Saturday, June 08, 2013

Turkey Day 3: Seven Churches of Revelation 1

Turkey in 10 Days
1. General Remarks
2. What to Bring
3. Day 1: Traveling There
4. Day 2: Troy

5. Day 3: 7 Churches of Revelation 1 
We hit a lot of sites on the second full day of our travels in Turkey, 5 of the seven churches of Revelation: Pergamum, Thyatira, Philadelphia, Sardis, and (in a way) Smyrna.  With modern car in hand, we were able to do in one day what would have taken weeks in the days of John the Revelator.

After leaving Ayvalik on a Saturday morning, we made our way back down 550 south in the direction of Izmir. We did have a lovely chay (tea) at this cafe on the left side of the road, as well as some delicious rice pudding (sutlach). One of the sons of the owner had studied "tourism" and spent some time on a cruise ship until he broke his foot. His father had no smiles for us, but the son was superb. (And his little sister got a big kick out of Keith breaking his tea glass).

Friendly cafe headed south from Ayvalik
To get to Bergama (Pergamum), you head south on 550 in the direction of Izmir, but you turn east at 240 in the direction of Bergama and Akhisar (Thyatira). These road numbers are not the way they think, so I am giving them to you more to help you get a sense of direction on your maps.  When actually driving, it's most helpful to know what big city is in the direction you want to go. The big cities are the stars to steer by.

I think we were all struck by the looming hill that is ancient Pergamum, except for Keith, who'd been there before. It's on the northwest side of the existing city of Bergama.

Pergamum from the southwest
Keith will tell you that Turkey is developing these sites as tourist attractions very rapidly. While you used to be able to walk up to the top, you will now pay 10 lira for a sky lift and then 20 lira to get into the site itself. Then they hit us for parking when we were leaving, something like 5 lira.

There were tour buses all over the place at Troy and then at Pergamum--Japanese, Germans, British.

Pergamum looking northwest
Pergamum is the third city in John of Patmos' letter from Jesus to the seven churches of Asia.  The letters proceed in a clockwise direction starting with Ephesus. Revelation is usually dated to the 90s, with John the son of Zebedee traditionally considered its author. We know the author is someone named John, but the style and tone are so different from the Gospel of John that even in the early church there was some sense that this might be a different John from the Beloved Disciple (e.g., Dionysius of Alexandria in the 200s).

I am personally fine with seeing the John of Revelation as John the son of Zebedee, with the Beloved Disciple behind the Gospel of John being John the elder, another figure in the early church (cf. Martin Hengel's, The Johannine Question). Traditions usually have a kernel of truth to them, although they also notoriously get twisted.  There are aspects of Revelation that make me wonder if it was written in the early 70s, not least the "8 kings" passage of Revelation 17.

Greek theater at Pergamum
In Revelation, Jesus refers to Pergamum as the place "where Satan has his throne." Pergamum had been the Roman capital of Asia until Augustus moved the proconsul to Ephesus in 27BC. But that would have been a century earlier, so John probably isn't referring to it.  Some think John was referring to a Great Altar that is now in Berlin.  Others to the Asklepion that was there in the lower city.

Great Altar of Pergamum, in Berlin
It was a fairly large site at Pergamum.  If you're like me, you think of these ancient cities as dinky.  But they were the New York City's of their day.  My sense is that many covered a square mile.

Perspective on size of Temple of Trajan
Turkey is in the process of reconstructing these sites.  You can see where they have wed original marble with new marble sections.  It's obviously painstaking work, like a massive jigsaw puzzle without any picture to go by.

Temple of Zeus at Pergamum

To get to Thyatira from Bergama, you continue west down 240 to Akhisar.  This is southeast of the Pergamum hill, so try not to go back into town on your way out.

Akhisar is a Marion sized city, I would say.  What's left of Thyatira is maybe 2 city blocks tucked in the middle of town.  It would be hard for me to give you directions except that it was about two blocks off to the left of the main drag headed east.  It seemed to be in somewhat of the city's center.

Thyatira ruins, in the middle of Akhisar
You can walk all around the outside of the site on the sidewalk. Otherwise you'll have to pay to get in.  The people were very friendly here.  Bottled water is an essential piece of the Turkey puzzle and we all stocked up with large 2 liter bottles of water here for a lira each, as I recall. The shop owner was very friendly.

Revelation speaks of a false prophetess being in this city at the time of Revelation. We don't know who this woman was or exactly what she taught. It is significant that John does not criticize her for being a woman prophetess, which implies it was perfectly acceptable for women to be prophetic in the early church. John criticizes her for the content of her teaching and the practices she encourages.

While Sardis is the next stop in the geographical rotation of Revelation, it fit better with our travel goals for the day to skirt it and go to Philadelphia first.  You can do this in the twenty-first century with a car. You would absolutely have stopped at Sardis in the first century.

We took the smaller road 555 out of Akhisar toward Salihli. This is a fairly picturesque two lane road through the countryside.  We stopped at a village not far from Salihli (Golmarmara, I think) and ate the bread, cheese, and other things we had bought at a grocery store the night we arrived in Turkey.  The call to prayer went off while we were sitting in a lovely park in the village.

I took this picture as we left the village.

Goats crossing street at Golmarmara
Near Salihli, we hit 300, the main road running east/west through the center of Turkey.  But you quickly break off it onto 585 toward Alasehir, continuing southeast.  If you were to stay on this road, it would eventually take you to Laodicea, but that was not our plan for this day.

