I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert….
We’re in Ephesus and the opening words of Shelley’s sonnet Ozymandius seem to echo from the barren hills. Our ship has docked in Kusadasi, one of the major ports in Turkey, and gateway to ancient Ephesus. Our guide is a Turk who likes to go by the name of George, because he spent much of his youth in nearby Greece. We learn later he is actually half Armenian, and he is one of the most tolerant ecumenicals we will ever meet.
So, why did we leave a perfectly good ship to ride a bus into the desert today? Well, we also are travellers in an ancient land. Only a mere two thousand years ago, Ephesus was a sea-port and a major hub of the trade and the Roman empire. We know from historical and biblical accounts that Ephesus was a key religious site for the Greco/Roman goddess Artemis/Diana. We also know that the apostle Paul spent a few years here, and there are traditional accounts that the apostle John also visited for a while.
As we walk the two kilometres down the track that used to be a bustling street, past ruins that used to be shops and houses, George paints a picture of life as it once was. “These are the remnants of the ancient water pipes that carried warm and cold water to each house…. This is the communal toilet block where the Roman men sat to discuss politics and trade…. This is the site of the world’s first shopping mall.” It’s actually quite easy to close the eye of the mind and picture Emperor Hadrian, apostle Paul and countless others going about their business, framed by the same hills that we see today.
But, it’s not the same. The Romans are gone, the sea has receded and Ephesus now sits alone in the empty landscape. As Shelley’s sonnet concludes:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.