Biblical Sites
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Istanbul

 

Istanbul (previously Constantinople) is the largest city in Turkey with a population of almost 14 million people. Turkey is a place to which the phrase "East meets West" really applies, and that's especially true of Istanbul, where the continents of Europe and Asia come together, separated only by the Bosporus. On the vibrant streets of Istanbul, miniskirts and trendy boots mingle with head scarves and prayer beads.

Istanbul has many attractions for visitors, especially those interested in history and religion. The ancient city is a layering of civilization on civilization, empire built on empire. It's been called as momentous as Rome, as captivating as Paris, and as exotic and chaotic as Bangkok. As a major religious center (it has been the heart of the Greek Orthodox Church as well as the Islamic faith for centuries), Istanbul is the custodian of one of the world's most important cultural heritages and home to some of the world's most opulent displays o art and wealth, most of which were built in the name of faith.

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Izmir (Smyrna)

Izmir (the Turkish version of its original Greek name Smyrna) is the second-largest port and third largest city (2.5 million) in Turkey.

Izmir is located on the Aegean Sea near the Gulf of Izmir and is the capital of the Izmir Province. As a major city, it is easily accessible by plane, train or automobile and abundant in facilities for travelers. Izmir makes an excellent base for exploring the famous ancient cities of

Ephesus, Pergamum, Miletus, Priene and Sardis, all of which are within easy driving distance. Rich in history and archaeological remains, Izmir is also widely regarded as the most westernized city of Turkey in terms of values, ideology and lifestyle. Nicknamed "the pearl of Aegean," Izmir is home to wide palm-lined boulevards, smart shops, hotels and restaurants, a busy port and exotic old quarter. The climate is pleasant even in the summer, thanks to a refreshing sea breeze.

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Izmit (Nicomedia)

Izmit is a sizeable city (population about 200,000) in northwestern Turkey that was once the ancient Nicomedia. It lies near the head of Izmit Gulf in the Sea of Marmara.

 

What to See

The city of Izmit spreads across several hills and over a narrow plain that contains its commercial and industrial sections. Historical monuments in Izmit include the remains of the ancient walls of Nicomedia and a Byzantine fortress. A 16th-century mosque was built by the renowned Ottoman court architect Sinan. [More Info]

 

Iznik (Nicea)

Iznik is a small town in northwestern Turkey, on the eastern shore of Lake Iznik. It is the modern successor of the important Byzantine city of Nicea (or Nicaea), where the famous Council of Nicea was held in 325 AD.

 

What to See

Several monuments from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman ages are well preserved in modern Iznik. Nicea's Roman and Byzantine city walls, 14,520 feet (4,426 m) in circumference, remain almost entirely intact around the city. They were built in 300 BC by the Greek Lysimachus, then ruler of the town, and were frequently repaired by the Byzantines and Ottomans. The main gate is the Istanbul Gate, on the north side, decorated with a carved relief of fighting horsemen.

Nicea had an ancient theater, built between the lake and Yenişehir Gate. It was built by the Proconsul of Bythinia, Plinius, in 112. By the 13th century, it was turned into a mass grave. Archaeological excavations have revealed that a church, palace, Ottoman ceramic workshops and tile kilns were constructed within it.

The First Council of Nicea was held in the Senatus Palace, which sadly now lies beneath the waters of Lake Iznik. The highlight for religious travelers and historians are the ruins of the 4th-century St. Sophia Cathedral, the site of the Second Council of Nicea. It is located in the town center. Renamed Orhan Ghazi Mosque in 1331 and badly damaged by earthquake and fire, the building was restored by the famous architect

Sinan in the 16th century. The ceiling of Haghia Sophia has collapsed but much still remains. On the wall of a grave room is a fresco of Christ and there are surviving mosaic pavements on the floor. The 14th-century Green Mosque (Yesil Camii) is named for the green tiles adorning its minaret. The original tiles have now been replaced by inferior copies. The Iznik Archaeological Museum is across from the mosque. One of Iznik's nicest historical buildings, the museum is housed in the Kitchen of Lady Nilüfer (Nilüfer Hatun Imareti). The imaret (kitchen) was set up in 1388 by the wife of Ottoman ruler Orhan Gazi, as a hospice for wandering dervishes. Visitors enter through a spacious five-domed portico, which leads to a central domed area flanked by two more domed rooms. The museum's collection consists mainly of Roman antiquities and glass, supplemented with some recently-discovered Seljuk and Ottoman tiles.

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Konya (Iconium)

Konya (also spelled Qonya, Koniah, Konieh, Konia, and Qunia) is an ancient city in central Turkey. It has a population of about 900,000 and is known for the piety of its residents and as the center of Sufi mysticism.

Once known as Iconium, Konya is historically and religiously significant on several counts: it was one of the missionary destinations of St. Paul; the site of one of the first church councils; the capital of the Seljuk empire from 1150 to 1300; and the home of Rumi (Mevlana), the Sufi saint who founded the Whirling Dervishes.

