Thursday, June 13, 2013

Turkey Day 8: Cappadocia and Nicaea

Turkey in 10 Days
1. General Remarks
2. What to Bring
3. Day 1: Traveling There
4. Day 2: Troy
5. Day 3: Pergamum, Thyatira, Philadelphia, Sardis, Smyrna 
6. Day 4: Ephesus and Laodicea
7. Day 5: Colossae and Perga
8. Day 6: Galatia: Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra
9. Day 7: Derbe and Tarsus

10. Day 8: Cappadocia and Nicaea
Thursday was mostly a travel day.  Having gone as far east in Turkey as we would go, we would spend most of Thursday on a bee-line toward Istanbul that went straight through the capital of Ankara.  It was also the closest we would come to ground zero of ancient Hittite country (Hattusa, now Boğazkale).  The Hittites were at their peak around the time of Abraham (see Genesis 23).

Cappadocia is mentioned in 1 Peter 1:1 as one of its destinations, including several other places we had already visited (Asia, Galatia).  But for Christians, probably the most significant aspect of the region is the fact that the Cappadocian fathers were centered here: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa his brother, and Gregory of Nazianzus.

Cappadocian cave houses

Everyone assumes that we get the Trinity from the Bible, but I don't think Christians realize how much of what we believe about Jesus was a matter of serious debate in the 300s.  Both sides claimed to have Scripture on their side and there were a number of decades where the Trinity as we know it wasn't winning.

The Cappadocians went philosophical because biblical debates had reached a stalemate. The Cappadocians were the ones that worked out the "one substance, three persons" that would become part of the Nicene Creed at the Council of Constantinople in 381. (By engaging philosophy and the Greek liberal arts, they also helped Christianity become a premier religion :-)

After breakfast on Thursday, we made our way to Göreme, which is super-easy to find from Nevshehir.  Just east of town is where Christians carved monasteries and churches out of the relatively soft rock that once upon a time had been formed by lava.  Earlier volcano activity had left "fairy chimneys" all over the place.  This is the general area where Star Wars filmed Tatooine.


Here, not only in times of persecution but for centuries, Christians had monasteries and churches inside the fairy chimneys.  It's 15 lira to get into the "open air museum."

Cappadocian monastery

The 11th century art in the churches in these "chimneys" was exquisite, especially in the "Dark Church."    This cave church is an extra 8 lira but definitely worth it--the best part of the entire site for me.  For the record, I didn't take this photo:

Dark Church at Cappadocia

We had pretty much finished walking around the main site before the bulk of the tour buses arrived. We didn't go to  the "Buckle Church," about 50 meters down the hill (the ticket to the open air museum gets you in there also).  We heard it was fabulous.

To get back toward Istanbul, we decided first to take 300 west to Aksaray (about 70 kilometers) in order to get on the larger highway 750.  If you've paid attention to the road numbers, both of these are familiar.  300 goes all the way to Izmir near Ephesus.  750 goes south down to Tarsus.

But our goal was to take 750 north through Ankara, which soon joins up with the superhighway 0-4.  0-4 goes all the way to Istanbul, but our sights were set on Nicaea.  It's about 540 kilometers from Aksaray to the environs of a town called Sakarya.  It's near this city, only about 150 kilometers shy of Istanbul itself, that you finally turn south on 650.  Take that about 50 kilometers until you can turn west onto 150 around Mekece.  That will take you to Iznik, which is modern day Nicaea.

After that much travel, it's nice to settle into a hotel.  There is a string of hotels along Lake Iznik.  You can get to the lake easily simply by following the ruins of the medieval city wall, which you will hit eventually if you just keep driving through town from any direction.  650 itself actually goes straight to the lake.

Lake Iznik at Nicaea

Ross was now an expert at negotiating hotel rates, and we could have had our pick of a half dozen.  He got one of the best down to 120 lira a room.  Its proprietor was also a pro--a worthy adversary.

A central road led from the lake to the main road through Iznik, a road that runs roughly parallel to the lake shore.  We decided to walk there for a change.  We found the mosque created out of the church that housed the seventh ecumenical council of 787, where Christians decided it was okay to use icons, images and art of saints.

Nicaean church now mosque

It doesn't seem like we know exactly where the Council of Nicaea was originally held, where the Trinity was first decided (325).  But I wouldn't be surprised if a later church was built on a significant earlier site.

Some more lovely baklava and we walked back to our hotel. In the morning we would return to Istanbul.

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