“Spine-tingling” is the best word for Ephesus. Today, it is only an archeological site. However, when St. Paul’s message was delivered here, it was an important population center along the Silk Road, at one point the second largest city in the Roman Empire, larger than Byzantium. To walk the streets and see the mosaics, columns, the Library of Celsus, and to know that Romans and apostles walked these same streets will have an effect on anybody, regardless of religious affiliation. (Ephesus (Ephesos))
The site was “founded” over 8,000 years ago. Five hundred years before Christianity, Ephesus was the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven Ancient Wonders of the World, four times the size of the Parthenon. Some of its columns were taken to Istanbul for the construction of Hagia Sophia. Only a couple of columns remain standing. (The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and Their Present-day Locations: The Great Pyramid, Statue of Zeus, Temple of Artemis, and Others)
This is a huge pilgrimage site and it has a rich Christian history. Paul and Mary walked here. Mary may have lived here, though that has not been confirmed. You can visit her “house.” St Paul’s famous “Letter to Ephesians” was distributed to the Christian communities in town while Paul was in prison. It is considered by some religious scholars to be one of his most important declarations of God’s eternal purpose in establishing his church. (St. Paul’s Ephesus: Texts and Archaeology) John the Apostle is buried here, at the site of his Basilica.
The city rose to its apogee in the second century, with over 500,000 inhabitants. It was mostly a commercial center and an important port for trade between Asia and Europe. Because of its strategic importance, it figures prominently in the comings and goings of empires, conquerors, and warlords. Marc Antony and Cleopatra had one of their famous trysts at Ephesus. (Antony and Cleopatra) It went into decline after an earthquake in the seventh century. Over time, the harbor silted up and, by the fifteenth century, the city was completely abandoned. It’s hard to imagine that a place this important was covered over until 1870, when excavation began. Visiting this site is one of the most memorable travel experiences of my life.