Several years ago we had an amazing trip to Turkey that included a visit to the majestic 5,000 year old archaeological site at Ephesus. The architectural relics areÂ extraordinary. But for me, personally, I thought I had gone to mosaic heaven.
It has been said that Ephesus is the best preserved classical city of the Eastern Mediterranean and among the best places in the world to soak up the atmosphere of sophisticated Roman times. An astounding fact is that the excavations have been on-going for a century, and so far, only 10% of the ancient city has been unearthed. However, the Terrace Houses have been under excavation since 1960 and now two houses are finished and open to the public.
It was a surprise to me and hard to believe that Ephesus was once a seaport.Â It is now 6 miles to the sea. It had a very large population with many well-to-do inhabitants. They builtÂ the CelsusÂ library that housed 12,00 scrollsÂ inÂ a building withÂ double thick walls to keep out theÂ dampness.Â There still exists anÂ amphitheater thatÂ could accommodateÂ 24,000–so large that is wasÂ visible from miles away.
There are so many extraordinary things to see in Ephesus from great religious sites to grottos and public toilets. But, it was the mosaics in the Slope or Terrace Houses that were occupied from the 1st through 7th century AD by upper class EphesiansÂ and the shops along Curetes Street with their mosaic identifiers that captivated me. The houses are located on the hill at the foot of the Balbul Mountain and are often referred to as “houses of the rich”. There are six residential units with an interior courtyard. Most were two stories with no windows with the open courtyard providing the light. On the ground floor were the living and dining rooms and the bedrooms were upstairs.
My friend, Los Angeles designer, David Phoenix, was at the site this past summer and has graciously allowed me to use his photos for TPB.Â All were taken on his iPhone.Â Most of the mosaics were created out of stone, some individual pieces with roots inches deep. In one house a glass mosaic was found completely in tact in a niche surrounded by hand painted frescoes. The images of animals, birds and foliage along with the heads of Dionysus and Sriadne are extraordinary, even by 5th century AD standards. The glass is so rich and the light makes the images appear to move.
Many of the designs were simple and graphic, but setting balanced and measured patterns required skilled artisans and a source for fine materials. These designs and others from sites in Ravenna, Italy have been the inspiration for the 20th century renaissance of this art form. Just as they enriched the floors and walls of ancient houses with ornamental and mythological decoration, we are updating, re-imagining and re-inventing mosaic–making the art fashionable once again.