TURKEY – Be Your Own Tour Guide in Ephesus

This article is all you need for a tour of Ephesus. After perusing 4 different guided tours, my conclusion is that they are generally a waste of  time and money: either they leave out the most interesting features of the site or they cut the trip short to take you to a free “tour” of a carpet factory or a leather shop. How very dull indeed – and who wants to go home with a carpet shoved in their rucksack?

Efes is easy enough to explore without a guide

Efes is easy enough to explore without a guide

Many of the guides don’t seem to have a background in history and none of them have the insight to show you what life was like for someone living in Ancient Ephesus. Here is an alternative: do it yourself. It’s free and there are no time constraints. Start by buying your ticket at the Upper Gate for 25 Turkish Lira (TL) and start your adventure.

About Ephesus 

This ancient UNESCO World Heritage site of Ephesus, know as Efes in Turkish, which dates back perhaps as early as 7th Century BC is Turkey’s historical jewel. Ephesus was a Greek, Roman and Byzantine city at different points in time and each of these people left their mark on the city, making Ephesus unique and fascinating.

Ephesus is within proximity to the temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders Of The World. As the cult of Artemis declined with the rise of Christianity, the temple’s marble was looted and used for private homes and churches. Today, a single column and a small pile of rubble is all that remains.

Early Christian history

Byzantine Christian heritage

Saints John and Paul the Apostles called Ephesus home in 42 and 53 AD respectively. Alexander the Great rode in to liberate (or conquer) the city in 334 BC. The most famous resident of Ephesus by far is Mary, The Mother Of Jesus – although her presence in the town has never been verified with 100% certainty.

Notable Sites

All of the sites at Ephesus are important but here are the ones that I found to be the most unique, beautiful and fascinating. I’ve listed them in order from the entrance gate – most of them are in the middle of the town. You should be able to recognise them from my pictures (I hope) or else grab a map.

Of course you will see baths, temples and other ruins along the way which are also interesting, but having been to Pompeii, Petra and Olympia, I see that they aren’t exclusive to Ephesus. If this is your first archaeology site of this type then you may wish to visit them at your own leisure. It should take 2-3 hours to see the whole site.

1) The Temple Of Hadrian

This is a small temple built in 118 AD in honour of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, a man who certainly like to get around the empire. Of the many monuments that bear his name around the world, this one is the most beautiful.  The back wall features a relief sculpture of Medusa. The friezes around the top of the interior wall tell the story of the founding of Ephesus. Medusa, with her serpent’s hair, presides over the temples to keep out evil spirits.

Temple Of Hadrian

Temple Of Hadrian

2) Public Latrines

Beside the temple, on a far less glamourous note, are the town’s ancient public toilets. Tour guides don’t seem to bother showing them to people but I find them remarkable.The toilets are built in the Roman style: all together in one room, side by side, close enough for a chat with friends.

The long marble benches had (rather narrow) holes for up to 50 people to use at once. A water channel in front of the toilets served as a bidet to wash yourself. Ephesus had an advanced sewage system, so the latrines were quite hygienic.There were plenty of slaves on hand to keep those marble toilet seats spic and span.

Ancient Public Toilets

Ancient Public Toilets

These facilities were only for men. Wealthy ladies would have their slave leave a chamber pot in their litter chairs  should nature call when they were in town- they didn’t walk through the streets like common folk. One thing does puzzle me: what did the poorer females of do if they needed to go, just hold on?

3) Terrace Houses

These are definitely the highlight of Ephesus. These beautiful homes of wealthy residents are being meticulously restored to give us a rare insight into life during the Roman period. Most of these two-storey terraces were built in the 1st Century AD and were very luxurious indeed, even by today’s standards. The spacious rooms are decorated with whimsical frescos of birds, flowers, gardens, gods and mythical creatures.

Tiles and frescos in the houses

Tiles and frescos in the houses

Floors are laid with tile mosaics. The houses were heated, had running water, pools and baths. One house contains a toilet –  yet another communal one for the use of up to four people at once. We can assume that the Ephesians had a different concept of privacy to us. With ornate columns surrounding their atriums, these opulent dwellings would have been the envy of the town.

An arched roof

An arched roof

The houses are across the road from the public latrines. They cost an extra 15TL to enter. They are well worth the additional cost.

4) The Celcus Library

Ephesus’ most impressive edifice was built in 1st Century AD in honour of Tiberius Julius Celcus, General Governor of Rome’s Asia Province. The library was built by Celcus’ son after his death and his sarcophagus lies beneath the building.

The Celcus Library

The Celcus Library

The library once housed thousands of precious scrolls, all of which were lost in a fire during a Goth invasion of 262 AD. Fortunately, the beautiful exterior of the library is still here for us to admire, complete with the four marble statues symbolising wisdom (Sophia), intelligence (Ennoia), knowledge (Episteme) and virtue (Arete) the originals are housed in a museum, but these statues are very accurate copies.

