The Seven Churches of Revelation

Travel Journal of NH and BJ, 2002

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Oct 24th – Oct 26th: Tour of the Seven Churches of Revelation

Early in the morning we took a taxi to the airport, costing us 25 million TRL (approximately RM58) for the flight to Izmir. By 930 am we reached Izmir, the third largest city of Turkey that was formerly known as Smyrna (!)

For the Seven Churches tour, we engaged a local tour agent – BEF Tourism. I obtained the information re the tour agent from the internet and checked with the Department of Tourism of Turkey to ensure that the tour agent is a ‘reliable’ one. The people from Department of Tourism was really efficient in answering enquires like this – they replied my email promptly informing the registration number of the agency! After some negotiations through email, for USD 250 per person they would take us through the 7 churches in 3 days, and the fare includes all meals and 2 nights stay. We also asked them to purchase the Istanbul – Izmir return air tickets for us. If we purchased the tickets from Malaysia, it will cost USD 290 per person, however, I learned from the website of Turkish Airline that if we purchased the ticket in Turkey, it costs only USD 150! Our tour agent was helpful in purchasing the tickets for us and delivered the tickets to our hotel in Istanbul – at no extra charge!

Ephesus

As we came out from the airport, a middle age man, named Iekhsan, came to greet us and took us to the tour van. There were 7 others (2 American ladies and 5 Koreans) who joined us for the tour to Ephesus today.

The road from Izmir Airport to Ephesus is a modern highway with road sign in both Turkish and English, it is easy to drive in this part of the country!  Along the highway are farms of tobacco, olive, cotton, vineyard etc. It was a hot day with bright sunshine, and we were sweating for the first time in Turkey! We reached Selcuk (the modern town of Ephesus) in about 1 hr time and the first destination was the Mary’s House on top of a small hill. This is a famous pilgrim site for the Catholics and Orthodox. It was just a restored stone house converted to a Catholic church, nothing much to see. But the scenery was beautiful and there were lots of tourists. After that we passed through the small town of Selcuk. There are lots of motels and souvenir shops; most signs are in English too! This is a town that lives on tourism, and you would probably encounter more foreigners than Turks! 

Soon we reached ancient Ephesus, just a few kilometers from the town of Selcuk. We came in through the Magnesia Gate, the eastern entrance of ancient Ephesus (‘Efes’ in Turkish), and straight to the Upper Agora and the Odeon. The ancient ruins of Ephesus were full of tourists today – people, old and young, wandering everywhere. This site is like an open-air museum, a piece of history that you are allowed to touch freely! Virtually none of these 2000 years old structures was behind barriers or had signs saying, “don’t touch”!

 

 

The Prytanean (town hall) of Ephesus. A status of Artemis was excavated from here.

 

Our guide Iekhsan was very knowledgeable and spoke fluent English too. He pointed up to us the ancient water pipe system, the Prytaneum where the statue of Artemis was discovered, led us through Curetes (‘Priest’) Street, explained to us the differences between Corinthian, Ionian and Doris columns (I have forgotten by now!).

 

 

Our guide said these water pipes 

dated back to the time of ancient

Ephesus in Paul's time.

 

 

The majestic Curetes Street of ancient Ephesus

 

 

 

Iekhsan also showed us the Gates of Hercules, Trajan’s Fountain and brought us to see the ancient Latrines! We found a shady place to escape from the scorching sun for a moment, little did we know that those marble slabs we sat on were more than 2000 years old, and was part of the public brothels then!!

 

 

             This is the ancient latrines!

 

                  The Fountain of Trojan in Ephesus

 

Opposite the brothels is the majestic Library of Celsius, a huge 3-storey building that had been partially restored. The Austrian who excavated the site earlier, however, had taken most of the artifacts away, and they are now in the Ephesus Museum in Vienna. The sculptures we saw in the restored library are actually replicates donated by the Vienna Ephesus Museum

Next to the Library was the Lower Agora, with a very impressive gate of entrance. This was the famous market place of ancient Ephesus. Once there were hundreds of shops here; as ancient Ephesus was an important seaport. Today, only broken walls remain.

 

 

The majestic Celsius Library, next to it is

the entrance gate to the Agora

 

The grand Ephesus Amphitheatre, still in excellent shape

Inside the Amphitheatre

 

Opposite it is, of course, the famous Ephesus Amphitheatre that is still a functional theatre today. That was where, as recorded in Acts 19, the Ephesians gathered to shout ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians’ for 2 hours! Paul’s ministry here was so powerful that the silversmiths making silver shrines of Artemis were losing business like anything, and in desperation, they incited the riot. In the spiritual realm, this gathering was also a satanic attempt to intimidate the Church into backing off as well as a spiritual warfare! The Amphitheatre was full of tourists everywhere, but we did have some time to pray quietly here, and we thanked the Lord for the Celebration Ephesus event held here three years ago. In Oct 1st, 1999, 4000 Christians from every part of the world gathered here for a four-hour celebration of the Lord Jesus. I believe that was a powerful spiritual warfare against the Spirit of Artemis that continues to entrench itself here in this land.  O God, let the prayers uttered during the Celebration Ephesus come to pass! *

As we walked along the Harbor Road, our guide Iekhsan drew our attention to the famous advertising sign for the city brothel.  

