The Aegean Coast and the Western Half of the Turkish Mediterranean Coast
The area is the repository of many Christian, Islamic and Jewish religious “treasures”. Some of the earliest Christian communities lived here at times when their religion was still forbidden in the Roman Empire. They gathered secretly in small churches such as the Seven Churches of Revelations: Ephesus (Efes in Turkish, situated near the modern town of Selçuk), Sardis (today Sart), Pergamum (today Bergama), Philadelphia (today Alaşehir), Laodicea (near the modern village of Eskihisar), Smyrna (today Izmir) and Thyatira (today Akhisar). Not much is left today of these churches but the pious visitor can walk the historical streets and immerse himself or herself into the atmosphere of early Christianity. Pergamum is the place where the first Christians were executed by the Romans. In Ephesus one could find he Church and tomb of St. John and the Baptismal. St. Paul also lived in Ephesus for a few years while he was trying to convert the population in the area. He wrote the famous epistle to the Corinthians from here.
Near Ephesus, on Mount Koressos, is a small house where Virgin Mary spent her last years. After Jesus was crucified, St. John, fearing for Virgin Mary’s life decided to move her to Anatolia. The house was rediscovered at the end of the 19thCentury and in 1961 Pope John XXIII made it a point of pilgrimage for Christians. The house was also visited by Pope Paul VI in 1967, Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Benedict XVI as well as numerous other personalities: Bill Clinton, Sting, Elton John, Brian Adams and James Brown. The house is considered to be a holy spot for Christianity and visited by half a million people every year. Also near Ephesus there is another site of pilgrimage: the cave of the seven sleepers.
Pamukkale is better known today for its hot springs; however in the past, under the name Hierapolis (meaning “Sacred City”), the city was an important religious center first for pagan cults and then, starting with the first century for Christianity.
The Apostle Philip lived and was martyred in this city. Not far from Pamukkale lies another important city for Christianity, Colossae, to the inhabitants of which has Saint Paul addressed his famous epistle.
In the province of Antalya, Demre is the former Lycian town of Myra and the hometown of St. Nicholas. Many tourists come here to see the church of St. Nicholas and to buy religious material from the numerous gift shops tended by the many Russian .
citizens living in the area. Religious tours are also organized to the nearby city of Patara, one of the early Christianized cities. Patara was visited by Saint Paul and Saint Luke and it is the place where Saint Nicholas was born. Tourists can visit the remains of four churches in the area. Antalya city itself (old Attalia) and Perga (in Turkish Perge) were also visited by Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas before their sail to Antioch. Perga was an important city for early Christianity and the remains of two basilica churches from the 5th and 6th Centuries are still visible today.
There are also numerous vestiges of the Jewish heritage in Western and Southern Anatolia. Jewish communities have existed in Anatolia for more than 25 centuries. Most of the early Christians, including Saint Paul were from these communities. Sardis, the capital of the Kingdom of Lydia was a city of no less than 100,000 inhabitants during the time of the Roman Empire with a very influential Jewish community. The remnants of a large local synagogue were unearthed in the late 1950s and are testimony to a very prosperous community. Many synagogues also existed in Izmir and Manisa.