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Turkey: The Day of Rugs and Ruins

Kusadasi and Ephesus

Turkey was the third stop on our trip.  My first impression of Turkey was surprise at the vast expanse of greenery.  This was a very pretty area.

The port of Kusadasi was located at the edge of a lush green valley.  I had always thought Turkey was arid and rocky like Southern California.

Little did I know that I was being tricked.  If you look at the picture of Turkey on the right, you quickly realize the country is indeed arid and extremely mountainous. 



As you all remember from your Bible History, Noah's Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat in Turkey.  If you are in the mood for amusement, here is an interesting story about the Black Sea (see picture above). 

Back in the mid-Nineties, a fascinating theory was postulated that might explain the legend of the Great Flood.  The
Black Sea Deluge is the name of a hypothesized prehistoric flood that occurred when the Black Sea filled rapidly circa 5600 BC.

The Genesis narrative tells how God, grieved by the corruption of the Earth, decided to destroy all life with a flood. However, Noah, a righteous man who "found grace in the eyes of God", was instructed to prepare for this flood by building an ark and to retreat to it with his family and with male and female representatives of various animals. As the flood waters rose, those sheltered inside the Ark survived as the rest of humanity and animal life perished.

One of the interesting aspects of the Noah's Ark story is that all the major religions have references to a great flood.  This myth has been subject to extensive elaborations in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  In addition, from ancient Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, comes the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh and the Gilgamesh flood myth.  Scholars have long noted striking similarities between the Gilgamesh and Genesis flood accounts.  They suspect the Israelites derived their version from the Gilgamesh epic or independently from a common tradition that might have stemmed from a real catastrophe long ago.

Unfortunately, back in the 1800s Science reared its ugly head and debunked much of the Noah's Ark myth.  Don't you hate those Scientists for ruining all our fun?  Sure enough, by the 19th century, the discoveries of geologists, archaeologists and even some biblical scholars (traitors!) led most scientists and many Christians to abandon a literal interpretation of the Ark story. 

However, not everyone was discouraged.  To this day, Biblical literalists continue to explore the region of the mountains of Mount Ararat, in northeastern Turkey, where the Bible says Noah's Ark came to rest.

It turns out that not all scientists are poopheads.  What science taketh away, sometimes it gives back.  In December 1996, the New York Times made huge headlines when it published a hypothesis known as "The Black Sea Deluge".

Geologists Link Black Sea Deluge To Farming's Rise
Published in NY Times: Tuesday, December 17, 1996

LONG before the splendid palaces and minarets of Istanbul lined its shore, the Bosporus Strait was little more than a narrow spillway where fresh water from the ancient Black Sea flowed out to the Aegean Sea and on to the Mediterranean. Then rising sea levels worldwide brought about a cataclysmic reversal. Suddenly, sea water cascaded through the Bosporus with a force 400 times mightier than that of Niagara Falls, the terrifying sound of the roar carrying for at least 60 miles.

In perhaps less than a year, the Black Sea turned brackish and rose several hundred feet, inundating former shores and river valleys deep into the interior. The relentless waters encroached on the land at a rate of half a mile to a mile a day. More than 60,000 square miles of land were soon submerged, a 30 percent expansion in the Black Sea's size, which essentially gave the body of water its modern configuration.

So what about that?  Did a great flood once surge into the Black Sea, forming the basis of the Biblical tale?

It sounds like a question more suited to the history of religion than science. Yet this theory is now the driving force behind a whole field of geological research.

Columbia University geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman wondered what could explain the preponderance of flood legends. Their theory: As the Ice Age ended and glaciers melted, a wall of seawater surged from the Mediterranean into the Black Sea.

During the Ice Age, Ryan and Pitman argued that the Black Sea was an isolated freshwater lake surrounded by farmland.

Then about 12,000 years ago, toward the end of the Ice Age, Earth began growing warmer. Vast sheets of ice that sprawled over the Northern Hemisphere began to melt. Oceans and seas grew deeper as a result.

As the Earth thawed out from the Ice Age, Glacial meltwater had turned the Black and Caspian Seas into vast freshwater lakes.  However sea levels remained lower worldwide.  Therefore the fresh water lakes like the Black Sea were emptying their waters into the Aegean Sea.

That situation changed.  As the glaciers retreated northward, rivers emptying into the Black Sea reduced their volume and found new outlets in the North Sea.  The water levels in the Black Sea lowered through evaporation. Then, about 5600 BC, as sea levels rose, Ryan and Pitman suggest, the rising waters of the Mediterranean Sea began to exert dramatic pressure against a thin natural dam that separated the Bosporus from the Black Sea.  Finally the waters broke through and began to spill over a rocky sill at the Bosporus.  Water poured into the Black Sea at a rate two hundred times what we see at the Niagara Falls for nearly an entire year.  The event eventually flooded 60,000 square miles of land. 

This theoretical swell of the Mediterranean Sea would have happened 7,000 years ago.  Seawater pushed northward, slicing over and through the thin gap that separates the Black Sea from the Aegean Sea into what is now Turkey (see red arrow in map).  Funneled through the narrow Bosporus Straits, the water hit the Black Sea with 200 times the force of Niagara Falls.  Each day the Black Sea rose six inches and flooded the coastal farms.

Seared into the memories of terrified survivors, the tale of the flood was passed down through the generations and eventually became the Noah story. 
The Bible says the whole world was flooded.  But they didn't have CNN in those days.  Maybe in fact just the Black Sea flooded and the victims felt like the whole planet had gone Waterworld on them. 

