As part of my two-week tour of Turkey with G Adventures, a budget National Geographic company, we stayed in Selçuk for two nights. Sadly, I knew nothing of Selçuk or of its many attractions. For that matter, I didn’t know much about Turkey except that people enjoy it, so I wanted to go.
Selçuk is a very popular tourist destination. During the shoulder season at the start of COVID, however, the city was rather quiet, which I enjoyed! While Selçuk features a variety of restaurants and shops on lovely streets and a smattering of ruins on the hill above town, it is best known for its proximity to Ephesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With all the attractions, Selçuk definitely warrants an overnight stay or perhaps even a weekend get-away. Below is a list of things to do while in Selçuk.
Where to Stay in Selçuk
We stayed at Cenka Hotel which is budget friendly, but nothing to write home about. There are likely better options, but the price was right and the room was fine. As with most European rooms, it wasn’t large, but clean and comfy none-the less. The services were what were a bit lacking. The internet was spotty and dependent on room location.
The breakfast was minimal relative to other hotel breakfasts on our tour, but it still included the standard hard-boiled eggs, salad, and bread. The rooms are not serviced unless the key was left at the front desk which I learned at check out, as no one told us at check in!
Regardless, it is just on the outskirts of town and an easy walk to the restaurants and shops, so the location was great. It may be easily booked at Hotels.com.
Things to Do
Stroll the Streets
The bricked walking streets lined with cafes and shops invite an enjoyable stroll. I particularly liked the greenery and hanging lights. Stop in one of the cafes for a coffee or Turkish meal. With the outbreak of COVID, many places only stayed open until the late afternoon, but we found a few restaurants willing to cater to us.
One corner restaurant called TAT Café was excellent. The owner, who studied English in America, kept the restaurant open just for us. While the outdoor seating was closed down, he offered us the single table inside, and chatted. All of the dishes were superb, and he was extremely friendly. He saw me the next day on the street and remembered my name!
Just kitty corner from TAT Café, was Okumuslar Pide, a pizza restaurant. It felt more like a take-out place, but it was open, the service was friendly, and the pizza and meat dish were great. We felt fortunate to find a place to sit down along with a few locals!
While to town is filled with shops and restaurants, Ayasuluk Hill above features a Byzantine aqueduct, a mosque, a Byzantine fortress, and the ruins of the Basilica of St. John the Apostle.
The first attraction on Ayasuluk Hill, which is thought to be the location old Ephesus, is the Byzantine aqueduct. The aqueduct ran from the Valley of Sirince in the north to the Gate of Persecution at Ayasoluk, a large water basin which serviced the area. Now it is a great place for a picnic while looking down on the town.
Isa Bey Mosque
On the opposite side of the hill from the Aqueduct is the Isa Bey Mosque. It requires passing the entrance to the Basilica of St. John the Apostle. I recommend visiting the mosque second as it is a quick stop and the large Basilica and Fortress complex will take more time to explore.
The mosque dates back to the 1300’s and was constructed by the Anatolian beyliks. While not as impressive as the mosques in Istanbul, its mix of ruins as well as restored worship area makes it interesting. From the mosque, return to the top of the hill to the Basilica of St. John the Apostle.
Basilica of St. John the Apostle
The Basilica of St. John the Apostle which charges a small entry fee, is well worth the price of admission. The Basilica was constructed by Justinian I in the 6th century and is believed to stand over the burial site of John the Apostle. It is located just below the fortress, so visit the church ruins first and then continue to the fortress. Both are in the same complex with the single entry/exit gate.
The fortress at the top of the hill includes remnants of a castle, mosque, several cisterns, a bathhouse and villa, as well as other houses. Not only are the ruins interesting, the views are lovely. The fortress was important to the Byzantine empire and became the center of Ephesus.
The Ephesus of today is not part of Ayasuluk Hill, but is approximately one mile away, though the hill is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ephesus was an ancient Greek city founded in the 10th century BC on the coast of Ionia. It was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League as well as one of the seven churches of Asia. It is thought the Gospel of John may have been written here.
Ephesus came under control of the Roman general Lysimachus in 290 BC. With the river Cayster silting up the harbor, the general moved the city a mile away, which is the Ephesus of today.
Once known for the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, which was burned in 356 BC, it now features ruins of 25,000 seat theater, the Library of Celsus, the Temple of Hadrian, Roman baths, homes and more.
We were fortunate to visit the morning of the day it closed due to COVID, and the cats at this popular tourist attraction outnumbered the 7 of us about 3 to 1. Without anyone else around, we had an incredible experience exploring the ruins and learning about different signs and inscriptions.
Some writings were misspelled while other symbols pointed out where to find a prostitute. In ancient times, prostitutes had short hair. So the sign below with the heart, foot and head with short hair indicates to walk that way to find their services.
Selçuk is a treasure trove of ancient ruins, lovely cafes, and picturesque streets. Nearby is Ephesus, one column of the Temple of Artemis, and the House of the Virgin Mary. As a result, it is easy to see why Selçuk is a very popular tourist destination. During busy times, be sure to book tours in advance. A variety may be found on Viator or Get Your Guide. ETB
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