Terrace Houses Ephesus

The Terrace Houses Ephesus complex was established around the 2nd century BC on the northern slope of Bulbuldagi Hill on the left side of the junction of Curetes Street and Marble Street. Also, it’s one of the highlights of our Ephesus Private Tours as well as Ephesus Shore Excursions optionally. These massive stone walls used houses are located opposite the Pleasure House (Ephesus Brothel) where used as a graveyard in the classical period (6th to 4th century BC). The Terrace Houses Ephesus followed the Hippodamanian style in which houses and roads transect each other in parallel planning. In Hippodamanian planning centrally located private villas can be shown as examples of wealthy living styles in the town. Nevertheless outside the town, life was much simple and mostly depend on lower-income citizens’ own labor.

Terrace Houses in Ephesus
Terrace Houses in Ephesus

The Terrace Houses in Ephesus Ancient City were inhabited by the most qualified social class people, therefore, the houses were also called “the house of the rich” or “palaces on the slope”.  These houses were usually located close to administrative parts of the city. “Palatine Hill Houses” close to the imperial palace in Rome can be shown as an example of such a type of wealthy living style.

Architectural Features of Terrace Houses Ephesus

The Terrace Houses Ephesus mostly followed a similar architectural plan called “Domus” (Latin means the house). Most of these houses were three-storeyed and each one had a door opened on to side street. As with many of these dwellings often contained a shop at the entrance floor where the owner would conduct daily business. Another common similarity of this type of house was that centrally located atriums measured 25 to 50 meters (the courtyards). The atriums would often include a small shrine to ancestral gods.

Terrace Houses 5
Terrace Houses 5

These courtyards were without ceilings to take advantage of daylight yet no windows, so the rooms were lightened through these open halls. The rainwater that came through this ceiling was collected and used elsewhere in the house. There were smaller rooms on side of this courtyard called “Cubiculum”. These cubiculums served as bedrooms, offices, libraries, dining rooms, etc. One of the best Domus was two-storeyed on the second terrace with a courtyard surrounded by Ionic colonnades dating back to the beginning of the 1st century AD. This Domus was restored and modified after the earthquake in 37 AD. 

Terrace Houses Virtual Reconstruction
Terrace Houses Ephesus Virtual Reconstruction by Adam Nemeth

The Terrace Houses Ephesus also had running water besides the rainwater collected from the opening above the atrium. The large Roman-governed cities like Ephesus brought fresh water to the city by using aqueducts. The water taken from spring sources or rivers is routed to cisterns or storages and then distributed with pipes. The end use was public access fountains or public baths. Regular people collected the not purified water they needed in jars and pots to carry to their houses. But the terrace houses had indoor water sources. The Hillside Houses were heated by a system similar to the one used in baths.

Terrace Houses Ephesus
Terrace Houses Ephesus

Graffities and Mosaics of Terrace Houses Ephesus

There are several graffitis on the walls of Terrace Houses Ephesus, which offer an insight into the daily life of inhabitants. The drawings of animals, gladiators, and caricatures decorate the units of dwellings. There is also a shopping list referring to the goods and necessities including the prices. This interesting graffiti lists the 30 daily needs such as onion 3 asses, caraway  ½ asses, etc. (“assess” is the plural of “as” was a bronze later cooper coin used during the Roman Empire).

The Western Complex of Terrace Houses Ephesus

The western complex of the Terrace Houses Ephesus consists of five luxury villas with perfectly preserved inner courtyards. The units of these houses are decorated with frescos and comprise the largest collections of ancient mosaic floors. Most of these well-preserved mosaics date between the 1st and 3rd century AD. Generally, small black and white stones used mosaics bordered with geometrical patterns including the depictions of Triton, Dionysos, Medusa, Nereids, and a lion.

Terracotta Pipes of Terrace Houses
Terracotta Pipes of Houses

One of the largest villas of the western complex was a two-storeyed house dating between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. The total living space of this house was nine hundred square meters with twelve rooms on the ground floor. In the habitable area of this house, there is an entrance hall, a courtyard, a bathroom with a bathtub, and a kitchen decorated with ornamental floor mosaics and colorful wall frescos depicting Heracles, Eros, a peacock, Ariadne, and floral motives.

Terrace Houses Dwelling Unit 2
Terrace Houses Dwelling Unit 2

Another villa on the western complex of Terrace Houses Ephesus consists the frescoes depicting two Eros figures, birds as well as a mosaic of Nereide. In another peristyle house in the western complex, a well-preserved fresco of seated Socrates was found which is on display in Ephesus Archaeology Museum today. A peristyle house in this part again consisting of the frescoes representing Apollo and the Muses, dated to around 450 AD. 

Family Life in Terrace Houses Ephesus

During the Roman Empire, Ephesus, the capital of the province of Asia, was Anatolia’s most populated city. Evidence shows that about 250.000 people lived there. The population of the City of Ephesus was made up of wealthy landowners whose farms were worked by slaves, rich merchants who dispatched goods coming from North Africa and Italy to other cities in Anatolia, sailors, laborers, craftsmen, and priests. The number of Roman citizens who made up the city leaders and equestrians was very few compared to the others. Being a Roman citizen was the most important requisite for being in the elite of the community, and these privileged individuals lived in the center of the city. The terrace houses of Ephesus, with their central location, are near the main streets of the agora, baths, and Celsus Library the comfort of these houses and the fact that no effort or expense was spared in their construction, shows that the inhabitants were not ordinary people.

Family Life in Terrace Houses
Family Life in Terrace Houses

For a Roman, his family and home were considered sacred. The spirit of the family home and its protectress, Vesta, was among the most venerated of the gods. The family would have simple religious ceremonies which adapted according to new needs. Everyday prayers would be said and the gods called on for help. The father, being the head of the family, would conduct the ceremonies. Any error during the course of the ceremony would result in spoiling the will of the gods and lead to disappointment for the family. Meals were eaten in a religious atmosphere when wine was scattered on the floor and incense burned.

Women in Ancient Rome

The large households would consist of father, mother, children, servants, and slaves. Education was conducted by the parents and the children would be taught general knowledge. It was usual for the family to rise early, eat a breakfast of fruit such as figs or grapes and then go to the main streets or the agora to shop. In the afternoons the householders would go to the baths with their servants. After bathing and having been massaged with scented oils it was usual to go and sit in the Apiditerium and discuss affairs of state.

Woman in Ancient Rome

In the evenings, when the houses were lit by lamps, the meal would consist of fish, pork, or game. Meals were eaten in a semi-recumbent position on couches. The various types of couches were covered in valuable and splendid materials. Throughout the meal, the conversation would flow and wine was drunk from the “megare” bowls made in Ephesus or from single-handled mugs. The wine, stored in amphoras, would be poured into the drinking vessels from clover-mouthed containers by African slaves. Not only was wine consumed, but it was also used as an offering to the gods. The writer Strabo wrote that he liked the wine of Ephesus and found it of a better quality than the wine of Samos.

Women born in Roman Empire were citizens but could not vote or hold a political role. Because of their limited assignment, women are less frequently named by Roman historians than men. But while Roman women held no direct political power, those from wealthy or powerful families could gain influence through private negotiations.

Later in Roman Empire, divorce cases could be initiated by husband and wife, and legally women’s rights could be improved. 

Walk in Terrace Houses Ephesus Ancient City


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