Selcuk is the closest city to the ruins of Ephesus and home of the Byzantine castle of Ayasuluk.
It also is one of the least visited historical cities of Turkey even though it is perhaps one of the most amazing ones. In fact, if you time your visit right, you might even witness an unique festival of camel wrestling.
Yes, you heard that right: Camel wrestling. Interested? Come and explore the magnificent city of Selcuk with me!
A brief introduction to Selcuk, Turkey
The city of Selcuk is located 100 km (62 miles) away from Izmir and 3 km (about 2 miles) from Ephesus, making it a perfect home base for exploring the ancient archeological site as well as the other three unique ones found within Selçuk itself:
The Temple of Artemis (one of the original 7 Wonders of the Ancient World), the ruins of the Basilica of St. John and the Byzantine Castle of Ayasuluk. The best part? You can easily visit the three of them on the same day on foot since they are quite close to each other.
Things to do in Selcuk #01: Pray at the Basilica of St. John
This Basilica was built to honor of St. John the Apostle who lived in Ephesus after leaving Jerusalem. It was here that he was exiled by the Roman Emperor to the island of Patmos where he wrote the Book of Revelations. Today, only the ruins of this Basilica remain.
The entrance fee to the Basilica of St. John is 10 TL (about 3 euros) and also includes entrance to the Byzantine Castle of Ayasuluk. To get here you just need to walk a small hill from the main city center (it’s a 5 minutes hike). Just follow the Hellenistic columns and you’ll make it before you know it. Trust me, it’s closer than what it looks!
Things to do in Selcuk #02: The Byzantine Castle of Ayasuluk
This recently renovated castle was built during the time of the Byzantine Empire and later remodeled by the Turks. On the outside you will see the emblematic Turkish flag and the face of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father of the modern-day Republic of Turkey.
The inside of the castle is, however, very underwhelming since there’s nothing to see besides the ruins of a Mosque, however the views over the city of Selçuk are unparalleled. You can also look in the other direction to behold the amazing Turkish countryside and spot the third and last cultural attraction of Selçuk: The Temple of Artemis…the sole remaining column of the Temple of Artemis.
Things to do in Selcuk #03: The Temple of Artemis, Wonder of the Ancient World
The most recent and most well-known version of the Temple of Artemis was built during the Third Century BC after the destruction of the previous one. The Temple of Artemis is perhaps most known for being a part of the original list of the Ancient 7 Wonders of the World, which also included the Floating Gardens of Babylon, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Temple of Zeus at Olympia and The Pyramids of Egypt (the only one to remain still intact to this day).
Today, only a column remains after its destruction in the 3rd Century AD. There is no entrance fee to the site but you will encounter souvenir salesmen who claim to be workers of the site and who will convince you to buy “ancient archeological coins” from them. The coins, of course, are fake.
What you can do, however is to buy postcards and DVD’s about Turkey’s most curious sport: Camel wrestling. Yes, it’s real!
Things to do in Selcuk #04: See a show of Camel Wrestling in Turkey
Camel wrestling is a very unique sport that involves two male Hybrid camels (cross between Bacterian camels and dromedaries) fighting against each other for the love of a female one. Contrary to other forms of entertainment using animals, the camels are not badly hurt after the fight is over and they are always accompanied by their handlers who have the duty to call off the fight before one of the camels gets injured.
You can watch this each February near Selçuk and even if you visit during other months, you can still buy the official DVD of previous camel wrestling matches at any market stall of Selcuk. Isn’t it curious how two docile creatures end up fighting for the love of a woman?
Things to do in Selcuk #05: Explore the temple of Ephesus
You basically have three options to visit Ephesus. The first and most expensive one is to take an organized tour that will also include a visit to the house where the Virgin Mary allegedly spent her last days. The second option is to take a dolmus (minibus) from Selcuk which will cost you 2 TL and will drop you at the lower entrance gate of Ephesus.
The third option? Take the scenic 3 KM walk from Selcuk which shouldn’t take you more than one hour to complete each way. Stay tuned for a future article here at A Journey of Wonders about everything you need to know about Ephesus and the reason why I wasn’t impressed at all with it.
Things to do in Selcuk #06: Go shopping at the Turkish Bazars
Besides eating amazing food and shopping for good quality items (the main specialties of every modern Turkish city), you can visit the night market of Selcuk to see interesting displays of daily life and interaction. Not many locals speak English but don’t worry, they will do their best to make you feel at home.
Also, you can travel to the nearby town of Şirince (6km, 4 miles) by dolmus and enjoy the Turkish wine that is characteristic of the region. Other site of interest is the Selcuk Museum where you will find some of the statues excavated at Ephesus and at the Temple of Artemis.
Where to stay in Selcuk, Turkey
Accommodation in Selcuk is quite diverse and the city is so small that you’ll always be close to the main cultural attractions no matter where you stay. Here’s a list of my recommendations for all types of budget.
Luxury & Boutique Hotels in Selcuk:
Ayasoluk Hotel, located within walking distance to Temple of Artemis, St. John’s Basilica, Ayasoluk Citadel and Isabey Mosque, Ayasoluk Hotel is located centrally in Selcuk.
Sirince Tas Konak offers accommodation in Selcuk. Some units have a seating area where you can relax. Certain rooms include views of the mountains or garden.
Budget Hostels and Guest Houses in Selcuk:
Ephesus Hostel, featuring free WiFi and a barbecue, Ephesus Hostel offers accommodation in Selcuk. The hostel has a terrace and views of the garden, and guests can enjoy a drink at the bar.
Amazon Petite Palace, just 160 metres to Basilica of St John and 600 metres to the Temple of Artemis, Amazon Petite is located in Selcuk. It offers air-conditioned rooms with a minibar, flat-screen TV and free Wi-Fi.
In the end, I recommend you to stay at least three days in Selcuk in order to fully appreciate its cultural heritage without rushing it. Plus, you can always visit nearby Fethiye or Pergamon afterwards to continue your Turkish journey of wonders.
Have you ever been to Selçuk? Would you like to? Were you impressed by Ephesus? Share your thoughts and let me know what you think!