I hate ruins.
OK, let me rephrase that—I thought I would hate ruins.
I don’t fly half way around the globe to be roasted under the sun and stare at shapeless rubble. If it wasn’t for the Temple of Artemis hype, I wouldn’t have bothered at all. Which is funny, because my Temple of Artemis expectation crumbled quickly and Ephesus emerged as the true highlight of Selcuk.
Currently located in Turkey, Ephesus was an ancient Greek city. At the time, it was one of the most populated cities. During the period of Roman dominance, it became a major commerce center and was second in importance only to Rome.
Funnily, a city of such historical prominence was then forgotten by the locals until archaeologists re-discovered it in 1860s. And now it’s overrun with tourists.
I can see why Ephesus rakes in 2 million tourists every year (which almost equals Acropolis, Greece’s own golden standard for ruins). It’s accessible. It’s well-preserved. But one of its greatest assets is the extensiveness of the site.
Most ruins are stand-alone monuments. Think about the Pyramid, Colosseum, Parthenon or Great Wall of China. As massive and impressive as they are, they tell the story from a limited point of view—one that only allows you a glimpse into the highlights, the pinnacles and the successes of their civilizations.
Ephesus doesn’t just show you the highlights, it lays everything bare.
As you walk around the ancient city of Ephesus, you can imagine yourself as an average Joe living in what was once the New York of the world. It has ruins of a library, gymnasium complex, public baths, theaters, plenty of old-styled toilets (yes, toilets!) and a business council with its own stock exchange!
Clearly, the Greeks and the Romans didn’t become the most powerful civilizations on Earth just by praying to Gods on temples everyday right?
The Library of Celsus, in particular, is a standout.
It’s a standout not only aesthetically (the fact that its facade is amazingly well-preserved as compared to the other buildings), but also figuratively. The library is personified by the four statues that guard it:
- Episteme (knowledge): acquaintance with facts and information
- Ennoia (intelligence): understanding how to manipulate information to get certain things done
- Arete (valor): having the moral virtue to distinguish right from wrong
- Sophia (wisdom): ability to apply knowledge and judgment to determine the right course of action
These four characters, more than any others, explain—not only the rise of the Romans and the Greeks—but also how the entire human race came into dominating Earth. The lack of synergy between the four virtues could lead to terrible things, for history has shown tales of intelligent leaders or misinformed people of good intention whom has brought wars and destruction between us.
Ephesus may have nothing left except ruins, but its legacy is now living among us.
What are your favorite ruins in the world? What interesting perspectives did these ruins bring into your mind?