Magnificent Christian Landmarks in Turkey
When I first came to Turkey, I was extremely naive about the culture and history. Before arriving, I had neglected to read information that most tourists want to know before they depart on holiday. So, once I was here, I frequently learned weird facts that either immensely surprised me or had me running around for guide books because the accuracy seemed too strange to be true.
Indeed, Turkey is a mixture of hidden gems and surprises but one such topic that took me off guard was the significance of Christian history, which is still reflected in prominent landmarks around the country.
What a Surprise: Christian Heritage
The Byzantine Empire, once the most powerful economic force of Europe had their capital in Constantinople and under the rule of their emperor Theodosius, Christianity became its official religion. A thousand years later they were overthrown by the Ottoman Empire but still had ample time to build many churches. Theodosius however, was not the only one who could take credit for spreading Christianity.
Before the rule of Theodosius, three men who spread the word of early Christianity in the central Anatolian region are these days respected and honoured as the Cappadocian fathers. Encouraging citizens to meet in secret in cave churches and monasteries, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus are considered saints for their contribution of the new religion.
However, the most significant references in the Bible about Turkey lead us to stories of Saint Paul, John the Apostle and the Virgin Mary. Saint Paul preached in many Byzantine cities while John and the Virgin Mary were prominent citizens of the historical city of Ephesus on the Aegean coast of Turkey. This was the second most visited attraction in Turkey for 2014 and it was one of the seven churches of revelation.
Prominent Christian landmarks in Turkey
The history of Christianity in Turkey is certainly interesting but it is a more worthwhile experience to visit the landmarks left behind. Christian landmarks exist in three main areas including Istanbul, Cappadocia and the Aegean coast. As mentioned above, Ephesus is the most popular Christian landmark in Turkey but close by is the Virgin Mary’s house.
No pope has ever confirmed this is her last resting place but this does not prevent pilgrim visits from Christians and Muslims who hold her in high regard. The house in the hills of Selcuk is a simple and humble building, funded and run by the Catholic church so prayer services are available.
Also within Selcuk is the Basilica of John the apostle who is believed to have died in Ephesus and been buried nearby. The tomb still exists today although again, historians cannot verify if it is the exact location. John the Apostle spent many years in Ephesus, looking after the Virgin Mary while writing sections of the New Testament.
Still on the Aegean coast, a popular travel tour is the Seven Churches of Revelation because they are close to each other and can be visited within a span of 3 to 5 days. Apart from Ephesus, the most impressive ruins of the seven churches are Pergamon with its ancient hillside theatre and Sardis that was described in the book of revelations as the “dead church with a need to wake up.” (Find out more about the Seven churches of Revelation tour here)
Other than that, one of the greatest landmarks built during the Christian era in this country, sits in the European region of Istanbul. The stunning and magnificent Hagia Sophia was originally built in 537, but more construction took place after the first two churches were destroyed.
In 1453, it was converted into a mosque when the Ottoman Empire invaded and in 1923, it was declared an official museum with preservation of both Christian frescoes and Islamic calligraphy art. The result is a building that amazes everyone who walks through her doors.
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