Well-known from earliest times, this city was established on the delta of what is now called the Lesser Menderes River. The sheltered harbor of that period was the beginning of a royal road the ended at the gate of Susa, the capital or the Persian Empire, which secured the city its importance. It became the capital of the Roman province of Asia under Augustus and had a population of perhaps 200,000 in the second and first centuries BC. In the 6th century BC science, art and culture were prominent here along with Miletus. The famous philosopher Heraclitus, interpreter of dreams Artemidorus, the poets Callinos and Hipponax, grammarian Zenodotus and the doctors Soranus and Rufus were all from the Site.
The oldest finds are from the Neolithic Age dated 6000 years before Christ, found at the Cukurici Hoyuk. There was a Hittite settlement on top of Ayasuluk Hill from the Old Bronze Age. The name was then Apasus, according to Hittite inscriptions found there. Linguists believe the name Ephesus came from this Hittite name.
According to Herodotus, colonists came from the west and settled here about 1000 BC while the Karyali and Leleg people of Anatolia were in residence in the area. The colonists gave the name Artemis to the mother goddess Kybele. The temple to Artemis from that period became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The city was attacked successively by the Kimmer people in the 7th century, the Lydians in 560 BC, and later the Persians. It regained its freedom under Alexander the Great, after whom his general, Lysimachus, established his kingdom. Based upon finds from this latest time, he set up his city based upon the "Gridiron Plan" found in the Miletus Hippodrome. The streets thus intersected one another in a regular pattern.
Under Roman rule the city became the largest and richest in the province of Asia thanks to both land and sea trade. There were marble monuments everywhere in the city. It was the first city built entirely out of marble. In the 4th century AD trade had declined because the harbor was silting in. The Emperor Hadrian had the harbor dredged several times. The harbor was finned in by silt from the Marnas River and the Lesser Menderes coming from the north. In time the city was increasingly distant from the sea. In the 7th century Arabs attacked the coastal areas. The city moved to Ayasuluk Hill for better defense. When the Turks came in the 13th century The city was just a small village. They built mosques, caravanserais, and baths typical of Turkish civilization.
There are two entrances to the city today. For an easy tour, begin at the Magnesia Gate (Upper Gate) located on the road going to the House of Mary. Immediately to one side is the East Gymnasium at the foot of Panayir Mountain. The first monumental work one comes to is the Odeion with the Varius Baths beside it. Ephesus had a bicameral legislation, the first being the Congress of Councillors, which met here, hence the name "Bouleuterion". In front of the Odeion was business council called the "Basilica." Beside this was the Municipal Building, the "Prytaneion" with its massive columns. The Prytan functioned as the mayor of the city. His most important function was to keep alive the flame that had been burning in the building for centuries. This was done in the name of the local deity Hestia. The Artemis statues on display in the Ephesus Museum were found in the vault of the Prytaneion.
The area in front of the Odeion was the State Agora (Upper Agora). In the middle was a temple to the Egyptian goddess Isis. In 80 Laecanus Bassus erected AD a fountain in the southwest corner of the agora. From the agora one proceeds to the Square to Domitian where things like the Pollio and Domitian fountains, the Memmius Monument and the Heracles Gate are clustered together.
The famous Avenue of the Curates leads west from the Upper Agora. Things along this avenue include the Trajan Fountain, the facade of the Temple to Hadrian and the Scolasticia Baths. Immediately beside the Temple to Hadrian are the Bordello and the Latrines. On the left side of the avenue are the "Terrace Houses." These houses are the most beautiful examples of peristyle houses and were as comfortable as houses are today. They all had frescoed walls and mosaic floors. Each had a heating system and bath. These houses are eminent in archeological literature and well worth seeing. At the end of the avenue is that most beautiful structure of Roman times, the Celsus Library. When City governor Celsus died in 106 AD, his son had the library built as his monument and grave. The sarcophagus is under the west wall of the library. One of the most interesting structures in the site is the Temple to Serapis, immediately behind the Library. Beside the Library is the Mazeus Mythridates Gate that leads in the Market Agora (Lower Agora) .
Agora is the starting point for the Marble Avenue. This is where St. Paul preached. At the end of the avenue is the world's largest theater, the Grand Theater, with a seating capacity of 24,000. Presently the theater is the site of months of various cultural and musical activities. At the corner of the theater is the Hellenistic Fountain, the smallest structure in Ephesus. The Theater Gymnasium across from it were built in the 2nd century AD.
The longest street in Ephesus is the Harbour Avenue (Arcadian Avenue) once lined with statues, and stretching from the theater to the presently silted-in harbor. The Four Apostles Monument was in the middle of the avenue. At the end of the avenue was the Harbor Gymnasium and Baths next to the ancient harbor. In the complex there stands the Church of Mary, site of the General Church Council of 431 AD.
At the city's northernmost point is the Vedius Gymnasium with Byzantine walls beside it. There is also a stadium built in the time of the Emperor Nero.