When we think about the ruins of ancient Greek cities, obviously Athens comes to mind. However, one of the best preserved sites of an ancient Greek city is not in Greece, but in modern day Turkey. Ephesus is from the 10th century B.C. and it paints a better portrait of what a bustling ancient Greek city looked like than most of the ruins found in Greece. In 133 B.C. Ephesus became part of the Roman Empire and in 27 B.C. it was named the capital of Asia Minor. Located on the Ionian coast, its harbor gave it a strategic importance and the city flourished in the first and second centuries AD.
Visiting the Acropolis and other major sites around Athens is undeniably awe-inspiring and impressive, but the touristy nature of the ruins can also be overwhelming. Being the number one tourist attraction in a city that also tops most people’s must visit list, the Acropolis is always crowded, without exception. The Acropolis as a hill is not very large, and the number of people crowded in such a small space can make it hard to appreciate the glory of what you are seeing. Also, the Acropolis is heavily guarded and the security guards have a strict no-nonsense policy. Any behavior they view as derogatory to the history of the monument can get you kicked out. Even taking one of the standard jumping pose photos in front of a monument can result in an insistent whistle-blowing guard deleting the film from your camera. So trying to have a bit of fun in the midst of the crowds and the heat isn’t really possible.
On the other hand, Ephesus is a tourist’s dream. Over 7 million people visit the Acropolis annually, while only 1.5 million visit Ephesus. Also, Ephesus is the well-maintained ruins of an entire city, covering much more surface area than just a few temples or houses. Therefore, with so few annual visitors and much more space to roam, it is very likely that you can be alone for much of your visit to Ephesus. The size of the theatre and the functions of ancient temples are that much more astounding when you can gaze upon them not surrounded by hundreds of other ogling tourists. The guards around Ephesus are much fewer in number and much more relaxed than those at the Acropolis. You can essentially do whatever you want here, crawl all over the structures if you want (but please don’t since it is an ancient ruin and we want it to be preserved for as long as possible!)
Being a city, the ruins at Ephesus are full of interesting sites to see. You can see gymansiums, baths, temples to various goddesses, the agora, fountains, a library, and more. The Great Theatre is a massive structure, with a seating capacity of 24,000. It is exceedingly well-maintained and you can run up and down the stairs easily. The stage is still there and tourists often put on impromptu performances and concerts. One of the biggest tourist attractions at Ephesus are the Terrace Houses. These were homes for the city’s wealthy residents in the first century AD. The houses were quite fancy by ancient standards, with baths and heating systems in each. The homes have been excavated with extreme detail, allowing us to see the mosaic floors and frescoed walls.
Ephesus’ last claim to fame is that it contains one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: the Temple of Artemis. Ironically, this is really the only site at Ephesus that is not maintained to incredible standards. Once it was a grand structure and the site of the month-long festival dedicated to the goddess during the town’s heyday. Now there is only one column left standing.
Aside from the Temple of Artemis, Ephesus is easily one of the best maintained sites of ancient Greece. Wandering the ruins of the city, the buildings are preserved in such a state that one can really appreciate how they must have looked in their prime. That, coupled with the relatively low number of visitors at Ephesus (and guards that won’t harass you!) make Ephesus better ruins to visit than those in Athens.