Let’s back to ancient times, about 1900 years ago. This is the time of the Book of Revelation- one of the most famous and mysterious books in human history. A part of its prophecy consists of seven messages to the Seven Churches of Asia. One of them is the church of Laodicea, in the ancient city with the same name, located in Western Turkey. So, let’s visit and explore this city and its secrets!
But before diving into the ruins of Laodicea and its history, let’s first take a look at a very special book- the Book of Revelation! Because Laodicea is not just one of the many other ancient cities, but there is something unique, and the answer is in this book.
Table of Contents
The Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible, known as “Apocalypse”. While the word “apocalypse” today is considered “the end of the world” (by horrible disasters), its original meaning is just “revelation”- a prophecy for the future. And yes, it speaks about the end of this world, but also the beginning of a new, perfect world.
This book is structured as a complex prophecy in several parts, given to John the Apostle around 95 AD, while he was exiled to Patmos Island in Greece. This prophecy reveals secrets for the future (from John’s point of view)- from the 1st century AD to eternity. It starts with an introduction where Jesus Christ reveals to John. What follows next is the first main part of the Book of Revelation- the messages to the Seven Churches of Asia.
These churches were Christian fellowships established consequently in seven cities in the Roman province of Asia (not the whole continent of Asia!), in today’s Western Turkey. They were Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
And while the messages to them consist of certain instructions, promises from God, sin exposures, and encouragements, they are at the same time prophecies for Christianity in the following centuries, as a part of the whole Apocalypse.
This makes Laodicea- the city of the seventh one from the Seven Churches a special and unique place. So, let’s take a look at the message to the church of Laodicea!
The message to the Church of Laodicea
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
As you can see, this text raises a lot of questions: what it means “lukewarm, neither hot nor cold”, how they say “I am rich”, but they are not, what is the door where Jesus is staying and knocking on, and more. And of course, what does all of this mean? Let’s try to find answers, but to do it, let’s first start with another obvious question: Where is Laodicea?
Where is Laodicea
The ancient city of Laodicea (Laodicea on the Lycus) is located in the large fertile valley of the Lycus River, a tributary of the Büyük Menderes River. In the south, this valley borders the two majestic mountain chains of Honaz and Babadağ. And in the north is the lower and softer Büyükcokelez Mountain. The valley itself is not so flat, there are some low hills and heights. And the people who established Laodicea chose one of these heights, in the middle of the valley.
Today, the main residential center here is the city of Denizli. Only ruins have remained of Laodicea, and these ruins are located north of Denizli, more specifically- north of Road D320 (Denizli-Cevreyolu), west of Pamukkale Bulvari, and between the villages of Goncalı and Gorucuk.
But Laodicea was now alone. There were two more ancient cities, and Laodicea was located somehow in the middle between them (about 12 km from each of them). The first of these cities was Colossae, located just north of Mount Honaz. And the second one was Hierapolis, located at one of the most famous destinations in Turkey- the fantastic natural phenomenon Pamukkale, one of the best natural beauty spots in Southwestern Turkey, at the northern end of the valley.
And Jesus chose Laodicea and its early Christian community- the Church of Laodicea to address one of His messages to this church. It was the seventh, the last of the messages to the Seven Churches. But to understand better what was the meaning of the message, let’s first dive into the history, into the times before the Book of Revelation.
The ancient history of Laodicea
To make it simpler, let’s generalize the ancient history of Laodicea.
Early history (unknown to 261 BC)
The first inhabitants of this area were non-Greek people of Anatolian origin. Later, they gradually mixed with Greek settlers, and a settlement was established at one of the heights south of the Lycus River. The settlement was called Diospolis, and later- Rhodas. But it was just an insignificant village, rather than a city.
This area was a part of the Lydian Kingdom, then, in the 6th century BC was conquered by the Persians. In 334 BC, Alexander the Great came and Rhodas was included in his empire which quickly divided into smaller kingdoms. One of these kingdoms was the Seleucid Empire which gain control of the valley of Lycus in 261 BC.
Hellenistic Period (261 to 133 BC)
From this moment, Antiochus II Theos, the king of the Seleucid Empire started the new history of Laodicea. He established a new city in the place of Rhodas and named it after his wife Laodice. The city quickly grew, and get wealthy. And the main reason for it was the fact that a new trade route was established here, and Laodicea was built on it. Even today, you can see a section of this route within the city, named Syria Street.
In 188 BC, after the Battle of Magnesia, Laodicea became a part of the Kingdom of Pergamon. And in 133 BC, when the last Pergamene king remained without an inheritor of the throne, he gave his kingdom to the Roman Republic.
