A Journey to Thyatira, Turkey- the Fourth of the Seven Churches

A Journey to Thyatira, Turkey- the Fourth 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 Thyatira, 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 Thyatira and its history, let’s first take a look at a very special book- the Book of Revelation! Because Thyatira 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 Thyatira- the city of the fourth one of the Seven Churches a special and unique place. So, let’s take a look at the message to the church of Thyatira!

Read the Book of Revelation!

The message to the Church of Thyatira

To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching, she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.

So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.

To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

As you can see, this text raises a lot of questions: Who is Jezebel? Who are her children? What are those so-called “deep secrets of Satan”? And what is this authority over nations- to rule them with an iron scepter? What is the morning star? Let’s try to find answers, but to do it, let’s first start with another obvious question: Where is Thyatira?

The ruins of Thyatira in modern Akhisar
The ruins of Thyatira in modern Akhisar

Where is Thyatira

Let’s open the map of Turkey and focus on its western part, specifically, northeast of Manisa. Here, you can see a plain and a well-established town in the middle. This is the town of Akhisar
And if you zoom in further, focusing on the center of the town, you can see a small square-shaped garden with ruins. These are the ruins of the ancient Thyatira, and it is almost all that was left of this city.

Today, Akhisar looks like just an average Turkish town. But once it has been a significant ancient Greek business center. However, this “business center” was different than the other ancient cities around Western Turkey.

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 Thyatira was established and what is its history before the Book of Revelation.

The ancient history of Thyatira

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

Bronze Age and Dark Age period (until the 7th century BC)

Very little is known about the establishment of Thyatira. There were probably some villages in this place, during the time of the Hittites and the Dark Age, but no traces of buildings have been found, only some pieces of pottery.

Lydian-Persian period (7th century BC to 334 BC)

When the Kingdom of Lydia was established, this place became a part of it. And a city called Pelopia (another name: Semiramis) was clearly founded. It was a Greek city and it quickly became an important trade center.

In the 6th century BC, this area was conquered by the Persians, but there is no known siege and destruction event concerning Pelopia (Semiramis).

Ancient artifacts from Thyatira
Pre-Historic artifacts from Thyatira

Hellenistic period (334 BC to 80 BC)

In 334 BC, Pelopia was conquered by Alexander the Great. Then, it was under the rule of the Seleucids, Attalids, and shortly by King Mithridates VI of Pontus. And in 290 BC, King Seleucus I Nicator renamed it Thyatira (Thyateira). During this period, the city continued to grow and prosper.

Early (Classical) Roman period (80 BC to 314 AD)

During this period, Thyatira gradually became an important business center. First, it was known as a city of dyeing and was famous for the purple cloth trade (purple clothes were the most expensive and special clothes in the Roman Republic and Empire- only the highest-ranking Roman citizens were allowed to wear them).

So, the business citizens of Thyatira organized themselves into guilds. Besides the guild of dyers, there were also guilds of wool workers, linen workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave dealers, and more.

Thyatira 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 Thyatira. As a result, a Christian fellowship was born in Thyatira too- it was the Church of Thyatira.

During the next 40 years, several emperors reigned over the Roman Empire. Of them, the reign of Domitian was the most difficult time for the Christians, not only in Thyatira but in the whole empire. There were severe persecutions, as Domitian raised the cult of the emperor to a higher level and considered the Christians who refuse to worship the emperor as “enemies of the state”.

Anyway, the reign of Domitian was over in 95 BC, and Nerva came to power. Around that time, Jesus gave the Book of Revelation to John the Apostle, and the Church of Thyatira was chosen to be one of the Seven Churches. Again, it was about 40 years after the establishment of this church, and from the message to the Thyatiran Christians we understand their situation and what has changed during that time.

Craftwork from Thyatira
Craftwork from Thyatira

The business guilds and the Christians

The first thing that we learn is that many of the Christians in Thyatira have remained faithful to Jesus. However, they lived in a bit different environment than the Christians in other cities.
First, let’s don’t forget that Thyatira was a business city, and its citizens were organized in guilds. So, most of the Thyatirans who accepted the Gospel and believed in Jesus were businessmen too.

However, there was a problem. Thyatira was a city of the god Apollo. And every guild had to worship Apollo, “for good luck, blessing, and prosperity”. But when some of the members of the guilds believed in Jesus, they had to stop worshipping it. What was the result? Usually, they were expelled from the guild!

Out of the guild, they lost their business and wealth and normally became poor. But they didn’t lose their professional abilities. We read about a purple cloth worker called Lydia, one of the earliest Christians of Thyatira who migrated to Philippi in North Greece and met Paul the Apostle there. She still proceeded to do her business there.

Jezebel and her adultery

Let’s back to Thyatira. Obviously, the Christians out of the guild were in problem. Some of them, nevertheless, remained faithful- even more faithful than 40 years ago. But others tried to find a way, somehow to remain in the guilds and to be Christians at the same time. However, this inevitably led them to some compromises.

