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Study Tour of Turkey

The Seven Churches


April 20 through May 4, 2002

General Information

Each day of our tour we had a Bible study or time of fellowship together, led either by the organizer of the tour, Dr. Fritz Lippert, or by Pastor Horst Fischer. Our Turkish tour guide, Ismail, did an excellent job of explaining what we saw and he also gave detailed and informative insights into Turkish history, culture, religion and politics. The tour included breakfast and supper in the hotels. We generally ate noon meals as a group in restaurants, buffet style. The price for a delicious meal never exceeded $5 including drinks. The German “Tour mit Schanz” (www.tour-mit-schanz.de) and Turkish “Oktagon” worked out the accommodations, provided a tour guide and ground transportation.

Day 1 (April 20) 

We left home at 5:10 and arrived at the Vienna Airport at 8:30 AM. The flight with Turkish Air was good although Ralph suffered from sinus aches due to his bad cold. Our group of 26 persons arrived in Istanbul and we immediately took a bus tour through this unusual city located on two continents (Asia and Europe). We spent an hour at the "Egyptian Market", where you can purchase colorfully arranged spices, all kinds of animals, flowers, food, clothing, jewelry and nearly anything else you want or need. We stayed in a hotel in Istanbul.

Day 2 (April 21)

We boarded the bus at 8:00 AM and visited a number of famous sites in Istanbul, once called Constantinople. We first visited a park with ancient columns, obelisks and the remains of a chariot race track. We then visited the famous Blue Mosque (only foreigners use that term; the true name is “Sultan-Ahmet Mosque”). We had to take off our shoes before entering. The size of many mosques is overwhelming, but there were very few worshippers inside during our visit. Just a short walk from there is the Haghia Sophia. This impressive building was once a Christian Basilica, then a Mosque and is now a museum. Although nearly all Turks are Muslim, the country has given great effort to restore the remnants of its Christian past. Tourism is now big business and many of the tourists come to see the birthplaces of Christianity. Reliefs and mosaics which had been painted or plastered over for centuries can be viewed once again. Our next stop was the Topkapi Sultan’s Palace. Here one can see elaborate rooms once reserved for the eyes of the Sultan and his special guests. One can visit the harem and several museums in this expansive complex and park which overlooks the Golden Horn and Bosphorus Strait. One can see elaborate porcelain, armor and weaponry of the past, the famous 86 carat Kasikcy Diamond and even a hair from Mohammed’s beard! After supper in our hotel, we met with the Pastor of Istanbul’s Christian Church for a time of fellowship.  He said that there are about 4,500 Christians and 51 churches (Catholics and Protestants) in Turkey which has 45 million population.

Day 3 (April 22) 

Our alarm clock woke us at 4:30 and we took an early flight to the capital city of Ankara (angora wool was named after this city). After a ride through the city we toured the excellent Museum for Anatolian Civilization. We were impressed with this collection, maily of the Hittite era. Because the following day was a Turkish national holiday (similar to July 4th in America), there were flags and banners depicting the modern nation’s founder, Attaturk, everywhere we looked. Then our bus took us about 250 miles to Cappadocia, a region famous for its fascinating rock formations. We stopped at a large salt lake comparable to the Dead Sea and Great Salt Lake of Utah. We spent two nights in the next hotel, which had excellent food but poor room service. Broken glass and dirt from former residents cluttered the floor and there was no toilet paper. When we still had no toilet paper after the beds had been made the following day, we complained at the information desk. They just laughed and suggested we use a towel! That was the only exception to the generally excellent service during our trip.

Day 4 (April 23)

Today was a holiday and we saw children in the streets who had marched in parades and were still dressed up. We spent the day admiring and touring the most interesting rock formations. Early Christians of the pre-Constantine period and even later, were persecuted in this region. Many of the rocks were hollowed out for human occupation and we also visited carved out meeting places in the center of these rocks in Goreme. The heavily guarded Prime Minister of Australia and his wife also visited these sites while we were there. It was interesting to watch the entourage, but as normal tourists, we were able to see much more with a lot less hassle! I even took a picture of Verna riding a camel! In the evening we watched a holiday presentation of the "Whirling Dervishes” in an ancient restored Caravanei.   