Although the jury is still out on Ryan and Pitman's 1998 hypothesis, a great deal of circumstantial evidence continues to be found in support of their idea.  The Black Sea indeed may have been the location of the Great Flood. 

Now as for how Noah's Ark ended up on the top of Mount Arafat, a 17,000 foot mountain, well, I guess we will worry about that some other time. 

The Legend of Noah's Ark

Mount Ararat is located in Eastern Turkey near Armenia




Throughout our trip, I was always aware that I was visiting areas rich in historical, cultural, and religious significance.  Like the Noah's Ark/Black Sea Flood theory, it is pretty amusing how science first tells us none of this stuff ever really happened, then turns around and begins to uncover clues that suggest many of the Greek myths and the Bible stories may have indeed been true after all. 

One of the best examples of an ancient story coming back to life is the Trojan War.  Back in the early 1800s, the story of the Trojan War was considered a tall tale by the thoroughly modern scholars of the day.  If there was a Trojan War, then where is Troy?   Good question!

Heinrich Schliemann, a wealthy German businessman, wanted to know the answer to that question himself.  Schliemann not only had a family fortune, he had gotten even richer as a military contractor to the Russian government during the Crimean War in the 1850s.  The Crimean War was fought in the Black Sea area between the European powers and Russia over the lands once held by the declining Ottoman Empire (Turkey).

After the Crimean War, Schliemann had two things going for him - he had money and he had time.  By 1858, Schliemann, 40, was wealthy enough to retire at an early age.  But he wasn't the retiring sort.  His wealth enabled Schliemann to become a thrill seeker with the freedom to indulge any passion.  So he began to travel a great deal, seeking out ways to visit famous cultural and historical icons.  Sometimes the places he wished to visit were forbidden.  That didn't stop Schliemann.  One of his most famous exploits was disguising himself as a Bedouin tribesman to gain access to the forbidden area of Mecca, the holy Muslim city off limits to all Westerners.

It is not certain by what path Schliemann arrived at either archaeology or Troy.  Schliemann's greatest interest seems to have been finding the location of Troy.  Just where exactly were the great battlefields of Hector and Achilles located?  Or did Homer, author of the Iliad, make the whole thing up?   In the mid 1800s, Troy's very existence was in dispute.

Frank Calvert was a British expatriate living on a family farm in western Turkey.  In 1847, Frank's brother Frederick had bought this farm of 2,000 acres.  By chance, the acreage included a large hill named Mount Hissarlik. Calvert owned the eastern half of the Hissarlik mound and the Turkish government owned the western half.  As Frank Calvert worked the farm and learned to speak Turkish, he came to learn there were many local legends that the Trojan War had taken place over at Mount Hissarlik.  Calvert began to wonder if this peaceful area with its rolling hills could possibly be the site of the ancient city Troy.
During the 1850s while his brother Frederick was off fighting in the Crimean War, Frank began to make careful, exploratory excavations on the family-owned land which incorporated the mound of Hisarlik.  He soon uncovered systematic rock formations that very likely were the tops of buried walls.  Calvert became convinced that this was indeed the site of the ancient city of Troy.  He kept digging in his spare time, but only on a very small scale because he had a farm to run.

Nearly 20 years passed.  In 1868 Heinrich Schliemann heard the rumor about Frank Calvert and Troy. Schliemann decided to pay him a visit on his farm.  That is when Calvert confided his views to Schliemann.  Schliemann offered to collaborate with Calvert.  Excavations cannot be made without funds and are done in vain without publication of the results.  Schliemann was able to provide both.  Schliemann brought dedication, enthusiasm, conviction and his immense fortune to the work.

The digging began in earnest in 1871.  Schliemann began his work before archaeology had developed as a professional field.  By present standards, the field technique of Schliemann's work left much to be desired.  Schliemann was in quite a hurry.  He basically dug his first holes much too fast and with little regard for the objects he was encountering on the way.  Schliemann's haste upset Calvert immensely. 

In 1872, Schliemann and Calvert had a falling out.  Calvert objected that Schliemann was in much too big of a hurry to hit it big.  Thinking that Homeric Troy must be in the lowest level, Schliemann and his workers had dug hastily through the upper levels and basically destroyed everything they came to that wasn't clearly "Trojan".  Schliemann agreed to slow down a little.  Finally Schliemann reached fortifications that he took to be his target.  Here again Calvert disagreed with him.  There was no proof that this ancient fort was really Troy.  Calvert published an article stating that the Trojan War period was missing from the site's archaeological record.  This sent Schliemann into a fury. 

Undaunted, Schliemann continued his work.  As if to confirm Schliemann's views, a cache of gold appeared in 1873. Schliemann began to dig up gold masks of ancient warriors and other valuable artifacts.  Schliemann named this discovery "Priam's Treasure" (Priam was the legendary King of Troy). 

Worried about theft, Schliemann dismissed the workmen so that he and his wife Sophie could excavate it themselves.  Sophie removed the valuable objects by hiding them in her shawl.

Sophie would later create a sensation when she wore "the Jewels of Helen (of Troy)" for the public.  Schliemann also published his findings in 1874 in an article titled "Trojan Antiquities".  Schliemann detailed how he had seen the gold glinting in the dirt.  That's when people began to pay attention.  Until
Schliemann's excavation, not many people believed in a real Troy.  But the pictures created a sensation throughout Europe.  Now maybe Homer's Iliad wasn't such a tall tale after all!!

However this publicity backfired in a way.  The Turkish government revoked Schliemann's permission to dig and sued him for a share of the gold.  However, it was too late - the gold was gone.  Collaborating with Calvert, Schliemann had smuggled the treasure out of Turkey, alienating the Turkish authorities in the process.  Schliemann defended his "smuggling" in Turkey as an attempt to protect the items from corrupt local officials. 

