Category Archives: Places in Turkey

Tarsus — A Very Unusual Roman Building

Very few tour groups have a chance to visit Tarsus and if they do, they typically visit only the excavations in the center of town (see previous post) and the associated “Well of St. Paul“).  However, there is a very very massive building that is hard to locate and is situated on the edges of residential and industrial neighborhoods.  It is called the “Donuktash” (Turkish for “frozen stones”).  The foundation seems to be composed of a hardened conglomerate of medium size pebbles.


View looking north along the eastern wall of the Donuktash. The preserved portion of this foundation reaches to a height of about 15 ft. [4.6 m.]. This foundation wall is 335 ft. [102 m.] long — about the length of a football field! Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This mysterious and massive structure is apparently the foundation of a large, second century A.D., Roman Temple.   The exterior core of the temple remains, as do some significant interior foundations—for the marble and stone facing have been stripped away during the centuries.


View looking south at the current interior space of the Donuktash. It is longer than a “football field!”  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The exterior walls are visible on the right (west) and left (east) sides of the image.  In the far center is a massive foundation upon which the central building (cella) of the temple probably stood.  Even though this picture was not taken from the extreme north end of the Donuktash, it does give some perspective to its size—335 ft. [102 m.] long. The whole structure awaits excavation.

The Donuktash may have been an Imperial Temple dedicated to the Roman Emperor Commodus (A.D. 177–192).

To view additional images of the Donuktash Click Here.

When we visited the site the gate was locked (it always is) and it seemed impossible to find a way in.  I thought to myself that there was no way to keep out the local children, so I asked our guide to ask the neighbor “how to the kids get in?”  Well, the answer was, “there is a ladder around the back!”  So, we climbed the latter to examine the interior!  (remember the walls are 15 ft. high!)


Students checking out the “cella” of the building.


Investigating the walls of the Donuktash.


Exiting the Donuktash.

Tarsus — Birth Place of Saul/Paul

TarsusMap3Tarsus was the birthplace of Paul the apostle(Acts 22:3). It is located at the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, about 9.5 mi. [15 km.] inland along the Cydnus River. In Paul’s day the city was one of the top five intellectual centers of the Roman world — a center for the Stoics. In Paul’s day possibly 100,000 people lived there.


View looking northwest at the current excavations at ancient Tarsus—at the Cumhuriyet Alani. The 23 ft. [7 m.] wide road dates to the second century B.C. while the colonnade (visible on the right, northeast, side of the road) probably dates to the third or fourth centuries A.D. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Not much of ancient Tarsus is visible on the surface.  However, in the wake of urban development in downtown Tarsus, an ancient street and associated structures were found.  The street itself was in existence in Paul’s day.  Tarsus was an important center for east-west transit traffic.

Paul was actually a citizen of this distinguished city (Acts 9:11; 21:39—he was also a Roman Citizen). Since he was sent to Jerusalem at an early age, to be trained there under the famous Rabbi Gamaliel, it probably wasn’t until after his conversion that Paul interacted with the Greco-Roman culture of Tarsus — spending some 12–13 years there before embarking on his first missionary journey.


View of the waterfall (Turkish: “Selale”) on the river that runs through Tarsus. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Paul probably passed though Tarsus as he began his second and third missionary journeys.

What Were the Early Christians Like?

One of the earliest sources describing Christians is

Amisus-01that of Pliny the Younger who was the Roman “governor” of Pontus and Bithyna from A.D. 111–113 — very possibly describing the Christian community in Amisus.  He does this writing to the Roman Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98–117) asking him how to deal with the relatively new group.

Pliny writes this fascinating description of Christian (ca. A.D. 112):

that they [called Christians in the preceding paragraph] were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food–but ordinary and innocent food.  —  (Pliny Letters 10.96–97)

This text does not say from where he was writing but in the paragraphs before those asking about Christian he mentions the people of Amisus (see map above) and in a paragraph after (99) he mentions Amastris.  Thus, many have concluded that he penned these words describing Christians in Amisus.

The modern Turkish city of Samsun is partially built over the ruins of Amisus.  At Amisus there is an ancient citadel (acropolis) and several large tumuli that contain burials from the Hellenistic/Roman Periods.


The modern port of Samsun — Ancient Amisus — where Christians were persecuted by the Roman governor Pliny
Click on Image to Enlarge


Two Tumuli (burial mounds) at Samsun (ancient Amisus)
They date roughly from 300 B.C. to 30 B.C. and were thus one hundred years old by the time Pliny wrote to the Roman Emperor Trajan

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Herod “The Great’s” Sarcophagus?

