The ancient city of Ephesus, located on Turkey’s western coast was a busy seaport linking Asia to Europe. At its peak, nearly 300,000 people lived there, and over the centuries it was ruled at various times by the Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Like Pompeii, at Ephesus it is possible to walk the streets and really imagine life in ancient times, despite most of it being in ruins.
A city of such standing was well equipped with facilities: a theatre that seated 25,000 people (above), a library housing 12,000 scrolls, shops, public buildings, luxury terraced housing and public baths. Ongoing excavation and restoration is revealing more and more of the city. The jewel in the crown to the city was the nearby Ionian temple to the goddess Artemis (who became Diana when the Romans took over) which was known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Just a few columns remain of a temple that was almost four times larger than the Parthenon in Athens.
Possibly the best known of the buildings at Ephesus nowadays is the Library of Celsus (pictured above). It was built in honor of the wealthy Roman Senator Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus by his son, and was completed in 135AD. Not only did the library store 12,000 scrolls it also served as a monumental tomb for Celsus. Interestingly, a secret tunnel is rumoured to link the library with the building across the street which is reputed to have been a brothel. Perfect as a cover story for the men of Ephesus: “Just ducking off to the library to peruse some scrolls, love.”
Just one of the many reasons archaeologists believe the building was probably a brothel is that a statue of the minor fertility god Priapus was discovered there (now housed in the Ephesus Museum in nearby Selçuk ). Not a very attractive god at all, his most significant distinguishing feature was a very, very, large and permanently erect…(ahem)…appendage. Like a lot of ancient mythology, his story is very involved, and has many variations with conflicting details, but one account I read suggested that in addition to his other godly portfolios, he was also god of protecting merchant sailors. Which is a very interesting fact…as along the marble road, the same road that leads from the original harbor up to the brothel, is this piece of carved graffiti:
Some of you may recognize that foot as being part of the ‘Feet on Foreign Lands’ profile pic on various social media sites. According to our tour guide, this graffiti was essentially a billboard for the brothel. She said the message it told sailors heading up to town was, “If you have an empty/broken heart, on the left at the next crossroads are women who are as beautiful as queens, who can help with that. It will cost you enough coins to fill up the hole.” The brothel is on the left (left foot), at the cross roads (carved cross above the foot), deals with matters of the ‘heart’ (dotted heart top left), and the woman (on the right of the foot) is wearing some kind of crown to signify her beauty. The hole for coins is the water-filled indentation at the top. One of the world’s oldest surviving advertisements, for the world’s oldest profession.