World Sign
Vol. 58: The World’s Oldest Sign

Ephesus in Turkey was the largest city in the Aegean Sea area in ancient times. Visiting the ruins of the city under the brilliant sun in a temperature of close on 40 degrees Celsius took its toll on me, but all the same it was an amazing experience which fully compensated for the horrendous heat to be able to see one of the world’s great cultural legacies. The day I was there happened to coincide with the visit of a large passenger liner on a cruise of the Aegean, and the ruins were jam-packed with tourists when I visited them.

I was astonished at the perfection of this ancient city, which had a full range of urban functions and facilities including a large theater with a capacity of 24,000, a market, schools, a library, temples, and even public lavatories.

One of the most popular items on the itinerary of the visit was the advertisement for a brothel, carved in marble into the road surface. A wall of people gathered around the single paving stone.

The footprint in the photograph shows the direction of the brothel. The woman’s face which can just be made out on the right supposedly means that there are girls ready and waiting. The carved heart shape and the square shape thought to represent money are considered to mean that would-be patrons should come along with the necessary money and they will be provided with every service. But I have to say that to me these forms looked like mere scribbles engraved by the mason.

Nevertheless, it is a fact that prostitution is often referred to as the world’s oldest profession and may well go back to the origins of mankind. There’s nothing odd therefore in a sign advertising a brothel being the progenitor of outdoor advertising.

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