Byzantine Sites and Byzantine Ruins

If you’re seeking to discover Byzantine sites and Byzantine ruins and want to find the best places to view Byzantine Empire history then you can use our interactive map above or navigate further by using the links below.

There’s a great range of Byzantine sites and you can plan some fantastic places to see on your travels. Once you’ve explored the list of Byzantine Empire sites and Byzantine ruins you can select those you wish to visit and use our itinerary planner tool to plan your trip and print off a free pocket guidebook. This indispensible holiday guide will help you make the most of your time exploring Byzantine sites.

Our database of Byzantine historic places is growing all the time, but we may not cover them all. Remember, if you know of other Byzantine Empire sites, remains or ruins, you can always add them to Trip Historic now by visiting our upload page.

Byzantine Empire: Site Index

Abila

Abila is an ancient town in Jordan and one of the Decapolis, a federation of 10 Greco-Roman cities providing a defence of the eastern front of the Roman Empire.

DID YOU KNOW?

Along with Philadelphia, Gerasa, Pella, Gadara, Kanatha, Dion, Scythopolis and Damascus, Abila made up part of the Decapolis, a ten-city Greco-Roman federation southeast of the Sea of Galilee in Jordan providing a strategic defence post protecting the eastern front of the Roman Empire.

It was occupied in the Bronze Age around 6,000 years ago to approximately 1500 AD (although an earthquake in 747AD turned much of the thriving city into rubble) and even though the site fell to ruin, there have been some spectacular discoveries. Archaeologists have painstakingly uncovered Byzantine churches, a monastic complex from the early Islamic period, Roman baths, a theatre, temples used to worship Herakles, Tyche and Athena, miles of subterranean water tunnels, aqueducts, megalithic columns, tombs, city gates and various municipal buildings.

Abila has been excavated extensively for almost 40 years but it remains one of the most exciting sites in the region for two reasons. Firstly so much is yet to be excavated and secondly much of what the resident archaeologists want to dig up is already visible from the surface, teasing them. It is close to the village of Quwayliba and on the bus from Irbid - the nearest sizable town - ask the driver to drop you off at the ruins.

Photo by archer10 (Dennis) (cc)

Agios Eleftherios

Agios Eleftherios is a very small yet important Byzantine church in Athens known as the little cathedral, one of many religious Byzantine sites.

DID YOU KNOW?

Agios Eleftherios is a very small yet important Byzantine church in Athens set in the shadow of the city’s cathedral.

Built in the twelfth century, Agios Eleftherios was once the main church in Athens. This fact, coupled with the vision of the diminutive church next to the monolith of Athens Cathedral has led to it being known as the "little cathedral" or Mikri Mitropoli. It is also known by the name Panaghia Gorgoepiikoos.

Photo by Historvius

Bachkovo Monastery

An example of the Byzantine sites in Bulgaria, Bachkovo Monastery is said to be the second largest monastery in the country and one of its oldest.

DID YOU KNOW?

Bachkovo Monastery (Bachkovski Manastir) was established in 1083 and is said by some to be the second largest monastery in Bulgaria. Also known as Bachkovo Monastery of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin, the site was patronised by both Tsar Ivan Assen II and Tsar Ivan Alexander, whose portrait is to be found in the ossuary.

Destroyed by the Ottomans in the 15th to 16th centuries, it was in fact only the ossuary of Bachkovo Monastery which survives today of the original monastery. The rest mostly dates from 1601 - when reconstruction began - onwards. This includes the Church of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin. Other aspects, such as the Church of St Nicholas, were built in the 19th century.

Today, visitors come to Bachkovo Monastery to see its many works of art as well as to appreciate its history, which includes various cultural influences, among them Georgian and Byzantine.

Photo by cpence (cc)

Benaki Museum

The Benaki Museum houses a vast collection of art and artefacts from Greek history, from Hellenic, Roman and Byzantine Greece to the Ottoman age and right up to the present day.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Benaki Museum in Athens houses over 100,000 artefacts from Greek history and showcases the many eras, civilisations and cultures which have influenced the development of Greece. Spread over a number of locations, the museum ranks among Greece’s foremost cultural institutions.

The main museum is located in the centre of Athens in a neo-Classical mansion which belonged to the Benaki family. This is a fluid, beautifully designed space which incorporates a whole range of Greek art and artefacts, spanning from pre-history right up to the present day.

Among this extensive collection are a wide variety of objects of historical and national importance. Foremost among these is an enormous collection of Greek art and sculpture ranging from Hellenic, Roman and Byzantine Greece to the Ottoman age and right through to modern times. Yet alongside these grand artworks, the museum includes a range of more commonplace items including books, regional costumes, documents and scrolls.

As well as Greek artefacts there are also permanent exhibits focusing on Chinese, Pre-Colombian and Islamic collections, though these areas are not all located in the central museum.

