81km (50 miles) south of Izmir; 20km (12 miles) northeast of Kusadasi
Nobody comes to Turkey to visit poor overlooked Selçuk, relegated since ancient times to a secondary position in the shadow of Ephesus, its more illustrious neighbor. But the histories of the two cities are forever intertwined; Selçuk predates Ephesus, and indeed, Selçuk was Ephesus.
The rise and fall of Selçuk/Ephesus, which for the purposes of this section refers to the combined area between and including present-day Selçuk and Mount Koressos (Bülbül Dagi, where the remains of the original city wall still stand), was directly related to the ebbs and flows of the sea. In the 7th century B.C., Cimmerian invasions relegated the Ephesians to the area around the Artemesian, at the base of Ayasoluk Hill. (Selçuk's castle occupies this hill.) Because the neighborhood of the Artemesian lies below sea level, archaeologists have been unable as of yet to excavate beyond the temple's remains. When, with the death of Alexander the Great, General Lysimachos took control of the whole of Ionia, the city of Ephesus was reestablished adjacent to the harbor. The expansion of Christianity in the 4th century A.D. saw the construction of many important religious and state buildings in Ephesus, including the castle on Ayasoluk Hill and St. John's Basilica. The silting up of the harbor resulted in the gradual decline of Ephesus as a major commercial port, leaving it vulnerable to subsequent invasions, namely the arrival of the Selçuks in the 10th century.
Today a visit to Selçuk seems only to be a necessary sidebar to the main attraction at Ephesus, just 3km (1 3/4 miles) away. Nevertheless, the presence of a number of noteworthy ruins -- including the representative remains of one of the Seven Wonders of the World; the nearby winemaking village of Sirince, the whole of which has been declared a historic preservation site; and the beaches around Kusadasi (only 18 km/11 miles away) -- make Selçuk a perfect base for a well-rounded holiday.
A Look at the Past
Numerous legends have been attached to the founding of Ephesus, some saying the Amazons, the Lelegians, or the Carians got here first. A favorite myth attributed to the Ionians -- who had arrived here by the 10th century B.C. -- says that Androclus, guided by the prophesies of an oracle regarding some fish and a wild boar, founded the city.
There must be some truth behind the legend of Croesus, king of Lydia, who upon hearing of the prosperity of the trading capital decided it had to be his. The city fell under the sovereignty of Lydia in the 6th century B.C. and the Ephesians were displaced to the area around the Artemesian.
A century later, the city was once again the target of an empire, with the invasion of the Persians. For the most part absentee administrators, the Persians were subsequently thrown out by an Ionian uprising in the 5th century B.C., remaining in power until Alexander the Great's arrival. After his death, one of his generals, Lysimachos, reestablished the city between the slopes of Mount Koressos (Bülbüldag) and Mount Pion (Panayir Dagi), and constructed the city's first fortifications, a defensive wall with a perimeter of 9km (5 1/2 miles). The ruins of the archaeological site of Ephesus date to the city established at this time.
In the 2nd century B.C., the city reached its height as the most important port in Anatolia, and subsequent kings of Pergamum ruled here until the city was absorbed by Rome. The city opened up lucrative commercial opportunities with the exotic Middle East and it wasn't long before Ephesus was designated the capital of the Asian Provinces, attracting the likes of Brutus, Cassius, Antony, and Cicero. Under Julius Caesar, Ephesus was forced to submit to heavy taxation, but under Augustus's reign, the city of Ephesus once again became the most important commercial center on the Mediterranean. The final episode in the ebb and flow of Ephesus's prosperity came during the remarkable proliferation of Christianity, continuing through the rule of Justinian (6th c. A.D.). Many buildings of importance, including the castle on Ayasoluk Hill, date to this period.
Nevertheless, during as far back as Roman times, the port had begun to show signs of silting up, and any attempts at halting the process had proved unsuccessful. After centuries of sand and dirt depositing in the harbor, the port was little more than a marsh, and the citizens of Ephesus, by now an insignificant village under Selçuk control, moved farther inland. The swamp at the end of the Arcadian Way (Harbour Rd.) was once at the water's edge; it's now 5km (3 miles) inland.