Ephesus and Virgin Mary’s House

Written by Brian

After having recharged our energy levels in Fethiye for a couple of months, we decided to continue on our travels by exploring Turkey.  We boarded a bus to Aydin and then took an hour-long dolmuş to Kuşadasi, along the Aegean Coast.  We just can’t seem to get enough Aegean it seems.  Upon our arrival in the centre of the city, we were met by an ambitious guesthouse owner who had been tipped off to our impending presence by the bus company representative in Fethiye.  It’s low season here still, so any business is a welcome change.  We agreed to view his guest house, and upon doing so, we settled on a reasonable rate for several nights including breakfast.  So for the past few nights we’ve been staying at Sezgin Guesthouse in Kuşadasi, which is a decent place for budget backpackers.  Sezgin’s brother, Deniz, has taken to the children and vice versa.  He’s been very helpful in getting the males of our family a trip to the barbershop at Turkish rates instead of tourist rates, plus doing some calling around to figure out the cheapest methods of transport between places we’ll be going in the near future.

I must admit that prior to visiting Turkey, I was pretty ignorant of the rich history of this magnificent country.  I find that in the Western world, we are taught that if we want to have a rich cultural experience and see the most amazing ruins in the world, we need to visit Italy, Greece and mainland Europe.  We are not however, taught much about Turkey, which really is a shame because it has an astonishing history and more Roman ruins than Italy and Greece combined.  Everywhere you look there is some kind of ruin from various civilizations that have made Turkey their home over the millennia.

We chose Kuşadasi as our next stop because it is a very convenient location from where to have a day-trip to Ephesus and the Virgin Mary’s House.  Ephesus was a large city of major importance back in the day when the Greeks and the Romans were at the height of civilizations.  The city itself dates back some 3,000 years and is built higher up in between two small mountains.  There used to be a bay at the base of the city that connected it with the Aegean Sea, but over time the bay was cut off from the sea by silt.  The people of Ephesus dredged a channel from the bay to the sea and this was successful in retaining sea travel for several years, but over time again the silt collected and blocked off access again.  The bay then started to fill in and the sea retreated some 9 km away.  Without access to the sea, Ephesus lost importance and was abandoned.

We took a day to explore the region, hiring a local tour guide at the entrance to enrich the experience.  Ephesus was the first city in the world to have a water purification system that delivered clean water via piping to every member of the city.  The architects of the city saw that they could gather water from up above the city at the nearby mountain, clean it through various layers of sand at a water purification plant that they built and then gravity-feed it through clay pipes into the city.  It was quite impressive.


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The city is obviously in ruins but there are still some structures standing, and every summer a team of Austrian archaeologists shows up to excavate more of the city.  In the 70s they were able to reconstruct the famous front façade of the library of Ephesus which is shown on many postcards.  There is also the large theater which is still in pretty decent shape, given its age.  It was able to seat 25,000 people, and was used for a variety of events including gladiator fights.  Ephesus was also the home of the Temple of Artemis, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  Unfortunately there is nothing there of the Temple anymore.

We also learned about the communal washroom, which was still in very good shape.  The 4 walls of the room were lined with forty-some toilets, and no dividers amongst any of them.  The architects had plumbed in running water both under the toilets, and in a channel in front of user’s feet.  So you drop your drawers, do your business, then take your cleaning sponge and dip it in the stream right in front of your feet.  Sucks to be the last guy at the end of the sponge stream.  According to the tour guide, there would be a musician located inside the washroom in an attempt to override the noises.  And the smell wouldn’t have been too bad since it wasn’t like an outhouse in that it had continuously running water under the seats.  It was quite impressive actually when you consider how old it was and the limited scope of building materials they had at their disposal compared to today.

Ephesus was neat to experience, but for me, the highlight of the day was visiting The Virgin Mary’s House.  It is thought that after Christ died, she accompanied St. John to Ephesus since St. John was given the task of evangelizing Asia Minor, and she lived out the rest of her years here.  Apparently, in the 1800s a German nun who was an invalid and had never left Germany was given a vision of the hills of Ephesus and what Mary’s house looked like.  She then dictated the details to a scribe when she awoke.  In the 1800s, this description was used to locate a house near Ephesus that matched the same description of the house in her vision, complete with a spring located right underneath the home that is said to have miraculous powers.  Apparently the nun’s description of the surrounding hills and Mary’s house were extremely accurate.  As such the place is now a place of pilgrimage for Catholics, Christians, Orthodox and Muslims (Mary is recognized as a saint in Islam.)  It felt like a very holy place to me, and I was glad that we could have the chance to visit it.  Who knew Turkey was so rich in secular as well as religious history?  I certainly didn’t.

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5 Responses to Ephesus and Virgin Mary’s House

  1. Brian, I too knew very little about Turkey before coming here and am amazed by the rich history of the country. I guess it makes sense. It’s at the crossroads for many ancient civilizations. But we don’t seem to learn much about Turkey in school. I enjoyed reading about Ephesus in this post, especially the Virgin Mary’s house. My excitement is mounting as we head there next week. I am really looking forward to it. I believe we are camping nearby and hopefully can go more than one day, if need be.

    • briansmeenk says:

      Hey Mark, thanks for the comment.

      Turkey is a country that seems to have been deemed unimportant in the media and education system of the West, which is so unfortunate since it has a ridiculously rich history. We very much enjoyed our experiences there, and there were many. And since it cost us 270 Euros for six 3-month visas to the country upon arrival, we figured we’d get full use of our 3 months in the country. The Ephesus & Virgin Mary house was a good thing to see, but honestly, you can see everything there in one day. They are right beside eachother. It might be worth considering hiring one of the guides stationed at the top entrance of Ephesus. They will make the experience quite a bit more enjoyable, otherwise it’s just a bunch of ruins that don’t mean much. Go see Virgin Mary’s house first, then after that, you’ll end up at the upper entrance to Ephesus. From there you can walk through Ephesus in the direction of the sea, which is downhill and will be subtantially easier than the other direction. Plus it leaves the massive amphitheater for the end. If you’ve brought a vehicle, that’ll complicate things a bit and you’ll end up doing quite a bit more walking. Oh, and if you’re jonesing for a little taste of home, there’s a Starbucks at the pier in Kusadasi… Hope you have a good time. Let us know how it goes for you.

      • Sounds like you got full use of your 3 month visa. I appreciate the good advice on how to proceed with the Virgin Mary house first and walking downhill, etc. Very helpful. Thanks. Already discovered the Starbucks at the pier. We’ve been camping in Kusadasi for a week now. I think we going to do a day at the Adaland Aquapark while we are in the area. Will keep you posted.

  2. Mom, just click on the last picture of the post and you can read the whole entrance sign as we were able to read it. It explains the discovery of the house and the evidence that supports the theory that it was Mary’s house.

  3. Grandma says:

    Dear Brian, Thank you for your informative, interesting story, and educational tour. To think that you were sitting on a toilet seat that thousands have sat on centuries before! And walking amid ancient ruins that were built by ingenious, ordinary folk… And Mother Mary’s House – thank you for your prayers there (please thank Jenn and kidlets, too), as I felt your prayers being answered here. Prayer is powerful! Do you recall the name of the lady who had the dream? I enjoyed the photos, too. Glad for you to be enjoying the warm sunshine – been snowing alot here. God bless each one of you! Love, Mom

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