Even today "Priam's Treasure" remains a subject of international dispute.  The relics had resided at a museum in Berlin till 1945.  At that point Russia's Red Army emptied the museum and took the treasure to Moscow.  Russia refuses to return the artifacts.  They are keeping the looted art as compensation for the destruction of Russian cities and looting of Russian museums by Nazi Germany in World War II. 

Some of Priam's Treasure can be found in Turkey as well.  Schliemann yearned to dig again.  Schliemann managed to persuade the Turkish authorities to let him resume by returning some of his artifacts.  For the next six years, he kept digging.  Fortunately this time Schliemann had learned to be a bit more careful.  Throughout his 1873-1890 excavations, Schliemann would recover many more artifacts from the mound of Hissarlik.  Schliemann made sure to document these discoveries in professional circles as well as share his discoveries with the media of the day.  Thanks to his knack for publicity, Schliemann was eventually given all credit for the discovery of Troy. 

Frank Calvert on the other hand was never officially associated with the discovery.  His omission seems curious given that it was his suspicions that first opened the door. Calvert had worked on the hill for twenty years confirming his hunches before Schliemann had even shown up.  Furthermore, Calvert had been right at Schliemann's side during all the glory years of the early 1870s.  However, despite thirty years of effort, Calvert got only a small footnote in one of the most important archeological discoveries of all time.  Isn't it a shame that the rich people and loudmouths of the world get all the credit?

Personally, I am grateful to both Schliemann and Calvert.  These men did humanity a real favor.  Here is a quote from Manfred Korfmann, a modern-day excavator at Troy. 

"When Homer created the first epic from the myths handed down to him, he changed the world. It was really because of him that these Trojan ruins were so long the symbol of rivalry between East and West.  Troy has been a source of unparalleled inspiration.

The thought of Troy is why Xerxes of Persia sacrificed 1000 oxen at King Priam's former stronghold before he embarked on his Greek campaign.  Alexander the Great always kept a copy of the
Iliad under his pillow.  During his world conquest, he made sure to stop and offer up a sacrifice at the reputed grave of Achilles, his personal hero.  Caesar himself made sure to pay his respects at Troy before continuing his pursuit of Pompey in Egypt.

Be it Greeks, Romans, Persians, Christian Crusaders or the Ottoman conquerors of Constantinople - they all acknowledged their Trojan heritage, erected their holy shrines and made the heroic site both a place of pilgrimage and a tourist destination".

I completely concur.  As a kid, I was totally immersed in the Iliad, the story of the Trojan War, as well as the Odyssey, one of the great sequels of all time.  Thanks to the hard work of Calvert and Schliemann, at least when I opened the pages of Homer's Iliad I had the satisfaction of knowing I was reading HISTORY as well as MYTH.   Now if someone would just hurry up and find Atlantis! 


Let us return to 2008.  Now that our cruise ship had landed in Turkey, I burned with desire to take a taxi and drive up the coast to visit Troy.  After all, the battlefields of the Trojan War were only a couple hundred miles north of Kusadasi where our cruise ship docked.  Achilles, Odysseus, Hector, Paris, Helen, Agamemnon, and all the other heroes of the Iliad were calling to me.  Maybe Athena or Aphrodite would appear to walk me around the ancient walls of Troy and show me where my hero Achilles died.

My trip to Turkey was excruciating knowing how close I was and yet so far from the glories of ancient Greece.  Troy was not my only demon.  Indeed, throughout the trip I was consumed by my constant unsatisfied curiosity to see the battlefields of Troy, to retrace the Marathon path in Greece and to see the narrow pass at Thermopylae where the Spartan 300 kept the mighty Persian army at bay.  And what about a visit to Mount Olympus?  So many things to see and so little time!   Yes, we did visit museums and yes, we did see relics, but it was all so very unsatisfying.  Visiting places of historical significance is always an exercise in frustration.  All you can get is a peek into the past, but never the whole picture. 

Still, it is better to Travel and see a little than to stay at home and remain completely in the dark.   It is human nature to wish to explore the past and to understand it.  This is a powerful instinct indeed.   Why else would people spend their lives trying to prove the existence of the Great Flood?  Why else would people literally live in tents up on Mount Ararat in a year-round search to find Noah's Ark?   Why else would modern scholars try to find locations mentioned in the Odyssey?  

Because humans are a curious bunch.  We want to know everything.  That is what makes us happy and that is what drives us crazy with our inability to find the complete truth.  Why else would Schliemann devote his life to proving the Trojan War really did take place? 

The answer is simple - humans are obsessed with the unknown.  We want to know the past.  What happened?  Why did it happen?  Is there any clue that will help us prevent similar problems in the future? What can we learn that will help us control our own destinies? 

In some ways, today's trip to Ephesus reminded me of Troy.  Like Troy, Ephesus had once been a mighty city.  Like Troy, Ephesus had disappeared off the face of the earth only to be dug back up again. 

Ephesus had been a famous port.  At one point, with a population of
250,000, Ephesus became the second largest city in the Roman Empire.  At the time of the Apostle John, Ephesus was said to have the greatest harbor in all of Asia.   Over the centuries, Ephesus became known as ‘the gateway to Asia’.  

Its position as a central trade route had made Ephesus wealthy and great in the ancient world.  Ephesus had once been ruled by King Croesus.  Alexander the Great had passed through on his world conquest tour. Ephesus was the home to the Grecian Temple of Artemis, one of the original Seven Wonders of the World.   Ephesus was a major stopping point for many Biblical figures.  The Virgin Mary lived out her final years nearby.  The evangelist Saint John finished out his life here as well. 