Early (Classical) Roman Period (133 BC – 314 AD)
During the Roman age, Laodicea was one of the wealthiest cities in the whole Roman Republic and Empire. The city gained status as a “free city”, and was notable for the development of its culture, art, and literature. While large cities like Ephesus, Smyrna, Miletus, and Pergamum had only one theater, Laodicea had two! And it enjoyed special protection and care from the Roman emperors.
But Laodicea had one problem- the water.
The lukewarm water of Laodicea
In earlier times, the citizens of Rhodas and Laodicea later had to bring water from afar, which was very inconvenient. Then, they found a water source not far from the city.
However, the water from this source was terrible. It was lukewarm, with a bad taste, and full of minerals that precipitated chemical remains inside the water pipes. We can see it even today.
But wealth and prosperity were more important to the citizens of Laodicea, so they didn’t move from this place- the trade route brought a lot of money to them.
Colossae and its water
At the same time, the neighboring city of Colossae was not so wealthy but enjoyed excellent cold water. This water came from the streams of Mount Honaz. It was pure and tasty. In addition, another small stream with mountain origin flew (and still flows) through the city, forming an attractive mini-canyon.
Colossae was even older than Laodicea. It was mentioned as the headquarter of Xerxes I of Persia during his wars against Greece. It was known as a city of wool business. However, with the growth and prosperity of Laodicea, during the Hellenistic times, the city lost its significance and remained just an average minor city.
Hierapolis and its water
On the other side of Laodicea, the ancient people discovered the amazing natural phenomenon with fantastic white travertines, today known as Pamukkale. They also discovered the hot mineral spring, coming from a cave above the travertines, and they established a settlement there, probably around the 8th century BC.
First, this settlement was known as a religious center dedicated to the Anatolian goddess Cybele. But in the following centuries, the settlement was Hellenized by the Greeks. And its golden age began during the rule of Antiochus III The Great, the king of the Seleucid Empire. He established a well-developed city, called Hierapolis and turned it into a spa center, enjoying the hot spring.
Laodicea in the 1st century AD and the creation of its church
So, this is was we had in the 1st century AD, during the first Roman emperors- three cities: Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis. And these three cities were in close relation as centers of the valley of the Lycus River.
And in the middle of the 1st century, Paul the Apostle arrived in Ephesus. With him, the first community of Christians formed there. And due to the relations between Ephesus and the cities in the western part of Minor Asia, the Gospel of Jesus arrived in Laodicea too. Thus, the Church of Laodicea was born. And not only in Laodicea but also in the two neighboring cities of Colossae and Hierapolis.
Books in the Bible refering to Laodicea, Colossae, and Hierapolis
There is a book in the Bible called Epistle to the Colossians. This is a message of Paul the Apostle to the Church of Colossae. And by the end of the message Paul writes that the Colossians had to share this message to the Church of Laodicea and the Church of Hierapolis.
Some of the best-known Christians in Colossae were Epaphras and Philemon. Epaphras was the assistant of Paul concerning the relationship between him and the Church of Colossae, and Philemon was a slave master who believed in Jesus. So, there is one more book in the Bible related to Colossae-Laodicea-Hierapolis- the Epistle to Philemon.
In this book, we know about Philemon’s slave Onesimus who escaped from his master. But later, both of them believed in Jesus, and Paul encourage them to remain in the same relationship- a master and a slave, but on a different level, with love between each other, because in Jesus they were brothers already.
Laodicea, 40 years later
In 60 AD, a powerful earthquake destroyed most of Laodicea. But it was a rich city, with a special image in front of Emperor Nero, who ruled the Roman Empire at that time. So the emperor offered help to the Laodiceans. But they rejected the help, telling him that they are enough wealthy and don’t need anything. And indeed, they restored their own city soon after.
In 81 AD, Emperor Domitian came to power. He was known for his obsessive paranoia and for raising the “Cult of Emperor” to a new level. So, he launched a harsh persecution against the Christians in the Roman Empire. But again, the rich Christians of Laodicea were spared, or at least, they didn’t suffer too much.
The message to the Church of Laodicea in the Book of Revelation
And around 95 AD, just before the death of Domitian, Jesus came to the exiled John the Apostle and gave him the message to the Church of Laodicea, cited above. In this message, we see several statements.
The lukewarm church
The first thing that Jesus says to the Church of Laodicea is that it is lukewarm- neither cold nor hot. What does that mean? Obviously, Jesus referred to the water of Laodicea. It wasn’t fresh and cold like the water in Colossae, and it wasn’t hot with healing properties like the water in Hierapolis. Laodicea was located in the middle, and its water’s temperature was “in the middle”. And it was with bad taste. So bad that one could throw it out when one tries to drink it.
