History of Ephesus Ancient City

History of Ephesus

Where is Ephesus? & Quick Overview

Ephesus is an ancient city located in what is now the modern country of Turkey. It lies on the western coast, near the present-day town of Selcuk in the İzmir Province. Historically, Ephesus was a major trading and religious center, known for its massive temple to Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), its large theatre, and the Library of Celsus. It played a significant role in the spread of Christianity, with the Apostle Paul having lived there and addressed one of his epistles to the Ephesians. Today, the ruins of Ephesus are a major archaeological site and a popular tourist attraction, offering insight into ancient Greek and Roman civilizations.

Prehistoric History of Ephesus

Cukurici Mound of Ephesus
Ephesus Cukurici Mound – 6000 BC.

One of the highlights of our Private Ephesus Tours is of course Ephesus Ancient City. We should know that Ephesus is not just the ancient city visited today. So that during the latest excavations by Ephesus archaeologists, mounds called Cukurici and Arvalya were found in the region, and these mounds date back to 6000 BC. Then, for now, we can say that the history of Ephesus began in 6000 BC. Now, let’s leave the prehistoric periods of Ephesus aside and continue the history of Ephesus chronologically.

Period of Amazons

Amazon period of Ephesus
History of Ephesus – Period of Amazons – Representative illustration

According to a legend, if we ignore the prehistoric period of Ephesus, it was founded by the tribe of the Amazons, great female warriors also who had a flawless ability to use bows and arrows. It is widely believed that Amazon women were priestesses of Hittite origin. So initially the name of the city of Ephesus was Apasas. Apasas was the name of an Amazon Queen and means Queen Bee in the Hittite language. This may be the reason why many of the coins unearthed during the excavations in the ancient city of Ephesus have a relief of a queen bee on one side. As you can guess, the name of today’s Ephesus is derived from the first name of the city, Apasas.

Greek History of Ephesus and Story of Androclus

Androclus Frieze Ephesus - Temple of Hadrian
Androclus Frieze – Temple of Hadrian

Ephesus was founded for the second time around 1050 BC by Androclus, the son of the Athenian king Codrus. The city of Ephesus founded by Androclus also has a well-known mythological story; Androclus, who wants to explore the other side of the Aegean Sea and establish a new city, visits the oracle in Delphi before starting his journey. Androclus asks the oracle where he should place the city. The oracle tells Androclus to place the city where you see the fish and the wild boar. After a long journey on the Aegean Sea, Androclus and his friends manage to reach the slopes of Ayasuluk Hill, which is within the borders of today’s Selcuk (Ephesus). One day Androclus and his friends cook and eat the fish on an open fire. However, this fire they burn causes a fire in the forest. Androclus sees the wild boar among the animals fleeing the fire and thinks the prophecy has come true. Thus, the location of the second Ephesus settlement is determined.

Celsus Library - Ephesus
Library of Celsus – Ephesus

Persian Period of Ephesus and Alexander the Great

With the Greeks’ migration to Ephesus, which started with Androclus, the city became an Ionian city. The Ionians ruled in Ephesus for about 500 years. In 560 BC, Croesus, king of Lydia, captured the city but only ruled for 16 years. Because the Persian invasion started in 546 BC. Persian domination in Ephesus continued until 334 BC. In 334 BC, the savior of the Ionians, the Macedonian king Alexander the Great, defeated the Persians in the battle of Granicus.

Reconstruction of Ephesus by Lysimachus

Ephesus, which became an Ionian city again, was moved to where it is today by the order of Alexander the Great, by his commander Lysimachus in 295 B.C. The reason why the city was moved to its current location was that the previous settlement area became swampy and the port became unusable. Also, epidemic diseases such as malaria emerged.

New City Plan of Lysimachus’ Ephesus
New City Plan of Lysimachus’ Ephesus

Renewing the Ephesus Port

Lysimachus not only dredged a new seaport but also founded a completely new city. This city, nestled between Mt. Koressos and Mt. Pion, was fortified with a 9-kilometer wall for protection. To underline the significance of this new port, Lysimachus ordered the destruction of the neighboring port cities of Lebedos and Colophon, relocating their residents to the newly established city, which was named Arsinoeia in honor of his wife. Through Lysimachus’s initiatives, Ephesus was revitalized and once again rose to prominence as the leading trade hub in Asia Minor, marking a new era in the city’s history.

Rise of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

The Temple of Artemis one of the seven wonders of the ancient world is located in the center of Selcuk/Ephesus. It’s only two kilometers away from Ephesus Ancient City. The site had two advantages; its geographic position as a sheltered harbor in the middle of the Aegean coast of Anatolia offered access to and from the interior, and as a place of pilgrimage for the worship of the Anatolian Mother-goddess of Fertility, Cybele. The Ionians with their own goddess, Artemis, blended some of the attributes of the two in the development of the Ephesian Artemis.

