2 Ephesus Stories

One of the reasons we travel is to have first-hand experiences of places we have known only in our imaginations. This can apply to any destination but is especially true of places associated with narratives that have been woven into our cultural identities for centuries. If you have visited places with strong historical and/or cultural significance, you know what I mean. There’s an essence of place, made up of layers of history and legend that hang around and bring an intangible or an extra-tangible substance to the physical remains.

Here are 2 stories that contribute to the multifaceted experience of Ephesus.

The Seven Sleepers
Around 250 BCE in Ephesus, despite persecution under the Roman emperor Decius, seven young Christian men stayed true to their faith. They retreated together to a nearby cave to strengthen their resolve through prayer and, after some time, they all fell asleep. Meanwhile, the local Roman officials, under pressure from their hardline leader to cleanse the city of Christians, seeing no possibility of reasoning with the committed youths, sealed them up in the cave.

Nearly two hundred years had passed when the cave was opened by the land owner. Thinking they had just had a regular nap, the young men went out into the city and found it very changed. While they slept, Christianity had become the official religion of the empire and there were signs of it everywhere. These clearly bewildered, oddly foreign men attempting to spend obsolete coins attracted attention and the Bishop was called to assess the situation. It didn’t take long for the Bishop and the seven to realize that a miracle had occurred and, once they knew it, the young men died.

This was a popular story in the early Christian Churches and on through the Middle Ages. The story is also told in the Koran.

The Riot at Ephesus
The Christian evangelist Paul, lived in Ephesus for 2-3 years around 50CE. He preached to Jews and pagans, helped strengthen the church there, wrote letters to other churches and traveled the surrounding countryside spreading the gospel. While Ephesus was a very cosmopolitan, culturally diverse and tolerant city, it was overwhelmingly devoted to Artemis of Ephesus, both spiritually and economically.
The Greek goddess Artemis was merged with the Anatolian great mother goddess Cybele to become the major deity of the whole region, but especially at Ephesus. The Artemis Temple at Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the World and attracted a steady stream of pilgrims.

After nearly 3 years in Ephesus, Paul showed no signs of slowing in his efforts to build the Church there. The artisans and vendors of Artemis statues, who, most likely, had been monitoring Paul from the beginning, were suddenly whipped into a defensive frenzy by one silversmith named Demetrius. They took their outrage through the streets shouting GREAT IS ARTEMIS OF THE EPHESIANS! It seemed the whole city was swept up in the protest. They filled the theater and continued to chant GREAT IS ARTEMIS OF THE EPHESIANS! Paul tried to enter the theater to address the mob but his friends held him back, fearing for his life. Order was finally restored by a city official who recommended that grievances be handled through the proper authority. Paul and his friends were unharmed but Paul left Ephesus not long after.

Visit www.yallatours.com/turkey to see tours to Ephesus.

What Are The Greeks Up To For New Year’s?

Vassilopita, photo from Greek Reporter

Vassilopita, photo from Greek Reporter

On New Year’s, Greeks will be partying and enjoying fireworks, along with the rest of the world. But, also like the rest of the world, they will partake in some local, age-old traditions as well.

In some Christian denominations, including the Greek Orthodox, January 1st is the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus. According to Jewish tradition, male babies are circumcised 8 days after birth. The day is honored as Jesus’ first sacrifice for human kind.

January 1st is also celebrated as the anniversary of the death of St. Vasilios (Basil), an early church father remembered for his generosity, especially to the poor. Holiday gifts are traditionally exchanged on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, rather than the 24th or 25th of December and it’s St. Vasilios who brings gifts for children instead of St. Nicolas.

St. Nick does get a nod though. His feast day on December 6 opens the Christmas season, which ends with the Feast of Epiphany on January 6. The 12 days of Christmas begin with the birth of Jesus on December 25 and end with the visit of the Magi on January 6th. So, while many Americans close the holiday season on January 2nd, Greece remains in the thick of it for a few more days.

On New Year’s Eve, it’s traditional for family and friends to gather for a big meal and stay up waiting for the New Year and St. Vasilios to arrive. They might pass the time playing games of chance, this being a particularly lucky day.

An onion is hung on the door overnight as a symbol of renewal. Once the New Year rings in, a pomegranate, symbol of prosperity, is smashed on the doorstep before entering the house the 1st time.

The Vasilopita is a traditional cake baked with a coin inside. On New Year’s Day, the cake is served and whoever finds the coin in their cake can look forward to a lucky year.

Cheers to all and best wishes for a healthy, prosperous and peaceful 2015!



Ariadne, Theseus & Dionysus: A Greek Love Triangle

Ariadne Giving Theseus a Ball of String to Find His Way Out of the Maze - 19th century painting by Pelagio Palagi

Ariadne Giving Theseus a Ball of String to Find His Way Out of the Maze – 19th century painting by Pelagio Palagi

In Greek mythology, the islands of Crete and Naxos were each the setting of different chapters in the life and times of the deified princess Ariadne. She was the daughter of King Minos of Crete and half-sister to the Minotaur, the part bull-part man conceived by her mother Pasiphae after a short affair with a bull. Continue reading


archaeological site of Troy, Turkey

archaeological site of Troy, Turkey

The archaeological site of Troy is located in western Turkey near the convergence of the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles (ancient Hellespont), the strait that connects the Aegean to the Bosphorus and the Black Sea, a strategic location valuable to whomever controls it.

