Itinerary for 7 Churches and Asia Minor
Updated: Sep 14, 2022
In July 2022, I toured Asia Minor to research the sites of the Seven Churches of Revelation and other ancient cities. The trip lasted five days, but covered a lot of ground. This post is my itinerary with some tips for those interested in the route. Here is the route on Google Maps. When I mention a place to eat or stay, read it as a recommended option.
Day 1—Cibyra, Lycus Valley, Philadelphia
This was a long driving day because I had to depart from home in Antalya. My first stop was Cibrya, a Lydian ancient city in the Burdur province. The site (modern Gölhisar) is a short detour off the Antalya-Denizli road and worth the stop. The city has several highlights:
A detailed mosaic of Medusa decorates the floor of the odeon.
A round nymphaeum with centralized plumbing intact stands above the agora.
A basilica church on the west ridge of the stadium was excavated in 2019. The large church displays an ornate brick mosaic on the side aisles. More intriguing was the series of burial chambers with various tomb styles appended to the southeast corner of the church.
A complex with ornate gladiator reliefs (article) from the necropolis is now displayed at the Burdur Archaeology Museum.
For lunch, I stopped just before Denizli at Cigerci Bahattin, a great place for a quick roadside meal.
I did not stop at any of the sites in the Lycus Valley (e.g., Hierapolis, Laodicea, Colossae, or Tripolis) because I was there just last month. However, the sites are noteworthy and together deserve a full day.
In Philadelphia, I stopped in the town center to visit St. John’s church, a 6C basilica with just three of its six masonry pillars remaining. Because I had not seen other parts of the city, I journeyed up to the acropolis (modern Toptepe Park) to see the theater and stadium. The road up the hill wraps around the theater, and the stadium is 100 meters to the west. Both are shells of their former selves, as their cut stones were looted during the Byzantine and Ottoman eras. Excavations have exposed the foundations of the theater’s stage (skene). I had heard there was a Temple of Apollo on the east side of the acropolis, but the new hilltop cafe seems to have been built over it. I drove through the city to find some remains of the Byzantine walls (here and near here). Navigating the tiny city’s streets—two-way but should have been one-way, and intersecting with no stop signs —felt harrowing.
Day 2—Sardis and Thyatira
I departed from Salihli early for Sardis because I wanted to climb up to the acropolis in the morning. To reach the acropolis, take the gravel farm road directly east from the entrance gate for the Artemis temple. About 100 meters before that road ends, take the trail veering left up the ridge. When you reach the Turkish tomb and flag, veer right and go toward the dangling Byzantine walls. The 45-minute hike is steep, but doable and certainly rewarding. The gravel path snakes along some steep precipices, so it was nerve-wracking to be up there alone. At the top are Byzantine walls and 360-degree views of the region.
Then I hiked down to visit the Temple of Artemis (and, later, the imperial cult) and the 4C chapel. The signage was helpful and the temple looks pristine thanks to a recent project to kill off the black growth on the columns.
Next, I drove toward the Byzantine shops, synagogue, and bath-gymnasium complex along the main street. The new, protective roofing over the synagogue provides nice shading. A good number of (loud!) birds were nesting in the rafters. It was also nice to stop and see the progress made on the monumental Roman arch-entrance and Lydian fortifications (on the south side of the road).
I made my way up to the recent excavations (on the east edge of the city, near the theater) where they have been excavating the retaining walls of the 6C BCE Lydian palace destroyed by Cyprus in 547 BCE. The work is still in progress and for now shows a jumble of intersecting walls from the Lydian through Roman eras.
New visitor centers were under construction at both entrances and should be functioning by fall 2022. The Sardis excavation has a website (https://sardisexpedition.org/en/essays/) with publications and articles on all aspects of the city, such as the Artemis Temple, Synagogue, Bath-Gymnasium Complex, and Byzantine shops.
En route to Thyatira (modern Akhisar), I took a shortcut to save 20 minutes. Instead of backtracking through Salihli, you can take the road just before Ahmetli straight north. It leads to the Salihli-Akhisar road. I did a quick detour to see some of the Lydian tumuli called Bin Tepe (“Thousand Mounds,” though there are only 130). None are open for visiting, but they were impressive to see. To enter a tumulus, you must visit Midas’ (dad’s) tomb in Gordian.
In Akhisar, I had a great lunch at Lale Lokantasi. From there, I walked over to the city block with the basilica building and reconstructed street arcade (Thyatiera Tepe Mezarları). The area has two large inscriptions by association groups near the entrance and the reconstructed arcade.
The Akhisar Museum across the street is impressive considering its small size. The east side of the building is an open-air display of cut stones and inscriptions. A (Jewish?) tomb mentioning Sambatheion lies on the west side.