The advertising sign for the city brothel: the foot pointing to the direction of the brothel house. Can you see the picture of a woman at the right of the foot, and upper left from the foot a drawing of the heart (love?)?

 

But he also pointed up to us the very interesting signs of double crosses in a circle carved on the marble floor. Iekhsan explained to us that this sign represents the Greek word ‘fish’, or I X q YS (ICHTHYS), and in Greek, this is the acronym of the ancient Christian creed: Jesus Christ the Son of God the Savior (Ihsos Christos Teos Yios Sotra).

 

The Harbor Way. Paul and John must have walked through this road to the city

 

 

 

The sign of the 'double cross in a cycle'. This is what you get when you superimpose the letters of 

I X q YS.

 

We do not know why the Ephesians carved the sign on the marble floor (quite a number of them), as a way to ‘secretly’ communicate with other Christians (for it is known that early Christians used ‘fish’ as a secret symbol of Christianity as they communicate with one another)? Or was it a bold way to proclaim their faith?

 The Harbor Way is still well preserved but the buildings there were no more. I could imagine how Paul, and later on John, landed here and walked along the Harbor way, and walked through this great city that was full of majestic pagan temples and places of worship, a city that honored all kinds of gods in addition to the Artemis, and had the boldness, the audacity to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ: “Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior of Man,” that “there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved”!

After spending an hour plus touring the ancient Ephesus, we went for a Turkey buffet lunch. This is quite typical lunch provided for group tourists, the food is a bit like our mixed rice in Malaysia but the settings look a lot better. After this we went to visit the ruins of the Artemis Temple, about 2 km from ancient Ephesus. This temple, once one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, has only 1 column standing today (and the column is also a restored one) and only some broken pieces of stones. But it was apparently a very big building. Somehow I always think that the Artemis Temple was built on top of a hill, but it actually was built on the marshy lowland right next to the new Selcuk town center. There is nothing much to see here.

 

The ruins of the Artemis Temple in Ephesus. On the hill is the ruins of the Church of St John

 

After that we proceeded to a small hill overlooking the Artemis temple site. On this hill are the ruins of the Church of St John. This was built in 560 AD, the same time the Emperor Justinin built Aya Sofia in Constantinople. It was a very grand building – we note that John was highly revered in this whole region, but we seldom come across ruin of church of St Paul! I wonder why? In this part of Turkey, almost everywhere you can see churches dedicated to John! From the partly restored structures we can imagine how majestic the building must be in its days. St John was supposed to be buried here (his tomb was supposed to be here). We also visited the restored, unique baptismal pool – shaped like a keyhole. There was a cemetery surrounding the baptismal pool too.  According to our guide Iekhsan, they buried the ‘important’ people near the pool.

 

    

The ruins of the 6th century Church of St John in Ephesus

  

     The restored baptismal pool

 

   The Tomb of St John
 

From the lookout area of the small hill one can clearly see the Artemis temple site, the two small hills surrounding the ancient Ephesus, and the marshland that was once the harbor of Ephesus.

 

A view of the ruins of Artemis (the valley below) and the two small hills surrounding ancient Ephesus. From the Church of St John lookout.

 

On the way to St John church BJ spotted a shop house with a signboard ‘Efes Protestant church’, we were very excited – now here is a living church, not just ruins! And so on the way down the hill I requested Iekhsan to stop there for a minute so that at least I could take a picture. The bus driver stopped at the right place (and then I notice that the church was just opposite the ancient site of the Artemis Temple). I rushed down to take a few pictures and then back to the van.

As the van started moving, a lady came running to the bus and passed to the bus driver (to pass to us) her call card! The other passengers (the other 7) might think that I was doing a crazy thing – none of them are born- again Christians, and they probably could not understand why we were so excited!

 

     

May the Lord bless the Efes Protestant church

 

           

Somebody have attempted to deface the signboard.

 

By then we were rather tired of seeing ruins of churches and churches converted to mosques. It was so encouraging and comforting to see a living church right here in Ephesus! How meaningful the Scriptures would become to them when they read Acts 19, the Epistle to Ephesians and John’s letter to the Church of Ephesus. Even for us, we found that after the visit to Ephesus, these portions of the Scriptures become so vivid to us!

Around the corner is the famous, small Ephesus museum of Selcuk. We were told that most of the ‘treasures’ unearthed from Ephesus are in the Ephesus Museum in Vienna. Nevertheless, there were quite some interesting collections, of particular interest is the statue of Artemis discovered from the Town Hall of ancient Ephesus. Also I took a special interest in the huge marble head and the one arm that are remains of the sculpture of Emperor Domitian, unearthed from the site of the ancient Domitian Temple at the harbor of Ephesus. This was the Roman Emperor that exiled John to the island of Patmos! He looks proud and fierce indeed! He was the one who decreed that every Christian must proclaim ‘Caesar is Lord’ or faced severe punishment or execution!

There was also a special exhibit of gladiators, some interesting recent findings from archeological excavations from the Ephesus Amphitheatre. The exhibits include human bones and weapons used by the gladiators. Apparently, the Theatre was also used for that purpose at that time and some of the gladiators might be those Christians who refused to proclaim ‘Caesar is Lord’!

