The picturesque landscape of ruins was the goal of numerous travellers of the early modern period, who gave an account of Ephesos and Ayasoluk in their reports and drawings. The most well-known of these travellers is considered to be Cyriacus of Ancona, who visited the site towards the end of the 15th century. A precise description of Ayasoluk was provided in the mid-17th century by the Ottoman traveller Evliya Çelebi, who was however primarily interested in the Turkish-Islamic buildings. Also in the succeeding centuries, the site was constantly the object of reports by, above all, English and French travellers who described and depicted the ruins. The expeditions however were directed not only at the archaeological remains, but also were focussed on geography, geology and ethnography.
The actual excavation of Ephesos began in the second half of the 19th century, when the English railway engineer John Turtle Wood laid down a number of sondages in 1863 in search of the Artemision. Under the instructions of the British Museum John Turtle Wood pursued the objective to find the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Since he conjectured that the sanctuary lay within the Hellenistic-Roman civic area, a number of buildings, including the Bouleuterion, the so-called Tomb of Luke, and the Great Theatre were at least partially excavated during the course of his activities; of course Wood was not in a position to discover the Artemision. Only at New Year’s, 1869, did he achieve his goal, but his delight did not last long: the poor state of preservation on the one hand, and the lack of major finds on the other, discouraged the sponsors from financing further investigations, and John Turtle Wood had to discontinue his work a few years later.
It therefore remained for the Full Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Vienna, Otto Benndorf, to propose an excavation project for Ephesos to the Cultural Ministry in 1893; Benndorf estimated that it would take about five years to uncover the city. With permission granted and the generous donation of a private sponsor, one of the largest archaeological enterprises on what is today Turkish territory was initiated. Initially the excavations were connected to the activities of Wood in the Artemision, but subsequently they concentrated on the castle hill of today’s Selçuk, Ayasoluk. Successively, archaeological field research was extended to various regions of the ancient city and thus, for example, structures in the vicinity of the harbour, parts of the Tetragonos Agora, the Library of Celsus, and also the St. Mary’s Church were uncovered. In Selçuk itself, an excavation house was erected which still serves today as a base for the archaeological activities in and around Ephesos. The approach of the first excavators was a very modern one: it was necessary to clarify the topography of the city and its development over the centuries, whereby not only the Greco-Roman monuments were considered. In the earliest publications, descriptions of Old Selçuk and the monuments of the Selçuk period are found, as well as a listing of the Ottoman tombs.
The First World War and its consequences interrupted field research for more than a decade. Following the resumption of excavation activities in 1926, attention was intensified on two issues, on the one hand the Bath-Gymnasium complexes, and on the other the Christian monuments such as the St. Mary’s Church, the Basilica of St. John, and the Cemetery of the Seven Sleepers. Once again the political destabilization of Europe, the Second World War, provoked by the National Socialist regime, and its consequences interrupted archaeological activity for a long time. It was to take 19 years until excavations at Ephesos could be resumed. The excavation campaigns, which took place annually after 1956, were carried out with a great effort of men and machines. In this context over the next decades entire city regions were brought to light, and the rubble which was uncovered was transported away by a light railway. »To free the city from rubble and to display its splendid, Imperial appearance« were the goals of the former director of excavations Franz Miltner. The excavation of Ephesos, in particular under excavation director Hermann Vetters, increasingly developed into a large-scale enterprise, while the intensive excavation activities also raised immediate questions concerning the conservation of monuments brought to light in this manner. Shortly after the discovery of Terrace House 2 it was already clear that the painting and mosaic decoration should be left in situ and not transferred to a museum. Nevertheless, it took more than 30 years before an adequate protective structure was erected and the ruins were made accessible to the public; these events occurred under the leadership of Friedrich Krinzinger. Even before the erection of the protective structure over Terrace House 2, an attempt was made via various anastylosis projects to present the preserved monuments in an adequate fashion. In this context should be mentioned the Nymphaeum Traiani, the Memmius Monument, and naturally the reconstructed façade of the Library of Celsus. With the increasing number of tourists to Turkey, the frequency of visitors to Ephesos also sharply escalated. The area of the ruins developed into one of the most highly frequented achaeological sites, due not only to the excellent state of preservation but also to the visitor-friendly presentation of the monuments. Mass tourism is also, however, a great challenge for archaeology: today, an average of 1.5 million tourists visit the ruins every year; 90,000 of them find their way to Terrace House 2. The high number of visitors uses the ruins, makes Ephesos well-known and leads to a great acceptance of the scientific undertaking in the public domain. The visitors, however, place a great strain on the ruins as well, and it is a balancing act to unite goal-oriented research, public relations, and touristic marketing without neglecting one of the sometimes competing components.
While the focus in the 1980s lay on extensive excavation work, above all at the Artemision and in Terrace House 2, so during the course of the 1990s the concentration shifted in the direction of processing the results and the publication activities associated with this. In the field research today, the most up-to-date and in part non-destructive methods such as surveys and geophysical prospecting are deployed, and only targeted and generally small-scale excavations are carried out. Precisely a long-term project such as Ephesos offers the possibility, at one of the most important sites of the Mediterranean region, to conduct fundamental archaeological research and methodological development: the object of research is a city area and its environs, a city which was continuously inhabited from the Bronze Age to the Middle Ages, mostly as the leading community in the region. The permanent excavation team also includes, in addition to archaeologists, an extensive cooperation of scientists from complementary disciplines. The protection of the monuments and the monitoring of the inventory of antiquities constitute increasingly important aspects of the undertaking. Approximately 180 specialists and 60–80 workers per year make Ephesos today into a large-scale archaeological enterprise. The excavations are carried out by the Austrian Archaeological Association with the involvement of national and international research facilities and on the basis of an annually renewable permit by the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Turkey.