A ghost of a gate

Old buildings and ruins are full of ghosts of people, and the shadows they leave behind. They are too insubstantial to be seen without the help of specialists: archaeologists and historians. The ghost of the Hercules Gate of Ephesus was one such. All that we see of Ephesus today is a ghost story, painstakingly put together by archaeologists over the most recent century and a half. The beginnings of this reconstruction are themselves history.

As we walked up the street of the Curetes we came across these pillars which narrowed its width by half. The fellow carved on the pillars, wearing the skin of a lion, is Hercules with the skin of the Nemean lion, which he killed as the first of his twelve labours. The carving has been identified as being from the second sentury CE. It is thought that the columns were brought here in the 4th century CE, when wheeled traffic was forbidden on this street. It looks slightly nicer than the steel bollards which serve this function on streets today.

Heraclitus of Ephesus believed that everything flows (panta rhei). It is specially true of the stones that make up cities. The pillars of the Hercules Gate were found not too far from where they now stand. But some believe that there was a pediment above it. The relief of Nike which stands a little uphill from the pillars is sometimes said to form the possible completion of the gate. This seems to be a very popular background for posts on WeChat. We admired it from some distance, before finding a little window of opportunity to dash in and photograph it between changes of groups of tourists who wanted it as a background for their selfies and each-otheries.

The emperor comes back

The Roman emperor Hadrian was an inveterate traveler, and visited Ephesus at least twice, once in 124 CE and again in 129 CE. The carefully restored structure on the street of Curetes, which you can see in the featured photo, is said to commemorate this visit and is now called the Temple of Hadrian. The open-fronted porch with its four columns and arched entrance leads, through an inner door, into the inner chamber where, it is thought, that a statue of Hadrian once stood. An epigraph found here says that the temple was built by Publius Quintilius Galeria in 138 CE and dedicated to Hadrian, Artemis of Ephesus, and the people of the city by the Asiarch Publius Vedius Antoninus Sabinus.

The reason that this building is so carefully reconstructed is that it was disinterred in 1956, after the Turkish government passed laws against removal of archaeological remains from the country. The Austrian Archaeological Institute was involved in uncovering the structure, as well as the restoration work which ended in 2014. The keystone of the arch at the entrance is decorated with a carving of Tyche, goddess of fortune and prosperity. She is crowned with the walls of the city, in a style that dates from the high Hellenic period, but apparently popular during the era of the Roman empire.

Above the inner door is a semicircular relief featuring a woman who is now called Medusa, surrounded by scrolls and Acanthus leaves. The same leaves decorate the capital of the columns at the front. The four empty pedestals in front of the temple (see the featured photo) would have held statues of four emperors, going by the names carved on the bases. These statues have not been found yet. The structure was refurbished in the 4th century to honour the emperor Theodosius, and the reliefs along the walls were built at that time. On the day I was there, the structure was cordoned off, so I could not get a good look at them. The originals are in the Ephesus Museum in Selçuk.

I could use my camera to take a close look at two of the four panels. In the one you see above, there is an altar at the center. The figure to the left, in Roman military clothing, probably depicts an emperor. The winged figure of Victory (Nike) stands behind him. To the right are figures from mythology. The first one could be Theseus and the bearded figure next to him is Hercules. Four Amazons are shown running from Hercules. The founding myth of the city is that it was built by Amazons, but the story being told here somehow implies that they were driven away.

On the other side of the so-called Medusa was another equally enigmatic relief. Amazons are again shown in flight. This time they are probably fleeing from a figure identified with Dionysius, behind whom stands a Satyr, in front of a figure seated on a small elephant, with a dancing Menead bringing up the rear. I didn’t get a good view of the side panels. One showed the other founding myth of Ephesus: Androclus killing a boar where the city was built. The fourth apparently shows the Christian Theodosius, who banned the worship of the old gods, with some of the banned entities. On my next visit I must go to the museum in Selçuk to see the originals.