Then & Now - The Temple of Artemis
Then & Now – The Temple of Artemis

Lydian King Croesus and Artemis

Ephesus continued to prosper as a City-State until conquered by King Croesus of Lydia in the middle of the 6th century B.C. Although forced to recognize the sovereignty of Lydia, Croesus was regarded more as a friend than an enemy. One of his first acts was to give generously to the reconstruction of the Temple of Artemis.

Statues of the Great Artemis and Beautiful Artemis in Ephesus Archaeological Museum
Statues of the Great Artemis and Beautiful Artemis in Ephesus Archaeological Museum

To maintain control over the people, he forced them to abandon their fortified city, relocating them to level ground south of the Temple. Here the city remained throughout the classical period, unwalled and militarily weak, but still with the economically important harbor and the Sanctuary of Artemis.

Great Theather - Ephesus
Great Theather of Ephesus

Roman Period of Ephesus

Almost all of the structures you see in the Ephesus Ancient City today belong to the Ancient Roman period. The Romans settled in Ephesus without any bloodshed. So the King of Pergamon Attalos voluntarily left Ephesus to the Romans after his death (in BCE 129). Ephesus was declared the capital of Asia Minor by Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire. Ephesus reached its most glorious period during the Roman Empire. So that the population of the city reached up to 250000 people. Of course, there was a reason why Ephesus was a very significant city throughout history and was constantly attacked. The reason is actually very simple, being a harbor city and its location, which made Ephesus the trade center between East and West.

Mithridates’ Bloody Massacre in Ephesus

Memmius Monument in Ephesus
The Memmius Monument: A Tribute to Sulla’s Victory Over Mithridates in Ephesus”

Dissatisfied with the unjust taxes imposed by their rulers, the Ephesians made a critical miscalculation by aligning themselves with Mithridates of Pontus against Rome in 88 B.C., participating in the “Ephesian Vespers,” a brutal event where thousands of Roman citizens in the city were slaughtered. However, as fortunes began to shift unfavorably for Mithridates, Ephesus adeptly changed its allegiance back to Rome, thereby becoming the Roman capital of Asia. This critical decision started the golden age of Ephesus, a remarkable era of prosperity lasting 300 years, which came to an abrupt end with the devastation caused by an earthquake in the early first century A.D.

Christianity Period of Ephesus

St. Paul and St. John’s Visit to Ephesus

St. Paul's Speech in the Ephesus Amphitheatre and The silversmith's Riot in Ephesus
St. Paul’s Speech in the Ephesus Amphitheatre and The Silversmith’s Riot in Ephesus

Ephesus was rebuilt in the Roman style. Its commercial importance was maintained by continued dredging of the seaport. In ‘keeping with its importance as a religious center, Ephesus became an early center of Christianity. Although the cult of Artemis remained strong, the Christian community became one of the most powerful in the East.

How long was St. Paul in Ephesus?

St. Paul spent at least two years preaching and writing at Ephesus on his third journey. St. John also settled there. The sacking of the Artemision by the Goths in 263 A.D. was essentially the end of the power of Artemis. Although the temple was restored the worship of Artemis had given way to Christianity.

The Basilica of St. John in Ephesus
The Basilica of St. John in Ephesus

Christianity Rises in Ephesus

Continuing its importance as a religious center, Ephesus experienced a renewed building program of religious buildings, especially the church of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus and the Basilica of St. John at Ephesus, during the Byzantine era. In 431 the 3rd Ecumenical Council met in the Church of the Virgin Mary to condemn the Nestorian heresy. A second Council of Ephesus followed in 449.

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Fall of Ephesus

Silting of the harbor again plagued Ephesus. By the 7th century, most of the residents began moving to Aysoluk Hill near the magnificent church of St. John built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Walls and a citadel were built as protection against Slav and Arab invasions. In 1090 the settlement was occupied by Seljuks but restored to Byzantium a few years later during the First Crusade.

Modern Day Ephesus - Selcuk
Modern Day Ephesus – Selcuk

By this time the name Ephesus referred only to the city of the plains while the Byzantine settlement clustered around the Church of St. John was known as Hagios Theologos. Falling to the Turks in 1304 the settlement became known as Aysoluk and a new era began in the history of Ephesus. By 1390 Aysoluk had fallen into the hands of the Ottoman Empire, with the growth and development of the Izmir Port (Smyrna), Aysoluk, later renamed Selcuk, was reduced to the status of a small village.

Documentary Tour 4k: History of Ephesus Video

Information for Visitors

What is the Entrance Fee for the Ephesus Ancient City?

The entrance fee for the Ephesus Ancient City is 40 Euros per person. Children under the age of 8 are granted free admission. To verify their age, please ensure you bring along copies of their passports. Ephesus tickets can be purchased using both Visa and Mastercard as acceptable forms of payment.

Please click the link below to display the current entrance fees for the attractions around the Temple of Artemis.


What is the Opening Hour for the Ephesus Ancient City?