 

 

  The sculpture of the Domitian Emperor

 

Greek sculpture in the museum

 

By the time we finished the visit it was only 4 pm, still early, so our guide Iekhsan proposed that we visited a Turkish carpet-making center. We all had no objection – we have plenty of time, anyway. So he brought us there. The boss, a white hair man, spoke very good English and was a good salesman. First he showed us the process of making carpet, it was really labor intensive! The girls have to spend months or years to make a good quality carpet. Just imagine these girls, sitting in front of the carpet-weaving machine doing the same, monotonous job of weaving the carpet hours after hours for years, just to make a good carpet! He also gave us a lesson on the quality of carpet, we learned much indeed! Now we know why certain carpets cost only USD 100, while another one may cost USD 10000.  For those of them assigned to make high quality carpets, they may be able to make only 5-6 carpets in their whole working life. The boss than brought us to his exhibition room, got us all to order our drink (Turkish hospitality) and than began to show us his vast collections of expensive carpets. His assistant was a strongly built man, and he would carry a huge, heavy carpet and threw out on the ground before us, and then he would pick up another one and did the same, until there were 15-20 beautiful carpets laying on the ground before 9 of us! The boss was particularly proud of a prayer mat, with pictures of ‘trees of life’, ‘open heavenly gates’ and birds of heaven (this is Islam concept of heaven)! The cost was also heavenly --  USD 90000! He joked that if you pray on this prayer mat, you can go right to the heaven! It was expensive because it took 6 years to make. Apparently the cost of the carpet depends on how many knots per square cm, the more knot, the more time consuming to make, and hence, the more costly! The boss was very persuasive, and with the free drinks it makes us difficult not to buy something. On the other hand, none of us are oil sheiks from Middle East, and so, to his disappointment, nobody bought anything.

When we finished the visit it was 5 pm and so it was time to go back to Izmir. We stayed in Hotel Anemon – Anemon means Tulips of Manisa, it is again related to some Greek legends. The hotel was ok but the room was a bit stuffy, apparently the air con was not functioning well. Unfortunately, the staff here spoke very poor English and we had not been able to lodge a proper complain! At night we felt sort of oppressive in the room. Perhaps that was the way the Lord wanted to make us aware of the spiritual oppressiveness of the House of Mary that we visited earlier....

 Izmir and Smyrna

 The next morning we woke up early and prayed for the Efes Protestant Church, and for God to restore the glory of his church in Turkey, the land that was the cradle of the early Church. As we read the letter to the Church of Smyrna, we prayed also for Izmir (Smyrna). Today’s Smyrna, or Izmir, is the third largest city of Turkey. It is a busy metropolitan but with few Christians. Apparently there is only a remnant of Greek Orthodox and Catholics in the city. This is what my guide book tells me: Before the First World War Smyrna was known as a Christian city, the majority of the residents here were Greeks and Armenians. After the First World War, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and British and France encouraged the Greece Government to seize the Greek-populated southern Turkey so as to form the Greater Greece. Unfortunately, the Greek Expeditionary Force in southern Turkey was defeated by the Turkish nationalist force and Attaturk’s victorious Turkish army finally entered Smyrna as the Greek army flee. The Greek residents here were severely persecuted and at the end upon mutual agreement between Turkey and Greece government, nearly 1.5 million Greeks in Turkey were dispatched ‘back’ to Greece, in exchange for 600000 Turks in Greece. With the departure of the Greek population (and also the earlier massacre of Armenians), Christians -- mostly Orthodox and Catholics – also ‘disappeared’ from this land. Smyrna was subsequently renamed Izmir by the Turks, and today there are only pockets of Christians remain here. Later on as we walked along the road of Izmir, we prayed for God to revive his church here.

 

   

            The Old City of Smyrna

 

              Modern Smyrna

 

Pergamum

 At 9 am the BEF Tour guide came, he was a young man, Mr. Selcuk, who also spoke excellent English. The driver was still the same guy and the same two American ladies joined us. We learned that the 5 Koreans had already returned to Istanbul, they only came to join the Ephesus Tour. We went straight to Pergamum, some 1 hr plus drive away to the north. The drive was scenic and on the way we saw fields after fields of cotton and olives. The coastal drive was particularly beautiful, with the deep blue sea in view – the sea was so blue! By 1045 or so we reached the acropolis of Pergamum. The acropolis was on top of a hill with steep slopes as its natural defense. It rises 1300 feet above the valley below. No wonder this had became the capital city of the Pergamum Kingdom! From the hill we can see the beautiful modern Bergama town nearby.

There were also tourists here but not as crowded as in Ephesus. The van took us to the parking lot near the top of the acropolis. As we entered the city gate of the ruins of the acropolis, Selcuk explained to us the differences between the structures of the walls from the Hellenistic era (without cement – not invented yet at that time) and the Byzantine (Roman) walls – with extensive use of cement. That’s how you can tell whether the walls were from Byzantine era or earlier periods.

 

Hellenistic and Romans city walls

          The Temple of Trajan at the hilltop 

 

Selcuk took us first to the very top of the acropolis (in Greek this means the upper city), to visit the Corinthian Temple of Trajan. What remains here are still very impressive and majestic. They ancient people really spent money to build their place of worship! However, most of the ‘treasures’ (artifacts) excavated here were in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin – something that local tour guides like Selcuk are very angry about. He told us that the Pergamum ruins were ‘discovered’ by German engineers employed by the Ottoman sultan to construct railway. The engineers were looking for stones as building materials and the locals told them that there were lot of stones up there in the acropolis. When the German climbed up there they must be dumfounded -- they knew that they had struck ‘gold’ here! Taking advantage of the ignorance of the Ottoman sultan (who didn’t mind stones being carried out the nation, after all, he reasoned, there were so many stones in the Empire!) the German engineer Karl Humann managed to bring many precious archeological artifacts from Pergamum to Berlin, including the huge, three-story Altar of Zeus. That was really big time robbery! However, whatever left here are still very impressive.

