Like most cities of the Middle East, Ephesus has had many owners. It was founded, most probably, in the 11th century BCE by Ionian Greeks. In succeeding centuries it was conquered by Croesus, king of Lydia, in the 6th century, then by Cyrus the Great, of Persia. In 333 BCE the Persians were finally driven out by Alexander the Great.
During this ancient period, Ephesus was also the site of the Temple of Artemis (the Greek counterpart to the Roman goddess, Diana). The temple was a massive and elaborately decorated structure and one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The city came under Roman rule in 189 BCE and remained an important port and commercial center. During the early centuries of the common era, Ephesus played a central role in the development of Christianity. St. Paul established a congregation here (and wrote letters to the Ephesians).
Ephesus was destroyed by the Goths in 262 CE (along with the Temple of Artemis). Although rebuilt in later years, it went into decline during the Byzantine Empire. Its harbor eventually silted up rendering it useless as a port. Indeed, today, a visitor to Ephesus will find it hard to believe the site was ever close enough to water to have been a port.
The Greco-Roman ruins at Ephesus are a "must see" for anyone interested in this period of history. The ruins are larger and better preserved than even the Forum in Rome.
For more ruins, check out the separate Pergamon page.