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Other Regions of Turkey

Other regions of Turkey 

While less known and less visited today, many regions in Turkey possess remarkable cultural and historical assets that could be used to attract international tourists and increase revenue. These religious objectives could be grouped in the following regions: 

a. The Eastern Half of the Turkish Mediterranean Coast and Hatay 

b. Southeast Anatolia: the provinces of Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Mardin 

c. Central Anatolia: Cappadocia and Konya 

d. Eastern Black Sea Region: Trabzon. 

a. The Eastern Half of the Turkish Mediterranean Region and Hatay 

Tarsus is a historic city in the province of Mersin and the capital of the ancient province of Cilicia. It is also the birthplace of Saint Paul. An important Christian community developed here relatively early, many of the local Christians being martyred by the Roman local authorities for their beliefs. The Church of Saint Paul is a site of pilgrimage today as are some Muslim sites including the mosque (Ulu Cami) built near Prophet Daniel’s burial place (actually this is only one of the six locations claiming to have Daniel’s tomb). The tomb is marked by a funerary monument. The mosque contains three other tombs that are considered sacred: that of the 9thCentury caliph Mamun, that of the famous Muslim physician Lokman Hekim and that of Seth, which, according to a legend is the son of Adam and Eve and the founder of Tarsus. An interesting place to visit for the religious tourist is the old city of Anamur, in the same province. The city flourished during the Roman times (between the first and the fourth centuries AD) but its existence continued well into the Byzantine period. Today only ruins have remained of the old city. 

Besides the remnants of the city walls, aqueducts, baths and houses one can distinguish here the ruins of several churches.  

Antioch (or Antakya) is a very old city situated less than 20 kilometers from the Syrian border. Antioch was a city of great religious importance playing a very important role in the history of Christianity. It constituted the base for Saint Paul’s missionary journeys and it is the most probable place where the gospel of Matthew was written. Saint Luke also lived in Antioch for a number of years. The Cave church of Saint Peter (known also as the Grotto  of Saint Peter or Sen Piyer Kilisesi in Turkish) is most likely the oldest church in the world where both Saint Peter and Saint Paul preached around the year 50 AD. Their followers were the first to call themselves “Christians”. The small Cave Church of Saint Peter is a museum today but religious ceremonies are still sometimes performed here. Later the city hosted a number of church councils and produced numerous influential Christian figures .including some of the first martyrs. Several small churches and monasteries are still open and can be visited in Antakya. The city also hosts one of the oldest mosques in Anatolia, Habib-i-Neccar and a small synagogue. 

b. Southeast Anatolia Sanlıurfa is known as the city of the prophets due to the many prophets who are said to have lived in the city. Prophet Abraham may have been born in Urfa and a mosque sits today on the cave where he was born. However, Abraham is an important figure in all three monotheistic religions so the sites associated with him are visited by tourists of all the three major religions. Another major tourist objective is a pool with sacred fish situated in the courtyard of a 13th Century mosque, Halil-ur-Rahman. Legend has it that Nimrod threw Abraham into the fire but God turned fire into water and the firewood into fish. Urfa was also an important center for Christianity although little has survived the time. Under the Roman rule many Christian  martyrs suffered here  and the city (then called Edessa) was also a host for one of the first Christian councils in 197. 

Harran, in the province of Sanlıurfa, is considered an important center for the Jewish faith as this is known as the place where Abraham and his family settled for many years while on route from Ur in Chaldea to Canaan (according to the Genesis). 

The place was also an important center of Assyrian Christianity and is known as the place where purpose-built churches were first constructed openly. The small town is also an important place for Muslim visitors as this is the site where the first Muslim university was built during the late 8th and the early 9thCentury. Only a few ruins have survived to remind us of this great achievement. The town is also known for the traditional mud-brick “beehive” houses, built without using any wood. The design of the houses, unchanged for at least 3000  years keeps them cool during the hot summers without a need for air conditioning. To the east, the province of Mardin has an enormous potential for the development of religious tourism. Both Muslims and Christians will find this province very interesting. 