 From the edge of the Temple of Trajan we could see the famous Pergamum Amphitheatre. What a sight! Dating from Hellenistic times, it was cut into the steep hillside and was capable of seating 10000. Selcuk knew the place well and he led us from the hilltop to the theatre through an ancient tunnel – like a secret passage, and it was indeed quite an experience to walk through that 2500 years old tunnel, and suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of the ancient seats of the theatre.

 

The Pergamum Amphitheatre

The 'secret tunnel' leading to the Amphitheatre from the hilltop

 

Sitting here you can have a majestic view of the plains below. And you can let your imagination runs free, to 2500 years ago, with the theatre full of spectators watching the performance with the beautiful valley as backdrop. According to our guide, there was a road from the stage area of the theatre leading to the market square, and people would come here after marketing to relax. The road in front of the stage also leads to the ruins of the Temple of Dionysos, the god of wine. Historians say that during the particular festival, the worshippers of Dionysos would eat raw meat, and drink wine until they were drunk, and ran amok in the mountains doing all kinds of obscene and sexual immoral acts. Perhaps this was what John refers to in the letter to the Church of Pergamum: ‘you have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food scarified to idols and by committing sexual immorality’.

We walked down to the lower part of the theatre and there was a road leading to more ruins: the ruins of the Temple of Athena (nothing much was left), and also the ruins of the famous Pergamum library – once one of the greatest library of the world, but only a heap of stones are left today. This library once housed 200000 volumes and parchment was invented in this city to make books.

 

    The Amphitheatre --still very much intact

The ruins of once the world's largest library -- Pergamum Library

 

From the library a few more steps brought us to the base of the famous Altar of Zeus – and this is probably the ‘Throne of Satan’ referred to in Revelation 2. When the German Engineer Karl Humann rediscovered ancient Pergamum in 1871, the huge, solid Altar of Zeus was still in very good shape, and so it was carted off to Germany, now on exhibit in the Pergamum Museum in Berlin.

 

    

       The remains (the base) of the Altar of Zeus

A model of the 3-story Altar of Zeus in Pergamum Museum, Berlin

 

 

The Red Hall and the Asclepion

 After that we left the acropolis, went through Bergamon town to view the Red Hall – it was once an Egyptian Temple, the Serapeum. It was a temple dedicated to the ancient Egyptian god of the underworld but was converted to a church in the 6th century.  Later on, however, it was converted to a mosque. In fact, a wing of the structure is still being used as a mosque today. This is a familiar story of the church buildings in Turkey. As for the ruins, there is really nothing much to see but tourists are usually brought here after visiting the acropolis.

 We then proceeded to the other side of the Bergama town to visit the Asclepion, the famous Greco-Roman medical center. The center was originally constructed in the 4th century BC and in Jesus’ time was a very famous medical center. This site is just a few km from the acropolis and from here you can have a clear view of the majestic ruins of the acropolis.

 

You can see the acropolis of Pergamum from the Asclepion. Notice the amphitheatre on the steep slope.
 

The Asclepion was dedicated to Asclepios, the ‘god of healing’, whose cult animals were snakes!  The Asclepion was a huge healing complex as well as a cult worship center. The entrance way is the colonnaded Via Sacra (Sacred way) and a few blocks of marble slabs were the remains of the Reception. Apparently, patients who wanted to be admitted had to be examined at the reception. According to our guide, the receptionist would turn away critically ill patients because they did not want patients to die in the medical center! Within the healing complex there were mud bath, exercise facilities, theatre, fountains, library and, of course, temples. There is an 80-meter long underground passage that leads to a two-story circular building, the Temple of Telesphoros, which was the main healing facility here. Selcuk led us walked through the dim tunnel and because there were only 5 of us in the whole tunnel, and the tunnel was so quiet, you really have an eerie feeling! Our imagination went back 2000 years ago, when the patients walked through the same dark tunnel, the only sound they could hear was the distant running of water, and the voices of the doctors above, from the small holes in the ceiling, whispering words of healing and hope!

 

      The Asclepion Medical Complex 

This is the entrance of the tunnel to the healing chamber

     Inside the tunnel: only five of us!

 

Inside the healing chamber --the Temple of Telesphorus

 

The row of white stones

 

At the end of the tunnel we came to the round circular Temple of Telesphoros. The lower portion of the building was amazingly well preserved. This big building served as a place for patients to sleep while awaiting dream diagnosis. Recent excavations found some human bones buried beneath the building – archeologists argued that these were probably bodies of patients who died here. The doctors buried the dead bodies here secretly so that the reputation of the healing complex would not be affected!