Besides the naval and nature paintings (secco—on dry plaster)  and the architectural fragments of the mausoleum that I mentioned in my previous posts, the so called sarcophagus of Herod that is also on display in the Israel Museum.


The Sarcophagus of Herod? Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The  display of the reconstructed main sarcophagus found at “Herod’s Tomb” at the Herodium.  It appears to be made out of local limestone.  Please notice that it although it is nicely carved with a rosette pattern on the end along with a floral pattern under the gable of the lid it is really not all the elaborate.

Compare for example the following sarcophagus.


View of the side of the sarcophagus that depicts Abdalonymos, the person buried in the sarcophagus, fighting the Persians along with Alexander the Great!  From the 4th Century B.C.!  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.[Alexander the Great is the figure on horseback on the far left—Abdalonymos is on horseback in the center]

This sarcophagus was found at Sidon (just north of Israel) in 1887.  It dates to the last quarter of the 4th century B.C.—the time when Alexander fought the Persians at the Battle of Issus in 333 B.C.  Abdalonymos was the King of Sidon at the time.  It was originally painted, and some of the pigments still remain!  The shape of the sarcophagus seems to be representing a temple.  Note the roof tiles, the “downspouts,” and the intricate carved detail!

This sarcophagus was crafted roughly 300 years before the death of Herod—so we know that this type of technology and craftsmanship was known and available to those living in the region of Herod—including Herod himself.  Would Herod really have been satisfied with such a “plain” sarcophagus as that found at the Herodium when the technology and craftsmanship  for something much more elaborate was available?

Again, did Ehud Netzer discover the “real tomb” of King Herod?  There are significant researchers who think not.  Although Netzer found a significant mausoleum and fragments of sarcophagi, neither the size of the mausoleum nor the  sarcophagi are overwhelmingly impressive—that is fitting for a king of Herod’s ego/stature (see conveniently the summary of Shanks below—and more on the sarcophagus in the next post).

Shanks, Hershel. “Was Herod’s Tomb Really Found?” Biblical Archaeology Review 40 (2014): 40–48.

“Neither hot nor cold” — New Water Inscription Discovered at Laodicea — Revelation 3:15 and 16

The Turkish Hürryet Daily News has announced that an “Ancient ‘water law’ [has been] unearthed in Laodicea.”  The article states that:

The [marble] block, which is 90 centimeters in length and 116 centimeters in width, has revealed the use of water in the city had been managed by law, which involved a penalty ranging from 5,000 to 12,500 denarius.

The “water law” marble block dating back to 114 A.D. [the time of the Roman Emperor Trajan] included strict measures regarding the use of water coming from the Karcı Mountain through channels to the city, as well as the use of a fountain dedicated to Roman Emperor Traianus. The rules were prepared by Anatolian State Governor Aulus Vicirius Matrialis.

. . . the Excavations head Professor Celal Şimşek of Pamukkale University, said, “The Laodicea Assembly made this law in 114 A.D. and presented it to a pro council in Ephesus for approval.

The pro council approved the law on behalf of the empire. Water was vital for the city. This is why there were heavy penalties against those who polluted the water, damaged the water channels or reopening the sealed water pipes. Breaking the law was subject to a penalty of about 12,500 denarius – 125,000 Turkish Liras.” [= $42,500 USD!]

The water system of Laodicea has been much discussed in the interpretation of Revelation 3:

Rev. 3:15-16 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! (16) So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  (NIV)

Even without the translation of the new inscription, it certainly emphasizes the importance of Laodicea’s water system that is referred to in Revelation 15-16.

Some commentators thought that water was piped from the hot springs at Hierapolis  6 mi. to the north and that by the time the water arrived at Laodicea it was lukewarm.  But no such water system has ever been found and modern scholarship, including the excavator of Laodicea Prof. Celal Şimşek, have rejected this theory.

Laodicea received its water from springs to the south of it via an aqueduct and an inverted siphon system.


The interior of one of the two pipes of the “inverted siphon” that was part of the system that brought fresh water to Laodicea from the south.


The “water tower” is the massive clump of rock just left of the center of the image. View looking west.

This water tower is located on the south side of Laodicea very close to the stadium and to the bath/gymnasium.

