Religious Sites – Ephesus

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Fazal Ahmad, London, UK

Location: Ephesus, Turkey

Era: 550 BCE

Religion: Christianity

Ephesus is an ancient city in western Turkey near the modern towns of Selçuk and Kuşadasi. People first began to inhabit this region from 6,000 BCE, but Ephesus itself was first established in the 10th century BCE and was one of the key cities of the Greek world; a port linking Asia and Europe.

The Greek city housed the Temple of Artemis from 550 BCE, which was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. According to the ancient Roman author Pliny, it took 120 years to build. In fact, the temple adopted the veneration of the Greek goddess Artemis, Roman goddess Diana and the Turkish goddess Cybele, and ironically would later lead to the deification of Mary (as), mother of Jesus (as). As a city on the crossroads between Europe, Asia and North Africa, at that time it was common for a flow of religious ideas to be fuelled by the trade routes, but the dominant theme of the Temple of Artemis was of a mother goddess protecting the port city.

The temple itself was huge, and around twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens. It sat on a huge platform, with the temple sized at 340 x 160 feet, supported by 127 granite columns and a roof covered in white marble tiles.[1]

Ephesus came under Roman rule from 129 BCE with an estimated population of 300,000 people. After facing destruction by the goths a century later, it was rebuilt by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century CE. It was one of the early centres of Christianity. In the Christian Era, one of the letters of Paul was addressed to the people of the city where he had tried to preach to the Jews,[2] and then later there was a significant community of Judaeo-Christians. Ephesus was also associated with John the Baptist (as) both for the Gospel of John and also the Book of Revelations in the Bible. The city may well have hosted John the Baptist (as) after his ordeals in Palestine.

As Christians began to be persecuted by the Romans, they faced difficulties in Ephesus as well where Romans challenged their Christian beliefs and tried to force them to pay homage to the Roman deities. There were a series of underground caves (catacombs) there, which enabled them to survive underground for a long period, particularly at the time of the persecution led by Roman Emperor Decius. Apart from the Qur’anic account regarding the ‘people of the cave’, there were Christian traditions of the ‘seven sleepers’ of Ephesus from the fifth and sixth centuries CE.

In June and July of 431 CE, the Roman Emperor Theodosius II convened the Council of Ephesus here to condemn the teachings of Nestorius who questioned the deification of Mary (as) and Jesus (as). In the council held here, Nestorius was declared as a heretic, and 400 years after her advent, Mary (as) was declared as Theotokos, or Mother of God.[3]

Thus, Ephesus has been a significant place of worship of interest to pagans, Christians, Jews and Muslims.


[1] L. F. DeVries, Cities of the Biblical World (Massachusetts, USA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 377.

[2] The Bible, Acts 18:19-21.

[3] L. F. DeVries, Cities of the Biblical World (Massachusetts, USA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 372.

Other sources:

Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, Translated by G. A. Williamson (London, UK: Penguin Books, 1989).