One of these compromises was Jezebel. We are not sure who was she. Was she a real Christian woman with this name who lived in Thyatira in the 1st century AD? Or she had another name, but “Jezebel” was just a “nickname” with a meaning? Or it was not a human but an evil spirit among the Christians? Let’s first make a reference.

Remains of an ancient basilica
Remains of an ancient basilica

Ancient Queen Jezebel

There was a real person called Jezebel, a Phoenician princess who became the wife of King Ahab, and a queen of Northern Israel, in the 9th century BC. Under her manipulations and dictatorship, Ahab introduced the Phoenician religion with Baal as the main god.

Jezebel’s goal was not just to import this religion along with the faith in Yahweh, but to make it the only legal religion in the kingdom, persecuting everybody who still believe and worship Yahweh. And she did it with nasty manipulations and intrigues.

Later, Ahab and his sons died one by one, and Jezebel was killed too. But her spirit inspiring such type of behavior remained and obviously was allowed in the Church of Thyatira. The question is: was it only a spirit, or a real person that was led by this spirit?

Warning to Jezebel and her followers

Jesus says that He gave her some time to repent. Spirits can’t repent, but humans can, that’s why we can suppose that there was a real person. But since Jezebel was not a Greek name, most probably this person had another name, and “Jezebel” was only her “nickname”.

What did she do among the Christians of Thyatira? We can suppose that she has arranged something like a “sect” among them, and manipulated the Christians caught in this sect to worship the idols of the guilds, trying to “balance” between Jesus and the idols.

From the message in the Book of Revelation, we know that this woman called herself “a prophetess”. That’s not strange, because imposing “prophecies” is one of the best ways of manipulation. In addition, she used deeply logical scientific words, called “the deep secrets of Satan”, to make her followers feel somehow “wiser”.

And from the historical data, we know that worshipping Apollo usually consisted of eating sacrificed animals and sexual immorality- something absolutely irreconcilable with Christianity.

However, Jesus warns the Church of Thyatira that if this woman doesn’t repent, He will impose a severe disease and suffering on her and the Christians who follow her. He also mentions “her children” who will not just suffer but will die. We can suppose that “her children” were other Christians who follow her, but also probably the babies who were born by the sexual activities of her sect.

"Nations will be broke like pottery"
One ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’

The future rulers of the nations

So, what about those who didn’t follow Jezebel? Apollo was known as a “son of god”. But the meaning of the message from Jesus was that He, Jesus is the Son of God, not Apollo. And in the future Kingdom of God, He will give enormous power to those who win all the tests. They will also receive “the Morning Star”- as we understand from Revelation chapter 21, this is Jesus Himself.

And this message was addressed not only to the Christians in Thyatira 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- churches with poisonous sects amidst them.

The later history of Thyatira

So, what happened after the time of John and the Revelation? What happened with the city and the church of Thyatira? What happened with Jezebel and her followers?

The city of Thyatira remained a part of the Roman Empire, and its Christian fellowship remained too, passing through periods of persecution and peace. We can suppose that the woman called “Jezebel” really died, and her followers suffered. Probably some of them repented and avoid suffering.

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 Thyatira, it changed too- from a living congregation of believers, it gradually turned into a state religious institution.

In the 8th century AD, the area of Thyatira suffered from the wars between the Byzantine Empire and the Arabs. And the city had to pass through some destruction and restorations. Anyway, it survived and remained a Byzantine city.

Medieval period (1074-1390)

During that period, the region of Thyatira faced new invasions. First, the Seljuk Turks came and established their emirates in western Minor Asia. The city of Thyatira passed between Byzantine and Seljuk hands several times until in 1307, the Byzantine Empire lost it forever. Later, the Ottoman Turks came and conquered this area.

Ottoman and Modern Period (1390 until today)

During the Ottoman period, most of the citizens of Thyatira were Turks, but there was a significant Greek population that remained from Roman and Byzantine times, still presenting “the Church of Thyatira”. The Turks renamed the city Akhisar (which means White Castle) and gradually changed its image into what is today the modern Akhisar.

Modern Akhisar
Modern Akhisar

First, the Greeks, then the Turks, built new houses and other constructions in Akhisar. In 1923, the Ottoman Empire ended its existence by war with Greece, and according to the Population exchange agreement, the Greeks were expelled, and Turkish Muslims from Greece arrived. In general, it was the end of the Church of Thyatira (maybe there are some Turkish Christians in Akhisar today, but there is no clear data about it).

Today, Akhisar is just an average Turkish town, and the government protected a small area with ancient Roman ruins in the center of the town. These ruins are turned into a tourist attraction- far from the popularity of the famous Ephesus, Laodicea, or Pergamum, and much smaller, but still with great historical value. In addition, there is a small history Akhisar Museum, just next to the ruins.

