Global mass tourism is one of the big growth industries of our day, generating billions of dollars of revenue and providing employment for 100,000s of people worldwide. Hungry for foreign currency and job opportunities, many countries are doing whatever they can to lure the tourists to their shores.
In the Middle East, the opportunities are available but less universal than elsewhere in the world. Top tourist destinations include Egypt, Jordan, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey. If peace reigned, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq could be added to the list.
Turkey is becoming a rising star in the region, in geo-politics, economy, military, and tourism. But why should a (Christian) tourist from Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, or elsewhere, consider Turkey as a holiday destination?
First, Turkey is truly one of the unique countries of the world. It sits in the middle of Europe and Asia, indeed, it straddles both continents and is considered a land bridge. The fabled city of Constantinople, now Istanbul, is partly in Europe and partly in Asia, with two bridges linking the continents. An amalgam of different ethnic and religious groups, Turkey has served as headquarters for the Hittite Empire, Seljuk Empire, and finally the 600 year old Ottoman Empire, which only came to an end in 1923.
While other people groups have lived in Asia Minor (a historical-geographic name for Turkey), the Turks themselves arrived from Central Asia a millennia ago. This was around the time they adopted Islam as their religion. Once they settled in Asia Minor, they took leadership of the Muslim world from the Arabs and continued to exercise it for a thousand years. Because of the multi-ethnic nature of the Ottoman Empire, Turks did a lot of inter-breeding and hence they look like ... everyone.
Second, Turkey has some amazing sites in history, geography, and culture. Australian identity was forged on the craggy cliffs of Gallipoli when the ANZAC troops invaded the peninsula in April 1915; a visit by Australians and New Zealanders to the cove has become somewhat of a pilgrimage ever since. Pamukkale, the ‘cotton castles’ near Laodicea is a fascinating geological formation with a series of rock pools cascading down the mountain. No wonder it is World Heritage listed. Cappadocia in central Turkey has unique landscape, with fairy chimneys, ancient churches in caves, and underground cities that seem to go on forever. Let us not forget Istanbul itself, once capital of the Christian Byzantine Empire for 1,100 years. It was captured by Mehmet II in 1453 and converted to the capital of the Muslim Ottoman Empire for over 450 years. Istanbul’s architecture, skyline, and location besides the Sea of Marmara and Bosphorus, give it a positively stunning appearance. In essence, Turkey is one of the tourist industries best-kept secrets.
Third, for the Biblical Christian tourist, Turkey is a must. While it is not normally associated with the Bible, parts of Turkey are related to places in both the Old and New Testament. Haran (where Terah & Abram sojourned) and Padam Aram (where Jacob sojourned with Laban), with the conical mud huts and reputed well of Jacob, are found in the south of the country, along with Urfa, which some say is the Ur from which Abraham came. The Euphrates River, mentioned in Genesis and Revelation, along with the Tigris, have their source in Turkey. Let us not forget Mount Ararat, traditional final resting place of Noah’s Ark, is found in the eastern side of the country near the Armenian border.
The New Testament is well represented in Turkey. You can find Antioch, today known as Antakya, in the South East. In ancient times, Antioch was one of the great cities of the Roman Empire. It was here that the follows of Christ were first called christianos, ‘little christs’ or Christian (Acts 11:26). From Antioch Paul and Barnabas embarked on the first of three missionary journeys. Tarsus, the birthplace of Paul, is found here. You can retrace his missionary journey with such sites as Lystra, Derbe, Iconium, and Miletus.
Those who study, or would like to study, the Book of Revelation, then Turkey is beckoning you. The cities of the 7 churches found in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, are all located in the western central part of the country near the Aegean coast. These include Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Of all the sites, the most popular must surely be Ephesus, the number one archaeological site in Turkey today. Cruise ships dock at Kusadasi, just so the passengers can walk the streets of Ephesus for a day. Famous sites include the Curetes Way, the Celsus Library, and most of all the great theatre, which was reputed to hold 25,000 people. The apostle Paul’s association with the city, plus the epistle that bears the city’s name, is world famous. Nearby is the traditional Tomb of the apostle John, and the sole surviving pillar of the 127 pillar Temple of Diana (Artemis), one of the 7 wonders of the world. The cult of Diana brought pilgrims and revenue to Ephesus and when this was under threat through Paul’s preaching, an uproar started. Yet, to see this singular surviving pillar is a testament to the fall of heathenism and the triumph of the Christian faith.
If you want to walk in the footsteps of the Bible, especially the ‘way of the apostles,’ then you should add Turkey to your list. You will understand your Bible in a new and living way.
Invitation: There is still time to join us for the Book of Revelation Turkey Tour October 25-November 3rd 2014. Visit the cities of the 7 Churches of Revelation, including Ephesus. In addition, there is a bonus overnight visit to the Greek Island of Patmos, where John received Revelation and also an Istanbul city tour. Nine nights accommodation, 10 days of touring, return airfare from Kuala Lumpur, all for only USD 2,489. For further information, long onto