The same happened with the Christians in Laodicea. Due to their wealth, they have become “in the middle”, indifferent to the word of God. They had money, and their Christian mission was just as a “background”. They lost their “spiritual taste” and got “bad taste”.
Wealthy or poor, blind, and naked?
The Christians of Laodicea thought that they are wealthy. They had money. And they didn’t need Jesus. So, He referred to the Laodicean’s rejection of the help from Emperor Nero after the earthquake. And in this reference, He told them that actually, they are spiritually poor, blind, and naked.
Jesus actually told them that they needed something that they can’t buy from the trade in their city. A spiritual gold- their faith, white robes- their righteous deeds, and spiritual eye salve (eye salve was a product that they traded with) to be able to see the spiritual truth. And these three things they could buy only from Jesus.
Knocking at the door
Jesus appealed to them for repentance. The next image is of a house with a locked door. Jesus was outside, knocking on this door. And if they open the door, they could enjoy dinner with Him, a special dinner that can’t be compared with anything in this world.
This house was their hearts. Jesus was out of their hearts but was ready to return if they allow. What He offered to them was a special relationship, they and Him, personally.
The Throne of God
This is how the message to the Church of Laodicea ends. There was a promise to everybody who would repent that he will be a winner like Jesus and will sit on a throne like Him.
And this message was not just addressed to the Christians in Laodicea, but as a prophecy to every other church in the world during the next centuries that would be in a similar situation.
The later history of Laodicea
We don’t know whether the Christians in Laodicea repented or not. Maybe some yes, others not. What we know is that their church remained stable and grew. And along with the other churches in the Roman Empire, it passed through more persecutions, but during Emperor Constantine I The Great, the persecutions ended and the Christianity turned into a state religion in a few steps.
Byzantine Age (314-1259 AD)
In the 4th century, the Roman Empire gradually divided into Western and Eastern (Byzantine) empires. And Laodicea remained a part of the Eastern Empire. A large Basilica was built in the 4th century AD, and it still remains today as one of the best-preserved ruins on the site of Laodicea. The city thrived, at least until the 7th century AD when a strong earthquake devastated the city during the reign of Emperor Focas (602-610 AD).
After the earthquake, its citizens moved south of it- to the present-day city of Denizli, north of an already existing town called Attouda. The original Laodicea remained devastated and was never restored, although probably it was partially resettled, but just as a village amidst ruins.
Pre-Ottoman, Ottoman, and Modern Turkish Period (after 1259)
Around 1259, Laodicea firmly became a part of the Turkish emirates. In the 14th century, one of these emirates turned into the powerful Ottoman Empire. And probably at the beginning of the 15th century, during the war between the Ottomans and Timurids, the last inhabitant of the city left it or was killed. It was the end of Laodicea and its church.
From that moment, only silent ruins remained in oblivion. At the same time, another city emerged nearby, called Denizli. Denizli was ancient too, dating from the Hellenistic times as a small town- Attouda, mentioned above, in the “shadow” of Laodicea, Colossae, and Hierapolis. And its fate was different. When it was conquered by the Turks, it gradually grew until it became the modern Denizli that we know today.
And in the 20th century, the archaeologists turned back to the ruins of Laodicea and Hierapolis. They excavated their ruins and the Turkish government turned them into famous tourist attractions. Colossae remains in the background for now, but the two other cities are “inhabited” again with thousands of tourists.
Our trip to Laodicea
So, all of this was the reason why we included Laodicea in our Western Turkey itinerary. We traveled by car on a route from Bulgaria, crossed into Asia at Çanakkale, and proceeded along the Aegean and the Western Mediterranean coasts of the country. We reached Kas as the furthermost point on our route along the coast, then we turned back in the direction to Bulgaria.
But on the way back, we didn’t follow the seacoast. Instead, we crossed the interior of Minor Asia, “catching” some interesting destinations on the way. Some of them are amazing natural phenomena like Lake Salda and the fantastic Pamukkale, while others are important ancient cities- most of them belonging to the Seven Churches of Asia.
And the first of them on our way back was Laodicea. But we didn’t just visit Laodicea, we also included the two other cities around it- Colossae and Hierapolis. And the big modern city of Denizli was our “base camp” for exploring them. We stayed there for 2 nights.
We came from Lake Salda in the afternoon, and the first of the three ancient cities on our way was Colossae. For the first day (a half day before the night), we didn’t have time for more, so we dedicated that afternoon to visiting Colossae.
The ancient city of Colossae
Colossae is located about 5 km north of the town of Honaz, beside the road to Gürleyik village. Or, if you come from Denizli, it is about 23 km east of the city.
