Ephesus is close to the market town of Selçuk in the Izmir Province of the Aegean region of western Turkey. Izmir is about an hour’s drive to the north. The popular resort Kuşadası is 19 km to the south, and beautiful Pamucak beach is just 5km from Ephesus.
The original settlement was most probably founded on what was then the shore of the Aegean, about 8 km from the excavations we see today.
Over the centuries both the landscape and the location of the city changed several times. The River Cayster (Little Menderes - from which our word 'meander' originates) deposited silt, changing course and enlarging its alluvial plain in the process, causing the sea to recede. There were five major phases of building settlements in the small area around what we now know as Ancient Ephesus.
1. Aya Suluk Hill, where St John’s Basilica is today
2. Around the Temple of Artemis
3. The present Ancient City
4. North of Aya Suluk
5. Present day Selçuk area
Ephesus grew in importance because of its port and its location at the convergence of roads to Smyrna to the North; Sardis and Galatia to the North-east; Colossae and Laodicea to the East.
At its peak, the population of Ephesus 3 is estimated to have been around 250,000, making it the then world’s fourth largest city behind Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. As the harbour silted up and the sea receded, the city declined in importance and the population dispersed.