Philadelphia, Sardis, and Thyatira

We left the Hotel Colossae and headed to two cites where there is just not much to see, Philadelphia and Thyatira. The problem is both of these locations have modern cities built over them, making the kind of archaeology seem at Hierapolis or Laodicea impossible.


Not much to see in Philadelphia

Since we are traveling in a small van, we were able to drive up to the acropolis of Philadelphia, although there is nothing excavated. Mark Wilson knows where the bits and pieces are, so we saw a few stones of a theater on the road to the top as well as the outline of a stadium on the back side of the acropolis.

Moving on to Thyatira, there is a small excavation in the center of the town, including an inscription mentioning Titus. There is a small city museum in Thyatira with a handful of artifacts from the dig. More interesting were the few items from Ben Tepe, the so-called Turkish pyramids. We drove past those burial mounds from the Lydian period on the way to Thyatira.

The highlight of the day was Sardis. (We visited this before Thyatira, but I thought I would adapt the order to be more dramatic). Sardis is not a large site, but it has three very significant features. First, there is a very large synagogue dating to the fourth century A.D. The mosaic floors are partially restored including several mentioning the donors who contributed to the synagogue. There are two niches which could have been used to store a Torah scroll or possibly individual scrolls of the Septuagint (since nobody spoke Hebrew out here, Mark Wilson said).

Artemis Temple at Sardis

Artemis Temple at Sardis

Although is is surprising to see a synagogue in Turkey, Sardis is probably mentioned in Esther 3:12-14 and Josephus reports Antiochus III moved a large number of Jews to Sardis (Ant 12.148–49). There are several strange features, including the reuse of a Lydian stone table with lion motif. There were not benches along the walls as in other early synagogues, but rather a set of seats which looked more like a boule to me.

Second, the façade of the gymnasium has been restored by a team from Harvard. Although much is not original, the reconstructed façade give the visitor a sense of the grandeur of the building. The inscriptions on the cornice pieces appear to have been colored in so they are more clearly visible, as they would have been when the building was new.

Third, a short drive from the main city is a huge, although unfinished Temple of Artemis. We can tell it was unfinished because the bases of several of the huge pillars have not been trimmed or decorations are started and left incomplete. Like the temple at Jerash (in Jordan), several massive pillars have stood since construction stopped. A small Byzantine chapel was eventually built on the sight and there are several examples of Christian graffiti on the temple walls. This temple is well worth visiting.

We managed to hit Izmir at rush hour, bit since we are staying in the Mövenpic, a little traffic should not bother us.

Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis

Today began with a long drive north out of Antalya, following the general route of the via Sebaste. I was struck by several things on the four hour drive to Laodicea. First, most people reading Acts do not realize how high the Tarsus Mountains are. Paul traveled more than 3000 feet above sea level on a Roman Road to reach Pisidian Antioch. Second, our guide Mark Wilson did a masterful job explaining the network of roads in the area and relating this to the beginnings of the second missionary journey in Acts 16.

There are two prohibitions in that chapter (to not preach in Asia and to not enter Bithynia). By observing the Roman province names and the location of the roads, The prohibitions make sense. Paul was in Asia already, so he was not to preach there, but the road went north toward Bithynia, so he was command to even to enter there. A third observation is simply that this part of the country is sparsely populated both then and now.

IMG_0981Before arriving at Laodicea we made a brief stop at Colossae. There is virtually nothing to see there except the unexcavated mound. The city was small and unimportant in Paul’s day, and it is still a sadly overlooked site by the archaeological community. Despite several efforts in recent years, there is not much to see there.

Laodicea on the other hand has received a great deal of attention lately. Year round excavations by the local university and the support of the Denizli community has revived interest in this large Roman site. Although the two theaters have no been restored, some work has been done once smaller, morning theater. The skene has been exposed and a great deal of work is being done there. A very large fifth century church has been excavated and restored, but was closed when we visited. I suspect this was to force me to buy the book.

Menorah and Cross at Laodicea

Menorah and Cross at Laodicea

Another recent discovery is a marble pillar with a menorah, shofar and perhaps and etrog, with a prominent cross cut into the top of the menorah. Mark Wilson suggested is was an indication the pillar was used in a synagogue, and the cross was added later (perhaps as a sign of supercessionism after Christianity became dominant in the city). I wondered if this was the intent, since it would be just as easy to obliterate the menorah. Based on Josephus, there is little doubt of a Jewish presence in Laodicea in the first century Josephus (Ant 14.241–3). Nevertheless the menorah seems to be evidence of a Jewish community in Laodicea well into the Christian Era.

From Laodicea we drove the short distance to Hierapolis. Hierapolis is a very large Roman city, although the association with the white cliffs of Pamukkale, a Turkish word meaning something like “Cotton Castle.” There was an early Christian community in Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13) but there is no evidence Paul ever visited the city.

We took a shuttle up to the martyrion of Philip, an octagonal church built on the site of the martyrdom of Philip (although which Philip is unclear). The walls of the church have been nicely reconstructed and the arches between the sections of the octagon are restored. Next to the martyrion is the recently discovered tomb of Philip and accompanying chapel.

The shuttle the took us down to the large theater. This theater has been restored, although visitors are only allowed to walk on the upper section. The skene has been partially rebuilt and there are two statues in the niches. Originally the theater seated up to 15,000 people. From the theater we walked down the hill past the Temple of Apollo and tried to get a peek into the recently discovered Plutonian. If you visited Hierapolis more than a few years ago, you would have been shown a different location since this new (and certain) location is a recent discovery. Unfortunately the area was fenced off, so I was unable to see if the gates of hell will not prevail.