And then Ephesus was abandoned.  Why?  Was it conquered?  Was there an earthquake?   Sure enough, as the centuries rolled on, Ephesus disappeared from sight just like the city of Troy.  It became covered with dirt and rocks and weeds.  Ephesus became invisible to the naked eye.  The second largest city in the Roman Empire had completely disappeared off the map. 

So as our bus departed from the port of Kusadasi, I had two questions that I wanted to answer: 
What in world happened to Ephesus?   And how did this land-locked site ever become a port?

The Trojan Horse.  Odysseus' trick works - there are
Greek warriors hidden inside that horse!

Xerxes may have sacrificed 1000 oxen at Troy, but it didn't do him any good thanks to Leonidas and the brave Spartans. 

The Battle of Thermopylae is the true story of how a Spartan rear guard consisting of only 300 men kept a gigantic Persian army at bay for several days in a narrow pass. 

This heroic action gave the rest of the Greece enough time to muster a better defense. Over the centuries, this amazing feat has become an enduring symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.

The mighty Achilles parades before the walls of Troy


Ordinarily you sign up on the cruise ship for a Tour to visit Ephesus.  However Iqbal Nagji had arranged a bus for us on his own.  Not only was our bus spacious, modern, and comfortable, it came complete with a charming tour guide and plenty of air-conditioning.   All this for about half the price we would have paid the cruise line.  Iqbal did the group a huge favor! 

If you remember, Iqbal had led our group through Athens as well.  I don't think there is much doubt about it - Iqbal was far and away the Most Valuable Player on this cruise to Italy, Greece, and Turkey.  Not only did he constantly show us where to go, quite often he knew more about the places we visited than the tour guides themselves.

Our group was fortunate indeed to have Iqbal to guide our fortunes on this trip.  Thank you, Iqbal!

I would estimate the distance from Kusadasi to Ephesus was about 20 miles.  As we drove along the coastline, the countryside was beautiful.  There were rolling hills everywhere and lush green meadows.  As we approached the large hills, thick pine forests appeared as well.  This valley was very lovely indeed.

Our first stop was a visit to the shrine of the Virgin Mary.  Apparently Mary had lived out her final years in a small home near Ephesus.  Her home was up in the high hills among lovely pine trees.  The cool hillside breeze was wonderful.  The area reminded me a lot of Colorado.  It was very pretty.

Ephesus was about two miles away from the shrine.  The area around Ephesus wasn't nearly as pretty.  Now that we were out of the high hills, the trees were shorter, stubbier and fewer.  There was plenty of grass, but it was brown rather than green.  This was an area that obviously could have used some rain. 

As our bus pulled up to Ephesus, I noticed a veritable army of buses.  Apparently every tourist in Turkey was visiting the same place today.  Who would have ever thought a bunch of ruins could be this popular?

I bought an Ephesus tour guide book.  As I looked it over, I read some of the most peculiar text.  I asked Iqbal about it.  Iqbal smiled.  He said the book had been written in Turkish and translated into English.  I looked again.  This is English?   Obviously they had chosen the lowest bidder for the job.  As I scanned the book, I frowned.  There was no explanation why Ephesus had disappeared off the map.  Hmm.

Samantha Archer, Iqbal Nagji, Joan Mastrangeli

Here is a picture of Iqbal explaining things to our group.  He was so helpful!
Notice the tunnel heading into Mt. Pion, the large hill in the background.
Do you suppose there are more structures hiding inside Mt Pion?

Everywhere I looked there were ruins. My whole day was ruined!  Again notice how these structures appear to be dug right out of the hill.  What else is under the there?  How did these giant structures get so buried in the first place?

Here is my daughter Sam next to a sculpture looking for a home.  There are lost rocks laying on the ground everywhere looking to reconnect with their original building.  I am guessing you have to be a jigsaw puzzle expert of the highest caliber to put all of humpty-dumpty's pieces together again.

Marla and Joan (in blue) plus Joan's sister & niece from North Carolina. 
Notice how the archway above is in five pieces.  This whole place looks like it
was put back together with glue, paste and duct tape.  Those women were braver than me - I would have never had the guts to stand under that arch.

As you can see, this place was crowded!   They came because Ephesus is one of the best examples of Roman architecture in the world.  Do you see the "canyon effect"?  Situated between two large hills, Ephesus was buried for a long time under a protective cover of rock and dirt. 

That is Mt Koressus in the background.  As I said, Ephesus is sandwiched in a canyon of sorts between two very large hills.  Mt Pion is on the other side.  Many of the structures were built right into the mountains.  I imagine the sediment run-off from these two semi-mountains is what buried Ephesus.

This is the Temple of Hadrian.  When the excavators discovered it, this structure was found in pieces; the arch was rebuilt one stone at a time.  I was impressed. Restoring this complex arch could not have been easy.

Every piece was laying on the ground in every direction.  The arch looked pretty flimsy to me.  I suppose I should admit I refused to lean on anything, sit on anything or stand under anything the entire day.  I am such a coward!

There are many "pieces" that fell down and have not found a new home yet.
Wherever you walk in Ephesus, there are long rows of unmarked stones waiting to be sorted.  How they put this place back together is quite an accomplishment.

Since this amphitheater was built right into Mt Pion, it is virtually intact.
All they had to do was dig it out.  This immense structure is very impressive.
The mountain in the background is Mt. Koressus, the other side of the canyon.


