Anyone into time travel will want to visit the ancient city of Ephesus. Turn back the clock in the present-day Selcuk, a town near Izmir, in western Turkey. This once-cosmopolitan Greco-Roman city is infused with the influence of early Christianity.
Ephesus is the site of one of the seven churches to whom the apostle Paul wrote an epistle redressing the church for its having “lost its first love.” The ancient city teemed with traders, artisans, intellectuals, and spiritual pilgrims. In fact, the emergence of the spectacular Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, bears testimony to the city’s great wealth and prominence.
In 2015, Ephesus was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The spiritual heritage of Ephesus was a bit of a mixed bag, with Christianity co-existing alongside pagan deities on full display in the form of captivating art, sculptures, and structures. The pagan side of Ephesus was so threatened by the arrival of Christianity that at one point, a man named Demetrius, worried that Christianity’s spread would threaten his thriving silver coin “graven image” trade, plotted a riot against the apostle Paul (depicted in Acts 19).
Ephesus was, in fact, a hotbed for early evangelism, including regular visits from the apostles Paul and John, who won many converts to Christianity. Numerous biblical events took place in Ephesus, including the account of using handkerchiefs as conduits of divine healing.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is said to have spent her final years there. St John’s tomb and Mary’s house may still be visited today, making Ephesus a must-visit site for modern-day pilgrims.
In AD 262, the Goths defeated the Romans and destroyed Ephesus, including the Temple of Artemis. Their takeover of the city marked the beginning of the end for Ephesus. While the city saw a brief period of resurgence under Constantine the Great, it never regained its former splendor and ultimately fell into decline.
Today, the ancient city remains an important archaeological site and Christian pilgrimage destination. Even with 80 percent of the city still to be excavated, there is much to see and marvel at, including an impressive amphitheater that seated up to 50,000 people (where Paul preached); an Odeon, a state agora (a large public square where both pundits and philosophers would gather); and the remarkably well-preserved Celsus Library.
Among the newer excavation sites are the Terrace Houses. Consider it the Beverly Hills of the ancient world, owned by the wealthiest Ephesians. High-ranking officers, governors, and prosperous merchants occupied these luxuriously furnished private sloped houses complete with fountains, private baths, and central heating. But don’t bring your realtor, as the Terrace Houses are only for show—complete with steep climbs to view what’s left of the once-impressive homes of the rich and famous.
Experience one of the more impressive cultural centers of the ancient Greco-Roman world as you explore world-famous architectural marvels and ponder the significance of Christianity’s influence in Ephesus, where miracles were an everyday occurrence.