In the courtyard we saw rows of excavated white standing stones – these were contributions from the patients – the patients inscribed their names and the ailment from which they were healed on these white standing stones to honor their false god. Were these the stones John referred to as a ‘white stone with a new name written on it’? (Revelation 2.17)

Thyatira

After lunch we headed east to Thyatira, it was a 1 hr 30 min drive. The modern name for Thyatira is Akhisar. Thyatira is a city of 5000 years history. This was where money was first used in the world because it was strategically located on the intersection of important trade roads. Today it is famous for tobacco and olives production. Only limited excavations could be done here because most parts of the ancient Thyatira are populated today. The archeological site, located in the heart of the city, is very small, and only the ruins of the temple of Apollo, a Byzantine church and a colonnaded road had been excavated. There were very few tourists here – if you are not a Christian, there is no reason to come to visit Akhisar at all! Selcuk tried to explain to us the importance of the Thyatira church in the early churches and he could quote Revelation very well – the Turkish tour guides in this area perhaps know the first 3 chapters of Revelation better than many Christians!

Once there were some Greek Orthodox here, but they were all gone after the Turkey Independence War in 1919-1922. I was interested to find out if there is still any church in this town. During my internet surfing, I came across the very friendly webmaster of the Akhisar Web Site, Mr. Mehmet, To my question, he replied: “I am not aware of any Christian people today living in Akhisar. There is no active church here either”. How sad. We spent some time praying and then left for Izmir, which was some 80 km away.

 

   

             The ruins in Thyatira

                        Modern Akhisar (Thyatira)

 

 

Night drive from Izmir to Pamukkale

Selcuk told us he had to send the two American ladies back to their hotel in Izmir, which is why we have to return to Izmir. Otherwise we could proceed from Thyatira to Pamukkale straightway. The drive back to Izmir was boring and took 1 hr 30 min. It was late afternoon when we got back to Izmir. We requested that Selcuk arranged for us to visit the St Polycarp church here. St Polycarp was the disciple of John the beloved disciple and was the Bishop of Smyrna, the famous early father of the church and martyr. According to historical record, when St Polycarp was arrested and was ordered by the proconsul: ”Swear by the genius of Caesar, and I discharge you; blaspheme Christ”, he replied “I have served him these fourscore and six years, and he never did me any harm, but much good, and how can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”  As the proconsul threatened to burn him to ashes, he boldly replied: “You threaten me with a fire which burns for a short time and then goes out, but are yourself ignorant of the judgment to come, and of the fire of everlasting torments which is prepared for the wicked. Why do you delay, bring against me what you please.”

Because it was already late, the St Polycarp church (a Catholic church) was already closed to visitors. However, after some negotiations Selcuk told us that the lady looking after the church would allow us to go in the church to take a look provided that we gave an offering, which we agreed of course! It was a very ornate Catholic church but we were there only for 5 min, hardly time for a prayer, for the lady started to switch off lights!

 

  Inside the majestic Church of St. Polycarp in Smyrna

 

At around 6 pm Selcuk came with a small car, he was going to take us (just two of us!) to visit Laodecia, Sardis and Philadelphia! He was our driver, and personal guide for our 3rd day of the tour. From Izmir to Pamukkale (our base to visit Laodecia and Hierapolis) was a 3-hour drive. A long drive indeed! Finally at night we reached a town not far away from Pamukkale, Selcuk then turned into a country road – he said it was a short cut. It was all darkness at the first 10 min or so as the car rushed through narrow country lanes without streetlight, we were wondering where is this guy going to take us to! Then we passed through some small villages, many villagers – only men – were out in the open square relaxing and chatting! Finally we reached the tourist hotel – Richmond Hotel around 9 pm, just in time for our buffet dinner.

Pamukkale and Hierapolis

Richmond Hotel is a tourist class hotel, the type of modern hotels cater for group tourists. Early at 8 am Selcuk came to pick us and brought us to the ruins of Hieropolis. This was one of the three ancient towns of the Lycus river valley: Hierapolis, Colosse and Laodecia. In Paul’s epistle to Colossians, he mentioned the Christian fellowships in Hierapolis and Laodecia too.

Hierapolis is on the edge of a cliff above the river valley below, where the modern town of Pamukkale is now located. Pamukkale is very famous for the white travertine terraces.  From springs in the cliff almost 200 m high overlooking the plain, calcite-laden waters have created at Pamukkale ("cotton palace" in Turkish) an unreal landscape, made up of petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced basins.

The travertine terraces are really a nature wonder; looks more like snow terraces to me! The travertine is actually calcium carbonate deposit. The hot spring water saturated with calcium bicarbonate surges over the edge of the cliff. As the water cools, carbon dioxide is evaporated off and the calcium carbonate precipitated as hard chalk. Pamukkale is at present one of the most famous resort towns of Turkey. There are so many tourist resorts here; in the Raymond Hotel we stayed, we saw buses after buses of tourists coming in and leaving continually.

 

      The white travertine terraces

 

       

        Another view of the snow-like travertine terraces

 

The main avenue of ancient Hierapolis

 

        

      The massive triple arch of Hierapolis: Domitian Gate

 

The ruins of ancient Hierapolis are well preserved. We entered through the relatively intact, massive Domitian Triple Arch (84 AD) into the colonnaded street. This city was dedicated to Emperor Domitian, and it was said that whoever entered through this gate acknowledged that Domitian is lord. Outside the city, on the hill there was the Martyrion of St Philip, built in honor of the apostle (or the Deacon?) martyred here in 80 AD. Traditions say that St Philip chose to stay outside the city gate because he refused to acknowledge the lordship of Caesar Domitian. To him, only Jesus is Lord!

