A day and half cruise away lies the city of Kuşadası, Turkey, a coastal resort city on the Aegean Sea. Kuşadası isn’t much by itself; it really is just a jump off point for sites around the area. Cruises come to Kuşadası to take tours to Ephesus, an ancient Greek city located about a 20 minutes drive inland. That was the excursion that Roman and I decided to do!
We decided to not take the cruises tour (we were on Royal Caribbean) and instead opted for a cheaper and more private tour with Ephesus Shuttle Tour. Let me just start by saying, this was a fabulous tour and highly recommended. If you’re taking a cruise, I recommend going outside the cruise line for an excursion since the tour guides have to go through training and get certification! Plus you will get a more personal tour rather than filled with people you don’t know.
Early in the morning we meet with our tour guide, Melike, just outside the cruise port entrance. About our age, she was very sociable, like-able and of course knew all the history of Ephesus. Our tour took us to three local sites, Ephesus, Şirince Village and Artemision Temple. There were tours that offered more and less but honestly this tour suited what I wanted the most. Ephesus is truly the main site but personally I think Şirince Village is not to be missed!
Melike took us to Şirince Village first because Ephesus would have been crowded and Şirince Village would have been near empty. This is why it pays to have a tour guide! It’s about a 40 minute drive to Şirince Village, which is beautifully located up on a mountain/hill. Our tour guide dropped us off in the main market square and she let us roam the village on our own.
The first thing Roman and I do is trek straight up the village to get the best vantage point. Got to get that photo, that’s why we came! So somewhat of a hike up and touring narrow streets, all locals around, we arrived at some of the most beautiful views of Şirince Village. The city isn’t too big and most houses are white washed with Greek red tile roofs. It was said that back in the early 1900s, most people were Greek. Once Greece lost this territory, the city did a swap of Turkish living in Greece, and now those people occupy the old Greek houses. Greek outside, Turkish inside, Melike said.
And to me it felt Greek, not so much Turkish. Although it’s easy to be reminded that we were in Turkey with the Turkish symbols and language all around. After a few photo snaps we head back down where all the souvenirs and cafes are lined up. There isn’t much to do here per se, just souvenir shopping and scenic views, but that’s why tour guides come here.
Seeing this beautiful cafe once when we passed it, we decided to go into it and try my first Turkish tea. Roman decided to stick with Turkish coffee, both equally good. I can’t remember the name of the cafe, but it’s one of the main shop streets, and retains a really cool look inside. It was adorned with wooden carvings and Turkish items like Turkish coffee pourers, tea sets, and other items.
Happy with my Turkish tea, we then decided to do more shopping, as that is really the only thing to do. Şirince Village has many types of crafts including wooden carvings, pottery, metal, leather bags, and of course the evil eye. I bought some bowls, a tea set, coffee pourers, and of course some evil eye stones. There is a lot to buy but here you probably won’t get that great of a deal. Everything is relatively the same as it would be in Istanbul but perhaps some of the goods are more “authentic.”
After an hour or so we then traveled over to Ephesus, the main part of our tour. This is where Melike, stepped in and guided us. Starting from the top of Ephesus we worked our way down the city that is currently excavated. The city that once existed was much larger than what we see today, by the way. It was a very popular city and very wealthy at one point. Under the Roman Republic, the city truly came into its own and was visited by some very important ancient people.
Also this city is old so it’s kind of confusing with who owned it at several points in time. Ephesus use to be right next to the ocean, the ocean has since receded about 4 miles, and was always a tactical port city that many Empires wanted. Before Greece owned it, there were several smaller types of nations that controlled it, then Rome took over it and made it a very powerful city. After the Romans, the Byzantines took over and made their changes, and finally the Turkish came in and had the city for 200 years before abandoning it around the 15th century.
Ever since then Ephesus had been buried by the Earth until it was uncovered in 1863. From then on teams from all over have worked to unearth hundreds of interesting buildings and uncovered what life was like. There are buildings showing how people lived including their market square, shops and public toilets. Up on the hill were where the rich lived, actually closed off from the rest of the town during that time like a gated community. Important people would have visited Ephesus like Cleopatra, Trajan and Domitian.
Because Roman and I both appreciate history, Melike decided it was good for us to take a tour into the villas, which was 15 Turkish Lira extra. To me it was worth it, and we got to see and understand how some of the rich lived. They had a lot going for them, including indoor plumbing, indoor heating, courtyards, personal churches, servants, and tons of space; all luxuries during this time. What’s cool is they know some of the people who lived in these villas and some even have writings from them.
Past the gates for the rich, lived the middle class and the poorer class. There existed a market right next to where the ships would dock when Ephesus bordered the sea. There were public toilets, a grand theater for the public (the rich had a private one), a public library, gymnasium and a main marble street lined with shops. All of these are very evident today thanks to them being so well preserved under the Earth and reconstruction. By far the most iconic structure is the reconstructed library, once brought down by the many earthquakes that frequent the area.
Ephesus is a must if you’re in the area, especially if you’re an ancient history buff. There is a lot to know and understand, and it can be overwhelming but also it’s kind of cool to walk exactly where some of the ancient greats have once walked. Knowing how old everything is, makes it better. A tour guide is handy and will save you time and transportation costs if you decided to go on your own. It’s hot so make sure to wear sunscreen, good hat, good clothing, and of course good shoes for walking.
Traditional Turkish Lunch
It was time for lunch and part of this tour they offered a Traditional Turkish Lunch at a local restaurant. Melike happened to knows the owners pretty well and they have a buffet style type of setting. Of course there was beautiful weather so we sat outside and the food was home-cooked traditional. It was delicious! We were all getting along too and didn’t want the day to end, so Melike invited us to go to show how carpets are made, for free, after the Artemision Temple!
The Artemision Temple is actually just one pillar that was recovered on the site of the temple, which has long since been destroyed. By the way this was one of the ancient wonders of the world and from drawings of how they think it looked, it was beautiful! But due to time and earthquakes, this building is not standing so you have to use tons of imagination. It’s not the highlight of the trip but you should stop by.
Carpet Weaving Demonstration
Nearby Melike took us to a carpet weaving demonstration, where she knew the owner. We did not pay for this part of the tour and it was all free. Melike wanted us to see it and she was having a great time herself, so it pays to be friendly! We weren’t expected to buy anything and the owner loves Turkish carpets so much, that he loves sharing how they are all made. His shop has been visited by some famous people including the Queen of England herself.
When we walked in they have people making carpets from different types of material. The process is tedious and it could take months for a carpet to be made. You could understand why the art is dying out and also understand why people want to preserve it. These carpets are beautiful and the same techniques they used back then are still being used today. By the way, how they make silk carpets is amazing, since the process is time consuming and very precise.
We then walked into a room were he offered some Turkish coffee (it’s rude to say no), and he started pulling out many types of rugs from many different regions of Turkey. These could range from very old rugs to new rugs. All have different designs, colors, material and all are 100% unique. It’s quite astonishing the collection that the owner had and how he really wanted to share his knowledge of this craft. Overall I was glad Melike made us stop here. It opened my eyes to something that is genuinely Turkish.
Back in Kuşadası
After about a 7 hour tour, we headed back to the ship where we said bye to our wondeful tour guide, Melike. There wasn’t much to discover in Kuşadası, just the water-front to walk, so that’s what we did. At least we had some time to experience the city. But after a 7 hour tour Roman and I felt exhausted. It was time to go back on the ship, go to dinner and talk about our wonderful day in Ephesus! Next stop, Bodrum, Turkey.
images by: shawnvoyage