Evidently water entered the city from the aqueduct coming from the south, was “pumped” up to this area, and into this structure This is actually a constructed structure – made out of individual blocks of stones and clay pipes. It seems that water was “pumped” up through the clay pipes and that it spilled out over the top, cascading down the sides of this structure — like a “bubbler.” The constant flow of water left behind calcium deposits and thus the amorphous – almost solid – appearance of the structure.

For a view of the “interior” of the “water tower” Click Here.

Hagia Sophia and Loeb Classical Series

Two items that struck me of interest.  The first is that the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey—one of the most historic/grandest churches of Christendom—now a “museum”—is being “eyed” to be converted back to a mosque!  Recently the Koran was read within the “museum” and this may be the “nose of the camel inside of the tent!”

The current “Hagia Sophia” is the third structure to stand on this spot.  The first church was built by the son of Constantine the Great,Constantius.  It was burnt down in 404.  The second was built by Theodosius II, and it was burnt down in 532.


View of the exterior of the Hagia Sophia. The minarets were 1,000 years after the first church was built here! Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The present building was built by the great Byzantine Emperor Justinian and was dedicated on December 26, 537.  It took six years to build and over 10,000 men worked on it.  Although the dome has been repaired (rebuilt) a number of times, the church built by Justinian served as a Christian place of worship until Constantinople was captured by the Turk, Mehmet II on May 29, 1453.


Interior of the Hagia Sophia—without scaffolding!! The roundels were added by the Muslims over 1,000 years after the church was built. The contain the names of Allah, Mohamed, and early Califs. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Mehmet II immediately turned the building into a mosque and it served as one of the major mosques of Istanbul until the reforms of Atatürk.  It reopened in 1934 as a museum.

Harvard Loeb Classical Series — 60 Volumes!

Good news, the authoritative Loeb Classical series is now ON LINE.  Bad news, it is expensive!  For individuals $150 for the first year, and $65 for subsequent consecutive years.  However, some of you may be able to have your Institution subscribe to the Institutional version—Free 60 Trial Here.

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Please note that some of the site’s most useful tools are features of “My Loebs,” the personal accounts available to all authorized users. We’d encourage you and your patrons to create your own accounts (via the “Sign up” link at the top of each page on the site) so as to utilize the digital Loeb Classical Library’s full capabilities.

Many of the questions about the digital Loeb Classical Library’s functionality, for example, or its relation to the print books of the series—are answered at

Ephesus — The Commercial Agora

EphesusMap2Ephesus was the major city of Asia Minor during the New Testament era. It was a major port – now silted up – located at the end of the Spice and Silk Road that ran west from Arabia and Asia to Ephesus on the Aegean Sea.

Paul visited the city on his second and third missionary journeys – staying there for about 3 years on his third journey. Ephesus is also one of the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation (1:11; 2:1–7). It is mentioned 18 times in the New Testament.


View of the large square Commercial Agora. It was here that shops lined the four sides of the 360×360 ft. space. It is very possible that here Demetrius and other silver smiths sold their wares to pilgrims who were to visit the Temple of Artemis—one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It is even possible that Paul, and Pricilla and Aquilla, had a leather working shop in the area. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or download. BTW the “white” structure in the distance on the far left is the famous “Library of Celsus” (not in existence in Paul’s day).

During his three year stay Paul was evidently so successful in preaching the Gospel that the sale of silver statues of the goddess Artemis fell off significantly.  This led Demetrius and other silversmiths to instigate a riot protesting the ministry of Paul and his companions.  This lead to a gathering of the ecclesia in the great theater where a riot was in the making (Acts 19:23–28).


View looking north down at the Commercial Agora (lower left). The large theater where the riot took place is in the upper right of the image and the “marble street” leads from the bottom of the photo to it. the Library of Clesus is the columned structure in the lower left of the image. Click on Image to Enlarge.

View looking south from the top northern edge of the theater. Right and above center, the open area with trees is the commercial agora. Probably Paul worked here, as did the artisans who made the silver images of Artemis. So it is no wonder that when the riot of the silversmiths, led by Demetrius, began (in the Commercial Agora?) that the crowd moved into the near by theater.

View looking south from the top northern edge of the theater. Right and above center, the open area with trees is the commercial agora. Probably Paul worked here, as did the artisans who made the silver images of Artemis. So it is no wonder that when the riot of the silversmiths, led by Demetrius, began (in the Commercial Agora?) that the crowd moved into the near by theater.

 For terms of image usage (Personal, Commercial, Web, etc.) please Check Here.

For additional high resolution images of Ephesus Click on the Following:  General Images, Artifacts, Terrace Houses, Cave of Paul and Thecla, and Ships.