The wealthy of Ephesus had it all worked out when they built a set of seven luxury townhouses around 1 BC. Ducted heating, marble walls, grand spaces…yes, that’s The Terrace Houses of Ephesus.
I don’t know about you, but when I imagine homes in the ancient past, I conjure fairly simple, basic dwellings. Perhaps it is the genetic memory of my Scottish agricultural labourer ancestors, but I think of cold stone floors, rough-hewn wood and damp, tiny spaces rather than marble, mosaics and ducted heating.
So I was more than a little impressed by the luxury enjoyed by a select few around the turn of the millennium (the first millennium, that is…) in the ancient city of Ephesus.
Seeing the Terrace Houses, as they are known, requires payment of an additional fee (15 Turkish Lira) when visiting the Ephesus site in Turkey, but is definitely recommended. Surprisingly, not all that many visitors to Ephesus seem to pay the extra as the substantial crowds certainly diminished once we went through the entrance to the private homes site.The services of a good guide are worthwhile, as you pick up lots of interesting information about day to day life that is not otherwise obvious from the site signage.
Ephesus was an ancient Greek city which later became a major Roman city with a population rising to more than 250,000 during that era. It was, in its day, one of the major cities of the world – the capital of Roman Asia Minor. The city’s Temple of Artemis was the biggest in the world, and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The Terrace Houses are located on a hillside in the centre of the current site, overlooking the Library of Celsus (although the Library was built much later). The complex contains seven connected homes, which are now housed under an ingenious roof made of a textile membrane, which is strengthened with fiberglass and Teflon coating. This structure protects the remains of the houses with their delicate decorative features, as well as the on-going excavation from the elements. Nowadays, the original inter-connected building structure would probably be called townhouses, or condominium, and altogether the complex covers about an acre.
A system of stairs and walkways is suspended above the rooms, which provides a great birds-eye view into the homes while protecting their fragile nature.
Originally, these homes would have had sea views, because the harbour at Ephesus was, at that time, just a short walk from this point. Due to silt build up over the (many) years since, the shore is now several kilometres away.
The detailed floor mosaics, colourful painted frescoes and marble cladding are an indication of the wealth of the original inhabitants of these homes.
Although they’re all joined into one complex, each house was arranged around a large central courtyard, which was open to the sky. That was the source of both light and air into the home. Large reception rooms and dining rooms were arranged around the courtyard on the ground floor, with bedrooms upstairs.
One of the homes contained a huge marble-lined hall, which is currently being restored. That house was possibly the home of a city official. Adjoining the marble hall is a room containing hot and cold baths.
And, in stark contrast to my imaginings of cold ancient dwellings, these houses were heated by a system that conveyed hot air through clay pipes under the floors and between the walls.
Is this how you imagined life to be around 1 BC?
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