I visited Hastane Höyüğü hoping to see the Hellenistic temple, but it was gated up and overgrown. Near Ulu Cami is allegedly a converted Byzantine church (built from a spoliated temple). Though ancient Thyatira was an important city with rich history, it is, for me, the least impressive to visit of the Seven Churches.
That night, I slept at the Ramada by Wyndham in Soma. It is the best hotel option in the area of Thyatira/Pergamum.
Day 3—Pergamum, Kyme, Phocaea
I was out early to beat the heat (and crowds) at Pergamum, but the gondola lift to the acropolis (100TL roundtrip) didn’t start working until 8:45. With two guidebooks in hand, I explored the entire site, from the upper city down to the middle and lower cities over three hours. Much of the acropolis is dedicated to monumental temple structures (e.g., Trajan, Athens, Zeus). The city was a “Citadel of the Gods.”
For lunch, I found a gem in Akasya Park Cafe—great menu and nice outdoor seating, plus it is one block from the Red Basilica, which I visited after lunch. I had some extra time so I drove north to check out the water aqueducts, then the Roman amphitheater and theater. Though in ruins, the amphitheater was particularly impressive, as it was built over a creek. This allows them to dam one side and fill the floor with water for water spectacles (naumachia, “naval combat”).
Then I visited the Asklepion and Pergamum Archaeology Museum, which is one of Turkey’s best small museums. Following that, I left town and headed south.
I had planned to visit Aigai (website), but it was too far off the main road. Instead, I stopped by ancient Kyme (modern Aliağa). It was the leading city of Aiolia, but today is a Byzantine ruin sandwiched into a commercial port—not worth the stop.
My last stop was Phocaea, the vacation-y coastal town of modern Foça. Along the road down to the city stands a large rock-cut burial tomb, a rare Persia-era monument in Anatolia. In the city, I stayed in Menendi Hotel, a charming boutique hotel on the main street.
Day 4—Smyrna, Klazomenai, Teos
This morning, I drove into Smyrna. The city has two history museums with historical artifacts, both worth a visit, as they have artifacts from Smyrna, Ephesus, Pergamum, and other Asian cities. The first stop was the Museum of History and Culture.
Then I drove to the Agora, where you now enter from the north side into the basilica. From there, I walked to the Roman road heading toward the Magnesia gate (Altınpark) and the harbor bath (in Kemerli Çarşı, near here). Both were found in recent years, but are now overgrown, and so were disappointing.
From the Agora, I drove up Mt. Pagos to visit the acropolis (Kadifekale). En route, I made two stops. First, there is a long stretch of well-preserved Roman road heading toward Ephesus (at 120. sokak, before the exit to Kadifekale). Then, near the acropolis, I stopped at the flat park next to the fire station (itfaiye). Here was part of the Roman stadium where Polycarp was martyred. Finally, I made it to the acropolis to see the Hellenistic/Byzantine walls, cistern, and Roman aqueduct in the distance to the north. The theater (near here) is being excavated, but I didn’t walk down there because I had visited just last year. Then I drove down Mt. Pagos to the Izmir Archaeology Museum, which has a nice collection of ancient statuary and ceramics from the region.
Next, I headed west to visit sites on the Çeşme peninsula. First, I visited Klazomenai (north of Urla), a city famous for its advanced olive production in the classical era. The site really has only a reconstruction of the ancient olive press. Fortunately, the harbor is nearby and has good restaurants. I did not have time to visit Erythrai at the end of the peninsula, so I drove on to Teos. Though Teos is spread over a large area, it was good to see this important city and the inscriptions presented at the entrance.
In the evening, I drove toward Ephesus and found a place to stay on the coast.
Day 5—Claros and Around Ephesus
In the morning, I visited the famous oracle temple at Claros. The site is not on Google Maps, but it is easy to find 2 km north of Ahmetbeyli.
I spent the rest of the day on the sites around Ephesus. First, I climbed up to visit the Hellenistic walls on the spine of Mt. Koressos. From this location, it was a 20-minute hike up to great views. After that, I drove to the ancient city to check out some inscriptions and unexplored areas of the site. After that, I drove around to the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, a sprawling complex of rock-cut mortuary chapels that was a famous pilgrimage site. From there. I drove up to the so-called House of Mary.
Afterward, I went into Selçuk to visit the Archaeology Museum. The building is small, but it has many fine artifacts from the excavations at Ephesus. Then I visited the three sacred buildings that have defined the city throughout history: the Artemision, St. John’s Church, and Isa Bey Camii—all remarkable architectural achievements.
On the way out of Selçuk, I stopped at the Belevi Mausoleum (here). This massive Hellenistic burial monument mirrored the famous (but now absent) Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (Bodrum).
I had planned to stay another day, but decided to head home early. With an extra day, I would stayed in the old Greek village of Şirince (here), then returned along the Meander River valley, visiting the Ayden Archaeology Museum (ancient Tralles), the site of Nysa (modern Nazilli), and the newly-discovered amphitheater at Mastaura. But, another day!