Many people are surprised to find out that there is an abundance of ancient churches scattered all over the large Muslim country of Turkey. From the secret cave churches used by Christians during the Roman invasion to the magnificent buildings restored by the Turkish government that are now major historical attractions. If you want to complete a tour of Turkey, one exciting route would be to explore our top ten ancient churches.
Otherwise known as the home of Santa Claus in 4th century, this church is where St Nicholas was buried. He spent time in the town as a bishop and this is also where he earned his reputation of being charitable and a saint of children. The church is open seven days a week and a visit should also be combined with a tour of the nearby historical amphitheater ruins of Myra.
Known as one of the world’s most popular tourist attraction, from 4th century and onwards, the Hagia Sophia has seen life as a church and a mosque before being converted into a museum. Seeing it from the outside is not enough. You have to step inside to truly appreciate the magnificent architecture and ambience that the interior holds. It is easy to have a full day sightseeing in Istanbul as the Hagia Sophia is located close to our next church which is located inside of the Ottoman Topkapi palace.
The Aya Irini is often referred to as the Saint Irene church, first church built in Constantinople (Istanbul). It is in the outer courtyard of the Topkapi palace and one look inside at the glass windows, painted ceilings and high dome will certainly have you bound in a state of amazement. It is now in structure as a museum and open every day apart from Mondays however for a special treat, time your visit for when the Istanbul music festival is held there.
We continue introducing churches of Istanbul with the Aya Yorgi church, also known as the church of St George, the seat of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. Quite different from the other churches as it is not used as a museum but is still functioning as a place of worship. While the size of the Aya Yorgi church may not impress you, the lavish decorations of the interior will. Precious items held inside include a patriarchal throne, rare mosaic icons and the relics of Saint Gregory and John Chrysostom.
When visiting the historical ruins of Ephesus, many people do not combine the tour with a trip to the nearby church of the Virgin Mary. This church is believed to have been her last resting place and is of great significance to Christians and Muslims alike. Services are not regular so you should enquire beforehand. Explore the church, the surrounding gardens and then head to Ephesus for an active and fulfilling day.
Known for being located on the edge of a steep cliff face, this old church founded in 386 and monastery has been restored and is now a fine showcase of architecture from the past. It is located in the Black Sea region of Trabzon and should be first on your list of places to visit. Located in the Altindere national park, this Greek orthodox building still showcases much of the original structures and frescoes from the 4th century.
In the exotic city of Mardin is the Deyrulzafaran Monastery and Church, a magnificent building that is said by historians to have begun life in the 5th century as a temple built by sun worshippers. If this is true, then it rises to an assumption that it was one of the first churches of the Anatolia region when Christianity became the main religion. Such is the historical importance of this church and monastery; it has seen many famous visitors including Prince Charles, the future king of England.
One of the oldest churches of Christianity, carved into a mountain side in the province of Antakya is the most impressive church of Saint Peter. Relics inside the church date back to the 4th century and include original fresco paintings on the ceiling. These days, it is showcased as a museum, however it is easy to see its worth and importance as a spiritual place for Christians over many centuries.
This church is quite unique because the location is on an island in the middle of Lake Van, the biggest lake in Turkey. The Akhtamar church is also the perfect example of Gothic Armenian architecture and influence. Dating back to the 10th century, it is not only of extreme historical importance however the surrounding landscape can also be considered a place of natural beauty.
There are many cave churches in Goreme however one of the most impressive is the Apple church, built around 1050. While the entrance and architecture is not going to impress you, the original mosaics on the ceilings will. Showcasing scenes from the life of Christ, the mosaics are wonderful example of presents that our ancestors left us to understand their past.
"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things " - Henry Miller