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Cruising the Mediterranean - Part 6
'This way to the whorehouse'
James Skinner
It’s said that the Virgin Mary spent her last days here

Ephesus & the Virgin Mary Statue

‘We got back late from our outing in Istanbul, just in time for dinner. Still scruffy in our Turkish bathed clothes we sat down to order the evening meal when I sensed something was not right.
‘I’m at the wrong table,’ I thought. ‘Don’t recognise this lot!’
It transpired that our Salvadorian friends had found ‘eating late’ was too much for them and subsequently booked for the earlier session. A newly wed couple from the battered and bankrupt country that once defied the might of Thatcherism had replaced them. Enter Florencia, a teacher in political science and Facundo, a computer expert come journalist, both from the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. (I know the question! I didn’t know where they got their holiday money either!). They were to become our inseparable tour partners and invaluable encyclopaedic emitters of condensed history on the many sights and ruins we were to visit over the next few days. They were also young enough to be our grandchildren.

‘So what’s in store for us tomorrow?’ I asked at the table, adding, ‘we’ve left Istanbul - thank you - and on to Kusadasi which is still Turkey. Right?’ Looking at my wife I concluded, ‘Isn’t this the place where we pay extra to see the virgin?’
The two Argentine ‘F’s’ burst out laughing. I told them about my initial queries including the bit about the option to visit the resting place of the Virgin Mary. Ignoring my comments, Florencia grinned and said, ‘we agree with you on the value for money on all these tours. Why don’t you join us and we’ll share the costs of going it alone.’ ‘Great,’ I said, looking at my wife who nodded, agreed and added, ‘by the way, we’ll be exploring one of the greatest ancient cities of all times; Ephesus.’ ‘That’s right. The earliest known organised prostitution in the world. You’ll see!’ muttered Facundo. I couldn’t wait.

Before venturing into the realms of Asian as well as European history through a quick visit to one of the most famous of Roman conquests, my brief mention of Kusadasi as a quasi-unknown tourist resort on the Aegean Sea is unavoidable. It’s small but hospitable population, typical Mediterranean-type mild climate with accompanying beaches and Bazaar style shopping are encapsulated into a typical off-the-beaten-track tourist’s paradise. For 10 euros you can even spend an afternoon in an Internet café reminding you that Bill Gates is alive and well! Pause for the advertisement: ‘A visit to the East must include Kusadasi!’ Nevertheless, duty calls and I must continue on my historical education of the Roman Empire.

Like a monotonous loudspeaker at any airport that announces arrivals and departures, I again emphasize my objection to act as a condensed tourist guide writer. For 11 euros you can buy, as we did, Dogan Gumus’ exquisite guide to Ephesus translated into English by Christine M. Thomas and published by DO-GU Yayincilik Turizm Ticaret Ltd., in Istanbul. On the other hand, this little back to front picture narrative was a Godsend as we explored the ruins of this magnificent ancient city. I say back to front because Florencia, our ‘announcer’ soon realised that it had been written backwards. As you entered and visited the ruins, you had to start from the back of the book to read the descriptions of each monument. Understand?

As I’m a contradictory sod, I’ll succumb and tell you a little bit about this incredible place. To start with, so historic rumour has it, Ephesus was known as the birthplace of the feminist movement. No, really! Apparently, many years ago (may I say, thousands!) the queen, called Ephesia, of a bunch known as the Amazonians founded the city. According to mythology, she and her ladies were supposed to be great female warriors. Apart from doing horrible things to men such as amputating their sex organs as offerings to their mother god, they were excellent horsewomen who could wield a hatchet or use a bow and arrow with immaculate accuracy. They spent their time hunting down their masculine counterparts, fornicating and subsequently murdering them. They literally hated men! No surprise therefore, that they didn’t get very far as the future history of Ephesus tells a more interesting and realistic tale.

Many supermen, well known to Hollywood movie scriptwriters such as Cyrus and Alexander the Great, took their turn in besieging and moulding Ephesus. Greeks, Persians, Romans and finally the Christians destroyed and rebuilt what was and still is a marvel of many present-day archaeological sites. Thanks to the investigations of a British architect called Wood, that were started in 1869, under the aegis of the British Museum and continued into the mid 1970’s, albeit in the hands of the Austrians, part of the city of Ephesus can continue to be shown as a small mosaic of ancient history. But what about the city, what is it that really stands out?

‘What you see today is what you get. Let’s take a walk on the wild side,’ Florencia said as she began reading Dogan’s inversed dissertation in a tone similar to that of an American marketing executive selling the Ephesus brand. Although only 5% of the city has actually been uncovered, the magnificence of the restored buildings, roads and monuments represented a spectacular rich image of past heritage. Florencia read as we walked through the city: ‘Observe the Odeon concert hall… the Fountain of Trajan… the steam-heated Baths of Scolastika… the Temple of Hadrian and the Latrines… the Library of Celsus and The Great Theatre, where St. Paul preached, which is the largest theatre in antiquity having a capacity of 24,000 people. Walk along the Arcadian Way, where Mark Anthony and Cleopatra once rode in procession…’ As we meandered through and my wife was enraptured listening to Florencia, I glanced at Fulgencio. We were opposite the Fountain of Trajan and I could detect a slight smile of sarcasm emanating from his lips. ‘Take a good look at this thing. Do you really think the place looked like that all those years ago?’

He was right. It’s as if someone tried to fit ‘something’ of a picture together with hundreds of pieces from ten different jigsaw puzzles on the same theme. (With all due respect to present day archaeologists who try to reconstruct old monuments, this is what they end up with.) He carried on, ‘Just think about it. These Romans had one hell of a life. First they’d visit the ‘Theatre’ at the end of the ‘Arcadian Way’ for a session of gladiators and slaves slaughtering each other to death. Then they would walk down ‘the Marble Way’ to the ‘Celsus library’ for a brief intellectual encounter, have a quick pee in the communal lavatory before ending up in the ‘Brothel ’ just across the road.’

Crude as it may seem, that is the picture that came to mind as we analysed the layout of the city. Have things changed much in modern times?‘ But then came the Christians. Didn’t they stop the Romans in their debauchery?’ I said to Fulgencio. ‘I’m not good on dates but it’s said that the Virgin Mary spent her last days here and it’s where Paul the Apostle fought against paganism. I understand that John probably wrote the gospel and is also buried here,’ I added. ‘True. I guess they did,’ concluded Fulgencio.

As we were all walking back down the ‘Arcadian Way’ which lead towards the old harbour, my wife suddenly pointed to a small block of stone embedded in the road. It had the imprint of the outline of a woman and a human hand pointing towards a determined area. Florencia immediately looked into her horoscopic picture book. She started giggling. Showing us the description of the odd mini-monument, it read: ‘THIS WAY TO THE WHOREHOUSE. About 100 BC!’

© James G. Skinner. September 2002.


James Skinner

As expected,the ship was a sixties rust bucket all spruced up for the umpteenth time, just like Bette Davies in ‘Whatever happened to Baby Jane?’

James Skinner

SNIFF-SNIFF - Cruise Part 4
James Skinner on Carrys On Cruising The Med
Part 4: my cabin was tucked away between the ship’s kitchen and the funnel shaft

James Skinner
‘We don’t want to buy anything,’ says my wife, ‘can we please continue our tour!’ I’m petrified.

Horsemen, Pink Pelicans and Other Beasts Part Seven
James Skinner
‘Tomorrow is Colossus day. Prepare thyself for Rhodes’

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