A number of satellite museums operate within the Benaki framework, including a children’s toy museum in Kouloura House, Palaio Faliro, and the Museum of Islamic Art, which is located near the Kerameikos cemetery.

Please note that the opening hours, contact details and entry fees listed here are all for the main museum.

Photo by Pero Kvrzica (cc)

Butrint

Butrint is a prehistoric UNESCO World Heritage site in south west Albania which has been occupied by the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines.

DID YOU KNOW?

Butrint is an archaeological national park in Albania and a UNESCO World Heritage site, renowned for its ancient ruins dating back as far as the 7th century BC. In fact, classic mythology says that exiles moved to Butrint to escape following the fall of Troy.

Originally part of an area called Epirus, Butrint has been occupied by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Venetians. As a result, Butrint offers a wealth of incredible archaeological structures, including a well preserved Greek theatre, fortifications which have been changed by each civilisation which occupied it, Roman public baths inside which lies a paleo-Christian baptistery and a 9th century basilica.

One of Butrint’s earliest sites is its sanctuary, which dates back to the fourth century and sits on its hill or “acropolis”. The sanctuary was named after the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, and was a centre of healing. Butrint was abandoned during the Ottoman era when marshes started to emerge around it, however, many of its historical treasures remain intact and attract tourist from around the globe.

The great thing about Butrint is the ability to trace the development of a succession of eras through its sites and structures, making it a microcosm of history. With so much to see, including an onsite museum exploring the site’s history, a visit to Butrint National Park usually lasts around three hours.

Photo by Zooey_ (cc)

Byzantine Museum

With over 25,000 artefacts of national importance dating from the 3rd to 20th centuries AD, the Byzantine Museum is a popular attraction in Athens.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Byzantine Museum in Athens contains over 25,000 artefacts of national importance and is a popular attraction for visitors to the Greek capital.

The museum’s vast collection covers the Early Christian, Byzantine, Medieval and post-Byzantine eras. It includes religious artefacts, stunning iconography, sculpture, textiles, paintings, manuscripts, jewels, ceramics and art.

The museum is divided in five main sections: From the ancient world to Byzantium; the Byzantine world; intellectual and artistic activity in the 15th century; from Byzantium to the modern era; Byzantium and modern art.

The artefacts come from all across Greece as well as from nearby regions where Hellenic and Byzantine culture were prominent.

Photo by nonanet (cc)

Carthage National Museum

Carthage National Museum contains a wide selection of artefacts and exhibitions from the Punic, Roman and Byzantine periods of Carthage. It is a good place to begin you exploration of the ruins of this ancient city.

DID YOU KNOW?

Carthage National Museum - sometimes simply called Carthage Museum - is one of the most important museums in Tunis and contains a range of interesting exhibitions and artefacts from the Carthaginian and Roman periods.

Amongst the many exhibits are displays examining life in ancient Carthage, the conflicts with the Roman Republic and the eventual destruction of the Punic city by Rome.

Also examined is the new Roman city and the Roman period itself as well as the story of Byzantine rule and the Arab conquest.

The museum includes a range of interesting finds, from jewellery, weaponry, tombs and funeral masks to Roman mosaics and day-to-day household items. Additionally, there is an interesting model of the Punic city.

Carthage National Museum is an excellent jumping off point for your exploration of the other sites of ancient Carthage, and provides stunning views over the ruins and the modern city.

Photo by Christian Stock (cc)

Church of Agios Lazaros

One of the important Byzantine sites in Cyprus, the Church of Agios Lazaros was built in the tenth century AD to house the believed tomb of Saint Lazarus.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Church of Agios Lazaros, also known as Church of Ayios Lazaros, is a Byzantine creation built in the tenth century AD over the believed tomb of Saint Lazarus. Saint Lazarus is said to have been resurrected by Jesus and then to have fled to Cyprus, where he was ordained as a Bishop.

Visitors can enter the crypt of the Church of Agios Lazaros to see his reputed tomb as well as those of other buried there.

Used as a mosque during the Ottoman occupation of Cyprus, the Church of Agios Lazaros was then reverted to a church. It has suffered damage over the years, including a devastating fire, but has been restored on different occasions.

Photo by Historvius

Church of Saint George at Madaba

Oldest known geographic floor mosaic in art history located in Saint George church of Madaba, depicting the Holy Land.

DID YOU KNOW?

This early Byzantine church in Madaba, Jordan holds the famous Madaba Map of the Middle East; a floor mosaic dating back to the 6th century AD depicting an area from Lebanon to the Nile Delta, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Eastern Desert. It is the oldest known geographic floor mosaic in art history.

Most probably made by the Christian community of Madaba, it contains cartographic depiction of the Holy Land and especially Jerusalem which is the largest and most detailed part in the center of the map. It faces east towards the altar which coincides with the actual compass directions of locations.