 

            Above: On the hill is the ruins of the 

                          Martyrion of St Philip

 

 

           Right: Cost you RM 23 (USD 6) to swim

                        in this 2000 year old thermal pool

 

 

 

        
We also visited the Pamukkale Thermal Baths. Hot mineral water still bubbling from the bottom of the pool and you could go in for a swim, in the midst of the ancient, sunken Roman and Hellenistic marble columns and capitals (authentic columns dated back to more than 2000 years ago) but it is very expensive to go in! The ticket costs 10 million TRL per person, that is RM 23 or so!

 

Laodecia – neither hot nor cold

The site of ancient Laodecia was about 13 km from Pamukkale, to get to the site we had to drive through a narrow, dirt road. There was no settlement nearby. The visible ruins dated from Roman era.  Laodecia was the church that was rebuked by the Lord as ‘neither cold or hot... because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth’, this metaphor was almost certainly derived from John’s acquaintance with the springs at Pamukkale and water supply to Laodecia. Standing on the small hill of Laodecia one could visibly see the white travertine terrace of Pamukkale. The spring water of Pamukkale is very hot and is drinkable even though it contains high calcium bicarbonate content. The ‘cold’ water probably referred to that cold water of Colosse – famous for the cool water from the melting snow. Water supply to Laodecia came from hot spring (also rich in mineral) upstream but were lukewarm by the time it reached Laodecia, and the calcium bicarbonate became partially soluble only, and because of that the water was not drinkable, it became an emetic --you would spew it out! Perhaps there was why Jesus says – Lukewarm people make me sick!  Today we could see excavated water pipes in Laodecia clogged by the deposits of limestone.

 

 

          Laodecia: What a desolate scene!
 

      Surveying the ruins of Laodecia city

           

           Water pipes clogged by limestone

 

The city was totally destroyed by earthquake in the 5th century. Archeological excavations are still going on at Laodecia and Selcuk brought us to see a partially restored ruin site. It was rather impressive but we were the only two tourists there! By now Selcuk know we do not need his ‘exposition’ on the Seven Churches of Revelation, and so he left us alone – that’s why we could spend quite some time praying. Throughout the half an hour we spent there, there were only Selcuk, two of us and the watchman there. Lonely place indeed!

Philadelphia

When we had enough of viewing the desolate ruins of Laodecia, we left for Philadelphia. The name of the modern town that built on the site of ancient Philadelphia is Alasehir. It is about 130 km from Izmir(Smyrna) and 1.5 hr drive from Laodecia. The town is perched between high mountains and a vine-covered valley and is a pleasant, quite town, famous for wine production. The town is in a strategic position; the gateway to many cities and so was an important military outpost in ancient time. Perhaps this was why John wrote to the Church of Philadelphia: ‘I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.’

Very few tourists come here – when we arrived, the gate to the site of ancient Philadelphia (just a small archeological site) was still locked, so Selcuk had to knock the door of the caretaker. A lady came out; her house is adjacent to the site, so she came to open the gate for us to enter. Selcuk bought the tickets for us and the caretaker brought some picture books hoping that we would buy some. Of course, we were again the only two tourists there. The site is relatively small and consists of four huge squat brick stumps (like four massive pillars) that once supported the 7th century dome of the basilica of St John. Did the builders of the church have in mind what Jesus told the Church of Philadelphia: ‘Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God’? The massive pillars still stand after 1300 years, but where is the church? Again, there is no Christian presence here in Alasehir.

 

 

The huge squat brick stumps in the ruins

of Philadelphia

 

 

Modern Philadelphia: Alasehir. The ruin site is just behind the modern Hotel Benan

 

Most of the past glory of Philadelphia was still buried deep underground, there have been no attempt to excavate because the area is so heavily populated at the moment.

For lunch we went for another Turkish buffet lunch – the usual one provided by tour operators, but this time there were only three of us, myself, BJ and the guide/driver, Mr. Selcuk, having lunch. We decided to eat in the open air – the weather was good, setting nice also. It was a big, clean restaurant but no other customers. In our many days in Turkey, we seldom came across a restaurant full of people!

 

     Having lunch in the open air

 

Sardis

We soon reached Sardis, the ancient capital of the Lydia Empire. It is 70 km from Izmir. Because of the frequent earthquakes, most of the ruins are still under the ground; only the ruins of the Roman era have been unearthed. It was probably inhabited as far back as 1200 BC and was a wealthy and influential city. The first gold coin in the western world was issued here around 500 BC. The city was totally destroyed in 1401 and never recovered after that.

The main archeological sites include the Marble Way – a Roman shopping street (the Roman Road), and the nearby Roman Bath and Gymnasium complex and ancient Jewish Synagogue.

Walking along the Marble Way is an interesting experience; you can see the whole row of the remains (the low walls) of the shops. The shops are labeled and include a jewelry shop owned by a Jews! In one shop we saw Greek inscriptions and engraved marble blocks with carved cross, indicating that the owner was a Christian.

 

 

  The Old Roman Road (Marble Way) in Sardis

 

    

      Marble block with carved cross in one of the shops

 

A left-turn led us into the restored Jewish synagogue, a very impressive building – but is open air now because the original roof had long gone! The mosaics are also so beautiful; we can see that the Jews then must be very proud of their synagogue. This is one of the biggest ancient synagogues ever excavated. Almost right next door to the synagogue is the restored 3rd century Roman gymnasium and bath complex; it really looks grand!

