As I look back on my recent trip to Greece and Turkey, a line from an old John Denver song comes to mind:” … life is old there.”
Here in America, there are few traces of ancient civilizations. Towns more than 400 years old are rare on the East Coast, and practically unknown west of the Mississippi. Yet in Greece, it’s easy to visit the ruins of cities that were already a thousand years old in Julius Caesar’s time. The same goes for Turkey.
We visited amazing ruins of the city of Ephesus in Turkey. Our tour guide told us that recent excavations have revealed evidence that people were living there in 6000 B.C. However, the ancient city of Ephesus dates back only to about 1000 B.C. The Greeks established it as an important trading post in Asia Minor. This made the Ephesians wealthy, and their wealth is reflected in the buildings they built, such as libraries and amphitheaters, that can still be seen today.
Ephesus was a major center for the development of Christianity because Saint Paul preached there and Saint John lived there (possibly along with Mary, the mother of Jesus). There was even an ecumenical council there in the 5th century.
During Roman times, Ephesus was booming. Cicero came from Rome to pay a visit. Even Antony and Cleopatra came to see the sights.
Like all great civilizations, decline came to Ephesus. The city was invaded by all the usual suspects – the Persians, the Romans, the Goths, and eventually the Ottoman Turks. Meanwhile, the city’s importance as a commercial center declined as the harbor was slowly silted up.
Visiting today, one can easily imagine the majesty of the ancient city. There are the remains of great buildings everywhere. Thousands of Ephesians engaged in commerce, worshipped at the many churches and temples, congregated at the magnificent library, and used the secret tunnel to the brothel across the street.
There’s nothing like this in America. And I think I’m glad of that. There’s a feeling in Ephesus and Athens and Olympia and scores of other sites of ancient cities in this part of the world that their glory years are behind them.
The people of the Mediterranean live with constant reminders of the former greatness of their cities. And perhaps that gives them the idea that no matter what they do, they cannot surpass the greatness their ancestors achieved. That’s a depressing idea. And one that is foreign to Americans. Most of the time, we still believe that the best is yet to come. And that’s what drives innovation. Life is new here. And that keeps us all young.