An Ancient Imperial Capital and a Restorative Seaside Resort
One of the best-preserved ancient cities on the Mediterranean, Ephesus is Turkey’s showpiece of Aegean archaeology.
Although it is 3 miles away from the sea today, Ephesus was once one of the wealthiest trading port cities of the Greco-Roman era, ideally situated between the Near East and the Mediterranean ports of the West. Settled as early as 1000 B.C. by the Ionians, its extensive and impressive ruins testify to its ancient role as capital of the Roman province of Asia – in the time of Augustus Caesar, it was the second-largest city in the eastern Mediterranean, after Alexandria.
Today, a mile-long marble-paved street grooved by chariot wheels leads past partially reconstructed buildings, such as the Great Theater (which held 25,000 spectators) and the beautiful two-story Celsus Library (built in A.D. 135), one of the largest libraries and most graceful surviving buildings of antiquity. The Temple of Artemis (known by the Romans as Diana, twin sister of Apollo) was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world.
Only the foundation remains, but during Ephesus’s heyday in 356 B.C., it was four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens, with a forest of 127 marble columns supporting a 60-foot roof. Ephesus continued to flourish until the 3rd century A.D., when it was razed by Goth invaders from Northern Europe. Hundreds of columns and statues disappeared from the site over the ensuing centuries; some showed up in Constantinople and were used to build and embellish its Byzantine cathedrals. Nevertheless, the Ephesus Museum has one of the best collections of Roman and Greek artifacts to be found in Turkey.
Kusadasi (Bird Island), a major Aegean resort, is the jumping-off place for Ephesus and a variety of other wonders, including the nearby Greek island of Samos. But while such proximity partially explains this formerly sleepy fishing town’s metamorphosis into a coastal playground, its inherent pleasures stand on their own.
At the end of the wide bay, now linked by a causeway, an august Byzantine fortress still stands guard. The area is a popular destination for cruise ships and pleasure craft, and first-rate seafood restaurants around the harbor and a lively bazaar still offer the occasional find. On a small promontory in the bay, the eighty- four-room Kismet Hotel could get by on charm alone. Its personable owner, Hümeyra Ozbas, is a descendant of the last Ottoman sultan, Muhammed VI.
Together with her husband, Halil, and their children, she runs the Kismet on a grand scale. Surrounded on three sides by the sea, with gardens of palms, pines, and night-blooming jasmine, the hotel manages to suggest a private Mediterranean villa complex and is the perfect place for a sundowner made with raki, the local anise-flavored liquor.