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Laodicea

 

Laodicea is an ancient city in present-day western Turkey, founded by Seleucid King Antiochus II in honor of his wife, Laodice. Laodicea became a prosperous Roman market town on the trade route from the East, famous for its woolen and cotton cloths. The city was an early center of Christianity and one of the Seven Churches of Revelation. In the 4th century, Apollinaris of Laodicea proposed the theory

later called Apollinarianism, which was considered heretical by the Catholic Church. A large earthquake destroyed Laodicea and it has never been rebuilt. Remnants of the ancient city include a stadium, sarcophagi, an amphitheatre, an odeon, a cistern and an aqueduct. Most of the city remains to be excavated. Most visitors use nearby Denizli (population 200,000) as a base for exploring Laodicea.

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Miletus

Miletus, near the coast of western Turkey, was one of the most important cities in the ancient Greek world, but eventually declined due to the silting up of its harbors. St. Paul stopped at Miletus on his Third Missionary Journey, on his way back to Jerusalem. There are many well-preserved ruins to be seen at the site, including a Temple of Apollo, a Byzantine church, and an important inscription relating to Jews.

 

In the Bible

Miletus was one of St. Paul's stops on his Third Missionary Journey. According to Acts 20:16-38, Paul was on his way back to Jerusalem, and in a hurry because he wanted to reach the holy city by the day of Pentecost. Coming from Troas, he bypassed Ephesus but paused at Miletus and called for the elders of Ephesus to come meet him there. His lengthy farewell speech to them included a quote of the otherwise unknown saying of Jesus, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." He said he would probably not see them again, for "the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me." The elders wept to hear this, they prayed and embraced, and then brought him to the ship where he sailed for Jerusalem. Paul's speech on this occasion is his only recorded sermon delivered exclusively to believers.

Another visit to Miletus is suggested by 2 Timothy 4:20, which describes Paul leaving Trophimus in Miletus due to illness.

 

What to See

It is difficult to imagine that Miletus was once situated on a peninsula, with three harbors on the west and one on the east. Today, the harbors have silted up to such an extent that the ruins of Miletus are located in a broad plain 5 miles inland.

A good place to start your tour of Miletus is from a ruined Byzantine castle on a hill behind the theater. This provides a good view of the widely scattered ruins and the original coastline around Miletus (which can only be seen from up here). The city walls were massive - more than 30 feet thick in places - but were stormed by Alexander the Great in his conquest of the city.

In St. Paul's time, Miletus had two main harbors. The Theater Harbor was where the original Cretan inhabitants settled. The theater faced it, to the southwest, where the ticket office now stands. The Lion Harbor was guarded by two marble lions, one of which can still be seen.

Below the Byzantine castle is a Hellenistic heroon, a monumental tomb to honor a local hero who was deified. On the west side of the vaulted tomb chamber are five small niches to hold the remains of family members. In the center of the tomb's floor is a rectangular hole for sacrifices.

Miletus' theater is large, with a facade of 460 ft (140 m) and a present height of 100 ft (30 m) high. It was originally built in the 4th century BC, but modified and enlarged under Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century AD to seat 25,000 spectators. Also added in the Roman period was a third floor to the stage building, which was decorated with columns and hunting scenes with Eros. In the center of the first two rows, four columns designated a special box for the emperors.

In the theater is an important inscription. On the fifth row of seats are the words (in Greek): "For the Jews and the God-fearers." This reinforces Josephus' report about tolerance for Jews at Miletus. It is also significant in indicating a sizeable Jewish community and one that participated in the theater, unthinkable among more conservative Palestinian Jews. Some experts believe the inscription is better translated "For the Jews [called] God-fearers," referring to non-Jews who joined the Jewish community but continued to attend the theater. [More Info]

 


Church of St. Nicholas, Myra

The Church of St. Nicholas in ancient Myra (modern Kale or Demre) is a ruined Byzantine church containing the tomb of St. Nicholas of Myra (the inspiration for Santa Claus), as well as many fine mosaics and murals.

 

What to See

The floor of the church is several meters below street level, and is accessed by a steeply descending ramp. There are fine marble mosaic pavements (opus sectile) and faded wall paintings throughout the church.

The church has three side aisles; the two on the south have chapels at the east end. A room beyond the north aisle provides access to the upper storey.

The nave is covered by a groined vault and has a synthronon (set of stepped seats for the clergy) with a covered passage in the apse. The stone altar is surrounded by four broken pillars and the exonarthex and narthex are well-preserved.

The empty tomb of St. Nicholas is in the south aisle between two pillars and behind a broken marble screen. A reused Greek-era sarcophagus, the lid features effigies of a man and a woman. The cloisters on the north side of the church are in a good state of repair.
Festivals and Events The Church of St. Nicholas is only used for religious services one day each year: the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6. The ecumenical celebrations begin with a Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy celebrated by the Metropolitan of Myra, who lives in Istanbul. Next is a service in which Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant clergy participate. The Cardinal Archbishop of Bari, where the saint's relics are now, is also represented. The International St. Nicholas Symposium is held at Demre in early December of each year.

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Pergamum (Bergama)

Built on a conical hill rising 1,000 feet above the surrounding valley, Pergamum (or Pergamon) was an important capital city in ancient times. Its Greek name means "citadel." The modern city of Bergama, 150 miles north of Izmir, is the successor of ancient Pergamum.

