A Journey to Philadelphia, Turkey- the Sixth of the Seven Churches

A Journey to Philadelphia, Turkey- the Sixth of the Seven Churches

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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 Philadelphia, in an 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 Philadelphia and its history, let’s first take a look at a very special book- the Book of Revelation! Because Philadelphia is not just one of the many other ancient cities, but there is something unique, and the answer is in this book.

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.

The Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation

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 Philadelphia- the city of the sixth one from the Seven Churches a special and unique place. So, let’s take a look at the message to the church of Philadelphia!

Read the Book of Revelation!

The message to the Church of Philadelphia

To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.

I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it.

I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

As you can see, this text raises a lot of questions: about the door that no one can shut, about the “synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews”, about the trial to the whole world? Let’s try to find answers, but to do it, let’s first start with another obvious question: Where is Philadelphia?

Philadelphia, the modern Alasehir
Philadelphia, modern Alasehir

Where is Philadelphia

Of all of the Seven Churches, Philadelphia is the smallest one. While cities like Ephesus, Pergamum, and Laodicea left large areas with ruins, today turned into famous tourist attractions, what has left of Philadelphia is very little.

Today, the ruins of Philadelphia can be found in the modern town of Alaşehir. They consist of a remnant of a Basilica from the 7th century AD, a wall from Byzantine times, and some scattered, abandoned remains from Roman times on the nearby hills.

The whole area is the long valley of the Gediz River- a fertile plain, known for its winery. And Philadelphia which is now Alaşehir is located at its southern end, at the foot of Bozdağ Mountains.

Philadelphia has always been a small city, even during its “Golden Age” in Roman times. And there was a Christian society living in this city that was chosen by God to be a part of the Apocalypse. Why and how? Let’s dive further into the past, to discover how the city of Philadelphia was established and what is its history before the Book of Revelation.

The ancient history of Philadelphia

To make it simpler, let’s generalize the ancient history of Philadelphia.

Pre-Philadelphian period (until 189 BC)

The ancient Philadelphia was not only the smallest of the Seven Churches, but also the newest. The wide valley where it exists now was settled by local people of Anatolian and Greek origin who lived in small villages and towns. This land was a part of the Hittite Empire, Phrygian Kingdom, Lydia, Persian Empire, and Macedonian Empire. But no Philadelphia existed yet, until the times of the Kingdom of Pergamon.

Pergamene period (189 BC to 133 BC)

In 189, the Pergamene king Eumenes II built the city and named it Philadelphia, which means “one who loves his brother”, to express his love to his brother Attalus II who later became his successor. Then, in 133 BC, the last Pergamene king Attalus III died and transferred the whole land of his kingdom to the Romans. Thus, Philadelphia became a part of the Roman Republic.

A remnant of a Roman temple in Philadelphia
A remnant of a Roman temple in Philadelphia

Early (Classical) Roman period (133 BC to 314 AD)

During that period Philadelphia prospered. However, since it was established in a highly seismic zone, the city often suffered earthquakes. One of the strongest earthquakes that hit the city was in 17 AD. It was the time of Emperor Tiberius and he exempted Philadelphia from paying taxes, to relieve the city’s suffering. As a result, Tiberius received an honor from the Philadelphians.

But it was only for five years. The citizens didn’t have enough resources to rebuild their city, and when they asked the Emperor for more help, their request was rejected. So, they felt betrayed. Later, the city was somehow restored but remained smaller than before.

Philadelphia in the middle of the 1st century AD and the creation of its church

In the middle of the century, Paul the Apostle arrived in the big city of Ephesus and established a big Christian fellowship there. Paul remained in Ephesus for 3 years and during that time, the Gospel of Jesus spread from Ephesus to the whole province around it, including the city of Philadelphia. As a result, a Christian fellowship was born in Philadelphia too- it was the Church of Philadelphia.

Philadelphia during the time of Domitian (81-95 AD)

During that time, the Church of Philadelphia was already about 25 years old. But it was a difficult time for all the Christians in the Roman Empire- a time of severe persecution.
In the case of Philadelphia- the main source of its economy was coming from the rich vineyards of the valley. However, the greedy Domitian literally grabbed the vineyards from the Philadelphians, so they felt deeply betrayed.

Remains from the Church of Philadelphia
Remains from the Church of Philadelphia

The rejection and the shut doors

It was a time of betrayal and rejection. The citizens of Philadelphia were betrayed by the Roman authorities, and the Christians were rejected not only by the authorities but also by the locals. One of the rejections was by the local Jews. At these times, the Christians were still closely related to the Jewish Synagogues. But now, the door of the local Synagogue was shut for them.

At that time, Jews were exempted from worshiping the Emperor, and Christians were relatively safe while they stick with the Jews. But now, the lives of the Christians were at risk- they were exposed to the cult of the Emperor’s orders.

The endurance of the Christians and the Key of David

The amazing thing is that the Christians decided to stay firm. They didn’t give up and endured all the dangers, shame, and troubles of rejection.

