Seven Journeys to Anatolia: Episode VII

THE SEVEN CHURCHES OF APOCALYPSE

 

Seven Churches, born of the Jewish communities in prominent towns in Anatolia, are mentioned in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation by St. John the Evangelist. These seven cities played an important role in the expansion of early Christianity westward from the Holy Land.

1. İZMİR – İzmir (Smyrna) “Pearl of the Aegean” is set on a coastline which resembles the delicate tracery of handmade lace. It was in this region, a land of “eternal spring and harmony,” that the foundations of western civilization were laid. Homer was born here. The Church of St. Polycarp, the “anchor” of the Seven Churches, is the oldest church in İzmir.

 

2. BERGAMA – Bergama (Pergamum) was a great center for culture, art, civilization and medicine, and survives as one of Turkey’s finest archaeological sites. The Red Basilica here is the oldest of the city’s remaining churches.

 

3. AKHİSAR – Akhisar (Thyatira), a modern town, is surrounded by vineyards. Lydia of Thyatira, a merchant of rare purple dye, is mentioned in the Book of Acts (16:14) as meeting St. Paul. The remains of the Basilica of Thyatira are in the center of the town.

 

4. SART – Sart (Sardis) was the rich capital of the kingdom of Lydia, graced by monumental buildings such as the Temple of Artemis, the mint, a gold smelter, rows of shops, a gymnasium, and a grand synagogue, the oldest parts of which date from the 4th century BC. The Temple of Artemis was converted to a church after the rise of Christianity.

 

5. ALAŞEHİR – Alaşehir (Philadelphia), the City of Brotherly Love, in ancient times, symbolizes the humanity and tolerance of the ancient and modern peoples of Anatolia. St. John had only good things to say about its inhabitants. In the Beş Eylül district there are remains of a Byzantine basilica.

 

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6. ESKİHİSAR – This was Laodicea, near the present- day spa resort of Pamukkale. Extensive ruins cover several hillsides. It was to the Laodiceans that St. John the Divine wrote “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”

 

7. EFES – Ancient Ephesus is among the most important and popular tourist destinations in Turkey. Many of the city’s graceful buildings survive. Dedicated to Artemis, the ancient city boasted a gigantic temple to the goddess that was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Tradition has it that St. John brought the Virgin Mary to Ephesus after the Crucifixion, and that she lived in a small stone house

(Meryemana Evi) on what is now Bülbüldağı (Mt. Koressos). Now a popular place of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims, the house has received the official sanction of the Vatican. A commemoration service is held annually on August 15th, the Feast of the Virgin. The Third Ecumenical Council was held In the Basilica of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus in 431 AD. In the modern town of Selçuk, adjoining ancient Ephesus, stand the Basilica of St. John, said to have been constructed above the saint’s tomb, and the İsabey Mosque, built in the Seljuk period.

 

MEANDERING THROUGH THE LAND OF FAITH

 

The Menderes River (Ancient Meander) is the largest river in the Denizli and Aydin region. Turning left, then right, left then right, the river snakes its way down to the Aegean Sea. The Meander’s name was applied to this back-and-forth curving, and today any river which fits the pattern is said to be “meandering.” Local people living near the Meander have a more romantic name: the “lover lost his way”.

 

This valley has witnessed the rise and fall of several great historical cities, notably Priene, Milet, Didim, Herakleia, Nysa, Aphrodisias, Hierapolis and Colossai. Priene was one of the world’s first planned cities. Milet was a great commercial harbor and birthplace of several philosophers and sages. One of these was Thales, the famous mathematician, who made precise calculations to predict a solar eclipse. The colossal Temple of Apollo found in Didim was one of antiquity’s most sacred places. The Çamiçi-Bafa Lake (Ancient Latmos Inland Bay) is a peaceful natural reserve popular with birdwatchers, trekkers, nature lovers and photographers. The Iconoclastic priests who came here from Constantinople to live built monasteries, churches and chapels at the foot of the Latmos Mountains and on islands in the lake. The ancient city of Herakleia and its historical and religious buildings were all situated around the Bafa Lake. Nysa was an important education center in the Meander Valley. Aphrodisias, dedicated to the goddess of love, is rich in creamy marble buildings, including a theater and odeon. Other impressive buildings include one of the finest and best-preserved ancient stadiums, the temple of Aphrodite, and the modern museum.

 

A magical and spectacular natural site, unique in the world, Pamukkale (Hierapolis) is a fairyland of dazzling white, calcified castles. Thermal spring waters laden with calcium-rich salts running off the plateau’s edge have created this fantastic formation of stalactites, cataracts and basins. The hot springs have been used since Roman times for their therapeutic powers. Situated on a plateau above the calcium formations are the thermal centers and thermal pools, as well as the ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis. St. Philip once lived here, and the remains of a 5th-century octagonal basilica built In his honor still can be seen. Mount Honaz, to the east of the Honaz National Park, is covered with a gorgeous alpine forest, and is one of the most beautiful and highest peaks in the Aegean region. The remains of biblical Colossai, a site of early Christian activity, can be seen on the northern slope.

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