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Ephesus (Greek: Έφεσσος; was one of the great cities of the Ionian Greeks in Asia Minor, located in Lydia where the Cayster river flows into the Aegean Sea (in modern day Turkey). It was founded by colonists principally from Athens. The ruins of Ephesus are a major tourist attraction, especially for people travelling to Turkey by cruise ship via the port of Kusadasi.

Ancient Ephesus

Ephesus is believed by many to be the Apasa (or Abasa) mentioned in Hittite sources as the capital of the kingdom of Arzawa. Mycenaean pottery has been found in excavations at the site. The many-breasted "Lady of Ephesus", identified by Greeks with Artemis, was venerated in the Temple of Artemis, the largest building of the ancient world, according to Pausanias (4.31.8) and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, of which scarcely a trace remains.

Already by the 8th century BC, Ephesus was an important trade centre of the ancient world. Its people maintained good relations with surrounding non-Greek states, especially Lydia, due to mutual commercial interests. In the 6th century BC, Ephesus came under the dominion of Lydia, maintaining its self-rule. It was captured later by Persian king Cyrus and stayed under Persian domination until its liberation, in 334 BC, by Alexander the Great. Prior to that, Ephesus enjoyed a brief period of freedom during the expedition of Spartan king Agesilaus II to Asia Minor in 396 BC.

Roman and Byzantine Ephesus

Beginning in the Roman Republic, Ephesus was the capital of proconsular Asia, which covered the western part of Asia Minor. The city bore the title of "the first and greatest metropolis of Asia." It was distinguished for the Temple of Artemis, who had her chief shrine there, for its library, and for its theatre, which was the largest in the world, capable of holding 25,000 spectators. It was, like all ancient theatres, open to the sky. Here were exhibited the fights of wild beasts and of men with beasts. The population of Ephesus has been estimated to be in the range of 400,000 to 500,000 inhabitants in the year 100 AD, making it one of the largest cities of the day. Also built in Ephesus around this time were the Roman Baths, of interest is what is believed to be the first instance of indoor plumbed toilets.

Ephesus was an important center for early Christianity. St. Paul used it as a base. He became embroiled in a dispute with artisans, whose livelihood depended on the Temple of Artemis there (Acts 19:23–41), and wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus. Later Paul wrote to the Christian community at Ephesus (Book of Ephesians).

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes, "the Apostle and Evangelist John lived in Asia Minor in the last decades of the first century and from Ephesus had guided the Churches of that province...After Domitian's death the Apostle returned to Ephesus during the reign of Trajan, and at Ephesus he died about A.D. 100 at a great age". Ephesus was one of the seven cities addressed in Book of Revelation.

There is also a letter written by Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians in the early 2nd century CE, that begins with, "Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which is at Ephesus, in Asia, deservedly most happy, being blessed in the greatness and fulness of God the Father, and predestinated before the beginning of time, that it should be always for an enduring and unchangeable glory" (Letter to the Ephesians).

The house of the Virgin Mary, about 7 km from Selçuk, is said by the Roman Catholic Church to have been the last home of the Virgin Mary and is a popular place of pilgrimage.

Ephesus was the setting for the Third Ecumenical Council in 431, which resulted in the condemnation of Nestorius.

The Roman city of Ephesus was abandoned in the 6th century AD when the harbor completely filled in with river silt (despite repeated dredges during the city's history), removing its access to the Aegean Sea.

Modern Ephesus

A part of the site of this once famous city is now occupied by a small Turkish town, Selçuk, which is also the site of the St. John's Basilica.

It is a vast site, not yet completely excavated but what is visible gives some idea of its original splendour and the names associated with it are evocative of its former life. The amphitheatre is huge and in a very outstanding position which dominates the view down Harbour Street leading to the harbour, long since silted up.

The Celcius Library, whose facade has been carefully reconstructed from all original pieces, was built by a Roman in memory of his father. It is spectacular. The building faces east so that the reading rooms could make best use of the morning light. An underground tunnel leads from the library to a nearby building believed to have been a drinking establishment or brothel.

It is unfortunate that the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is represented only by one inconspicuous column, owing to the removal of the vast majority of material by the British. Most of the artwork from the temple currently resides in the British Museum.

This article uses text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897 -- Please update as needed

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