Using Google Earth, I was able to get an overhead snapshot of the area around Ephesus.  As you can see from the picture, much of Ephesus was built inside a wide canyon with Mt Pion and Mt Koressus on either side.  Indeed, it seemed to me that many of the structures were built right into these large hills for support.  The Amphitheater, for example, appeared to be carved right out of the side of Mt Pion.

Thanks to the amazing recreations of buildings at
Ephesus, you actually get the sense of being in an ancient Roman city.  The structures at Ephesus are far more impressive than the nearby
Temple of Artemis, which today is little more than just a few tumbled columns.  We should thank the canyon.  Sediment coming down from above formed a protective layer over the fallen buildings.

Do you see the large white roof?  That is the building where work on current restorations is being done today.  Great effort is being devoted to excavating this 5,000-year-old site.  There are many people here dedicated to uncovering the history of the ages through restoring the ruins of Ephesus.  

The British engineer J. T. Wood directed the first archaeological investigations from 1869 onward under the auspices of the British Museum.  Later D. G. Hogarth continued the excavations as well as Wood's quest for the
Temple of Artemis from 1904 onward.

One of the mysteries of Ephesus for me was its reputation as the second busiest port in the Roman Empire.  Do you see any water?  Me neither.  When our guide pointed out "Harbor Street", I nearly blew a gasket.  There's no harbor here!

The excavations of the Austrian Archaeological Institute, which continue to this day, began in 1895 under Otto Benndorf. He received permission to excavate from the Ottoman Sultan.  It was Benndorf who brought up a good part of Ephesus in the course of his research.   Then came a major regime change. 

Modern Turkey is not that old.  The Turkish Republic was established in 1923.  Kemal Ataturk, the first president of modern Turkey, is worshipped in Turkey with the same affection we reserve for George Washington.

The new government transferred everything at Ephesus to state ownership.  Fortunately the Austrians were allowed to continue.  The Austrian excavations have been ongoing except for the two world wars

Since WW II, they resumed in 1954 and have continued uninterrupted. Not only did the Austrian Institute resume their work, but the Turkish archaeologists of the Ephesus Museum began to assist in the excavations and restoration . In the past 60 years the two teams have uncovered and restored many important structures. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism accelerated this cooperative work in 1979 through its program "Selcuk-Ephesus Excavations, Restorations, and Systematization of its Environs."

In recent years, the main accent no longer lies so much on the excavation of further buildings and public spaces, but more on the care and preservation of the buildings that have already been discovered.  Accordingly, the project has restored important structures and monuments in the past fifteen years.

In the course of the excavations, which have now lasted over a century, only ten percent of the ancient city of Ephesus has been unearthed. 

Excavations will go on for many years together with restoration works.


As far as I was concerned, the most impressive structure at Ephesus was the Library of Celsus.  The Library of Celsus was built for Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus. It was completed in AD 135 at the height of the Roman Empire. Celsus’ son, Gaius Julius Aquila (consul AD 110), built the library in honor of his father who was consul in AD 92 and governor of Asia in AD 115.  The library was built to store 12,000 scrolls and to serve as a monumental tomb for Celsus.

The building is important as one of few remaining examples of an ancient Roman-influenced library. It also shows that public libraries were built not only in Rome but throughout the Roman Empire. In a massive restoration which is considered to be very true to the historic building, the front façade was rebuilt and now serves as a prime example of Roman public architecture. To me, the restoration of the Library of Celsus was amazing because there was no blueprint to follow.  Every piece of this structure was found knocked down and laying under piles of dirt.  Impressive!

This part of Ephesus was abandoned sometime around 500 AD.  For the next 1400 years, Ephesus was left to nature.  Earthquakes, a well-known Turkish curse, knocked down the tallest structures and strong winds did the rest.  Fallen rocks were strewn everywhere.  Thanks to the high hills on either side of Ephesus, every rain storm would bring sediment down from the surrounding hills.  Slowly but surely the gaps between the fallen rocks began to fill.  Now vegetation took hold in the sediment.  This made it easier for more sediment to settle rather than be washed away.  At some point, Ephesus turned into a giant mound covered with grass and shrubs.  The naked eye would never have guessed there was once a giant city on this spot. 

Although Troy and Ephesus surely existed together at one point, Troy was destroyed in 1200 BC.  That means Troy had a 1700 year head start on Ephesus at going 'underground'.  Although the location of Troy became a mystery, the location of Ephesus was never in doubt.  In a way, the burying process at Ephesus was a real benefit because it helped preserve these structures.


Let's have some fun.  Thanks to Google Earth, we can take an overhead look at Ephesus and the Turkish countryside in PICTURE ONE above.   First locate the Amphitheater.  Extending from the Amphitheater is a white line.  That white line is an ancient Ephesus road known "Harbor Street". 

Please note the three yellow question marks placed atop the heavily wooded area at the end of Harbor Street.   We will come back to this spot.

That long yellow line is drawn parallel to a river known as the Cayster River (see the dark winding line).  The Cayster River goes all the way to the Aegean Sea.  From Ephesus, this is a distance of about 3.5, maybe 4 miles. 

So here is my question.  Can you see a harbor at the end of Harbor Street?   If you don't see a harbor, don't feel bad.  I can't see one either.  Now let's do close-ups.

This is Harbor Street facing to the East.  Inside Mt Pion behind the amphitheater is where I suspect many other Ephesus structures are hidden underground.  I have to tell you - I was never very interested in archeology before, but Ephesus really captured my imagination.

This is Harbor Street facing to the West.  Four miles on the other side of the Big Hill is the Aegean Sea.  Back in the old days, there was supposed to be a harbor at the end of Harbor Street.  Considering how dry this area is, I find that very hard to believe.  I just wish I had walked out there to look for myself!