Like Thyatira, all that is left of Philadelphia is tucked into the middle of Alasehir, this time off about a block to the right of the road going up the middle of Alasehir, about 2/3 of the way through the city.  Alasehir is a smaller town than Akhisar, and there was lots of road work being done. Some people understood "Philadelphia," but we had quite a bit of trouble finding the site.

Philadelphia, in the middle of Alasehir
About a city block is left of the Roman city.  If you go in and don't leave fairly speedily, someone will come out of a house adjacent to the site and ask for a 3 lira admission fee.  There's hardly anything to see anyway.

There are the ruins of a church, here shown with the minaret of a mosque peeking through in the background.

The church at Philadelphia received only commendation from Jesus in Revelation. They faced opposition from some "synagogue of Satan."  The reference to individuals who claim to be Jews but are not might point to conservative Gentile believers who were a little stricter in how much of the Jewish law they expected Gentile converts to keep.

After Philadelphia, we headed back toward Salihli and Sardis.  We retraced our steps back northwest up 585 to 300 west, steering by the star of Salihli. Sardis is to the west of Salihli, continuing along 300.  The village in which it is located is called Sart.

It's easy to miss the turn off of 300 and go right past it.  It is to the south (left side) of the road, but I think we had to turn right and go under 300 to get to that side.  Construction often made the Garman inaccurate, and we often wondered whether it was more harm than good, although it was helpful at times to be able to plug in longitude and latitude for the sites (I hope to add those here eventually).  There are signs, but you can easily miss them if you don't have an attentive eye.

Sardis was a great surprise.  Lots of great stuff here.  The main ruins are just to the right of the road and you can see the huge gymnasium if you are looking (we drove right past initially).

Sardis gymnasium
It's 8 lira to get into the ruin but well worth it.  As always, there is a Roman road running through.

Roman road going east/west at Sardis
There is a great synagogue here from after the time of the New Testament, but it gives you a great sense of the lay out of such structures.  They have reconstructed the altar, refreshed some mosaics, rebuilt the place at the far end where the Torah was stored.  Excellent site.

Sardis gymnasium, altar in front
Some young couple was taking their wedding photos as we arrived in the early evening, about 7 as I recall. It would not be our last wedding of the evening.

Further west along the main road about 100 meters was a left turn that took us up to the Temple of Artemis, about a kilometer in. There was a familiar brown sign indicating to turn there for the temple.

Temple of Artemis at Sardis
Artemis was the Greek god the locals matched with the goddess they worshiped before the Greeks came to town.  Here are ruins of the temple of Cybele from those earlier times, on the right about 200 meters after you turn down the alley for the Temple of Artemis.  It's probably a little less than a kilometer (3/5 mile) the rest of the way to the Temple of Artemis.

Temple of Cybele at Sardis

We had hoped to spend the night just east of Izmir, which is a huge city like Ankara and Istanbul. We did stop to ask at a fairly large hotel on the left side of the road before getting to Izmir. No doubt if we knew what the evening had in store, we would have taken it even though it was a little more expensive than we were used to paying.  Our target price was quickly becoming 100 lira for a double room.

I think if we had gone straight to the site of the ruins of Smyrna, we would have found a hotel.  On Google maps, they are all over the place. But we drove around and around without success, desperately ready to have a hotel for the night.

Our strategy was to go to the beachfront to find one, like at Ayvalik.  But Izmir is a much bigger city, and a highway runs up and down the beachfront.  It was late and it was very hard to negotiate turning around. The Garman was taking us down alleys of less than optimal character. We finally left Izmir to head south toward Selchuk and Ephesus.

Ruins at Smyrna (not seen)
The signs for the ruins of Smyrna were very clear from the highway along the bay. It looks like there are three reasonably priced hotels on the street just north of the ancient agora (e.g., the Vatan Hotel).  But, alas, we didn't have wi-fi in the car and were exhausted.

Smyrna gets no critique from Jesus in Revelation. It did seem to face the same "synagogue" opposition that the church of Philadelphia did.

Exhausted, we headed south down 550 toward Selchuk, in the direction of Aydin.  The Garman's quest for a hotel led us to someone's house tucked at the end of a driveway past a couple other houses. We finally asked.

The night ended somewhat comically at a hotel that was connected to a gas station where a wedding was taking place. The gas station was inundated with cars everywhere.  We finally had to park behind a truck out on the main road, after having to move the car from the spot they initially put us in front of other wedding guests. Ross and I posted pictures/did Facetime from the one hall hotel hallway because the wi-fi wasn't good in the rooms.  The beating of the music went well past midnight.

One of the funnest memories of the trip... probably the least pleasant evening of the trip. :-) 


Ken Schenck said...

As a classical footnote, Pergamum was where the book form was invented (as opposed to the scroll). The Ptolemies of Egypt stopped shipping papyrus and so they invented the use of vellum (animal hide) for writing. Pergamum had the second largest library (next to Alexandria) until Mark Anthony had the library given to Cleopatra.

Keith Drury said...

It is interesting tome that the most unpleasant memory of a trip often becomes the most lasting, end eventually the most cherished memory--curious! As for your description of "alleys of less than optimal character" HA!!!!!!

Dave Ward said...

Pergamum, as the first big biblical site we visited, was the most impactful for me. Dinky and dusty towns was my picture of the 7 churches. Pergamum was a powerhouse metropolis. Nicely described Ken. Love it. The Roman arsenal there was interesting to me (13 different sizes of shot for the canon) and the fact that this was once the capital of the province of Asia. Ephesus wins eventually. But man this was a nice day.

I felt that Sardis had the best temple of artemis reconstruction since Ephesus (Artemis center) had been plundered I suppose. The 80+ foot columns there were stunning.

Alvin said...

This is cool!