Day 5 (April 24) 

We visited one of a hundred underground cities in Turkey, most of which are closed for safety reasons. Afterwards, we rode several hundred miles on the Caravan Highway to Konya. Many of the old Caravanei still exist and we stopped to see a couple of them. I call them “camtels” since camel caravans which traveled about 25 miles per day stayed overnight in these places. This region is largely agricultural. Turkey is about twice the size of Germany (West and East!) and has an abundant supply of water. We saw many young forests which are the result of an ambitious reforestry project. Konya is known in the Bible as Iconium (mentioned in Acts 13-16 and II Tim. 3:11). Before going to the hotel, we visited a Monastery made famous by the Whirling Derwishes. I (Ralph) ate too much at the evening buffet and had stomach cramps all night.

Day 6 (April 25)

We visited the ruins of Antioch in Pisidia (mentioned in the same texts above), one of at least three cities by that name. While there, I managed to completely discharge the contents of my stomach and bowels. The former was donated to ruins of the old city and the latter cost me half a million Turkish Lire. That is what you normally pay for using a toilet and sometimes it is just a hole that you have to squat over - often with no paper, but just a bucket of water or hose for cleaning up. By the way, if you want to be a millionaire, go to Turkey. One Dollar is worth 1.3 million Lire. We brought $5 worth home and made each of our five grandchildren millionaires! We also saw the ruins of the St. Paul’s Basilica, built in the third century. On the road again, we traveled 300 miles to Pamulkkale. This is where the famous limestone terraces, thermal baths and ruins of Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13) are located. Our hotel for two nights was a dream come true, with excellent food and room service. In addition to the large regular swimming pool, there was a thermal bath fed by hot springs.

Day 7 (April 26)

We toured the impressive ruins of Hierapolis with its extensive cemetery of elaborate sarcophagi. Afterwards we visited the limestone terraces and thermal baths. Although there is only a large grass covered hill where Collosae once stood, we drove out of the way to visit the place. A sign riddled by gunshot points visitors to the site and shepherds with herds of sheep graze over the place made famous by Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Farmers frequently plow up remnants of the city but no one has ever bothered to excavated it. Somehow, this was a highlight for me. I was reminded of the verse in Matthew 24:35, which promises, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my Word shall never pass away.”  A visit to a carpet factory was very interesting. We watched people weaving oriental carpets, for which Turkey is famous. A worker showed how they raise silk worms, capture the silk thread and made into carpets. One girl had spent nine months to weave about three square feet of silk carpet!  No wonder they are so expensive! Of course they tried hard to sell us one, but we managed to escape with purchasing only a silk shirt and matching tie for me. Even that put a big dent in our budget!

Day 8 (April 27)

We visited the ruins of Laodicea, which boasts two theatres, a stadium and complicated water distribution system from the hot springs which feed the baths. The wealth of the city at the time of John’s writing was mind-boggling and his references to being lukewarm and of nakedness also took on new meaning. After Laodicea we visited what remains of Philadelphia now called Alasehir. All that is left of the “City of Brotherly Love” is the ruins of an early Christian church, built around 600 AD. The ruins of Sardis were next, which have been excavated and partly restored by Americans, include a large Apollo Temple, synagogue, gymnasium, theatre, swimming pool and much more. There is virtually no trace of ancient Smyrna, since the modern seaport city of Izmir is built on the site. We stayed in a beach-front hotel near Izmir.  As was often the case, our schedule left little or no time to enjoy the nice beaches and pools. When we bemoaned this fact to our Turkish tour guide, he replied, “Perhaps you can now identify with the eunuchs who took care of the Sultan’s harem!” We enjoyed a great testimony time in the evening.

Day 9 (April 28)

Today we visited the ruins of Pergamos and Thyratira (now called Akhisr). We had our Sunday worship service in the ruins of St. John’s Basilica and before returning to the hotel, we walked on the seaside promenade in Izmir (Smyrna). There are two and a half million olive trees in this area!

Day 10 (April 29)

The city of Ephesus is truly an interesting place to visit with its extensive excavations carried out by the Austrian Archeological Society. Once a seaport with 250,000 population plus 50,000 slaves, the ruins of Ephesus are now five miles from the Aegean Sea. We were impressed by the beautiful library (ruins of a brothel for sailors in port was located just across the street!),  a theatre seating 24,000, an elaborate bath and the largest toilet we have ever seen. The latter was a large room seating about 30-40 persons (judging by the number of holes in the stone benches). According to the tour guide, it was only for men, who often spent hours in there, discussing politics, religion or current events. In recent years, many private homes of nobility have been excavated, which have well preserved mosaic floors. We had our Bible lesson in the ruins of a basilica dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus. The Apostel John is supposed to have brought her to Ephesus. Following Ephesus our bus took us up a mountain covered with olive trees, around treacherous curves with no guardrails and sudden drops of several hundred feet. We finally reached the quaint mountain village of Sirince. There is an old Christian Church here dedicated to John the Baptist in this village. Verna found a leather shop and bought a nice purse.