Fortunately, thanks to Google Earth, I got a second chance to investigate.  Let's look at PICTURE TWO below.  There's the amphitheater and there is Harbor Street.  So is there are Harbor at the end of Harbor Street?  Let's go see.

PICTURE TWO above is a close-up from PICTURE ONE.  As you can see for yourself, there is no "Harbor" at the end of Harbor Street.  Just a big grassy plain with some woods behind it (TRIPLE QUESTION MARK AREA).  Furthermore, there isn't any river there either.  At least not an obvious one. 

During our visit to Ephesus, I pulled Iqbal aside and asked him what had caused the downfall of Ephesus.  Without hesitation, Iqbal explained that Ephesus was once one of the most important ports in all of the Roman Empire.  A port?  You have to be kidding.  This place is drier than Southern California! 

Just where was this port supposed to be?   Iqbal pointed down Harbor Street and said the port was at the end of Harbor Street. 

I remember looking at Iqbal in astonishment.  A major port?  At the time, I kept my thoughts to myself, but inside I thought Iqbal was out of his mind.  The ocean had to be a good four miles away!!  

I was more than slightly skeptical.   Still, over the years I have learned that Iqbal is without a doubt the most knowledgeable person I have ever met.  Who needs Google when Iqbal is around?   If Iqbal said there used to be a port there, then who was I to say he was wrong?  Still, he was definitely stretching my credulity this time.  But I bit my tongue.  Iqbal does not tease or engage in BS.  That is not his style.  If Iqbal said there was once a harbor here, then I wasn't going to argue with him. 

Iqbal must have sensed my consternation.  He said that once upon a time, there was a mighty river known as the Meander that connected the Aegean Sea to Ephesus.  Back in those days, of course, ships weren't quite as big as they are now.  For example, the Roman grain ship in the picture was 25 feet wide

Iqbal continued.  He said the problem for Ephesus came when the Meander River began to silt up.  Silt is earthy matter, clay and fine sand that is carried downstream by running water.  The silt becomes deposited in the river bed as sediment.  Over time, the sediment gradually silted the harbor at Ephesus.

Iqbal said the citizens fought the problem by dredging the harbor many times, but the problem extended all the way to the ocean.  The time came when the river was no longer deep enough to allow ships to sail inland.  Without its harbor, Ephesus had lost its main source of revenue.  Its fate was sealed. 

It was just a matter of time.


After I returned to Houston and I decided to write the story of our visit to Ephesus, naturally I was curious to see if Iqbal was right.   Here is what I discovered:

(RICK'S NOTE: THESE EXCERPTS WERE TAKEN FROM WIKIPEDIA and other sites.  I took the liberty of condensing and paraphrasing.)

A visit to Ephesus is a must for those who are interested in archaeology and culture.  Today Ephesus is one of the largest and best-preserved ancient cities in the world.  It is a rare treat indeed to view the magnificent reconstructions of Roman architecture.  

Ephesus is situated in the Meander Valley, a plain that lies southeast of the mouth of the Meander (Cayster) River where it empties into the Mediterranean. To the southwest of the city is Mt. Koressus (modern Bülbüldag), to the east Mt. Pion (modern Panayirdag), while a plain of arable land lies to the north between the city and river.

The ancient port lay inland from the Sea about four miles and was accessible via a man-made canal cut to run eastward from the Cayster River.  (source)

A brief history of Ephesus shows it was inhabited as far back as 6000 BC.  Over the centuries, Ephesus has seen many different rulers as different empires rose and fell.   In its earlier years, Ephesus and Troy were part of the Phrygian Empire which stretched along the west-central part of Anatolia (modern day Turkey) under Hittite rule.

Ephesus began its rise to prominence in the Tenth Century BC during a period of Greek expansion by the Attic-Ionian culture. 
In a short time, merging together with the native population, the Greek newcomers created a brilliant civilization there.  It was during that time that Ephesians started the construction of the great temple dedicated to Artemis, the main goddess of the city. The temple was so beautiful that it became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

In later years the Lydians (King Croesus) and the Persians ruled the city until Alexander the Great took control of it in 334 BC.  After Alexander's death, the city became part of the Pergamum Kingdom.   Soon, it became the main trade center in Anatolia, the ancient name for the Asian part of Turkey.

Ephesus was bequeathed to the Roman Empire in the 2nd century BC. The Roman Period was the "Golden Age" for the city.

The people were rich.  Construction projects abounded.  With a population of 200,000 - 250,000, Ephesus grew to become the second largest city in the Roman Empire.  It was during that time that Christianity started to spread into Anatolia (Turkey) for the first time. Ephesus was the city to which Mary the Mother and St Joan fled following the death of Christ.  St John and St Paul also visited Ephesus, emphasizing its role as a religious center for Christians.

When the Roman Empire was divided into two parts in 394 AD, the city came under the rule of the Byzantine Empire. This was not a bright period for Ephesus.  The city was still a sacred place for Christians, but it was not a trade center anymore. The
Meander River had silted up the area and the harbor had become a marsh land.  Disease followed.  Many people died of malaria.  This brought an end to the inhabitation of the city by the 10th century.

Ephesus had long enjoyed a privileged geographical position.  However, its main asset was its harbor.  Its lost was soon to become the cause of the city's decline and fall.  The prosperity of the Ephesus had been based on its possession of the sheltered natural harbor.  However by the Roman Period, ships began to have trouble reaching the harbor.  These ships were forced to approach the harbor to the west of Mt Pion 1.5 km from the Temple of Artemis through a very narrow and difficult channel.

