If you want to know the best place to sit in the ancient theater in Ephesus, follow a cat.
The many felines who roam the ruins of the Odeon after the tourist throngs have left know the best viewing points for the ancient stage where a rare and remarkable performance is about to be presented for the 700 guests on Azamara Journey.
It’s one of a new series Azmara Club Cruises calls AzAmazing Evenings and it’s a rare opportunity to visit the 2.000 year old Greek city on the coast of Turkey when it’s not over-run by tourists. If you’ve ever been there on an organized daytime trip, you know how many thousands of jostling visitors that you usually have to contend with in steamy mid-day temperatures..
This evening, after a half hour ride from the ship aboard a dozen buses, we find we’re the only ones on the site on a pleasantly cool but still brightly sunny evening. Waiters offer trays of wines and mimosas and there are tables of snacks set up between the fluted columns that line the walkway at the entrance to the city
Tonight’s concert will be one of the first public performances in the 1,000 seat theater known as the odeon in nearly two millennia.
I had an initial disappointment that guests weren’t permitted to go any further into the city, with its carved stone streets and the famous facade of its library. I hadn’t been warned in advance that we would not get to tour the city on this complimentary evening. If the description of Azamara’s evening event had mentioned that, I might have signed up for a daytime shore excursion to some of the newly excavated homes in the city during our stop in Kusadasi, the port of Ephesus.
In hind sight, though, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea for guests to be wandering around the uneven stones in the dim light of evening without supervision.
As it was, guides with flashlights were stationed all around the theater to help guests find their way up the steps to the aisles, where Azamara had thoughtfully provided thick cushions to pad our stone seats.
It was a gorgeous evening, with the sun getting low and golden in the sky. To add to the occasion, men were given laurel wreaths to wear and women were offered floral headbands in shades to match their outfits. The staff wore togas and sandals and torches created a dramatically historic effect.
Closing my eyes and listening to the banter of the audience before the concert, I could imagine sitting in this theater in the days when St. Paul was living in Ephesus around 60 A.D. Important meetings and speeches as well as concerts were held in this odeon, a small theater as opposed to the huge stadium on the other side of Ephesus.
The structure is still remarkably intact today but there are a lot of stones missing or broken, so it takes a great deal of care to walk around or head out for a drink at intermission.
The performance would be by one of the most highly regarded chamber music ensembles in Turkey and I was glad the music wasn’t from authentic Greek tragedies. The program featured works by such relative newcomers as Bach and Beethoven.
While the orchestra was talented, the instruments consisted mainly of strings and harps and I found myself straining at times to hear the low notes. I really think the performances would be more acoustically effective in the future if the orchestra sets up on stage rather than down in the same orchestra pit.
The fanfares played before the performance and before an encore mock duel of gladiators were works performed on horns and drums, which I imagine were more the acoustics that this theater was set up for.
So was the evening amazing?
It was certainly a unique and memorable experience, which is the idea behind Azamara’s new special event program. Almost every Azamara cruise in the future will include one of these complimentary evening events that are exclusive to the cruise line.
Previous to our cruise, on a stop in Spain, the ship had arranged a traditional jousting competition in which the competiting teams use boats rather than horses. In Gibraltar, Azamara arranged a concert by the Royal Gibraltar Regiment band in the fantastic grotto of St. Michael’s Cave.
Upcoming evenings include a three tenors concert in Tuscany, a candle lit temple tour in Bangkok and a Burmese festival in Myanmar.
And all you have to do is sign up in advance, which nearly all of Azamara Journey’s passengers did for this event. Who would want to miss it?
As we left Ephesus to return for a late evening buffet on the ship, I knew the cats would miss us.
Who else could give them nice snacks of cheese and meats after hours?