I have a goal to visit the remains of the Seven Churches of Revelation mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible, which are all in the Aegean region of Turkey. One such city was Laodicea; an extremely profitable centre of trade that did especially did well in wool, because the nearby plains provided sheep with ample grazing food.
Turkey has an extremely strong Biblical history that any hard-core Christian would be a fool to ignore and slowly over my travels, I have learned in particular about the roles of Saint John and Paul, in this country at those times. Saint John wrote the letters of revelation, also known as the Apocalypse and sent them to all seven churches, giving praise for what they did well, and where they could improve. Despite their names, the letters referred not to churches but to the cities and all Christian citizens within them.
I looked into visiting Laodicea several years ago, but delayed plans since transport seemed ad-hoc and not many tour providers mention it on their itineraries. So imagine how delighted I was, when traveling back from Pamukkale, my tour guide, casually asked if I wanted to drop in and see Laodicea.
“Of course, I want to see it. Let’s go, let’s go” I excitedly responded.
I didn’t know it was just a short distance from Pamukkale and with the exception of a few independent travellers; no-one else was there! Walking around a virtually empty Church of Revelation with my own walking history guide, made me feel kind of super important!
History of Laodicea
Its origins date from the Hellenistic era and my guide said in those days, six important factors were considered when deciding where to build a city.
- Is it on a trade route?
- Plains for farming and agriculture
- A hill for good defence
- Water sources
- Stones to build the walls, houses etc
- Good air circulation. (To decide this, they would hang a baby goat and skin it. If flies swarmed around, the air was not good enough.)
Laodicea had all these and the citizens were filthy rich because of good trade connections with other cities and also because of its positions on trade routes.
Yet the words from Saint John were harsh.
Letter from Saint John to Laodicea – (Revelation 3:15–16)
“I wish that you were cold or hot. I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked”
Johns is not only referring to their great wealth but also the tepid lukewarm spring waters, flowing into the city from the nearby sources at Pamukkale.
However, Laodicea was the only one of the seven churches that didn’t receive a message of compliment from Saint John. Accusing them of sitting on the fence, and not dedicating themselves 100% to Christianity, they would in later years become hard-core advocates of the religion.
Visiting Laodicea Today
It was an ideal time to visit since it was the beginning of May and vibrant red poppies were sprouting out from between the ruins.
We walked the agora (Market Street), stadium, and saw the nymphaeum, that was used to supply fresh water and dedicated to nymphs, an entity of Greek mythology referring to divine female spirits with connection to nature. (See! I did pay attention to what my guide was telling me!)
The Temple of Athena
What the Temple used to look like
According to newspaper reports, the temple was only discovered in 2012. If true, then in 3 years they have completed a remarkable amount of work. I walked up seven stone stairs flanked by four large columns which led me into the interior of which there is no roof or walls.
What the temple looks like now
Instead, I stood on a glass platform covering the original layout and stones. It was hard to see through it at the structures and buildings below, but in the distance, was a marvellous view of what seemed like snow covering the hillside. It was the white travertine pools of Pamukkale.
The End of Laodicea
Some sources say an earthquake in the 4th century marked the end of a lucrative timeline for the city, while others say it was destroyed during invasions by the Turks and Mongols in the 13th century.
Either way, experts predict, only a fraction of Laodicea has been uncovered so I will watch for news on development because maybe in 10 years’ time, the city as we see it now, will be so much larger in which case I will return in a heartbeat.
Till then, I only have 5 more churches of revelation to visit!