The cause of this narrowing was the
Meander (Cayster) River.  The Meander emptied into the Aegean a little to the west of the city of Ephesus, where it created a delta formed by the alluvium carried down by the river over thousands of years.  By the late Byzantine era the channel had been so silted up as to be no longer usable. The sea gradually receded farther and farther, while the marshy lands around the harbor gave rise to a number of diseases, particularly malaria.

The good thing about the Cayster River was that it had once brought trade from upstream.  Turkish farmers east of Ephesus brought their crops inland on barges down the Cayster.  The bad thing about Cayster River was that it also brought silt that kept on filling the Harbor at Ephesus.  After dredging the silt deposits for centuries, Ephesians would eventually move their city to the Cayster River's new water line and then repeat the process all over again.  

Ephesus was in fact moved 4 times during its history before being abandoned in the 13th century; the last Ephesus harbor now sits 6 miles from the Cayster River.

Although the silting of the river was calamitous for the Ephesians, t
here was a silver lining of sorts. 

Thanks to
Ephesus' serial displacement in pursuit of the Cayster River's receding water line, unlike most ancient cities, old Ephesus was simply abandoned instead of rebuilt upon.  This left behind an archeological bonanza.  

Unfortunately, Ephesus was plundered by the locals looking for building materials and by foreign archeological expeditions alike until just a few decades ago.

Still, when compared to the sad single column of the nearby
Temple of Diana, a former Seven Wonders of the World structure (pictured), it is easy to appreciate just how well Ephesus was preserved.

During the Roman Era, Ephesus reached a population of 200,000.  But that is all gone now.  Were it not for historical documents, no one would ever suspect this dry, unassuming spot in the middle of nowhere once housed the second largest port in the Roman Empire.

Today t
he harbor of Ephesus is miles away from the Aegean.  This is due to the silting caused by the action of the river
Kuçuk Menderes which carries huge amounts of sediments from the Anatolian plateau: Menderes is the Turkish word for the Latin meander which means the winding course of a river through its own deposits.

So there you have it.  Ephesus was a victim of the capricious Meander River.

As you can see, Iqbal was 100% correct (I swear the man is brilliant!)   While I am at it, remind me to ask Iqbal where Atlantis is.  If anyone knows, my money would be on Iqbal.

And yes, you have correctly guessed where our modern word "
Meander" comes from!   I bet you will never be able to think of the word "Meander" again without being reminded of Ephesus.


Etymology: Latin maeander, from Greek maiandros, from Maiandros (now Menderes), a river in Asia Minor

1: a winding path or course ; especially : stream
2: a turning or winding of a stream
3: to wind, turn, or twist; to make flexuous; to wander

The stream meandered through the valley.

From Latin maeander, circuitous windings, from Greek maiandros, after Maiandros, the Maeander River in Phrygia, noted for its windings.


Before we leave our story about Ephesus, let's take another look at the area of the the Three yellow Question Marks.

At first I just thought this was a heavily wooded area.  But then I got to thinking... why isn't the rest of the countryside covered with trees like this area?  Why is this area so green when everything else is so brown?   So I asked myself, "What might cause a specific area to have lots of trees?"   The moment I asked the question, I realized the answer was simple: WATER

Now I got very suspicious.  So using Google Earth I zoomed in... let me tell you.... Google Earth is AMAZING!   That is how I discovered this wooded area is actually a combination LAKE and MARSH.  This area is where the Ephesus Harbor used to be until it became filled with silt!   That dark green stuff is stagnant WATER!  

Google Earth has a feature where little blue icons indicate photographs people have taken of specific areas.  There was a blue icon over the Green Marsh, so I clicked it (see picture below).  Now you know what I know - this marshy area has a name... Lake Kocagoz, aka the Harbor of Ephesus.  This marshy area is part of the Cayster-Meander River.  This marsh was once the harbor that made Ephesus powerful.  But as you can see, that water looks stagnant.  I imagine that is because the stream below has silted up. 

This Green Marsh created the malaria that spelled doom for Ephesus. 

The rise and fall of Ephesus is right here! 
The picture of the Green Marsh area helped me appreciate how something as simple as the silting of a harbor can erase the usefulness of such a place to the Romans.  From now on, whenever they ask for bonds to dredge our nearby Houston Ship Channel, I will know exactly why this is such an important issue.  If you depend on a waterway for survival, then you have to protect it.


One thing I did not make clear is that the Meander River appeared to change course several times over the ages.  Read this passage:

"Short, fiery and intense, Ephesus' history has all the makings of an ancient tragedy. Out of devotion to its patron goddess Artemis, it stayed close to her colossal temple rather than sidestep certain death as its harbor steadily filled with silt.

Ephesus was in fact moved 4 times during its history before being abandoned in the 13th century; the last Ephesus harbor now sits 6 miles from the Cayster River.

Despite desperate attempts to battle the Cayster River's indefatigable silt-depositing tyranny, the recession of the sea had sealed the city's fate by the 6th Century.

The harbor deteriorated into a marshy morass, which eventually became infested with with malaria-carrying mosquitoes, triggering a massive epidemic that resulted in nearly 200,000 deaths ...."

I found a remarkable picture to share. It completely changed how I saw the problem of the river.  The entire time I wrote this article, I admit I was confused.  I thought ancient ships floated up the Cayster River just like modern ships come up the Houston Ship Channel here in Texas.  Wrong!

Ships didn't come up the Cayster River... the sea came right up to the doorstep of Ephesus!