The statues

The statues

5) The Brothel

One of the few remaining bordellos of antiquity, Ephesus’ brothel was typical of a Roman city. Always in the city centre, they were considered a necessity as the Roman soldiers were not permitted to marry. Across the Marble Road from the Celcus Library you will find the remains of a house with a bathing pool.

Entering The Brothel

Entering The Brothel

It could have been any other house except for:

  • The discovery of erotic statuettes
  • Inscriptions on the beginning of the Marble Road indicating this house
  • Helpful signs in the public latrines
  • The decor includes  mosaics and paintings of attractive ladies

Currently this house of ill repute is not in good condition but one can still make out the rooms on the lower floor – assumed to have been used by the clients. One of the rooms has a stone bed. Observe the remaining columns and bathing pool.The second level level has been destroyed. An Erotic figurine found in the brothel are now kept in the Ephesus Museum.

As this red-light relic hasn’t been in use since about 4th Century AD, I am sure that it’s perfectly respectable to go in and have a look.

6) The Lower Agora & The Great Theatre

On the left as you exit the Celcus Library you will pass through an arch and find yourself at the lower agora, a market place. There isn’t a lot to see in the lower agora (many things are still to be excavated) but it leads to The Great Theatre. If you have never seen a Roman or Greek Theatre then this one is an memorable sight.

Inside the Great Theatre

Inside the Great Theatre

At the end of the Marble Road is the beautifully preserved theatre seating 24,000 people. Climb to the top of the theatre for an impressive view of Efes and The Arcadian Avenue, a striking road once lined with statues.

View of Arcadian Avenue from the Grand Theatre

View of Arcadian Avenue from the Grand Theatre

As you leave the theatre and walk along the Arcadian Avenue you will see the Lower Gate of Efes through which you may exit.

7) The Details

It’s a shame when visitors miss out on are the little things that are easily overlooked. See if you can spot any of these interesting little gems:


The columns with notches cut into the marble pillar once held the street lamps that illuminated Ephesus at night.




Notice in the terrace houses: black and white checkerboard floor tiles – a trend still popular in houses built today.

There is very little evidence of Jewish life in Ephesus but if you look closely you can see a menorah (Jewish lamp stand/candleholder) carved into the marble steps of the Celcus Library. Perhaps they will excavate an ancient synagogue next…

Access To Efes:

  • The easiest and most comfortable way to get there is by taxi – they are about 40 TL from Kusadasi and somewhat less from Selcuk. Ask to be dropped at the Upper Gate so you only have a downhill walk through the ruins.
  • For those on a budget, a Dolmus – a type of shared Turkish taxi/bus leaves every 10-15 minutes from Kusadasi Dolmus Stop and from Selcuk Central Bus Station. The journey is around 30 minutes.  I believe that they usually go to the lower gate, which means you will have to walk uphill and this “tour” of mine will be backwards –  If you can arrange to share a taxi then so much the better.

11 responses to “TURKEY – Be Your Own Tour Guide in Ephesus

  1. Brilliant post! I loved Ephesus but you have added a lot of context for me. Seems you got to know your neighbour VERY well if you were a guy that it is. Follow from me 🙂

  2. I am really surprised to read ” Many of the guides don’t seem to have a background in history and none of them have the insight to show you what life was like for someone living in Ancient Ephesus. ” All Turkish guides have to study for their qualification. All guides that I have met have also been extremely knowledgeable. Who exactly were you talking to….?

    Are you sure you were not talking to the sales reps instead?

    • Hi Natalie,

      Nope, they were guides. I went on tours and followed a few more groups to eavesdrop on the tour leaders. They seemed to be trained in travel and tourism, yes. I personally didn’t come across any of them with a background as a historian, which is what you need in an archaeological site. For those of us who studied history and have come to learn about the ruins it can be frustrating and disappointing. the three guides that I quizzed about the street lighting had less knowledge of it than I did from my high school history class.

  3. Thanks so much for this! I’d much rather read your thoughts than pay 60 Euros for a group tour and more for a private! Its honestly highway robbery what they are trying to charge now!

  4. Thanks for this! We are do-it-yourself’ers, so very helpful. We actually started at the lower gate (Ephesus gate 1, I think), about a 3.5km walk from the train station. The terrace houses had a separate entry fee when we recently visited it (15TL per person), and the lower gate was 30TL pp (probably inflation). Great place – well preserved/maintained. Thanks for your post!

  5. The freeze in the façede of temple of Hadrian is not of a MEDUSA
    She does not have snakes coming out of her head. That is the goddess FLORA used in honour of Antonin( lover of Hadrian ) just for a facial resemblance to Antonin as a symbol his love for him who was killed in river Nile.
    A note from a GUIDE who you think wastes time in Ephesus. You shall appologise to guides or not generalise for your own credit.

    • Most academics agree that is Medusa. She is not always depicted with clearly formed snakes, sometimes just snake-like messy curls. If it were Flora there would have been a spring scene or mayflowers, not with acanthus leaves. I’m not apologising for bad guides – I’m a an ancient history major and I can do my own tours

  6. Hi Terry, Thank you so much for sharing this! I’ll print it out and try it out in a few weeks time when my holiday starts in Turkey. *to be continued*

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