Cruising the Greek islands: an everlasting feeling of beauty and serenity- Part two. World Meanderings (n°27)
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Welcome back on board the Celestyal Crystal that continues its journey through the Aegean Sea. We are not the only ones to enjoy ourselves going from one island to the other, and the boat is full of people from many different countries. We met Canadians, British, Americans, Spanish, Scandinavians… who were having a good time in the sunny Greek islands devoid of refugee camps.
After embarking at Lavrion, one of Athens’ ports, for the beginning of our cruise and the discovering of beautiful Mykonos at sunset yesterday, today is our second day on board and it’s going to be a very busy one! No time for a lazy morning since the meeting time for our first excursion of the day is at 7 am. But we don’t feel like complaining since we are going to Ephesus, a magnificent ancient city. To make it easier we decided to join one of the excursions organised by Celestyal Cruises, a coach will take us straight to the site and an English speaking local guide will accompany us.
Ephesus’ construction began 10 centuries BC and was the oldest and most important Greek city of Asia Minor. It originally was a port but due to the gradual silting up of the bay it now is 6 miles away from the sea. Our boat stopped at Kusadasi in Turkey where the coaches were waiting for the visitors. The ancient city of Ephesus was built four times in ancient history and the Ephesus we walk around today is the 3rd one. First built by Greek settlers it was conquered, destroyed and rebuilt several times by Persians and Romans. Today Ephesus still is the largest collection of Roman ruins in Eastern Mediterranean and only 15% of it have been excavated. But these 15% are huge and there is plenty to see.
Ephesus was built on three hills and we started our visit on top of one of them called “Bulbul Mountain”. All along the visit we will go down the hill on the “Curetes Street”. The “curetes” were the priests of Artemis Temple and this street was one of the major avenues of the city, lined with temples, shops, schools, patrician houses and even public latrines!
The town’ s main goddess was Artemis and the largest and more important temple of the city was dedicated to this goddess of the hunt and of wild life. The temple was built on the shore around 550 BC and was as big as a soccer field. Unfortunately almost nothing remains of what was once one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Its ionic colonnades collapsed when the Goths, a Germanic tribe, destroyed it in 262 AD. A few remaining bas-reliefs can be seen in the British Museum.
On the way down, the “Terrace Houses” also known as the “Houses of Rich” are not to be missed. Built by the Romans from the 1C BC they have been in used until the 7C AD and they tell us a lot about the everyday family life during the Roman period. There are six residential units set on three terraces and two of them, sheltered by a huge roof, are opened to the public. Inside we were able to admire numerous mosaics and frescos from stairs and platforms overhanging the site. Their colours are still very vivid and although the upper stores of the houses have collapsed long ago we were able to get a good idea of the size and luxury of these residences.
Back on the “Curetes Street” we walked down to the “Celsus Library”. Ephesus was a renowned intellectual and artistic centre of its time with many schools, called gymnasiums, where medicine, rhetoric or philosophy were taught by famous professors and the city attracted intellectuals from many Mediterranean countries. The “Celsus Library” was the third largest one with a capacity of 12,000 scrolls, after the Alexandra and Pergamum libraries. In 263 AD the Goths reduced it to ashes and all the scrolls went up in smoke. Its façade has been rebuilt from 1970 to 1978 and we can admire this elegant 16 m high and 10 m wide construction the way it looked 18 centuries ago.
Turning right at the bottom of the street we got to the stadium and the impressive theatre. With 145 m in length and 30 m in height, it was the largest theatre of the ancient world and 24,000 viewers could enjoy plays or concerts enjoying the view of the blue Mediterranean Sea in the background. What a show it must have been! We wished we could have stayed longer in Ephesus but the boat was soon to leave Kusadasi harbour and sail to our next destination: Samos.
Samos is just off the coast of Asia Minor from which it is separated by the 1mile-wide Mycale Strait. Back on board we enjoyed our lunch watching the Turkish coast slowly passing by our eyes. Samos is said to be one of the most beautiful Greek islands and certainly is one of the greenest ones. It is covered with forests; vineyards, orchards and olive groves while on its coasts there are plenty of beautiful sandy beaches and picturesque resorts.
We chose to go on a tour of the island taking us to a winery and to pleasant fishing villages but we could as well have opted for a leisurely afternoon at the beach of Tsamados like many other passengers of the Crystal did. In ancient times Samos was a rich and powerful city-state and was already renowned for its wine, the Samian Muscat. We tasted this sweet wine at a local winery and although it is not our favourite kind of wine it still is very popular in Greece.
Next we went to Kokkari, a lovely resort where we got lost in a maze of small cobbled streets lined with typical Greek houses. There are plenty of nice and welcoming bars on the shore and we couldn’t resist having an homemade refreshing lemonade and a frothy iced white coffee that Greeks call Nes frappé, enjoying the view in the shade of a big bougainvillea. That’s what life is meant to be!
In ancient times Samos was home to great names of history such as astronomer Aristarchus who was the first known individual to propose that the Earth revolves around the sun, philosopher Epicurus or mathematician Pythagoras who is the most famous one of them all. Pythagoreion, the village where Pythagoras was born, is another fishing port in Samos and many tourists come here for shopping, for boat excursions and for diving or for its nightlife in the lively bars and restaurants of the sea front.
What a day! We’ve been in Greece for only two days and it already feels like we left home days ago. Join us next week in Milos another fascinating Greek island.
For more information: http://www.celestyalcruises.uk/en
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes