Antipatros Sidonios: Tale of the world’s first travel guide

Story and photos by Bob Schulman

Tourists pack the lanes of Ephesus

Chances are you’ve never heard of a guy named Antipatros Sidonios. The English version of his name – Antipater of Sidon – probably doesn’t ring a bell, either. And it likely doesn’t help to know Antipatros was a 2nd century B.C. poet, and Sidon is an ancient coastal city in what’s now Lebanon.

But anyone who’s read a history book over the last 2,100 years surely knows about a famous list put together by this Greek bard. A sort of travel guide to the world’s top attractions at the time, he published it in a short piece of prose:

I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, 'Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.'”

Scholars once waded through 12,000 scrolls in the library of Celsus

From this came the timeless Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Only one of the Wonders – the Great Pyramid of Giza -- still stands. The rest have been lost to the ravages of the ages, such as the Colossus that once stood over the harbor at Rhodes, King Nebuchadnezzar’s Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the soaring Statue of Zeus built to hover over the site of the original Olympic Games, and the huge tomb of the Persian king Mausollos at Halicarnassus, now the popular cruise port at Bodrum on the Turkish coast.

The Wonder of Wonders

About 100 miles up the coast from Bodrum is the port of Kusadasi, where visitors from cruise ships hop on buses for a short ride to the mega-ruins of Ephesus. Along the way, tour guides note you’re about to see the partially restored remains of the second largest city in the whole Roman empire, topped only by Rome itself.

St. Paul preached to the Ephesians in an open-air theater

On most days the city is alive with tourists scampering around the iconic library of Celsus (where scholars once poured through 12,000 scrolls), the temples of Hadrian and Domitian, the fountains of Trajan and Pollio, the Gate of Heracles, the little Odeion theater, the 20-story-high outdoor theater (where St. Paul tried to preach to the Ephesians), public “latriana” potties (kept warm by slaves sitting on them during the winter) and the hillside homes of the Roman silky set.

Out in the boonies of the city is an odd-looking marble column, patched together from pieces of smaller columns. The lone column marks the location of Ephesus’ greatest treasure: the spot where another Wonder of the World – the immense Temple of Artemis – once stood.

Visitors check out 3,000-year-old public pottiesArtemis, the twin sister of the Greek super-god Apollo, was the goddess of the hunt (equivalent to the Roman goddess Diana), wild animals, childbirth and the protector of young girls, among other tags.

Her temple must have been a real eye-popper. Historians say it was roughly the size of a six-story-high soccer field, surrounded by well over 100 columns. Originally built around 800 B.C., the temple was destroyed and rebuilt several times until the Goths finally did it in around 268 A.D.

No wonder Antipatros’ poem singled it out as the most wondrous of the Wonders of the World.

Footnote: Antipatros only listed six Wonders in his poem. Later on, the great Lighthouse of Alexandria slipped into the list to boost it up to seven. (Perhaps Cleopatra had a good PR man.)

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