And around 95 AD, when they received the message from Jesus in the Book of Revelation, about 40 years after the birth of their church, they read that Jesus is the holder of the Key of David. In other words, the Jews rejected them, the God of the Jews didn’t, He is Who has the last word, not these Jews in Philadelphia. And Jesus said: “They rejected you but I accept you and love you.”

Not only that, but Jesus promised to them that one day these Jews will bow down in front of the Christians. We don’t know if that has happened already, or maybe will happen in the future world, but it is confirmed.

The preservation and the pillars

Jesus also tells the Christians of Philadelphia that if they remain stable, He will protect them from great suffering (we can’t be sure which suffering He means, but we can refer to the preservation of Israel in Egypt during the plagues before the Exodus). And the reward will be that they will be “pillars” in the House of God- something very strong that nobody can remove. It will be in the New Jerusalem that is coming in the future.

And this message was addressed not only to the Christians in Philadelphia at the end of the 1st century AD, but also to all Christians and churches who would be in the same situation during the next centuries- a situation of rejection, persecution, and endurance.

A massive pillar from the Basilica of St. John
A massive pillar from the Basilica of St. John

The later history of Philadelphia

So, what happened after the time of John and the Revelation? What happened with the city and the church of Philadelphia? Did they endure and win?

The city of Philadelphia remained a part of the Roman Empire, and its Christian fellowship remained too, passing through periods of persecution and peace.

Byzantine period (314-1074 AD)

The persecutions against Christians proceeded until 314 when Emperor Constantine I The Great stopped them, and Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire. Many things changed at that time.

First, the empire was gradually divided into Western and Eastern, and this division was completed in 395. Concerning the church of Philadelphia, it changed too- from a living congregation of believers, it gradually turned into a state religious institution.

In the 6th century, Philadelphia entered a new “golden age”. Around 600 AD, a large Basilica was built- the Basilica of St. John, with massive pillars. Actually, this is mostly what has remained from the ancient city today. Probably the builders understood well the words of Jesus about the “pillars” and made them really colossal as can be seen today. Another remnant from that period is the Byzantine wall beside the town of Alaşehir.

Medieval period (1074-1390)

This was a turbulent period. It started with the conquest of Philadelphia by the Seljuks, then consequently, the city was ruled by various kingdoms and empires- Seljuks, Byzantines, and Crusaders.

Due to the frequent wars, the city declined and its ancient structures were abandoned, just like the whole western part of Asia Minor. The new settlers built new villages around the ruins. These villages would gradually become the modern Alaşehir.

Ottoman and Modern Period (1390 until today)

In 1390, the Ottoman Turks conquered Philadelphia which at that time was the last Byzantine stronghold in Minor Asia (20 years later it was temporarily conquered by the Timurids), and from that time, it was firmly a part of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. It was no longer called Philadelphia but Alaşehir (which means “town of colors”).

Alaşehir was a peaceful town with mostly a Turkish Muslim population, but the Greek descendants of ancient Philadelphia still remained until the Greco-Turkish war in 1923. The war ended with the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, and the Greeks from Alaşehir were expelled to Athens. That was all of the Church of Philadelphia. However, who knows, probably some new Turkish believers in Jesus still exist here.

Byzantine remains
Byzantine remains

Today, Alaşehir is a mid-sized town, just a normal Turkish town like all other towns in the area. What remained from ancient Philadelphia is only the ruins of the 6th-century Basilica St. John, parts of the Byzantine wall, and some neglected ruins from Roman times on the hills. It is too little to be turned into a popular tourist destination like Ephesus, Pergamon, or Laodicea.

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Our trip to Philadelphia

So, all of this was the reason why we included Philadelphia in our Western Turkey itinerary. We traveled by car on a route from Bulgaria, along the whole Aegean and Mediterranean coast to Kas, then turn northward to Lake Salda, Laodicea, and Pamukkale.

From there, we followed the route to the northwest through Philadelphia, Sardis, and Thyatira, three of the Seven Churches of Asia. And the first one was Philadelphia, about 1 hour and 30 min drive from Denizli (the starting point for Laodicea and Pamukkale).

The ruins of Philadelphia in Alaşehir

As mentioned above, there are three points in Alaşehir where you can see remains of ancient Philadelphia: the Basilica of St. John, the Byzantine Wall, and the Roman remains on the southern hills where the modern Toptepe Park is established.

Basilica of St. John

This is the ruins of the Basilica built in 600 AD, more than 500 years after the Book of Revelation, and this is the most popular site in Philadelphia. The most significant remains are the six massive pillars that once supported the dome of the Basilica. Three of them are best preserved.

The entrance of the Basilica St. John
The entrance of the Basilica St. John (St. Jean Church)

Today, this place is located in a small garden at İsmet Paşa Cd. The entrance is marked by a sign “St. Jean Church”. Besides the pillars, you can see some small ancient stones with writings, as well as some sculptures. And that’s all. You can explore it for 5 min, or in detail- for 10 min. And what you see is even not from the time of Revelation, but from more than 500 years later.

Entrance fee: free. Have in mind that sometimes it might be closed without warning. No written working hours!

