Abstract: Ephesus: Ancient Metropolis, Modern Excavation Enterprise, Tourist Attraction

Lecturer: Sabine Ladstätter

Ephesus is one of the oldest cities of antiquity in Asia Minor and counted amongst the largest metropoleis of the ancient world. Traces of inhabitation can be detected as far back as the 7th millennium B.C. and thus date back to the epoch when humans first began to lead a settled existence. The city experienced its heyday during the Roman imperial period and Late Antiquity as the capital city of the Province of Asia, and as a trading metropolis with supra-regional importance. Although its material culture was indeed characterised as Greek, a diversified population composition can nevertheless be deduced. In addition to Greeks and Romans, Jews above all made their mark on the city. In the immediate vicinity of Ephesus lay the Artemision, one of the most important ancient sanctuaries with a main temple which was historically famous as one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World” and which attracted masses of pilgrims. The tradition as a site of pilgrimage continued into Late Antiquity, when a brisk traffic in pilgrims grew up around the Christian cult buildings, above all the Basilica of St. John and the Church of St. Mary.

Ephesus offers the possibility to carry out fundamental archaeological research and methodological development at one of the most significant find sites of the Mediterranean region: as the object of research, an entire city region with its hinterland is at hand. This site was continuously settled from the Bronze Age until the Medieval period, and during these eras mostly as the central site of the region.

Thanks to an annually renewed permit by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Turkey, the Austrian Archaeological Institute has now carried out research for over 116 years at Ephesus.  The ancient history of the site, spanning millennia, is now probed using the most modern technological methods. In addition to traditional excavation techniques, non-destructive methods such as geophysical survey, deep drilling and surface survey are now increasingly employed. By these means, extensive areas can be investigated in a cost- and time-intensive manner. Within the context of interdisciplinary research projects, not only the human legacy is now analysed, but also the geography, geology, and climatology, as well as the flora and fauna of the region are being investigated in order to be able to indicate as extensive a picture as possible of the past culture of the area. Ephesus is one of the largest archaeological enterprises in the world. Each year, approximately 200 international specialists and up to 80 local workers are active at the site over a six-month season, while restoration work takes place all year round.

In addition to archaeological research, a focal point of the excavation enterprise is also the maintenance and care of the ruins as well as the presentation of the monuments to visitors. Ephesus shines through numerous reconstructed buildings, the most well-known being the Library of Celsus, a top-ranked tourist attraction and the symbol of the ruined city. Terrace House 2, which has recently received a new roof covering, is an additional jewel, a splendid urban dwelling which commands attention due to its wealth of mosaics and wall paintings.

After Istanbul, Ephesus is also the most important tourist attraction in Turkey. An average of 1.6 – 2 million people visit the ancient city annually. Collections in Istanbul, London and Vienna display objects excavated up to the beginning of the 20th century. Since 1906, all finds remain in the country of provenance, Turkey, and can be seen above all in the Ephesus Museum in Selçuk.

Featured Lecturer

Andrew Koh is with the Department of Classical Studies at Brandeis University and the Center for Materials Research in Archaeology with MIT; he holds his degrees from UPenn (Ph.D.) and the University... Read More

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