The Seven Great Churches mentioned in the New Testament, the second half of the Christian Bible, are considered one of the most sacred routes in Anatolia for Christians. Also known as the “Seven Churches of the Apocalypse” or the “Seven Churches of Asia”, these structures are significant in the history of Christianity, both as the primary focus of the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation and as actual places that played critical roles in the spread of Christianity. St John (John the Baptist) also lived in Ephesus, the location of one of the churches. The Seven Churches route is fundamental to tracing Christian history in Anatolia.
Sacred Churches of İzmir: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon
Located in Türkiye’s Aegean region, the Seven Great Churches are within the borders of the İzmir, Manisa and Denizli provinces. İzmir is home to three of these critical early churches, the first of which is the Church of Ephesus. On the UNESCO World Heritage List, Ephesus is considered the most important among the congregations to which letters were sent. According to the narrative, following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, John the Baptist brought the Virgin Mary to Ephesus, a prominent city belonging to the Roman Empire. As the Romans of the time mainly subscribed to pagan beliefs, the first Christian community was formed cautiously. It is believed that the Virgin Mary lived in a house on Mount Bülbül until her death at the age of 101 and that she was buried by John somewhere on the mountain, in a location known only to him. St John’s tomb is on Ayasuluk Hill in Selçuk, close to the House of the Virgin Mary. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian erected an impressive basilica here in the sixth century. After visiting the Church of Ephesus, you can continue your sacred journey into the history of Christianity at the Basilica of St John and the House of the Virgin Mary. The Cave of the Seven Sleepers, mentioned in Islamic and Christian texts, and the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, are also significant stops in this region.
Smyrna, where another of St John’s letters was sent, is the second stop on this route. The city’s ancient agora remains can be visited today at the İzmir Agora Ruins in the city centre. An additional highlight is the İzmir Archaeological Museum, where many of the remains found in the city are exhibited. The last İzmir address of the letters was Bergama (Pergamum). Pergamum, the capital of the Roman Empire’s Asian province, was an important cultural centre that featured a library rivalling the famous Library of Alexandria. The city also contains a magnificent ancient theatre, the asclepieion (a healing centre), and the Kızılavlu, dedicated to the Egyptian gods. You can see artefacts from the old city on the UNESCO World Heritage List at the İzmir Bergama Museum.
The Three Holy Places of Manisa: Thyatira, Sardes, Philadelphia
Three of the Seven Great Churches are in Manisa. The longest of the seven letters was sent to Thyatira in the Akhisar district. Ancient Thyatira was also known for its brilliant purple dyes obtained from roots in the area. It is believed that the Akhisar district was built upon this ancient city. While much of the old town is gone, the ruins include the Hill Cemeteries (Tepe Mezarlıkları). Sardes, near Manisa’s Salihli district, was known as the capital of Lydia and the place where money was printed for the first time in history under state guarantee. The Sardis Ruins are worth a visit due to their place in the history of Christianity and their other cultural values. The Bathgymnasium complex, the Temple of Artemis, the acropolis and the Thousand Hills (Bin Tepeler) (hill-shaped tombs) are standouts in this ancient city featuring Roman buildings that have survived to the present day. The last stop within the borders of Manisa is Philadelphia. The ancient city of Philadelphia, in the Alaşehir district, was established as the border fortress for Pergamon. Although most of the old town is now under modern settlement, the remains of a temple and the city’s theatre have been unearthed.
Sanctuary of Denizli: Laodicea
The last of the Seven Great Churches is in the ancient city of Laodicea, within the borders of Denizli. Laodikeia, a Hellenistic town, was an essential centre in the region for centuries; the Laodicean Church, also the earliest surviving example of the Seven Churches, established the city as a religious centre at the metropolitan level in the early Byzantine period. Laodicea also attracts attention due to its proximity to Pamukkale. After visiting Laodicea, you can proceed to Pamukkale, where travertines that resemble a cloud field and the ancient city of Hierapolis can be seen in the same settlement. The Pamukkale Travertines and Hierapolis Ancient City, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are magnificent natural and cultural heritage examples.