When the books wrote of a "silting problem", I had no idea the silting was so intense that it literally pushed the sea back 4 miles!!  Let me explain something... when I visited Ephesus, I could not even see the ocean from this spot.  There was only an enormous valley everywhere I looked.

Perhaps you remember Mt. Pion and Mt. Koressus from my earlier photographs.  In this drawing, Bulbul Dagh is Koressus; Panayir Dagh is Pion.  These are the hills that form the canyon.  The Cayster - Meander River was located to the north of Ephesus.  Its sediment filled in the entire Bay of Ephesus!

This begins to make a little more sense now.  The various writings indicate the "river moved".  I am guessing the river didn't move so much, but rather that as the Bay of Ephesus filled in, access to the existing harbor became more difficult.  So the entire city moved to adjust to changing nature of the Bay.  In other words, the harbor was always moving!  The Ephesians literally had to move the city to follow the moving harbor. 

I am flabbergasted at this evidence of nature's power.  The Roman Empire in geological terms was not that long ago (2,000 years).  But Turkey is so mountainous that I imagine vast amounts of sediment are carried to the sea by rivers such as the Cayster-Meander.  Obviously it took the Cayster River just 2,000 years or so to fill in an entire bay and turn the area into a lush valley instead.  Absolutely amazing. 

One of the reasons Ephesus is intact is that the Ephesus of Roman era was literally abandoned when the river moved.  Rather than tear the city down, when the river changed course, the citizens simply moved to where the river went.  So in a sense, the original Ephesus was left behind.  Without a harbor, the location was useless.

The bad news is that the silting of the Bay turned the harbor into a very shallow lake. Trees grew in the muddy lake and millions of mosquitoes were spawned.  Those poor people got sick; Ephesus became a lost city.

The only good news is that today the ruins of Ephesus are the best preserved of any Roman site in the Mediterranean.  The wonderful reconstructions create what is probably the most realistic surviving example of life in an ancient Roman city.  All thanks to a crazy wandering river named Meander.




After we got back on bus to leave Ephesus, our tour guide began to talk about the "Free Meal" we were going to get at the nearby Rug Factory. 

I was, of course, instantly suspicious.  There is no such thing as a "Free Meal" in this world.  Sure enough, this place was indeed a trap.

Six months after the trip ended, I was playing around with Google Earth preparing to write my Ephesus story.  I noticed another one of those mysterious blue icons.  I clicked it.

Surprise Surprise. Lo and behold, I had just discovered the location of the Turkish Rug Trap! 

So here is how the Obnoxious Turkish Rug Trap works. 
First the Tour Guide promises you a wonderful free Happy Meal!

Next you go for an educational tour to see how these beautiful rugs are made.
As we walked through the Factory, we got to see the ladies do their magic.

Eventually, however, the time comes when you are ushered into the Trap.
You knew it was coming, but you are still helpless to prevent it unless you are willing to hijack the bus.  And don't think I didn't consider it. 

For good measure, they bring out the "free" wine to soften you up.

One by one the salesmen began to unroll the carpets before our eyes.  Everyone oohed and aahed.  We may have been a captive audience, but there was no denying the rugs are very beautiful.  They offered wine; like a fool, I accepted.  Those carpets started to look even better.  For a moment even I thought for a moment about getting one.  Fortunately Marla said no.  She was sober.

Next we began to take our shoes off and walk on the carpets.

The lady on the right conducted most of the tour and delivered the sales pitch.

The one part of this racket that I never quite figured out was why our particular bus went to the Rug Trap.  At the time, I assumed all Kusadasi-Ephesus buses were diverted here, but when I thought back about it, I realized I didn't see any other buses pull in here.  We were stuck here for nearly three hours, but not once did I see another group. 

So if you are worried about getting stuck in the Rug Trap, check your itinerary.  Maybe we suffered this fate because we scheduled the bus independently.  Probably people who booked directly through the cruise ship were spared this enormous waste of time.

I didn't mind the visit at first.  What I minded was that our entire bus was held up while one individual from our group spent 30 minutes arguing about the price.  This woman later told me she tried to back out early, but they literally would not let her go once they sensed a kill. 

I guess my biggest objection was the incredible waste of time.  The entire group was going to sit there until the salesmen finished haggling with anyone who decided to buy a carpet.  A couple people in our group actually went in the back room and tried to match wits with these guys. This is big business to these people. I estimate they kept us here for 2.5 hours.  I was furious.

It is probably no accident that the Rug Factory was built close to Ephesus. I suppose one tour bus after another gets directed here.  I can only assume that the Turkish carpet industry benefits greatly from the captive audience. I don't know what sort of kickback our Tour Guide got, but he made it clear he would be happy to help with the bargaining process.  He was definitely "involved".

In addition to the Captive Carpet Scam, our Tour Guide pulled the exact same stunt when we got back to Kusadasi - he made a determined effort to herd every single one of us into a jewelry store the moment we got off the bus.  I had enough of his nonsense back at the Rug Market, so I just walked out.  It didn't do any good - I was immediately accosted by aggressive salesman every direction I turned.  Walking through this mall, or 'bazaar' as they called it, was like walking through a mine field.  There was danger everywhere.

I got attacked... and I mean attacked... by salesmen from practically every store I passed.  They worked every trick in the book, but their basic move was to surround me with extra henchmen who tried to nudge me towards the doorway. 

I have never in my life met more aggressive salesmen than the people in Kusadasi.  High-pressure sales must be part of their national ethos.  It was a deeply unpleasant experience that I will never forget.  Unfortunately it ruined what had started out as a very pleasant day.  My overriding memory of my visit to Turkey was the presence of the most aggressive sales people I have ever met in all my travels.





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