Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Along The Marble Road

I kneel to examine an advertisement (thought to be the first Roman infomercial) drawn on the glistening Marble Road that begins at the Koressos Gate and extends to the Library of Celsus in Ephesus, Turkey. I see a woman’s head and a heart--interpreted as waiting for love—a footprint—turn here—and two fingers—one finger points to the library, the other to the remains of The Brothel of Ephesus built across from the library.
A twenty-minute bus ride from the spirited port town of Kusadasi, Turkey, 55 miles south of Izmir has brought me to the ancient metropolis of Ephesus—a major Greco-Roman excavation site—a city built of marble, once the most important of the 12 Ionian Greek cities built during the 11th century BC and a major departure point for trade routes in Asia Minor. Blessed with water, a beach with a fresh-water spring and a sheltered harbor Ephesus grew into an impressive international center of commerce and culture, inhabited by 250,000 people.
I follow the finger that points to the Library of Celsus and stop in front of a two-story façade, splendidly decorated with copies of statues (the originals are in Vienna), recessed in Corinthian columns. Inscriptions on pedestals holding the virtues show that they represent Episteme (knowledge), Sophia (wisdom), Ennoia (intelligence), and Arete, (virtue). The bright morning light coming from the east shines through the emptiness between the columns where three levels of galleries held over 12,000 scrolls kept in cupboards on double walls; the gap between walls protected the rolls of parchment from humidity. Three entrances, the highest and widest in the center, invite both casual tourists and archeologists to study the history discovered during excavations.
The library, one of the most spectacular structures in Ephesus and the third largest in the antique world, is a stately memorial to Celsus Polemeanus—Roman Senator, General Governor of the Province of Asia, and an avid collector of books. His son, Proconsul Gaius Julius Aquila began the library, designed by the Roman architect, Vitruoya, as a tribute to his father in 110 AD. The Governor rests inside a marble sarcophagus—decorated with garlands, rosettes and figures of Eros and Nike—buried beneath the library’s ground level.
Citizens walked along the Marble Road to The Great Theatre, the largest theatre in Asia Minor and of vital importance in Ephesus. First built during the Hellenistic Period, 3rd century BC, and enlarged during the rule of the Emperor Claudius in 41-42 AD, today’s theatre seats 24,000. The bustling three story structure, whose façade was ornamented with columns, reliefs, statues and niches, is located on the red and brown slope of Panayir Hill. Large bronze or clay vessels placed at different points around the theatre improved the sound—no mikes in those days. I decide to test the acoustics, look around the strikingly designed structure and belt out a few notes from Rodgers’ and Hart’s musical, The Boys from Syracuse adapted from Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors—the setting is Ephesus. Dropped pins, coins and recitations echo around the theatre—the acoustics are excellent.
A box sculptured from marble was reserved for the Emperor and seats with backs (made of marble) were occupied by persons of merit who enjoyed concerts and plays, religious, political, and philosophical discussions. The Harbor of Ephesus presented a spectacular view but gradually became victim to silt and is six miles from the Aegean Sea. A protective high wall around the orchestra attests to gladiatorial contests and mortal combat with exotic beasts that followed higher pursuits. stork, wild and innocent, resting on the column.
Ephesus, throughout its history has been governed by many powerful nations. In the mid 6th century BC by Croesus, “The Golden Monarch of Lydia,” Persia ruled under King Cyrus. The Persians were driven out by Alexander the Great in 334 BC and under his rule, Ephesus grew. The city passed to the Romans around 133 BC, remained a thriving commercial center, and the capital of the Roman Province of Asia. Crushed by the Goths in 262 AD, Ephesus faded. Citizens succumbed to malaria, trading declined and Ephesus became uninhabitable. In 1090 AD, Turkey conquered the area but Ephesus, despite a renaissance in the 14th century, was forgotten until excavations began in 1863—and thankfully, for those of us who like to time travel, they continue today. Temples, artifacts, public buildings, sculptures and portraits have been uncovered and offer a vivid picture of an ancient world. The 21st century knows Ephesus, a UNESCO World Heritage listed site, as one of the world’s grandest archeological locales.



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  1. I so want to go there now! Made me think of every time I've ever heard "rich as Croesus." Now I know where the expression came from. Thanks. I love travel and history.

  2. Wow, I'm so jealous. I'd love to go to Ephesus. The air would be alive with history.

    Thank you for posting!

  3. Wow, I really feel as if I'd been there too now - thanks for the terrific writeup, enjoyed it very much. The part about the first infomercial just really shows that fundamentally people remain the same down thru the ages, yes?

  4. Nice piece! We were there this summer and just b-l-o-w-n away. Highlight of a two-week trip by far. We couldn't believe how they let you stand in the library and walk all over the place. And yes, just knowing you're in this spot that has so much history. Seriously, you could feel it. And to think the Mediterranean Sea once lapped at this city's shores.

  5. I was there two weeks ago. Just missed you! Then again, considering the ample waves of humanity there, I probably would have missed you anyway :)