Excavations have revealed 9 main layers of settlement going back 5 thousand years. The Troy immortalized by Homer in the Iliad, which tells the story of the final months of a 10 year siege of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, has been placed in layer VIIa, dated to around 1250 BCE. Scholars generally agree that the Iliad is a fictionalized, mythologized account of an actual conflict, but that the war was most likely over control of the Hellespont and trade access to the Black Sea, rather than the abduction of Helen, the queen of Sparta, as Homer tells it.

Factual or not, the Iliad is full of very human characters and dramatic force that are embedded in the foundation of Western culture and still compelling 3000 years later. Troy is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world, not because of a 3000 year old dispute over territory, but because of the mythical proportions of the characters and events placed there by Homer.

So, that’s what we’re looking at in this post and the previous post, the story of Troy, the people (both mortal and immortal) and relationships that continue to give it life even now, when it physically bears little resemblance to its actual or imaginary self.

When we left off in the last post, the assembled Greek warriors had just set sail for Troy, having purchased good winds with the life of Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia. They’re headed to get Helen, wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta, back from Paris, prince of Troy, who took her.

Paris was exceptionally good-looking but not particularly courageous. What made him think he could get away with stealing the wife of a king? Aphrodite, goddess of love, that’s what, or who. I don’t mean in a metaphorical “love will find a way” sense but in a literal sense, at least as literal as it gets in the realm of myth and legend. Here’s the story: Eris, the goddess of discord, was bitter because she was not invited to the wedding party of the hero Peleus and the sea-nymph Thetis. Eris was a troublemaker by nature. She took her revenge by tossing a golden apple into the party inscribed with the words “for the fairest.” The apple was instantly claimed by three goddesses – Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, all very beautiful and vain. None was willing to defer to another, so they took the case to Zeus. Zeus was far too smart to get involved, especially considering one of the goddesses was his wife Hera, so he appointed the unsuspecting mortal Paris as judge. The three goddesses appeared before Paris in a field, where he was tending sheep, and lobbied hard for his vote. Hera promised to make him the king of Europe and Asia. Athena offered to make him a great warrior. Aphrodite vowed to give him the love of the world’s most beautiful woman, Helen of Sparta. You know how that contest ended. Aphrodite was declared the fairest and the fate of Troy was sealed then and there. Not only was Paris about to bring the enmity of Greece down on his city, but the wrath of two goddesses as well. Troy was doomed. But it wouldn’t be a quick and merciful end.

The siege of Troy lasted 10 years. Paris fought for his city but his brother Hector was by far the nobler warrior and man. Considering all the trouble Paris had caused, you can’t blame Hector for being hard on him, which he was, in a brotherly way. Mostly, Hector was busy trying to save the city and his family. Most of Troy called for the return of Helen to Menalaus. Unfortunately, the big softy King Priam supported his son’s desire to keep Helen and treated her as a daughter.

Meanwhile, in the Greek camp Agamemnon and the great warrior Achilles squabbled over Briseis, the queen of a Trojan ally captured in battle, and endanged their cause in the process. Briseis belonged to Achilles and Agamemnon took her, so Achilles refused to fight. He was the Greek’s best warrior and in his absence they lost a lot of ground. After his friend Patroclus was killed by Hector, Achilles returned to the battlefield in a fit of grief, mowing down Trojan soldiers until the river ran red with blood. Eventually he met Hector and killed him.

That’s pretty much the end of the Iliad but from other sources we learn about the Wooden Horse and the sack of Troy. Odysseus, the wily King of Ithaca, devised the plan to hide their best fighters inside a giant wooden horse, leave it at the gates of Troy and sail away. The Trojans fell for this and brought the horse inside. After dark, the hidden Greeks came out of the horse and opened the gates to the entire Greek army, which hadn’t sailed away very far. That was the end of Troy.

Paris and Hector had been killed on the battle field, along with many other Trojans and allies of Troy, and most of those who survived the siege died in the sack of the city, including King Priam. Agamemnon survived the war and returned to Mycenae only to be killed by his wife Clytemnestra, who hated him for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia. More about that in my previous post. (That family’s tragedy goes on and on.) Menelaus and Helen returned to Sparta.

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

ruins at Troy, Turkey

To visit Troy, spend the night in Canakkale, about a 30 minute drive away. Many people find the site disappointing. It does take some imagination, and a good guide, to connect with the history of the place but I wouldn’t miss it, especially if you’re a nerd for the Classics.

Click to see tours that include Troy on our web site.

Greek Salad, Have Some Today!


It’s tomato season! That blessed time of the year when honest, sun-ripened,  fruits-of-the-gods are bending vines from Portland to Pireaus.

Typical of many cultures, other than the North American, Greeks traditionally eat their big meal in the midday, followed by a rest before heading back to work. The evening meal will be something light, salad and bread, for example. The traditional Greek salad (Horiatiki) is on every menu this time of year. It’s quick and easy to make, pretty to look at and perfectly healthy to eat. Continue reading

Athens Highlights

Changing of the Guard

The last few years have been very difficult for Greece. The economic situation is dire and ordinary Greeks struggle everyday to get by. The anxiety and uncertainty has to be crushing. From the outside, we can only guess. Even from the inside, as visitors, it’s not obvious. Recently, our illustrious leader, Ronen Paldi, visited our friends and colleagues in Greece, and he found the streets, squares and tavernas alive with Greeks. They are not, after all, staying under the covers all day lamenting their hard lot. Greek character has weathered some pretty wretched chapters in 3,000+ years, some of the worst in just the last century. They won’t be beat by this latest test. Visitors are welcomed with the same exuberance as always, only now, perhaps, appreciated more than ever. Continue reading