed in the warm water. Our ship departed at 16:00 as Vangelis’ “1492” played on the speakers and our sails were unfurled. Next stop Istanbul!