Visiting the Ancient City of Ephesus

We visited Ephesus on our recent trip to Turkey and it was definitely one of the highlights of our holiday. It is an extraordinary place to visit. Ephesus was one of the most important cities in the ancient world and the site has been extremely well preserved and restored.

As my 11-year-old says, “I am quite sure there is not an equal for Ephesus in the whole world. It is a brilliant place, where you can play hide-and-seek among the ruins and walk where the Romans once trod. You can cool down under the trees and walk up the grand entrance to the amphitheatre.”

According to legend, Ephesus was founded by the female warriors known as the Amazons and it was a major city for both the Ancient Greeks and the Romans and became one of the wealthiest cities in the Mediterranean. It was incorporated into the Roman Empire as the province of Asia and is home of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, now in ruins after being destroyed in a raid by the Goths.

From the 1st Century AD, Ephesus was visited by Christian disciples spreading Christianity. Paul wrote the letter I Corinthians from the city and the gospel of John may also have been written here. Legend claims that Jesus’s mother, Mary, spent the last years of her life living in Ephesus with St John and the House of the Virgin Mary here is now a place of Catholic pilgrimage.

Most of the buildings that have been restored were constructed during the reign of Emperor Augustus. There is a whole city to walk around, complete with avenues, temples, a concert hall and a library. You can see the communal toilets and the brothel, the Temple of Hadrian and the Hercules Gate.

You see the massive amphitheatre on the hill as soon as you walk into the site. It can seat 24,000 people and is believed to be the largest outdoor theatre in the ancient world. In Ancient Roman times it was used for wild animal fights in the mornings and gladiator contests in the afternoons.

We walked down the Arcadian Way, the colonnaded main street which would have been paved with marble and lined with shops, and make our way to the Library of Celsus. This stunning building was originally built in the 2nd Century AD and once held nearly 12,000 scrolls. The sculptures on the exterior are beautiful and there is a real feeling of calm inside – despite the large crowds.

TIPS FOR FAMILIES

Go early in the morning or late in the afternoon: Ephesus gets very hot and crowded during the Summer months so it’s best to get there early (around 9am) or later (around 4.30pm).

Take your children’s passports: The ticket office lets children in free of charge but they won’t let them in free unless you’ve got their passports to prove their age. It’s ridiculous, I know. It hadn’t occurred to us to take along our passports and I tried putting the 9-year-old in front of the booth to prove he was just a child but it was no use – we still had to buy tickets for the children.

Take plenty of water: You will need plenty to drink and it’s expensive to buy it at the site.

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Summer Holidays Round-Up

The kids have gone back to school. How did you spend your Summer Holidays? In our case, how do you spend those all-important last Summer Holidays before your oldest starts secondary school?

We had some much-needed sunshine on the Aegean Coast of Turkey, with days spent in the swimming pool or on the beach, and evenings eating seafood overlooking the harbour at Yalikavak. We gazed at the super yachts moored in Yalikavak’s marina – the St-Tropez of Turkey if you believe the hype – and took a trip in a gulet around the coast, anchoring in deserted bays, to swim and snorkel in the aquamarine sea.

We got covered in bubbles in a Turkish Bath and visited the extraordinary Ancient Roman ruins at Ephesus. We lost our luggage – and survived the ordeal. Read my posts on the Turkish Bath and lost luggage.

Back in the UK, we spent a few days in the West Country. We visited the Cathedral at Wells, where our highlight was definitely the library. It’s at the top of a stone spiral staircase and it has an area just like the Restricted Section in the library at Hogwarts, with 500-year-old leather-bound books chained to the bookcases. In the library we also saw a copy of the Lindisfarne Gospels and a wonderful bishop’s crozier carved in the shape of a dragon’s head.

We’ll definitely go back to Wells. Next time we’ll visit the Bishop’s Palace so that we can see the swans in the moat pulling a bell on a rope when they want to be fed.

We took a boat down the Kennet & Avon Canal in Wiltshire, passing herons and picturesque barges. The boys took turns to steer so it took us twice as long to get to Bradford-on-Avon as it should as we zig-zagged from one side of the canal to the other.

In Bristol, we went round the SS Great Britain, the huge steam ship designed by Brunel in 1843. We had a brilliant time wandering around the ship and seeing the galley, dining saloon and cabins as they would have looked in Victorian times.

We visited London a few times. Our tour of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace was every bit as grand and impressive as we had imagined. Read about it here.