The Hot Springs at Pamukkale

After a short time on the white cliffs of Pamukkale we walked out the northern gates and through the necropolis where over a thousand tombs are located, with about three hundred inscriptions. I took photographs of many, but so many of the tombs were well off the main path and we had to be out of the park by 6:00 PM. It was also bitterly cold and windy (which is good for a walk in a necropolis I suppose!)

We ended the day at the Hotel Colossae, one of the thermal hotels just a few minutes from Hierapolis. The rooms are comfortable, although this is the first hotel in which we have encountered huge tourist groups. Unfortunately the internet was down in the hotel, so I was not able to post this until our next night in Izmir.

Perga and Antayla

This is my second full day in Turkey, heading south to the Mediterranean Sea. The day started earlier than a day ought to start, since we needed to be on the bus at 5:30 AM. We had an early flight to Antalya (Turkish Air, great flight except I needed more coffee than they served). After the fifty-two minute flight we drove a short distance to Perga, a well excavated Roman city.

Roman Perge

Roman Street in Perge

Perga is the place Paul and Barnabas visited after Cypress in Acts 13:13. They do not appear to do any ministry at Perga at that time, traveling to Psidian Antioch. However, Acts 14:24-25 indicates they preached the gospel at Perga at the end of the first missionary journey, possibly resulting in a church (although Luke does not mention it).

The excavations at Perga are extensive and merit far more than the two and a half hour we could stay on this trip. I could have spent most of the day there, exploring the restored areas and examining the many inscriptions. Although not as extensive as Ephesus and many area are not restored, it is well worth the time.

Later in the day we visited the Museum in Antalya. The main feature of the museum is a collection of the major finds at Perga. The skene of the theater (which is closed to the public) contained statures of gods and other important figures, these are all in the museum, along with a large statue of Alexander the Great and several Hadrian statues. The major sarcophagi from the necropolis are housed in one of the galleries as well. Although there is far more in the museum than Perga, travelers to Perga ought to plan on visiting this museum for a few hours. At only 20 Lira (about $5), it is a bargain!

Before the museum we walked through the Hadrian Gate to Antalya’s Old City. Many of the old Ottoman houses have been renovated and now host trendy restaurants and artists. There are are Roman remains everywhere and Mark Wilson does a great job pointing out obscure bits that many will overlook. We walked to the port and had a nice view of the cliffs of the harbor.

For lunch we stopped at the St. Paul Cultural Center (soup, salad, chicken and rice, with drink, dessert and tea, $5.50), and I added a Turkish coffee, which was more or less medicinal at that point in the day. I will post some additional information about this very interesting ministry at some point in the future, they do far more than coffee and lunch.

Tomorrow we head north and east, to Laodicea.

Istanbul in the Rain

Blue Mosque

It was a cold and rainy day in Istanbul, but we were able to see all we planned. The day began at the Hippodrome and Blue Mosque. Nothing remains of the Hippodrome other than three obelisks. Of the three, the Obelisk of Theodosius is the most interesting. The obelisk was created by Pharaoh Thutmose III (1479–1425 BC) but moved to Constantinople A. D. 390 by Theodosius I. The Obelisk was erected on a marble base depicting the emperor awarding a victor’s crown (stephanos).

The Blue Mosque is the popular name for the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, named for Ahmed I who constructed the mosque beginning in 1609. The interior is lined with blue İznik style ceramic tiles (explaining the popular name of the site).

Next we walked to the Hagia Sophia. When John Chrysostom was patriarch he was based in the first version of the church (369-404) This church was Eastern Orthodox cathedral from 537-1453 when it was converted to a mosque. For most of that time it was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople. The church was converted to a mosque in 1453 by Mehmet II, but in 1935 the first President Mustafa Atatürk converted the building to a museum. There is a great deal of restoration going on in the building, but there is still a great deal to see.

Hagia Sophia Pulpit

Hagia Sophia Pulpit

After an excellent lunch at the “World Famous Pudding Shop” (stuffed eggplant and lots of fresh bread and water), we walked to the Istanbul archaeological museums. On the way we visited Hagia Irene, a lesser know and smaller church which was never converted to a mosque as Hagia Sophia was. The church was partially destroyed in A. D. 532 in the Nika revolt and restored by Justinian in 548. Although never converted to a mosque, it was used as an ammunition store my Mehmed II in 1453. There is not much to see there ad much of the basilica is closed.

In contrast to Hagia Irene, there is too much to see in this collection of museums in a short afternoon visit. There is a museum dedicated to Ancient Near Eastern archaeology, a second with a huge collection of Greco-Roman sarcophagi and dedication stones (as well as a new room with artifacts from the temple of Artemis in Magnesia, and a multi-floor museum for Greco-Roman period artifacts.

There were three items of interest for biblical archaeology. First, the Gezer Calendar is is one of the earliest examples of Porto-Hebrew. Second, the inscription from Hezekiah’s tunnel was placed in the museum by the Ottomans. Third, one of the two warning inscriptions from the Temple in Jerusalem is here, displayed in a not-very-prominent place on the floor at the end of a hall. This inscription is in Greek (the one in Israel is in Latin) and it warns non-Jews to stay out of the Court of the Men under threat of death. This may be what Paul refers to in Ephesians 2:14. In addition to these items, there are three small altars dedicated to unknown gods (cf., Acts 17).

This is only a small overview of the museums. I did not walk through the hall dedicated to the archaeology of Troy and did not take much time in the sections on Istanbul simply due to time constraints. I took around 200 photographs, and that was not nearly enough!

Tomorrow we fly to Antalya, which I hope means better weather.