The Churches of Revelation: Laodicea, Smyrna and Philadelphia
In the previous installment of this department (September/October 1998), we visited Bergama (ancient Pergamum), Turkey, one of the seven churches of Revelation. We pick up our armchair tour with three more sites.
There were many towns called “Laodicea” in the ancient world. The full name of this particular town was Laodicea ad Lyceum, to distinguish it from the others. John chastised the Laodiceans for their tepid faith: “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:16–17). Harsh words for the residents of a proud and wealthy city, noted for its manufacture of a medication for eye disorders!
The city was founded between 261 and 253 B.C. by Antiochus II, king of Syria, and named in honor of his wife, Laodice. The ancient site is no longer inhabited; it is known locally as Eski Hisar. (If you plan on traveling to it, beware! There are about as many Eski Hisars in Turkey as there are Laodiceas. This Eski Hisar/Laodicea is on the south side of the Lycus River valley, about 70 miles southeast of Philadelphia. Izmir, Philadelphia and Laodicea form a rough triangle.)
Laodicea was built on a small plateau, and its ancient ruins indicate a city of some substance. The remains of two theaters, one Greek and one Roman, are on the northeastern slope of the plateau. A large stadium, dedicated to the emperor Vespasian in 79 A.D., can be found on the opposite end of the plateau. However, the most remarkable find is the ancient nymphaeum, or monumental fountain, where archaeologists discovered a life-sized statue of the goddess Isis. Besides being of general interest to archaeological enthusiasts, the history of the nymphaeum also serves as a good example of how ancient pagan practices and structures were used for Christian purposes. At some point, probably during the Byzantine era, the basin of the nymphaeum was walled off and made into a room; crosses were carved on several stone blocks within the room, indicating it was used for Christian purposes.
Smyrna was an important port in the first century A.D., when John addressed the Book of Revelation to the seven churches of Asia Minor. Despite a continuous problem with silting of the Hermus River, a problem that has made the city move its location several times over the centuries, Smyrna—now called Izmir—is still Turkey’s third largest city and serves as a good base for touring 077the remains of several other of the churches of Revelation.
Legend says Smyrna was founded by the queen of the Amazons, who were a mythical nation of women soldiers. Other stories hold that it was the Leleges, a roving tribe of pirates, who first built Smyrna on the Aegean coast. However it was created, the city was destroyed by Alyattes of Lydia in about 600 B.C., the first of many times Smyrna was sacked, burned or otherwise razed and then rebuilt. The Smyrna of classical history—and of the Bible—was founded by Alexander the Great on the side of Mt. Pagos.
Because it was attacked and destroyed so often, Smyrna/Izmir is not as rich in relics as are other Turkish cities, such as Pergamum and Sardis, home of two of the churches to which John wrote. For example, the commercial agora, or marketplace, which we know was located near the harbor, still has not been found, though the state-sponsored agora has been unearthed somewhat further inland. Part of this agora’s portico, including 13 standing columns with their capitals, remains. High-relief marble statues of Poseidon and Demeter, standing side by side, were also found there. The remains of a 525-foot-long, two-story marble basilica standing on vaulted foundations and supported by large columns can be traced in the old agora.
The agora is the center of a public park in downtown Izmir, called the Kulturpark, and the Poseidon and Demeter statues, along with a smaller one of Artemis, are enclosed in a glass case in situ. The Kulturpark is also the home of the city’s highly regarded archaeology museum, which contains exhibits from sites throughout the region. Besides the usual architectural fragments, artifacts include jewels, coins and glassware.
Other Smyrna remains are less centrally located, but are still accessible to tourists. The Kadifelkale (Velvet Fortress) overlooks Izmir from the top of Mt. Pagos. The original fortress was part of the Smyrna city walls, and a Roman road connected it to the agora. The Kadifelkale was restored and expanded by a succession of conquerors, beginning with the Romans in the second century B.C., and now covers two and a half acres. Visitors can see, among other things, Byzantine towers built on top of Hellenistic foundations.
A few traces of the original acropolis of Smyrna are still visible in what is now a suburb called Bayrakli. A round building nearby is said to be the tomb of the legendary King Tantalus. (According to Greek myth, Tantalus cooked his own son and served him to the gods for dinner. As punishment, he was forced to stand in water that receded every time he bent down to drink; fruit dangled above his head, but drew away every time he reached up to pick it. However, the same myth says that Tantalus was immortal, so take the stories about his tomb with a grain of salt.) The Baths of Artemis, which were built next to one of Turkey’s many hot springs, are located in nearby Halkapinar. Inciralti, another nearby suburb, is a beach resort with hot sulfur baths; remains of the Baths of Agamemnon, which were used in antiquity for the treatment of rheumatic diseases, can be seen there. Somewhat harder to visit are a gymnasium, an odeon (recital hall), a theater, ancient walls and the ruins of a Hellenistic temple to Dionysos, all located on the slopes of Mt. Pagos, near the town of Teos.
Philadelphia was a small town when John wrote the Book of Revelation. It no longer exists, but some ruins of the ancient Lydian town, and possibly of the ancient church that grew out of the one to which John wrote, can be explored by following Route 68 about a hundred miles due east of Izmir. The nearest town is Alasehir.
Philadelphia was founded by Attalus II of Pergamum (159–138 B.C.), who named it out of love for his brother and predecessor, Eumenes II: “Philadelphia” means “city of brotherly love.” The town was greatly damaged by an earthquake in 17 A.D. and was rebuilt with the help of the Roman emperor Tiberius. The site of the old acropolis is still visible, as is the theater located on three small hills just to the south of the acropolis. Most notably, 3,600 feet of Byzantine city walls have been preserved just to the north. The ruins of a basilica, with traces of 11th-century frescoes, lie to the east.
First, start with the Turkish Tourist Information Office. There are two offices in the United States at 821 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017 (phone: 212–687-2194; fax: 212–599-7568) and at 1717 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Ste. 306, Washington, DC 20036 (phone: 202–429-9844; fax: 202–429-5649). The Tourist Information Office has its own Web site: www.turkey.org/turkey.
The seven churches of Revelation are all in the same general section of Turkey. According to the Turkish Tourist Authority, tours of one to four days can be arranged to see several or all of the churches. Izmir is the largest city in the region. It has a major international airport, and there are direct bus and train connections from it to Istanbul and Ankara. For the more adventurous, there is also a car ferry service that runs from Venice to Izmir in the summer.
A visa is required to visit Turkey, but is available at all border crossings. Otherwise, contact the Turkish embassy in Washington (see the address above for the Tourist Information Office) or the Turkish consulate near you for a visa. Visas cost $45.
Though one of the main reasons for visiting Turkey is to see antiquities, exporting antiques and antiquities, even for personal use, is illegal.Even taking what the Tourist Authority calls “old items,” as distinct from antiques, requires a certificate from the directorate of an appropriate museum. Also, a fee is usually charged to take pictures in museums or even of ruins. The fee varies, depending on the cost of admission at the individual site. Most museums and historic sites are open from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., but are closed on Mondays.
The Churches of Revelation: Laodicea, Smyrna and Philadelphia In the previous installment of this department (September/October 1998), we visited Bergama (ancient Pergamum), Turkey, one of the seven churches of Revelation. We pick up our armchair tour with three more sites. Laodicea There were many towns called “Laodicea” in the ancient world. The full name of this particular town was Laodicea ad Lyceum, to distinguish it from the others. John chastised the Laodiceans for their tepid faith: “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I […]