Day 11 (April 30)

We visited the ruins of Miletus, with a theatre seating 25,000; Didyma, which boasts a very large Apollo Temple with marble blocks up to 30 feet long, and Idyma. The contrast in what we see along the highway are amazing. In addition to numerous busses filled with tourists, there are donkeys and ponies pulling carts, tractors, cotton fields, fig, orange, lemon and pepper trees, stork nests and the occasional ruins of some ancient place not interesting enough for tourism, yet a thousand years older than the USA! Our noon meal was in a fish restaurant on the beach. We stayed in a lovely hotel on the beach with a pool and a pretty pond and stream with turtles, ducks and large fish.

Day 12 (May 1)

During the first week of travel, it was cold and I thought I would never get over my bad cold. As we turned southward toward Antalia, the weather became more pleasant and we found it to be a real treat to swim for an hour in a sheltered cove of Oludenz National Park on the Mediterranean sea. We visited the impressive ruins of Xhanthos with its large theatre where they had bull fights among other events. There is a tall tower there covered with hieroglyphics which have never been deciphered. Patara was next with more fascinating diggings, magnificent city gates and a theatre. We stayed in a hotel near Patara. Twenty years ago, there were only two hotels in this area, but today there are 1,550 and more under construction! The 40 miles of sandy beaches attract many tourists from Western Europe, but no hotels may be built on one long stretch of beach because sea turtles lay their eggs here.

Day 13 (May 2)

We took a boat ride on the Mediterranean and viewed the sunken city of Kekova from above. Although the water was crystal clear and the boat had glass windows on the bottom, we could see nothing because the glass was dirty. Still, we could view parts of the city along the shore and an occasional sarcophagus protruding out of the water. We then visited Myra with its gigantic theatre and cliff graves. Demra, where St. Nicholas was born was next. We toured the St. Nicholas Basilica, built in the first half of the 4th century, and ate in a nearby restaurant crowded with tourists. Most of us think of Christmas when we hear the name St Nicholas, but for centuries, he was simply the patron saint of the fishermen. The bus ride along the coast to Antalia was breathtaking in more ways than one. It was difficult to enjoy the scenery when looking out the bus window, you could see no guardrail, but just a steep drop into the sea! On our final two nights, we stayed in a nice hotel “right on the beach”,  but it was a hundred feet straight down to reach the water! The good news: there was a nice swimming pool; the bad news: no time to enjoy it!

Day 14 (May 3)

We visited the expansive ruins of Perge, which boasts a large theatre and stadium for chariot races, a well preserved agora (market place) and unique water system. Water from a spring not only provided drinking water, but also flowed through the main thoroughfare providing cool baths on hot days and water for cleaning the streets. The Apostle Paul arrived here by ship from Cyprus, but today, this ancient seaport is far distant from deep water. In addition to the ruins of an Artemis Temple and others, there are ruins of two Christian churches dating back to the fourth and fifth century. We also visited Aspendos (means “Horse Place”), which has the best preserved theatre seating 20,000 that is still used today. It is so well designed, that all 20,000 guests can be evacuated within 15 minutes. Our noon meal was delicious, eaten on a terrace overlooking a river. Verna said that it was the best meal of our trip and I tend to agree. In the afternoon, we visited a large bazar in Antalia and finally, the “Cultural Club of St Paul”. This is the legal name of the Christian church in Antalia. Although Turkey claims to have freedom of religion and earns much money from Christians who follow the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul, missions is virtually impossible today. Christian Churches are few, small and far between. Just prior to our visit, the Cultural Club of St. Paul received permission to purchase and restore the ruins of an old Orthodox church. If permission is granted to use it for regular worship, this would be the only true Church building used by Christians for worship, but not all the necessary permits for this have been granted however. The Pastor of the church, a Presbyterian from America, told us that several were to be baptized the following Sunday, but many who attend the fellowship are foreigners.

Day 15 (May 4)

Our alarm woke us up at 6:00 to catch the bus at 7:45 for the airport. We asked the tour guide how far we had traveled by bus. According to the computer discs we had driven 2,060 miles. If we add the 2,260 miles by air and our trip to and from the airport, we covered around 5,000 miles in two weeks. We arrived home at 9:30 PM and a family of five from Slovakia had been waiting two hours for us (we didn’t expect them to arrive before ten)! The husband had even mowed our lawn while waiting!