Selçuk is a handsome town, host to a fine museum and spitting distance from the wonder that is Ephesus: world heritage site nominee and arguably one of the most impressive open air museums anywhere. And, since we were in the vicinity anyway, it would have been rude not have a look around the imposing ruins. Ephesus (or Efes to give the place its Turkish name which is also happens to be the name of Turkey’s favourite ale), was one of the most sophisticated cities of antiquity, adorned with grand civic buildings, marble-clad pavements, street lighting and home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Sadly, just one lonely, forlorn re-assembled pillar remains of Artemis’ once vast shrine rising up precariously from a mosquito-infested bog. What a lunatic hadn’t destroyed by torching the place, the Christians had finished off. The rest of the city is a magnificent affair and in impressively good shape after decades of excavation and partial reconstruction. We had decided to drop in at just the right time of the year. As Turkey’s second most visited attraction (after Sultanahmet – the old city – in Istanbul), Ephesus is best avoided at the height of summer when the unforgiving sun and the rag-tag of camera-toting tourists conspire to make the place Hell on Earth.
The city was of immense significance to the early Christian Church. St Paul wrote his Epistles to the Ephesians (to damn them for their debauched ways I suppose, having never read them) and the Virgin Mary is reputed to have lived out her dotage nearby. It can be reasonably argued that Christianity, as an organised religion, was born in Ephesus. Not a lot of people know that.
We hired a guide but soon wished we hadn’t. A serious academic type, he droned on about the fine and upstanding Ephesians: civilised, cultured, always kind to their slaves. We fancied the alternative history, the salacious version, where the same fine and upstanding Ephesians visited the hungry whores via the secret tunnel connecting the great library to the brothel. After the sombre tour, we paid off the guide and re-roamed the ruins unescorted. Something not to be missed is the public latrine. The Romans were particularly fond of communal crapping, artfully combining conversation with evacuation.
Having had our fill, we returned to the car and journeyed back south but were unable to resist another detour, this time to Priene. Built on a natural escarpment high above the Meander River flood plain, Priene is the most complete Hellenistic site in Turkey. Whereas Ephesus overawes with its monumental scale, Priene seduces with its intimacy and superb aspect. We loitered a while as the sun began to set over the Ege bathing the ruins in a soft warm light.
It was time to top up the tank, so we pulled into a service station. Such establishments in Turkey are a joy, belonging to a gentler age, with staff on hand to fill your tank and sponge down your dusty windows. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago when a friendly chap with a cheesy smile and handlebar moustache would fill your car as a lit fag dangled from his gob.