A lack of modern accommodations means that Bergama is often a very quick stop, if visitors bother to come at all. But it is well worth a long stop, for Bergama is home to two of the country's most celebrated archaeological sites: the Acropolis and the Asklepion of ancient Pergamum, both listed among the top 100 historical sites on the Mediterranean.

Most of the extraordinary buildings and monuments in Bergama date to the time of Eumenes II (197-159 BC), including the famed library, the terrace of the spectacularly sited hillside theater, the main palace, the Altar of Zeus, and the propylaeum of the Temple of Athena. In the early Christian era, Pergamum's church was a major center of Christianity and was one of the Seven Churches of Revelation (Rev. 2:12-17).

The ancient city is composed of three main parts: the Acropolis, whose main function was social and cultural as much as it was sacred; the Lower City, realm of the lower classes; and the Asklepion, one of the earliest medical centers on record. [More Info]

 

Philadelphia (Alasehir)

Modern-day Alasehir, Turkey was originally named Philadelphia, "city of brotherly love." Philadelphia/Alesehir is located approximately 80 miles east of Smyrna/Izmir and 26 miles southwest of Sardis. It stands on the Cogamis River, a tributary of the Hermus river.

 

what to see

Today, all there is to see at ancient Philadelphia are columns of a Byzantine church, on which some frescoes are visible. [More Info]

 

Pisidian Antioch

Pisidian Antioch (also called Antioch-of-Pisidia) was a major Roman colony that was visited by St. Paul on his First Missionary Journey. Pisidian Antioch marked an important turning point in Paul's ministry, as the city became the first to have a fully Gentile Christian community.

The ruins of Pisidian Antioch lie about a mile north of the modern town of Yalvaç, which is 110 miles west of Konya. The highlights of a visit here are the substantial archaeological site and the Yalvaç Archaeological Museum.

 

In the Bible

According to Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas came to Pisidian Antioch early in their first missionary journey. They arrived from Cyprus via Perga, so would have taken the Via Sebaste into Antioch. On the sabbath, they went to the local synagogue and were invited to speak to the congregation. Their message was received with great interest, and on the following sabbath "almost the whole city gathered" to hear them. Some converts were made, but some of the Jews stirred up opposition against them and they were driven out of the city. Paul and Barnabas then went to Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. On their return journey, they stopped by Antioch and encouraged the Christian converts.

Pisidian Antioch is not mentioned as part of Paul's second missionary journey, but Acts does say that Paul "went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia" (16:6), which may imply a return visit. Similarly, Acts 18:23 mentions Paul visiting Galatia and Phrygia on this third missionary journey. The only other direct biblical reference to Pisidian Antioch is in 2 Timothy 3:11, where the author mentions the unpleasant experience in the city. Pisidian Antioch may be the hometown of a convert Paul met in Cyprus, the proconsul Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:4-12). See below for an interesting inscription that mentions his name.

 

What to See

A tour of the archaeological site begins at the Triple Gate, which dates from 212 AD. About 26 feet wide, this monumental gate was decorated with reliefs of kneeling captive soldiers, floral motifs, weapons and winged features on pedestals holding garlands. Near the top on the front and back were inscriptions in bronze letters, once a dedicatory inscription to Emperor Hadrian, the other an identification of the person who paid for the gate.

Inside the city walls, the site centers around two main Roman streets: the Cardo and the Decumanus, positioned at right angles. The Decumanus Maximus leads from the Triple Gate to the intersection with the east-west Cardo. Along the way, on the visitor's left (north) is the remains of what was probably a second agora followed by the theater.

The theater was built by the Greeks and enlarged by the Romans to a seating capacity of 15,000; it may be the site of St. Thekla's martyrdom. Its construction is unique in containing a tunnel on its southern side through which the Decumanus Maximus passed. Thus part of the seating of the expanded theater was built right over the street.

The Cardo Maximus street ran north-to-south through the city. Behind the colonnades along the street were small shops, bars and restaurants. Several game boards can be seen ethced into the paving stones for playing various games of dice. (The other Antioch left a mosaic portrait of this pasttime.) The Cardo terminated at the 1st-century AD nymphaeum, a fountain from which water was distributed to the whole city. Behind it, a 1st-century aqueduct brings water down from the hills to the city. To the northwest of the nymphaeum is the palaestra (exercise area) and adjoining Roman bath. A large part of the bathouse has survived and is still being excavated.

On the east side of the Cardo not far from its intersection with the Decumanus was the most important structure in the city: the imperial sanctuary with its temple to Augustus. Built on the highest point of the city, the temple was a approached by a wide, colonnaded walkway (the Tiberia Plateia or Square of Tiberius).

Crossing the Square of Tiberius, visitors would then pass through a three-arched propylon or triumphal gateway. Built in the early 1st century AD, the gate bore an bronze dedicatory inscription to Augustus and was decorated with sculptures and reliefs celebrating his victories. Attached to the propylon was a Latin copy of the Res Gestae Divi Augusti (a record of the emperor's accomplishments), fragments of which were discovered at the site. [More Info]

 

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