Sunday, September 30, 2018

Ancient Ephesus and a Modern Concert

OK, so we've left Turkey, and still so much to talk about! We're now relaxing in Split, Croatia, where we'll be for the month of October. Time to catch up! Let's jump in the Way-Back machine and look at what we've been doing...

We’re currently (19 Sept) in the town of Selçuk, in south-western Turkey. It’s lively, and yet has a laid-back relaxed feel to it — maybe like a beach town only without the beach. (That’s about 10 km away.)

"Our" restaurant in Selcuk -- pleasant!
The big attraction here is not the sea but the ruins. This is the closest living town to Ephesus, a widely-known world heritage site that was once a magnificent city of some quarter-million people. That was about two thousand years ago, though. Julius Caesar may have walked its streets; Paul of Tarsus did, and famously got thrown out of town by the silversmiths and icon makers. They rightly assumed that his message of one true God would destroy their very lucrative business in making and selling of charms for Artemis and the many other household gods that were popular at the time. So yeah, Paul left and continued his preaching through writing; his Epistle to the Ephesians made it into the Bible.

Artemis the Great, originally found at Ephesus, but we saw her at the museum in Selcuk

But the harbor silted up and people moved elsewhere, abandoning the city to centuries of neglect. Now, after decades of excavation removing several meters of dirt and rubble, and considerable reconstruction, we can begin to sense what a magnificent place it was.

A view of the Library of Celcus
Nike, goddess of victory 
It takes a lot of imagination to replace crumbling stone walls with broad marble buildings, but it is still a thrill to be there and walk in the footsteps of historic figures. (Possibly even the Virgin Mary; reportedly she lived there but was asked to leave -- she was considered "unlucky" because, like Paul, she was bad for business. The house where she apparently spent her final years is up in the hills a few miles away.)

House of the Virgin Mary, where she is assumed to have passed her final years

No photos were allowed of the inside, but here's a photo of the photo of the inside

Perhaps the most impressive structure is the Grand Theater, built into the hillside facing the harbor with a capacity of 25,000 spectators. And one thing we did not have to imagine was this stadium (half-) filled with 12,000 cheering fans, because we were there to see it!

As we arrived to our hotel on Selçuk we noticed a huge banner on the building right opposite announcing a series of evening concert and opera performances in the Grand Theater: the First Annual Concert and Opera Festival! And the last performance was the day we would be visiting Ephesus (or Efes, in Turkish).

We started our day with a visit to Mary’s House. Afterwards, our driver left us at the upper entrance to Efes and we spent a rather exhausting 2-1/2 hours walking the streets of this ancient city, and visiting the “Terrace Houses”, a fairly recent, on-going excavation of rich folks homes rising just above the main thoroughfare. We could have stayed longer if we’d started earlier, but it was now hot and we were tired. We met our driver at the bottom and went straight back to our hotel. We wanted to be well rested for the event that night!

On-going excavations of the Terrace Houses

These were the homes of the rich and well-known of Ephesus, so no expense was spared in decoration

By asking around at our hotel and tourist offices we got our tickets at a good price {25 Turkish Lira, about $4 USD!), and learned there was a free shuttle to the event (although there were multiple stories as to the exact pick-up point). We waited, tentatively, in front of the city hall and were gratified to see others show up, looking about hesitatingly, cushions in hand (we’d been warned those stone seats were hard). Soon the bus arrived and we all piled in. We met two German women living in Turkey, and we pumped them with the usual questions: Why did you come here? How? Was it hard to get the long-stay visa? Do you go back? But it was a short trip and within 15 minutes we were stuck in traffic on the road leading into Efes.

The sun set while we were on the bus, waiting through traffic; we arrived at the site 8 PM just as the gates opened. We all flowed in, in a huge mass, and soon were climbing the steep ancient steps to the seats. Arriving early was a mixed blessing: we got good seats near the stage, and were able to watch as the sky over the distant ocean faded to black. We also had to wait in those hard seats for an hour as people continuously poured in. By the time the musicians filed into the orchestra pit nearly every available seat was occupied (although the upper half of the stadium has yet to be restored, and so is fenced off).

The Grand Theater during the day. Just imagine it filled with people!

And later that same night!

View from the theater out towards the ocean (that used to be closer), along the Harbor Road

Concert goers arriving on the Harbor Road

The performance itself was extraordinary. Carmina Burana, by Carl Orff, is Incredibly dramatic, and was the perfect complement to the drama of the venue. (I really enjoyed watching the guy on that massive kettle drum attack it with his simple but precisely-timed strokes; he clearly enjoyed his work!) There was a full orchestra, plus a chorus of 60 that filled the back of the huge stage, leaving plenty of room for the 40 or so dancers.

The Theater ready for the evening concert
Nearing capacity under the blue stage lighting

Spectators fill the seats as the sky darkens
Love those big drums!
I shot some video of the concert. Here are excerpts from the dance and opera:

I’ve been to a number of outdoor festivals, and have often been frustrated by my fellow spectators who insist on discussing last week’s barbecue (or whatever) as world-class musicians play right in front of them. This night there was none of that. During the entire, intense hour of the performance I heard nothing more than a few muffled coughs. We all recognized and respected the enormity of this project, restoring and revitalizing this extraordinary performance space. Plus, the talent and precision of the dancers, singers, and musicians was beyond reproach. All in all a truly memorable occasion!!

A full orchestra with a chorus of 60!

The precision dance moves were amazing

Final bows at the end of the concert 
Ah, but then we had to leave, and we were far from the exit. But everyone flowed smoothly, and we were soon on the wide marble walk heading to the parking lot, where we figured we’d find the bus that brought us. Probably.

Finding the bus wasn’t hard; it was pretty big. It was also pretty full, so we jammed ourselves in. Some kind young folks gave up their seats for us (I’m not used to that, but I sure appreciate it!) I find the Turks wonderful people, but they are not the most patient and disciplined of drivers, which is to say cars were parked all over the place. It took quite a while before the bus could even move, and then much longer to inch slowly towards the highway, jammed in with the good citizens of Selçuk, all of us abuzz with the remarkable experience we’d just had.

The next morning we were enjoying the balcony of our hotel room, looking at the three-story poster of the First Annual International Efes Concert and Opera Festival, mounted on the museum building right across from our hotel. Since the last performance was the one we had just attended, workers were ready to remove the poster. Paula no sooner pulled out her camera to capture this poster than a man appeared to take it down! He gracefully waited a moment, and then down it came, done until next year. And we looked at each other, and thought of the magical night, and asked ourselves, did that really happen? Another ephemeral event...
View from our hotel balcony. Down comes the poster that started it all!

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