 

        The restored Jewish Synagogue, Sardis

 

 

  The restored Roman Gymnasium and Bath Complex

 

   A close-up look: Jewish Synagogue

 Can you imagine the glory of the complex 2000 years ago?

 

The gymnasium was a center of Roman civic society and it came with hot water bath. Today, the huge hot water bath (like a big swimming pool) is still there, behind the gymnasium but is full of grass now! It is a puzzle why the Jews built their synagogue right next to the gymnasium – the kinds of activities carried up in the gymnasium in the Roman times were against Judaism teaching, and an observant Jews could not possibly take part in those activities (exercise and training etc in nakedness). All we can be sure is that the Jews must be well accepted in the high society in this city then, for they were allowed to build such a huge synagogue right next to the center of the civic life of the city.

From here we can see the acropolis of Sardis clearly, sitting on top of a hill with very steep slopes. In the very early days Sardis was built on top of the hill, making it virtually impregnable. The ruins of the city walls are still visible from afar. Around 550 BC, the Lydian king Croesus was besieged by Cyrus the Persian. Croesus fortified himself in the acropolis and was sure that Cyrus could not conquer the acropolis. Then one afternoon, a Persian soldier noted a Lydian soldier sneaked down the back wall of the acropolis to retrieve a helmet, and he deduced that there must be a secret trail to go up the steep hill. Cyrus’ soldiers eventually found the secret path and one night crawled up to the acropolis, and they were surprised to find the Lydian defenders sleeping! The defenders on that side of the city wall were so confident of the impregnability of their position that they were not watchful at all. This story appears to relate to the metaphor John used when he warned the church of Sardis, “Wake up! If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you” (Revelation 3.1-3) May we all wake up and get ready for His Coming!

 

Above: The Acropolis of Sardis, viewed from ruins of the Artemis Temple, Sardis

Right: The massive columns in the ruins of the Artemis Temple. Note the reddish brick ruins of the Byzantine church behind the first column

 
 

After this we went to visit another important ruins in the area – the Sardis Artemis Temple. According to Selcuk our guide, this was built in honor of the Greek Artemis – and she is different from the Artemis of Ephesus. The Greek Artemis was the goddess of hunter! Some locals told Selcuk that hunters still come here to ask for success in their hunting! This is really a very amazing temple, the few huge columns still standing are so massive that one wonder how the ancient Greek managed to build them! A surprising finding is the presence of the ruins of a small, brick Byzantine church (probably 5-6th century) right next to one of the massive columns. The church building was in good shape and now equipped with a new wooden door, but it was locked! Otherwise we would like to go in to take a look. A natural question: why should the Christians build a church right next to the site of the pagan temple? Still a puzzle, but our guide Selcuk had his own explanation, he said that symbolized that the old power (Artemis) is gone, and the new power is the church!

 

 

As we spent some time praying, a thought came to us: in term of physical structure, the church is nothing compare with the massive columns of the Artemis temple, however, in the spiritual realm, it is the Church that reigns! The world may look strong and mighty yet in spiritual reality the Christians are the one that have real authority! May we exercise this authority to bring glory to His name!

Throughout our visit in Sardis’ Artemis temple, we were, again, the only visitors. Selcuk had got used to us meditating and praying at the ruins and so he waited for us patiently.

By 2 pm we left for Kusadasi, we have to reach there early, before 5 pm, to buy the ferry tickets to Samos Island (Greece territory) and from there we plan to go to Patmos. From Sardis to Kusadasi was a 2-hour long drive – today we spent 5 hours on the road! On the way we passed by a few road-side stores selling teddy bears and Selcuk asked for permission for him to stop by – he wanted to buy a teddy bear for his girl friend. He told us that his girl friend was not in good term with him last few days and he wanted to use the teddy bear to make it up.

 

  Selcuk told the trader: "I want this teddy bear... but give me a good price!"

Historical Notes on the Seven Churches and the Cities

(taken from ‘St John of Patmos and the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse’ by Otto FA Meinardus, Caratzas Brothers Publishers, New York, 1979)

The Church in Ephesus

For few hundred years after the church in Ephesus was found, it remained an important church in Asia. In approximately the year 105, St Ignatius of Antioch, on his way to Rome, visited Ephesus and later on he wrote to the Ephesians “you all live according to truth and no heresy dwells among you..” In 431, the Third Ecumenical Council convened in Ephesus. From the middle of the 5th century onwards, Ephesus ranked as the second metropolis of the patriarchate of Constantinople. In the 6th century, Emperor Justinian built a majestic church over the tomb of St John – the Church of St John.

In both 7th and 8th centuries, the Arabs twice briefly occupied Ephesus. In 1090 the city was captured and pillaged by the Selcuk Turks, the city was repeatedly raided by the Turks in the 12th century. A 12th century traveler described Ephesus as a city in ruins and the Church of St John in dilapidated state. There are no records about church life in Ephesus at the end of the 14th century. Thomas Smith (1671) referred to the city as being ‘reduced to an inconsiderable number of cottages, wholly inhabited by Turks’. A late 17th century writer reported that the village of Kirkindje near Ephesus was, however, still entirely Christian. The village existed as a Christian village with the lineal descendants of the Ephesians Christians until 1922, when the Christians left as part of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey.

