Selçuk: The Forgotten Town of Western Turkey
Considering the amount of attention it receives, anyone could be forgiven for thinking the only historical place to visit on Turkey's West Coast is the ruined city of Ephesus. Admittedly, the country's third most popular tourist attraction does pack much-frenzied interest, but roughly five kilometres away is a quaint working town with a remarkable history itself as well as modern day culture influences highlighting Turkish lifestyle.
The small, farming town of Selçuk has less than 30,000 citizens but is one of Turkey's most significant areas for history and culture. Selçuk, which is otherwise famous for its crop of peaches each year and formerly known as Ayasoluk, features the likes of Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world; the Byzantine Church of St John; the Isa Bey Mosque and the Grand Fortress.
Temple of Artemis: An Ancient Wonder
Unbelievable, though true, the 127 column Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is now represented by a single stack of recovered artefacts standing alone in a marshy field of Selçuk.
The temple was, during its day, located within the city boundaries of Ephesus and despite being damaged by floods and ruined by invaders, local citizens, emperors, and pagan dignitaries often restored it to full use. Built in honour of the fertility goddess Artemis, it endured for several centuries, but eventually fell to earthquakes over the ages.
Sculptures bedecked the original building constructed of marble, and while regarded as one of the highlights of the Hellenistic period, the best of the temple's remains are in the British Museum, while the Ephesus museum in Seljuk features the iconic statue of Artemis. The Artemisia festival that promoted the cultural identity of Ephesus and played an important part in the region’s economy celebrated her endurance as a Greek goddess during the Hellenic and Roman times.
Simplicity of Isa Bey Mosque
Sitting at the base of Ayasoluk Hill, on the outskirts of Selçuk, İsabey Mosque (İsa Bey Camii in Turkish), was built between 1374-1375 by Syrian Ali son of Mushimish al Damishki for Aydinid Isa Bey and is a shining example of early Seljukian architecture.
Since it does not conform to traditional or classic builds, and its windows, doors, and domes are purposely mis-matched, the mosque is rather unique. Geometric shapes on the western wall fuse gentle with the Ottoman-style domes with Iznik tiles and columns transported from the ancient ruins of Ephesus city.
Based on the fabled Great Mosque of Damascus, it fell into disrepair by the mid-19th century and was utilized as a caravanserai - a roadside inn for travellers, before being restored to its modern, beautiful interior and exterior appearance.
Basilica of St John
A magnificent building, this 6th-century basilica is said to be the site of the Christian Apostle's resting place. Constructed by Justinian I, the basilica had 15 towers made with stones from Rome, and it stands close to the ruins of Ayasoluk Castle on the slopes of a hill of the same name.
Little is known of its origins, other than an entry by writer Procopius, who described it as a church to "rival the shrine which is dedicated to all the Apostles in the imperial city." The impressive structure started as a simple mausoleum built on top of St John's tomb and in the 4th century, the Roman Emperor Theodosius extended it by building the basilica. 200 years, Emperor Justinian converted the ruins into a much grander church.
Built in a traditional Greek cross pattern, the original building measured 428ft by 213ft and included a nave and columns, but its most striking element was its large apse, with five domes rested on solid piers in the corners of the cross.
Atrium walls constructed around the basilica flanked the main entrance gate called the ‘Gate of Persecution’, and different coloured mosaics adorned the interior while the crypt of St John rested directly below an altar and frescoes depicting biblical scenes took pride of place on the walls and ceilings.
St John lived in Ephesus on his arrival from Jerusalem, and while exiled to latter-day Patmos, John wrote the Book of Revelations but when pardoned by Emperor Nerva, he returned and remained there until his death, hence the reason why most scholars do believe the basilica is his resting place. However, legend has it that when the emperor Constantine opened the crypt, no body was found, making his remains, the only one of the Apostles to have never been discovered.
Ayasoluk Fortress: Selcuk Castle
The grand fortress towering over the town of Selcuk is widely regarded as one that has been superimposed on itself many times over the centuries. The building as seen these days displays relics and architecture styles of Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman eras.
Previously housing a mosque, hamam, basements, and a mansion, cited by the British traveller John Covell in 1670, the same creators of the IsaBey Mosque designed it. Uncannily similar, the fortress once had three houses on the compound, comprising of 15 rooms, while 15 towers reinforced the outer walls of the fort. Excavations have also revealed two entrance gates to the east and the west, inner walls, stone-paved streets, cisterns, and a church.
Note: Tolga Ertukel, owner, and director of Turkey Homes says: While visiting the ruins of Ephesus, it is worthwhile extending your trip overnight also to explore the working town of Seljuk or the nearby cosmopolitan resort of Kusadasi.