28 September 2008

Another Day, Another Continent, An Ancient City

25 September 2008

Our port of call today is Kusadasi, Turkey, which is on the larger Asian portion of the country.  It is pronounced “koo SHAH dah suh”, or something close to that, and it means 'bird island' because of a small island just offshore that must look like a bird.  Thanks to our awesome travel agent, Carol Wilcox, and Virtuoso Explorer, we got to go on a free private shore excursion to the ancient city of Ephesus, which is about 30 miles north of the port at Kusadasi.  You have probably heard of Ephesus from the Bible (Paul's letters to the Ephesians) but you may not know that only Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch (in Syria) were more renowned than Ephesus at its prime, between 600 BC and 500 AD.  It used to be a port city itself, but today there is no sign of an ocean there.  It was home to 300,000 people and was one of the most beautiful and well-located cities of ancient times.  Today, its ruins are being excavated and painstakingly reconstructed – it is one of the world's most fascinating sites of antiquity.

It is a mystery to me exactly why Ephesus became such a ghost town, given its prime location and its stunning building and incredible city planning.  Evidently, there was a malaria outbreak that caused people to leave the area, and they were afraid to return.  After a while, people came back to Ephesus to take marble and pieces of buildings that they could use elsewhere (early recycling) but they did not rebuild or repopulate the city.  Over time, there were earthquakes and the Aegean Sea receded and silt deposits covered the city, layer after layer.  The result is that Ephesus is the Aegean's best preserved ancient city.

Our guide, Eti, was a 65 year old Turkish woman who had been a museum curator for 35 years.  She was so knowledgeable and passionate about Ephesus and I think we all learned something on this tour.  She was able to help us imagine what life would have been like here, 2000 years ago!  Some of the most incredible things we learned about Ephesus – it had hot and cold running water throughout the city, as well as separate lines for sewage; the men's latrine, which seated about 30 or 40, in close quarters, was THE place to be for social gatherings – precursor to fraternities and men's clubs, I guess; the great theatre of Ephesus could hold 1500 spectators, had 22 tiers, and was acoustically perfect; the Temple of Diana (Roman goddess of fertility) was four times the size of the Parthenon; the brothel was located right near the seaport; the Library of Celsus, which was huge, held over 10,000 parchment and papyri documents, and the walls were very thick so that the documents would not mildew; the streets were laid out in a grid pattern, and the main roads were lined with marble, while the adjacent pedestrian ways were elaborate mosaics; we saw the ancient symbols for medicine and pharmacy carved in stone here, and they are the same ones used today; and the terrace houses were gigantic and gorgeous.

One of the things we got to do on this special tour (that the other gazillion people on tours from our ship and all the others in port that day didn't) was visit the current excavation project of the Yamac Homes of Antiquity (the elite Terrace Houses.  These sites were under cover, which was nice, because we finally had a hot, sunny day.  The house we toured was over 9000 square feet, and it was covered with frescoes and mosaics and was full of fountains.  It reminded me most of ancient Pompeii, which also had homes with beautiful frescoes and stunning mosaics.  We walked on 'sidewalks' made of plexiglass, so we could see the area being restored beneath our feet.  It was really something!

After we had spent about three hours roaming through the ruins of Ephesus, we got back on our bus and went for refreshments at the Kismet Mansion Hotel back in Kusadasi.  Here we had refreshing lemonade and three different kinds of Turkish pastries that Eti had picked for us – one filled with spinach, one with cheese, and one with tahini.  They were delicious and the hotel was beautiful.  It was a short ride back to the ship, but Judy, Nancy, and Emma got off to do some shopping while the men and I went up to the Lido deck for hamburgers.  This is Bob's favorite place on board, I think.  I'm pretty sure he's had at least one burger a day here, and boy, are they good!

By today, all of us except Emma and Rex were sick with varying degrees of colds and sore throats, and we weren't the only ones.  It seemed that most of the people on our tour were hacking and sniffing, too.  I vowed not to touch any more handrails!  So, it was a good afternoon for a nap (aren't they all?) so that we could all get better and rest up for our day in Santorini.  Judy especially felt bad today – we're pretty sure she had a fever and everything.  The show tonight was a comedian, Rikki Jay – I missed it, so I can't report on that.  Dinner in the Vista dining room was scrumptious, as usual, and we were all off to bed to cough and snort and hopefully sleep!

Awed by the wisdom of the ancients,


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