Category Archives: Places in Turkey

The Gates of Hell — The Plutonium at Hierapolis

In a previous post I shared some images of the recently discovered “Plutonium” at Hierapolis (Colossians 4:13) in Turkey.

Artistic reconstruction of the Plutonium from “seeker.com.”

In a recent issue of Science, there is an interesting article based upon the investigation of Dr. Hardy Pfanza of the University of Duisburg-Essen in German—”This Roman ‘gate to hell’ killed its victims with a cloud of deadly carbon dioxide.”

Is it possible to walk through the gates of hell and live? The Romans thought so, and they staged elaborate sacrifices at what they believed were entrances to the underworld scattered across the ancient Mediterranean. The sacrifices—healthy bulls led down to the gates of hell—died quickly without human intervention, but the castrated priests who accompanied them returned unharmed. Now, a new study of one ancient site suggests that these “miracles” may have a simple geological explanation.

You are invited to check out the article (4-minute read) for the interesting details.  There is a very small image of the reconstruction of the image in the article.

Spoiler alert: it has to do with the time of day, and the density of Carbon Dioxide—and it helps to be over 18 inches tall!


View looking southeast at the recent excavations of the “New” Plutonium — January 2017.

Comments on above image: Note the doorway on the lower left, and the reflections on the water partially visible in the center of the image. There are apparently five long stairs to the left of the water. Evidently, people could watch rites associated with the Plutonium from these stairs.  According to ancient authors, poisonous vapors were emitted from the opening.

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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Students checking out the “cella” of the building.

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Investigating the walls of the Donuktash.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Paul on the Road to Assos (Asia Minor/Turkey)

Please don’t miss the important discussion in the comments to this post.

Towards the end of Paul’s Third Missionary Journey on his way to Jerusalem Paul stopped for about at week at (Alexandria) Troas (Acts 20:5-12; map below).  From there he walked by foot from Troas to Assos while his seven companions traveled by sea to Assos (Acts 20:13–14).

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A portion of the well-preserved Roman Road that leads, 31 mi., from Troas to Assos — See image below for instructive details
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

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Paul probably walked south from Troas to the Smintheion area and then turned east to Assos — the 31 mi. journey took over 2 days to complete
Enhanced map from the Pelagios Map Project — See Reference Below

The distance from Troas to Assos, “as the crow flies,” is about 21 miles while the Roman Road south out of Troas through the Smintheion areaa and then east to Assos covers a distance of about 31 mi.  Thus the walk must have taken him at least two days.

The Bible does not say why Paul chose to walk instead of taking the ship but Dr. Mark Wilson suggests that Paul may have received a prophetic word at Troas that imprisonment would await him in Jerusalem (compare Paul’s message at Miletus to the elders from the Ephesian church; Acts 20:22-23).  Wilson suggests that he may have been reflecting on the impact of this in light of his recent successes:

  • Three productive years at Ephesus and the spread of the gospel throughout the province of Asia
  • Recent resolution of the conflicts at Corinth
  • Successful fund-raising for the relief of the Jerusalem Church

Wilson goes on to compare the reflective agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42) to Paul’s solitary reflective walk from Troas to Assos:

“So somewhere on the road between the harbor  at Troas . . . and the city gate at Assos Paul apparently accepted his personal cup of suffering.”
(Wilson, Biblical Turkey, p. 360)

References

Map from Pelagius Map Project (free).  [This is the most accurate map of Turkey during the Classical Period based upon the Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Classical World; $376]

“In-Site — Paul’s Walk to Assos,” p. 360 in Biblical Turkey — A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor.  This 398-page book is filled with Wilson’s wonderful descriptions and insights on numerous biblical and extra biblical sites in Turkey.

For additional high-resolution images of Assos click Here and Here.

The REAL Saint Nicholas! December 6

On December 6 the feast of Saint Nicholas is celebrated and so I thought I would bring back this oldie but goodie.

On the outskirts of the Turkish town of Demre is a church that is associated with Saint Nicholas—Father Christmas, a.k.a. in northern Europe as Santa Claus!

Saint Nicholas StatueSt. Nicholas was born in nearby Patara about A.D. 300 and served as the bishop of Myra later in his life.  A number of miracles are attributed to this revered bishop, including his providing a dowry to the three daughters of a local baker.  Thus he is associated with “gift giving!”  He was also the patron saint of sailors and was prayed to for protection at sea—note that Myra is very near the Mediterranean Sea.  He died about A.D. 345.

It is said that he was buried in this church, but that his relics (bones) were taken to Bari, Italy, about A.D. 1088, although other claims are made that the Venetians took them.

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View looking down at the altar area from the top of the synthronon
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Every 6 December, the feast day of St. Nicholas, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians celebrate the Divine Liturgy here.

To view (or download) additional images of the Church of Saint Nicholas Click Here.

The Tomb of Suleiman the Magnificent

Suleiman the Magnificent was the most powerful ruler during the long period of the Ottoman Empire (ca. 1517–1917).  He died in 1566 and was a contemporary of Luther (d. 1546) and Calvin (d. 1564) and was the builder of the walls of Jerusalem!

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View looking north northwest at the Türbe of Süleyman that houses his cenotaph and those of his daughter and two later sultans: Suleiman II and Ahmet II. All total, it houses 8 cenotaphs. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This structure was designed by the famous architect Sinan and was completed in 1566, the year that Suleiman the Magnificent died.  Note the porch that surrounds this octagonal structure and the slender columns that support it.

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View looking at the cenotaphs in the interior of the Türbe of Süleyman. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Besides Suleiman’s cenotaph there are those of his daughter and two later sultans: Suleiman II and Ahmet II.

Looking at the walls, from bottom to top, note the Iznik tiles, the Arabic freeze, the marble paneling, and the colorful glass windows.

The “Suleymaniye” is a mosque complex that was built between 1550 and 1557 by the famous architect Sinan to honor and house the remains of Suleiman the Magnificent (ruled 1520 to 1566).   The complex (Turkish külliye; ca 18 acres in size) consists of the famous mosque, schools, a hospital, a hospice, a “soup kitchen,” a Turkish bath, and the tombs (Türbe) of Suleiman, his wife Roxelana, the architect Sinan and others.

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Sounds of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

For almost 1,000 years the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was the main church of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium).  It was converted into a Mosque in 1453 and in 1935 it opened as a museum.  As a “museum” no “services”—Christian or Muslim—are to take place in the building.

But would it not be interesting to hear the sounds of a Christian service in the building?  Well, you can!  For a group has produced the sounds of a Christian liturgy from the Hagia Sophia—but not in the building itself.  What?  To find out how they did this, along with samples of the liturgy, check out the following 5:00-minute video.

See some descriptive commentary Here.