The Ancient City of Ephesus is open to visitors every day between 08:00 and 18:30including weekends (Box Office Closing Time: 17:30). Please click the link below to display the current opening hours for the attractions around the Ephesus Ancient City.


How far is Ephesus from Istanbul, Izmir and Kusadasi?

How far ephesus from izmir istanbul and kusadasi
  • From İstanbul to Ephesus: The distance is approximately 565 kilometers (around 351 miles) by road. The journey by car can take around 7 hours, depending on traffic conditions and the specific route taken. Alternatively, one can fly from Istanbul to İzmir, which is much closer (1 hour from Istanbul to Ephesus by flight and 50 minutes from Izmir airport to Ephesus by road) to Ephesus, and then travel by road to Ephesus.
  • From İzmir to Ephesus: Ephesus is about 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) away from İzmir. The road trip usually takes around an hour, making it an easily accessible location from İzmir.
  • From Kusadası to Ephesus: The distance is much shorter, approximately 20 kilometers (about 12 miles). It takes around 20 to 30 minutes to drive from Kusadasi to Ephesus, making it a top-rated day trip destination for tourists staying in Kusadası or cruise passengers.

What to See in Ephesus in One Day?

what to see in Ephesus in one day
  1. Library of Celsus: This ancient Roman building which is the third biggest library of the ancient world is one of the most iconic structures in Ephesus, originally built to serve as a mausoleum and library.
  2. The Great Theatre: This impressive theatre could seat 25,000 spectators and was used for drama performances as well as gladiator fights in the Roman period. It’s also historically significant for early Christian history, as it’s believed to be the site where the Apostle Paul preached against paganism.
  3. Temple of Hadrian: This temple is dedicated to Emperor Hadrian, a Roman Emperor who visited Ephesus from Athens in 128 AD. The temple features beautiful architectural details and reliefs, including a frieze of the mythological foundation of Ephesus.
  4. The Odeon: A smaller theatre used for meetings and performances, seating about 1,400 people. It gives insight into the cultural life of the city.
  5. Terrace Houses: Located opposite the Hadrian Temple, these houses provide a fascinating insight into the daily lives of Ephesus’ wealthy residents. The houses are well-preserved and feature beautiful mosaics and frescoes. (Extra Ticket Required).
  6. Ephesus Archaeological Museum: Although not located in the ancient city of Ephesus itself but nearby in Selcuk, this museum houses many of the artifacts found during excavations in Ephesus. It’s a great place to understand the context and significance of the ruins you see on site. The Beautiful and the Great Artemis statues are the must-see pieces of the museum.
  7. Temple of Artemis: One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, though today, only a single column remains of this once magnificent temple. It’s worth visiting to contemplate the scale and significance of the sanctuary in ancient times.
  8. St. John’s Basilica: According to Christian tradition, Saint John the Evangelist wrote his gospel here. The ruins of this basilica are a short drive from Ephesus and offer panoramic views of the area, including the remains of the fortress on Ayasoluk Hill.
  9. House of the Virgin Mary: This sacred site is believed to be the final home of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. Located on the top of Bulbul Mountain, just a few kilometers from Ephesus, it attracts both tourists and pilgrims. The small stone house is revered by Christians and Muslims alike and has been visited by several popes who have recognized its spiritual significance. The site includes a chapel, the house itself, which is now a place of worship, and a spring believed to have healing properties. Visitors often tie their wishes or prayers on the wishing wall near the house.

Video Guide: Best of Ephesus Tours from Kusadasi, Izmir, and Istanbul

Frequently Asked Question

Is Ephesus Ancient City open every day?

Yes. Ephesus Ancient City is open every day including weekends. Opening time: 08:30, Closing time: 18:00, Box Office Closing Time: 17:00

Is there any dress code for Ephesus?

No. There is no dress code for Ephesus. However, water, sunscreen, a hat, and comfortable shoes are strongly recommended.

How far Ephesus is from Izmir?

Ephesus Ancient City is approximately 80 km. away from the center of Izmir. The driving distance between Izmir and Ephesus is around 1 hour. However, Ephesus is only 50 kilometers away from the airport.

How far is Ephesus from Kusadasi?

Ephesus is approximately 15 km. away from Kusadasi. The driving distance between Kusadasi and Ephesus is around 25 minutes.

How far Ephesus is from Istanbul?

Ephesus is located approximately 600 kilometers (384 miles) away from Istanbul. The driving distance between Istanbul and Ephesus is approximately 6 hours. The flight time from Istanbul to Izmir is about 1 hour. The nearest airport (Izmir ADB airport) to Ephesus is located 50 kilometers away.

Is Ephesus worth visiting?

Yes, Ephesus is undoubtedly worth visiting! It was the third biggest city of the Roman Empire with a population of 250.000 and well-preserved ancient cities in the world.

Where is Ephesus today?

Today, Ephesus ancient city is located in the Selcuk (Modern name of the Ephesus) district of Izmir Province in Turkey.

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