The Church in Smyrna

In the year 105, St Ignatius wrote about the church of Smyrna and commended them for their ‘immovable faith as if nailed to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ’. St Polycarp, the disciple of St John served the church from 115 to 155 and was martyred at 80 years old. Throughout the centuries, the Christian community grew in strength and numbers and Smyrna became one of the more important archbishoprics in Asia Minor. The city was repeatedly attacked by Turks and captured a few times. In 1402, Tamerlane captured the city and massacred the Christians. In 17th century, it was reported that there were two Greek churches and one Catholic Church in Smyrna. In 1688, there was a severe earthquake in Smyrna that killed many; in 1770 the Turks killed more than 10000 Greeks in Smyrna in retaliate to their revolt. Throughout these difficult centuries, the Christian community in Smyrna remained ‘to be faithful unto death’ and fearlessly continued in its witness. There was a long list of martyrs from this church throughout the centuries. In 1739, there were 7000-8000 Greeks with three churches and 2000 Armenians with one church in Smyrna. By 1906, Smyrna was a predominantly Christian city with 135000 Greeks, 11175 Catholics, 8500 Armenians, 92000 Muslims and 25500 Jews.

After the First World War, Greece laid claim to the Smyrna area, and British and France encouraged Greeks to occupy Smyrna and the Ionian hinterland. The Greek Expeditionary Force clashed with Turkish national army led by Ataturk (Mustafa Kemal), and were routed.  The Turkish army entered Smyrna on September 9, 1922 and soon thereafter the city went up in flames, more than 5000 Christians were killed. No indigenous Greek Christians remained in Smyrna after the 1922 Greco-Turks population exchange.

The Church in Pergamum

Heresies continued in Pergamum in the 2nd century. From 5th century on the church of Pergamum sided with the Alexandrians in their anti-Roman and anti-Byzantine policies. Later on, Pergamum became a center of the extreme form of Monophysitism. During the 8th century, the city was besieged by Moslem force under Maslamah and fell. The city never recovered from the devastation wrought by the troops of Maslamah. In the 13th century, it experienced a brief renaissance but in 1330, Pergamum was described by traveler as a ruined city. Early in 14th century Pergamum fell under Turkish rule, churches were converted to mosques, and the population was massacred by Tamerlane in 1402.  In the 17th century, the only active church in Pergamum, dedicated to St Theodore, served only some 12-15 families. But in 1826 it was reported that there were 1500 Greeks in the city. Before the First World War, the Christians maintained 4 churches in Pergamum. The Greeks left after 1922.

The Church in Thyatira

According to the bishop of Constantia in Cyprus, the church of Thyatira had embraced the Montanist heresy by the middle of the 3rd century. In the 15th century, Thyatira fell to the Ottomans and renamed Akhisar. In 1675, it was reported that there were no more than 10 Christians in the town. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Greeks and Armenians moved to settle in the town again and there were a few hundred Orthodox Christian families there. Churches were built and before the First World War there were 11000 Turks, 12000 Greeks and 800 Armenians. On August 28, 1922, the Greek mayor of Akhisar advised all the Greeks to leave as the Turkish army was advancing. Many refused to go. A few days later, Akhisar was occupied by the Turkish troops, and 7000 Greek Christians were killed. There has been no Christian community in Akhisar since 1922.

The Church in Sardis

Sardis ranked sixth in the hierarchy of the Orthodox dioceses. However, the Christian community in Sardis declined rapidly after the city was occupied by the Turks in the 14th century. In early 15th century, Tamerlane occupied Sardis, and massacred – as he had in Ephesus, Pergamum and Philadelphia – the population. Sardis was abandoned but the nearby village of Sart struggled on. In 1671, a visitor reported Sart as ‘a pitiful village’ and the few Christians who lived there had neither a church nor a priest. The local church had been converted to a mosque.

The Church in Philadelphia

In the 3rd century, Philadelphia, like Thyatira, was a stronghold of the Montanist heresy. At the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325, the church of Philadelphia was represented. Philadelphia remained a major center of Byzantine feudal power until the end of 14th century, when it was finally captured by the Ottomans. It was a remarkable feat for Philadelphia to have retained its independence from the surrounding Turks for so long, and it follows that the apostolic church here was the strongest of the Seven Churches. Following the devastation by Tamerlane in early 15th century, many Christians fled. In 1671, a traveler reported that the Church of St John had been converted into mosque, only four churches survived. The church in Philadelphia continued to have martyrs. In 1826, the city had 3000 Turks and 300 Greek families. There were then still 25 churches remaining. One estimate claimed that in the 19th century there were 1000-2000 Christians in Philadelphia. There has been no Christian living in Alashehir (new name for Philadelphia) since 1922.

The Church in Laodicea

The church of Laodecia suffered as much as the other churches of Asia Minor from the persecutions of the 2nd to 4th century. It was represented at the Third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus in 431. Laodecia continued to be prosperous well into the 5th century, but was shattered by a devastating earthquake in the year 494. In 1094, the city was severely damaged when captured by the Selcuk. Between 1092 and 1110 the city was repeatedly sacked by the Turks, and the Christian population began to leave the city in view of the massacre in 1161. By the 15th century, Laodecia had degenerated to become a small village. By 17th century, only wolves, jackals and foxes inhabited the site.

 

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