Until 1932 the city of Mardin was the seat  of the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate. Many Orthodox churches and monasteries were  built in this province. However, most Christians emigrated from Mardin following World War I and only a small community remained in the province. One of the main effects is that most churches and monasteries are closed or are in a bad shape today. The most important and the only one still active in southeastern Turkey is the Saffron Monastery (Deyrülzzafran). This is one of the oldest monasteries in the world, being built in the 5th Century. The Church of the 40 Martyrs is another important church that dates back to the 6th Century. The province also presents interest for the Muslim religious tourist. Besides numerous mosques, the province has the oldest religious school (madrasah) in Anatolia, built in the 12th Century.  

c. Central Anatolia 

Cappadocia is a geographic region in Central Anatolia of fantastic natural beauty including the “fairy chimneys” and many historical sites such as underground cities, castles or houses carved out in the rock. The region was also an important center for early Christianity.  There are over 500 cave churches here dating mainly from the 6th Century.  Such  a  complex  of  monasteries and churches carved into the rock can be visited in Göreme. The Göreme National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1985. The churches found here, sculpted in rock contain numerous pieces of Byzantine art from the post-iconoclastic period in relatively good conditions. 

There are at least ten churches and chapels in the area built (or rather carved) mainly between the ninth and the 13thCentury. The region is also known as the “Land of the Three Saints” because of the three great theologists (Saint Basil the Great, Saint Gregory of Nyssa and Saint Gregory of Nazianzus) who preached here in the fourthcentury at a time when Christians were  oppressed and were forced to pray in caves transformed into small churches and chapels. 

Konya has been an important center for Islam. It was the place where Rumi (or Mevlana), an important Persian-born Islamic scholar lived most of his life. His tomb has become a place of pilgrimage today. His followers created the Order of Whirling Dervishes who are famous for their dance. The Whirling Dervishes perform once a year during the Mevlana Festival in December.  In 2005, the Mevlana Sama Ceremony in Konya was proclaimed by UNESCO as one of the Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Although there are few traces left, Konya was an important center for early Christianity. St. Paul and Barnabas preached in Iconium (the old name of Konya) in the 1st Century and St. Thecla was born there. However, with the decline of the Christian community, most of the churches were closed or were transformed into mosques. There still is one church dedicated to St. Paul open in Konya. The church was built in 1916 by the French community in town. Many pilgrims traveling the paths of St. 

Paul in Anatolia stop to visit this small church. Northwest of Konya, near the modern city of Yalvaç, are the ruins of the old Pisidian Antioch. This is the place where Saint Paul first preached outside of the Jewish community. The city played an important role for early Christianity and served as meeting place for several church councils. The Great Basilica was excavated in the 1920s and represents one of the earliest examples of Christian churches in Anatolia. An inscription found on the sixth century-altar reading “Agios Pavlos” suggests that the name of this church was Saint Paul’s. The ruins of another old church were also excavated in the area and can be visited today. Archaeologists claim that there is evidence to suggest that the church was built over the site of a synagogue so it could be the church in which Saint Paul first preached to the Gentiles (non-Jews). 

d. The Eastern Black Sea Region 

Trabzon has many cultural attractions, some of which could attract the religious tourists. Among these are churches such as Hagia Sophia (the most visited church in Trabzon built in Byzantine style), Hagia Ana, Hagia Theodoros, and Hagia Konstantinos, monasteries such as the Armenian monastery of the All-Savior and Vazelon Monastery as well as many churches that were transformed into mosques (Panagia Krisokephalos is Fatih Mosque today, Hagios Evgenios is Yeni Cuma Mosque and Hagia Andreas is Nakip Mosque). Not far from Trabzon, in the same province, at an elevation of 1200 meters, there is a relatively well-preserved monastery dedicated to Virgin Mary. According to local legends, the monastery was founded in the fourth century during the reign of Emperor Theodosius and during its long history it fell into ruin and was restored several times. The monastery continued to flourish even after the Ottomans conquered the Empire of Trebizond in 1461 because Sultan Mehmed II granted the monastery special protection and privileges. It continued to be funded by the Patriarchate in Istanbul as well as by the Greek communities in Anatolia and elsewhere. Even the Greek voivods (from Istanbul’s Fener District) of the 18thCentury Wallachia took a special interest in this monastery (Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, 2007). The monastery was inhabited continuously by monks until 1923 when, following the population exchange between Turkey and Greece it was abandoned. Recently, the Turkish government has initiated the restoration of the monastery and the site has become very popular among tourists. While most of the tourists are not  visiting the site with a religious purpose in mind, an increased number of pilgrims has been recorded mainly from Russia and Greece. Starting with 2010, divine liturgies are allowed again to be performed on the 15th of August (the day of the Assumption of Virgin Mary) which are also attracting hundreds of pilgrims from the Orthodox world (Euronews, 2010).  

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