And that’s all that has remained from the ancient Thyatira, everything else is the “modern Thyatira”, today called Akhisar.

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Our trip to Thyatira

So, all of this was the reason why we included Thyatira 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 with Hierapolis.

From there, we followed the route to the northwest through Philadelphia, Sardis, and Thyatira, three of the Seven Churches of Asia. And we explored these three churches in one day, by several hours of driving from Denizli (the starting point for Laodicea and Pamukkale).

The ruins of Thyatira, in the center of Akhisar
The ruins of Thyatira, in the center of Akhisar

The ruins of Thyatira in Akhisar

As mentioned above, there are two points in Akhisar where you can explore the ancient Thyatira: some of the ruins of ancient Thyatira, today established as the “Thyatira Hill Tombs” site, and the Akhisar History Museum (Archeological and Ethnographic Museum).

Thyatira Hill Tombs

This is a square-shaped garden in the center of the modern town of Akhisar, surrounded by busy streets, shops, cafes, and normal residential buildings. The garden consists of ancient ruins that belong to the ancient Thyatira.

It is definitely not a silent place where “the time has stopped” since it is located in a modern noisy environment. Also, the garden is small, there is neither a “hill” nor clearly visible “tombs”, despite its name, only a line of pillars with arcs and a remnant of an ancient basilica. You can explore it for just 15 min.

There used to be more ruins in the past, but today they are hidden under the modern buildings of Akhisar. Nevertheless, it is still worth visiting the Thyatira Hill Tombs due to its historical value.
Entrance fee: 20 TL.
Working hours: from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM

Akhisar Museum

It is a small museum, located just next to the Thyatira Hill Tombs, called also Archaeological and Ethnographical Museum. The museum has only one floor, and the whole exhibition follows the historical timeline- from prehistoric times to the period of the Ottoman Empire.

Here you can see some ancient pottery, coins, pieces of statues, and more ancient artifacts- this belongs to its Archaeological part. And the Ethnographical part presents some cloths, crafts, and even old carts dating from Ottoman times. It is interesting because it indicates that the old business spirit of the ancient Thyatira has been preserved even until modern times.

Entrance fee: free (some websites say 20 TL per person, but as of August 2022, we were allowed inside for free).

Working hours: from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM

More from the Akhisar Museum
More from the Akhisar Museum

That’s all you can see from ancient Thyatira. You can visit these two places for about an hour (15 min for Thyatira Hill Tombs and 45 min for the Akhisar Museum), anyway, we recommend not hurrying and using more time to explore them slowly.

Everything else is the modern Akhisar.

How to reach Thyatira

The best way to reach Thyatira is by car. You would have the freedom to arrive there whenever you want. The only problem is that parking your car in the center is challenging- we wasted more than 30 hours until we found a small free parking lot for our car. Probably, if you try farther from the center, you can be luckier.

Anyway, traveling by car is still the best because you can visit many more places than just Akhisar with Thyatira with your own, convenient schedule.

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 and Istanbul. They travel every day, and for most of them, Akhisar is only a stop, not the last station. Also, there are buses from Denizli (and you can make a connection with Pamukkale and Laodicea) and Manisa.
  • By train. Akhisar has a railway station, located about 4 km west-southwest of the center. Three trains from and to Izmir stop in Akhisar: İzmir Mavi Treni (Blue Train) to and from Ankara, Ege Ekspresi (Aegean Express) to and from Eskişehir, and 17 Eylül Ekpresi (17th of September Express) to and from Bandırma, with a ferry connection to Istanbul.
  • By organized tour. There are a lot of organized tours that visit Thyatira. All of them are “Seven Churches of Asia” tours, focused on all of the Seven Churches. See more about them below.

Accommodation

Akhisar 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). Only one of them is more popular, with a good location, in the center of Akhisar: Fayton Hotel, the rest are located in other towns, not in Akhisar, just near to it. There are a few more but you can’t find them on Booking or Agoda.

Airbnb? Currently, there is no Airbnb in Akhisar.

Camping? There are no campsites around Alaşehir either.

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

More from the ruins of Thyatira
More from the ruins of Thyatira

Thyatira on the route

As mentioned above, the best way to visit Thyatira 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 Thyatira is the fourth one, you still can do it, just in a different order, especially if you come from Istanbul, İzmir, or Çanakkale.

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

Thyatira tours

The tours to Thyatira 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 Thyatira

We didn’t follow the right order in the Book of Revelation, because we came from the Mediterranean Coast and Denizli. So, before Thyatira, we visited Sardis, the fifth of the Seven Churches. From there, we proceeded to Balikesir, and then we back to the Aegean coast of Turkey, Canakkale, and Bulgaria. 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 Thyatira:

Check some travel books about Turkey and Thyatira:

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

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