The nation of Turkey is one of the best pilgrimage destinations in the world, full of holy sites from a variety of faith traditions.
Turkey has been a crossroads of civilization for millennia. Within its borders lie remains of the first known human settlement as well as ruins and artifacts from a succession of empires that include the Hittites, Lycians, Ionians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, and Ottomans.
This ancient land is also home to many sites sacred to the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths. While many Christians do not think of Turkey as a biblical land, during much of the first century it was the center for the young church.
Two-thirds of the 27 books in the New Testament were either written in Asia Minor (the term for the Asian portion of Turkey) or were addressed to communities there. The apostles John, Paul, and Peter lived, preached, and prayed here.
The Seven Churches of Revelation—Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea—are located on Turkey’s Aegean coast. According to tradition, the apostle John brought the Virgin Mary to Ephesus in Turkey after the crucifixion, where she lived her last days in a small stone house on Mount Koressos.
The long list of holy sites in Turkey includes the incomparable Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, the Basilica of St. John near Ephesus, and Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey.
As one of the fastest-growing tourism destinations in the world, Turkey is attracting a growing number of visitors interested in exploring its religious sites. Though the country is 99 percent Muslim, it is a secular state that is proud of its many Christian and Jewish landmarks. The Turkish people are warm, hospitable and eager to show the world their cultural and spiritual treasures.
While the coastal areas enjoy a generally mild climate, with warm summers and moderate winters, the inland plateau has greater temperature extremes. Late April through June, as well as September and October, are good times to travel in Turkey, as the weather is pleasant and the crowds manageable. July and August are the high season. Turkey in winter has its own charms: I visited in January and found the weather to be mild (generally in the 50s). A huge bonus was the fact that the major sites were not crowded with tourists.
English is widely spoken in major cities and resort areas. The official language is Turkish, which belongs to the Ural Altaic language group and uses a Latin alphabet.
In the following links I describe a trip to Istanbul, Ephesus, and Pergamum. Before traveling to Turkey, I hope you’ll also read my book Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God, which is a memoir told through trips to a dozen holy sites around the world. One of its chapters describes a tour of sites in Turkey, including Ephesus.
- Hagia Sophia (including The Golden Treasures of Hagia Sophia)
- The Blue Mosque
- The Whirling Dervishes
- Church of St. Savior in Chora
- Pavilion of the Holy Mantle, Topkapi Palace
- In the Harem at Topkapi Palace
- The Cats of Istanbul
- The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
- Greco-Roman ruins at Ephesus
- The Basilica of St. John near Ephesus
- The House of the Virgin Mary near Ephesus
- St. Paul in Ephesus
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Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She’s the author of the Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper and Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. Her website Spiritual Travels features holy sites around the world.