Like a lot of cities, London is best experienced on foot. Walking around the sights costs nothing and is great fun – even in the rain. The boys and their friends climbed on top of the lions at Trafalgar Square, watched the pelicans in St. James’s Park, gazed up at Queen Victoria’s Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace and  walked all around the Tower of London.

The rain turned out to be a real bonus as we were able to go on the London Eye without queueing. The view from the top was still fantastic but because of the bad weather, we almost had the capsule to ourselves.

On one of the sunnier days we went to the pebbly beach at Cuckmere Haven on the East Sussex coast. Overlooked by its dramatic white cliffs, the beach was remarkably quiet and peaceful after the packed beaches on Turkey’s Bodrum Peninsula. The boys played for hours in the sea and on the beach, found a dead shark and ate fish and chips for tea. It reminded me that actually the British Seaside is pretty special.

This September I’ll be writing about our trip to SS Great Britain, the best boutique hotels for families and tips on how to get your children into books.

COMING UP NEXT: The Roman Ruins at Ephesus

A Visit to a Turkish Bath

 

A Visit to a Turkish Bath

Image: Jurriaan Persyn/Flickr

Turkish baths or Hammams have been popular in Turkey for thousands of years, many of them surviving from the Romans. The Hammam was an important part of Ottoman culture and was used to mark important milestones in an individual’s life. The 40-day-old baby was taken to the Hammam for his ritual first bath, the bride and groom bathed there separately on their wedding day and mothers would go to spot potential wives for their sons.

The Hammam was as much a place to socialise as to get clean. It was the only place where Ottoman women could socialise outside of the closed doors of their houses and men would visit to discuss business and politics.

Hammams are still an important part of Turkish life today and it’s a great place to experience a slice of Turkish culture while getting supremely relaxed at the same time.

I visited the Rayola Hammam near Bodrum with my two boys on our recent trip to Turkey. After we had undressed in the changing room we were given a pestamel, a colourful checked cloth to wrap around our waist or chest, and led into a beautiful room with a vast domed roof inlaid with smaller glass domes to let the light in. This was the hararet, the hot room. In the middle of the room was a large octagonal slab of marble and there were marble benches and sinks running all round the edges of the walls.

As soon as we walked in, an attendant tipped a couple of bowls of water over us. This was a bit of a shock as she didn’t warn us beforehand. We were then told to lie on the marble slab. As the room was so hot and steamy, it wasn’t long before we were all sweating profusely. I could see the boys’ faces getting redder and redder. The attendants were busy massaging other people so we were left to sweat but it is normal to be left for at least 15 to 20 minutes to allow your body time to sweat out all the impurities.

I could see that the 9-year-old was struggling with the extreme heat so I suggested that he sit on one of the benches and pour a jug of cool water over himself. As soon as he did this he felt a lot better and started to relax and enjoy himself.

One by one, the three of us were taken over to a bench by an attendant where we were scrubbed from head to foot with a rough, exfoliating loofah glove (sometimes these are made out of goat hair). Our arms were lifted up so that they could scrub under our armpits and down to our fingertips, and our bodies were pushed forwards so that they could do our backs and then our legs. The scrubbing felt really good and we could feel our bodies starting to relax in the heat.

Then we had to lie back down on the marble. The attendant dipped a long cloth in a big bowl of soapy suds and produced a long cloud of bubbles which she used to cover the length of our bodies. She then massaged us all over on both sides, pressing really hard all over our backs, pulling our arms behind us and bending our legs. At one point I was seriously worried that she was going to break my bones but after she’d finished, my body was so relaxed that it felt as if it was made out of cottonwool.

We were then taken back to sit on the bench where she threw jug after jug of cool water over us. Again, she didn’t speak or warn us beforehand so it was always a shock and you were left gasping for air like a fish out of water. She washed our hair, rinsed it and replaced the wet pestamel with a dry towel.

Finally we were led out of the room like invalids to sit on a sofa in the lounge area. The three of us sat there in a trance, not wanting to move, watching bearded men with hairy chests and towels wrapped around their waists, walk in and out of the steam room. Our bodies felt all loose and floaty. The 9-year-old lay down and nearly fell asleep. As he said afterwards, “I thought it was brilliant because I felt so relaxed. It felt like my whole body was glowing.”

COMING UP NEXT: The State Rooms at Buckingham Palace