More than 130 small and large cruise ships set course for the Turkish port city of Kuşadası in 2021. Cruise ships call at the city, 100 kilometers south of Izmir, because of its proximity to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ephesus. We visit the city with Royal Caribbeans Mariner of the Seas.
Ephesus is one of the largest and most important archaeological sites in the world. That's why we want to see them. As independent cruise participants, we generally tend to individual excursions. Only when it is inevitable do we join a group. As far as Kuşadası is concerned, the length of our cruise ship's stay is tight. In view of the abundance of ancient ruins, we think it is advisable to join a guided tour. We can choose between two variants.
Kuşadası - cruise ships
Ephesus - Mazeus Gate
Option 1 - booking a tour with the cruise company
The most convenient form is to book a shore excursion with the cruise company. Royal Caribbean is charging US $ 79,00 for the guided excursion to Ephesus. We would have traveled with comfortable coaches in a larger group and, when we arrived at our destination, there was a high probability that the rear end of the group would not have understood what the guide in front was saying.
Option 2 - choice of an independent organizer
Taxi drivers or private agents are ideal for individual excursions. Prices between 60,00 and 100,00 euros are quoted for the trips. If four people share a taxi, the fare is acceptable. The taxi driver drops the guests at the destination in front of the upper gate of the excavation site and waits for them an hour later at the lower gate.
Ephesus - entrance area at the upper gate
We opt against a taxi and opt for a guided private tour. In the modern cruise terminal there are various shops and the office of the Kropki Organization & Travel Agency, a nationwide operating agency. The provider cannot be overlooked, as an employee is constantly leaning out of the window and inviting passers-by to tours. 20,00 euros per person are required for the tour. Insurance, an air-conditioned minibus in excellent condition and a guide who guides the tour expertly are included. The entrance fees to the sights are not included. In the course of four hours you will visit the House of the Mother of God, seven kilometers above Ephesus, the excavations of Ephesus and the remains of the Temple of Artemis in Selçuk.
Kuşadası - cruise terminal
Kuşadası - cruise ships
Entry to the House of the Blessed Mother Mary is 120 Turkish Lira (approx. 6,60 euros) and the entrance fee to the excavation area of Ephesus is 200 Turkish Lira (approx. 11,00 euros). The tour from Kusadasi to Ephesus costs us 37,60 euros per person including admission. Visiting the house of the Blessed Virgin Mary is optional. Those not interested in the pilgrimage site remain in front of the gate and wait for the group to return. In this case, there is no entry fee. If you take part in both program points, the tour is dirt cheap compared to the US$ 79,00 required by the shipping company. The main advantage of this tour is not the price but the flexibility offered by the small tour group.
The Mother of God House - the house of Mother Mary
The excursion program begins with a visit to the House of God. The house is located on Bülbül Dağı, the Nightingale Mountain, six kilometers above Ephesus at an altitude of 380 meters above sea level. According to legend, this place once served as a temporary residence for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Later a Byzantine church or monastery building was erected on the hill. A park-like area surrounds the place of worship with the large baptismal font and its own spring. The current construction is the reconstruction of a building.
The wall of the source surrounds thousands of pilgrims left behind notes with prayer wishes. Once a year the notes are removed and burned. We are unable to assess the importance of the quiet and well-kept place for the believers. It should be big; three popes have so far visited the place of pilgrimage.
The House of God is not only a Christian pilgrimage destination. Muslims worship Maryam there, the mother of the Prophet ʿĪsā ibn Maryam.
The ruins of Ephesus
The tour of the extensive, fenced area starts at the upper gate. After introductory explanations from our guide, we follow the path downhill. According to our companion, Ephesus was once the second largest city of the Roman Empire. In descriptions it can be read that the former trading and port city had almost 200.000 inhabitants. That sounds incredible and suggests that there is still a lot of building material buried underground.
On our way into the valley we noticed 17 sights. Not all of them require special mention. We found the upper baths and the agora with the town hall remarkable. The Odeion, a small theater with 1.400 seats, and the communal latrine, which at the same time offered space for 48 less privileged Romans, are important. In contrast, the higher classes enjoyed all the comforts of the time in their villas.
The temple of Hadrian and the Library of Celsus follow the latrines. The library is described as the third largest of the ancient world. An area with shops and workshops is attached to the Celsus library. The Great Theater, which had 24.000 seats, looks gigantic. Until a few years ago, events were held in the amphitheater.
After the theater we see the street leading to what was then the port. In its heyday, Ephesus was the most important port in Asia Minor. Later the port silted up and the city began to decline. It was noteworthy that 50 lanterns lit the street.
In total, the tour of the ruins of Ephesus takes one and a half hours. Our tour guide is knowledgeable and experienced. At the lower gate, a toilet facility, various stationary and outpatient dealers as well as the minibus await the participants of the excursion. Shortly afterwards it brings us to the next destination, the Artemis Temple.
Our special recommendation for Ephesus: bring enough drinks with you!
The remains of the Temple of Artemis
The Temple of Artemis was once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The sanctuary was on flat terrain that later became marshy. In the present, only the foundation walls and a few remains of columns can be seen. Nothing that suggests the former Hellenistic splendor. The temple was made entirely of marble. The 17,50 meter high columns and their capitals were artfully designed. The London British Museum owns the most beautiful finds of the temple.
Selçuk - Temple of Artemis - remains of a column
Summary of the shore excursion
The excursion to Ephesus takes about 4½ hours. Apart from the visit to a carpet factory lying on the way, which seems superfluous to us, the trip is worth the money and indispensable.
Kuşadası at the end
After a short stay on the Mariner of the Seas, we leave the ship again to see something of Kuşadası. First we turn towards Pigeon Island, a rocky island. A dam connects the island with the mainland. A remarkable feature of the island is a walled fort. Small boats set out for tours from the dam. One side of the island has a stretch of beach.
We do not visit the bazaar within sight of the cruise ship quay. Instead, we turn to the proper promenade. Our final impression: Kusadasi is a well-kept holiday resort with many shops, bars and various activities. No more and no less.
Kuşadası - beach promenade
Kuşadası - beach promenade
Update July 2022