The Byzantine Wall

Three short segments of this wall can be seen southeast of the roundabout of Suleyman Demirel Blv, Adnan Menderes Cd., and Milli Egemenlik Cd. They are located in an empty terrain between some industrial and residential buildings, completely neglected. You can just see them on your left if you travel from Denizli (Pamukkale).

The Roman ruins in Toptepe Park

These ruins are less spectacular than the Basilica of St. John, but much more interesting because they date from the Roman times and are the only remains from the time of the Book of Revelation. You can find them by driving (walking or biking) on Sarisu Cd., then turn steeply upward on the narrow Toptepe Cd. until you reach Çamlıbel Cd.

Here is the beginning of Toptepe Park. You will see a concaved slope of the hill and some ancient ruins inside it- an arc, remnants of building walls, etc. It used to be a small ancient theater, although it is almost unrecognizable today. Everything is neglected, covered by weeds and thorns- it is simply too small to be developed as a tourist attraction.

Roman ruins- the Theater of Philadelphia
Roman ruins- the Theater of Philadelphia

On your left, there is a trail with stairs ascending to the top of the hill. Not far besides it, you can see another ruin- a remnant of a Roman temple, again today completely unrecognizable. And finally, if you proceed to the west on Çamlıbel Cd., about 300 m further you will see the Stadium of Philadelphia- again nothing but only the shape of the slope, with almost no ancient stones on it (in fact, today it is really a local “stadium”, a modern playground, but that’s nothing to do with the ancient Stadium).

And that’s all you can see from ancient Philadelphia. By car, you can visit all these three places for about 30-40 min. Everything else is the modern Alaşehir.

How to reach Philadelphia

The best way to reach Philadelphia is by car. You would have the freedom to arrive there whenever you want. Once you arrive in Alaşehir, you can just park the car on one of the residential streets and walk on foot. All the ruins of Philadelphia are within short distances, so you don’t need to explore them by car.

Find the best rental cars in Turkey!

But if you don’t travel by car, there are three options:

  • By bus. There are regular buses from Izmir to Alaşehir and Manisa. They travel every day, running every two hours. Also, there are buses from Denizli (and you can make a connection with Pamukkale and Laodicea) and Manisa.

Check for buses from Izmir to Alasehir!

  • By train. There are two trains daily from Izmir to Usak, and one train from Izmir to Konya. All of them stop in Alaşehir. However, they are not connected to Denizli, so if you come from Izmir, you have to proceed to Denizli by bus.
  • By organized tour. There are a lot of organized tours that visit Philadelphia. All of them are “Seven Churches of Asia” tours, focused on all of the Seven Churches. See more about them below.
A modern "playground" in what remained of the Roman Stadium of Philadelphia
A modern “playground” in what remained of the Roman Stadium of Philadelphia

Accommodation

Alaşehir doesn’t have too many options to stay. It is not so developed for tourists, and there are only a few hotels you can find (you can find them on Booking or Agoda). Two of them are more popular: Hotel La Bella and Pia Hotel. They are quite cheap for the quality they provide, Pia Hotel even offers a swimming pool. There are a few more but you can’t find them on Booking or Agoda.

Check for accommodation in Alasehir on Booking!

Check for accommodations in Alasehir on Agoda!

Airbnb? Currently, there is no Airbnb in Alaşehir, except for a very expensive villa out of town.
Camping? There are no campsites around Alaşehir either. Yes, you can go wild camping, but you have to go out of town, preferably in the mountains (and still, it is not advisable).

However, despite the poor accommodation options, most travelers actually don’t spend the night in Alaşehir. They usually visit Philadelphia on the way to Denizli (with Pamukkale and Laodicea) or Sardis, Thyatira, Pergamum, and Izmir. Again, you can explore all of what was left of ancient Philadelphia in just 1-2 hours, then you don’t need to stay here, there is not much else to see in Alaşehir, it is just a nice but ordinary Turkish town, like many other towns in this part of the country.

Philadelphia on the route

As mentioned above, the best way to visit Philadelphia is to include it in a longer trip to all of the Seven Churches of Asia. Although it might be difficult to visit the churches following the order in the Book of Revelation, where Philadelphia is the sixth one, you still can do it, just in a different order, especially if you come from Istanbul, İzmir, or Çanakkale.

Because Philadelphia is located on a route between Sardis (the fifth church) and Laodicea (the seventh church), normally, you would go Sardis – Philadelphia – Laodicea, or vice versa.

Philadelphia tours

The tours to Philadelphia are usually multiday long, and lead you to all of the Seven Churches of Asia. 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.

Beyond Philadelphia

We didn’t follow the right order in the Book of Revelation, because we came from the Mediterranean Coast and Denizli. So, before Philadelphia, we visited Laodicea, the seventh of the Seven Churches. And our next destination was the fifth church- Sardis. But we still included all of the Seven in our big Western Turkey journey, along with the best of the history and nature of this amazing region of the Earth.

Take a look at this video for more impressions from Philadelphia:

Check some travel books about Turkey and Philadelphia:

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This is a guide about Philadelphia (Alasehir) and its church in Turkey- one of the Seven Churches of Asia- with history and useful tips. This is a guide about Philadelphia (Alasehir) and its church in Turkey- one of the Seven Churches of Asia- with history and useful tips.

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