However, when you reach it (following Google Maps), be careful- Colossae is not a developed tourist destination. And you can easily miss it, especially if you come from Honaz! The only orientation on the road is a brown road sign “Colossae”, but you can see it only if you come from the north.
The Agora and the Theater
We stopped our car at this road sign (because we came from Honaz, we missed it and had to back about 200 m). From the sign, we found only one small trail, about 100 m long that ascends to the top of a small hill. There was almost nothing there, only one-two ancient stones. We just noticed that the top was apparently man-reshaped (and you can see it on Google Earth when zooming at it)- this used to be the place of the Agora and the Theater. But again, there was nothing. Only grass and thorns.
But at least the panoramic view around it was spectacular. The majestic Mount Honaz was rising in the south, and the plain in the north was very beautiful from above (we were standing on a hill yet). We thought that was all of Colossae when we noticed some stones on the plain north of the hill. So, we decided that we shouldn’t skip them.
The lower part of Colossae
We back to the car and proceeded 450 m to the north, to another dirt road on the left. We walked on this dirt road about 200 m and we saw these stones. This was probably the residential area of the ancient Colossae. Most of the stones were like cubes, arranged in several square figures. Again- everything was silent and abandoned in grass, thorns, and bush. And Mount Honaz was still rising magnificently behind the higher part of Colossae that we visited initially.
We decided to back to our car. But then, surprisingly, we met a couple of local young people. They couldn’t speak English, but with hands, signs, and smiles directed us to proceed a bit further on the dirt road. So, we walked another 100 m and we discovered a mini canyon. Here, the cold stream called Aksu that separates the two parts of Colossae was flowing through canyon-like rock formations. It was really amazing!
That was all of Colossae. We explored it for about one hour. And besides this couple of young people, we were completely alone. That’s what you can expect if you want to visit this ancient city. The experience is really worth it- here you can feel like a researcher and explorer rather than a “normal tourist”! After that, we went to Denizli and spent our first night there.
The tourist site of Laodicea
Laodicea is a well-developed tourist site, unlike Colossae. And it is huge in area. To explore it, you need at least two hours (yes, you can always do it faster, but with lower quality). And btw, if you come here in summer, prepare for walking under the hot sun. Also, prepare your shoes and feet- there are bindii plants everywhere, they can easily puncture your shoe soles or even your feet!
How to get to Laodicea from Denizli
The best way to explore Laodicea is by car from Denizli. It is located about 10 km north of the city center, and there are signs that direct you to the site. And of course, the best way is to use the Google Maps navigation. You can also go there by taxi, but as everywhere in the world, taxis are more expensive- you can expect something around 80-100 TL.
Another way is to travel by train. It is cheap and fast, from Denizli to Goncali. There are several trains to Goncali, and the whole trip is 13 min. Ticket price: 20 TL. Here (https://bilet.tcdd.gov.tr/sefer-listesi) you can get more information and book a ticket online. Once you arrive in Goncali, you’d better get a taxi to the entrance of Laodicea (it is 2 km from the railway station), otherwise, you can walk for about 30 min.
Or, you can reach Laodicea by dolmuş (minibus). You have to go to Otogar Platform Gate 76 at the central bus station. There are minibusses every 15-20 min and the ticket is only 5 TL. The minibus would stop at the junction to Laodicea, you get off the bus and walk about 600 m to the entrance, buy an entrance ticket, and get inside.
Entrance fee and working hours
Working hours: from 8:00 to 20:00 (the office closes at 19:30).
Entrance fee: 150 TL
You have the option to buy a combined ticket of Laodicea + Pamukkale/Hierapolis- 250 TL (this is what we did, and it was very convenient because our second day in Denizli was dedicated to these two sites. See more information here.
What to see in Laodicea- main points of interest
Once you enter Laodicea (if you come by car, there is a small parking lot inside), the first thing you see is a straight colonnaded street, connected to the main road to the entrance. This is Syria Street- the section of the ancient trade route inside the ancient city.
You can start walking on the street, and there will be endless ancient remains, it is impossible to remember all of them. But some are more significant.
You can easily find it. Today, it is covered by a glass roof to protect it from the weather and it is well-restored. As mentioned above, it was built in the 4th century AD and was in use until the earthquake at the beginning of the 7th century.
The two ancient theaters of Laodicea are located at the northern and western ends of the city. The western theater is now restored and even some concerts are held here sometimes. And the northern theater isn’t restored yet, but you can still easily recognize it.
Most of the other interesting constructions are located between Syria Street in the south, the Basilica in the east, and the two theaters in the north and west. Here you can see the Agora, the Bouleuterion (Senate), the two temples (named Temple A and Temple B), the Gymnasium, and the Roman Baths. They are marked by signs with some explanation. And in some places, you can see piles of remains of water pipes with sediments inside, remnants from the bad lukewarm water of Laodicea.
This is Laodicea in general, and again, we highly recommend before visit it, first to get enough historical and Biblical information. Otherwise, you would walk around endless ancient ruins without too much meaning. But if you are armed with this information, you would see these ruins in a different light, and they can start telling a story.
How to reach Denizli and Laodicea
This area is a famous tourist destination, especially the neighboring Pamukkale. So, it is easily reachable from the rest of Turkey.
You can travel to Denizli by bus. There are long-distance buses from most of the big cities in Turkey- Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, Antalya, Fethiye, and more, as well as from Nevsehir (Cappadocia) and Selcuk (Ephesus).
Another option is to travel by train, but only from Izmir. This is the same train that stops in Goncali. Probably soon there will be also a train from Istanbul.
There is also a small airport near Denizli- Çardak Airport. But it serves only regular flights from Istanbul, and only seasonable- from Tehran (Iran) and Medina (Saudi Arabia).
But the best way to travel is by car. You can rent a car in Turkey and you can enjoy the freedom to design your own itinerary and schedule. There are excellent roads to Denizli and the ancient cities around it, connecting the area to the rest of Turkey.
Since the whole area around Laodicea is very touristy, you can expect a lot of accommodation opportunities. The main centers for places to stay are Denizli and the town of Pamukkale. You can find various properties, from splurge to budget- hotels, homestays, and guesthouses. You can choose a place to stay in Booking or Agoda.
A very good way to spend the night is Airbnb. It allows you to get closer to the local people and their daily life. Besides, it is usually a bit cheaper than a hotel, at the same time, with similar quality.
All of the above is for independent travelers. But if you prefer to join a tour that would organize everything, including transportation and accommodation, there are a lot of tours you can choose from.
The tours to Laodicea are usually multiday long. Most of them lead you to all of the Seven Churches of Asia, but some of them are focused on other destinations. Here are some of the best:
- From Izmir: Seven Churches of Revelation Multi-Day Tour. This is a 4-day tour. It will lead you to the Seven Churches of Revelation but not following the exact order of the messages in the Apocalypse. On the first day you will visit Pergamum, Thyatira, and Smyrna, on the second day- Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea with Pamukkale, and on the third day- Ephesus and Kusadasi.
- 5 Days Seven Churches Tour Turkey. This tour follows the same route, but just you meet your guide one day in advance, that’s why it is 5 days long. Again, you will stay 2 nights in Izmir, 1 night in Pamukkale, and 1 night in Kusadasi.
- From Izmir: 7 Churches of Asia Minor 5-Day Tour with Lodging. Again, this tour starts from Izmir and follows the same classical tourist route. Only the price can vary, so you can check in advance.
- Seven Churches of Revelation Tour. This is a 3-day tour. It follows the same route but ends on the evening of the 3rd day. Since it skips one night in Ephesus, it is a bit cheaper and more proper for those who are limited in time.
- From Istanbul: 10-Day Turkey Highlights Tour with Transfer. This is a different tour. Its starting and ending point is Istanbul. And it is focused not on the Seven Churches but on some of the most popular destinations in Turkey- Istanbul (you stay there for 3 days), Ephesus, Pamukkale with Laodicea, and Cappadocia (again- you stay there for 3 days).
We stayed in Denizli for two nights in a nice Airbnb property, and it was our “base camp”. On the second day, we visited Laodicea and Pamukkale with Hierapolis, using a combined entrance ticket. And on the third day morning, we left Denizli and the valley of the Lycus River- we proceeded to the next of the Seven Churches of Asia on our route- Philadelphia, in the modern town of Alaşehir, then to the other two churches- Sardis and Thyatira. And we were impressed because we could relate the ruins of Laodicea with the ancient history and Biblical prophecies, which created an unforgettable traveler’s experience.
Take a look at this video for more impressions from Laodicea and Colossae:
Check some travel books about Laodicea, Colossae, and Pamukkale:
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Hi, we are Krasen and Ying Ying. Krasen is from Bulgaria, and Ying Ying is from China. We are passionate about geography and history, and we believe that the best way to experience it is by exploring the Earth in reality, not in a school, and not virtually.
So, we created this blog Journey Beyond the Horizon, where we share geographical knowledge, travel guides and tips how to experience it when you explore our planet, and a lot of inspiration.
And we wish you a happy journey, not just virtually, but most of all- in reality.