After conquests and earthquakes, the mosaic was rediscovered in 1884, during the construction of a new Greek Orthodox church and underwent restoration by the Volkswagen Foundation in the 1960s.

In 1967, excavations in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem revealed the Nea Church and the Cardo Maximus in the exact locations depicted by the Madaba Map. In 2010, the discovery of a road running through the center of Jerusalem as shown on the map again proved its accuracy and priceless value for the archaeologists.

Photo by yilmaz ovunc (cc)

Church of Saint Nicholas, Myra

One of the oldest surviving churches in the world, this church and museum looks at the life of Saint Nicholas, aka Santa Claus.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Church of Saint Nicholas at Myra - also called St Nicholas Museum - is an ancient Byzantine church which charts the life of this famous Christian Saint and is one of the oldest surviving churches in existence.

Saint Nicholas was born in Patara in the 3rd Century AD, and is said to have been raised in a wealthy Christian family. He became Bishop of Myra at a young age, and this position was his initial source of fame. He was imprisoned by the Emperor Diocletian, who persecuted the Christian faith, and attended the famed council of Nicaea, a gathering of the notables of Christendom, after his release.

It is Nicholas' life and deeds which spawned the myth of Santa Claus and accounts for the way in which he is venerated in the Christian world. Nicholas was particularly well known for the accounts of his acts of kindness towards children. One narrative recalls three daughters, whose father was too poor to be able to afford a dowry. Ordinarily this would have resulted in the daughters being sold into slavery. However, three bags of gold appeared in stockings in mysterious circumstances, thus sparing the daughters their fate. In some northern European countries, St. Nicholas day is celebrated by children leaving shoes or stockings out overnight, to find gifts in the morning.

As well as being patron saint of children, Nicholas was also the patron of sailors, a result of Myra being an important port. Ironically, given that he was associated with kind deeds, he also became the patron of pirates, after they stole his relics. Nicholas died in circa 345AD, and stories of his good deeds and acts of kindness spread rapidly. His church became a popular place of pilgrimage, and the beatification of Nicholas occurred soon after his death. He was the Eastern world's most famous saint, and was also adopted by the rest of Europe, being imagined by northern Europeans as wearing a cape and furs and riding a sleigh, despite residing in a Mediterranean climate during his lifetime.

Though there may have been a church constructed on the present site shortly after the death of St. Nicholas, the church which exists now has its roots in the 9th century. It has undergone two separate major renovations. Constantine IX rebuilt the church in 1043, and Tsar Nicholas I had the church renovated in 1862. Some restoration work has also been carried out more recently by Turkish archaeologists.

Despite its relatively modest size the Church of Saint Nicholas is nonetheless spectacular, and is popular with pilgrims and tourists alike. Particular highlights are the magnificent vaulted rooms, and the small gallery nearby containing the remains of some wonderful mosaics and frescoes.

There are a number of sarcophagi contained within the church, firstly in a gallery adjacent to the first chapel. The most notable sarcophagus is located in a separate, narrow gallery, which is said to be that of St. Nicholas himself, although his remains are more likely to have been stolen – apparently by Italian sailors who whisked them away to Bari where they built the Basilica of Saint Nicholas. There are further mosaics in the main apse, which also contains the altar of the church and some white marble steps.

The church is open to visitors all year round, with reduced opening hours during the winter months.

Contributed by Chris Reid

Photo by hoyasmeg (cc)

Church of the Annunciation - Nazareth

The Church of the Annunciation is believed to be the site where Gabriel told Mary she was to conceive the son of G-d. It is amongst the most important Christian Byzantine sites.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Church of the Annunciation, often called the Basilica of the Annunciation, is located in Nazareth on the site where it is believed that the angel Gabriel told Mary that she was to miraculously conceive the son of G-d. This holy Christian event is known as the Annunciation.

While the structure of the Church of the Annunciation is a twentieth century one, two previous churches – one Byzantine, one Crusader – have been excavated there, with the earlier one probably dating back to the fourth century AD. Inside the current church, visitors can see the Cave of the Annunciation, the site in which this event is thought to have occurred.

It is worth mentioning that the site of the Annunciation is a matter of some dispute, with some believing that it occurred elsewhere within Nazareth. The Greek Orthodox faith has its own Church of the Annunciation.

Photo by peuplier (cc)

Citadel of Salah Ed-Din

Originally built by the Byzantines, the Citadel of Salah Ed-Dinis was a Crusader castle until its capture by Saladin. One of many UNESCO World Heritage Byzantine sites.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Citadel of Salah Ed-Din, also known as Saladin Castle and Saone, is a partly-preserved fortress in Syria which is an interesting example of Crusader-era fortifications.

The site has been used as a fortification for many centuries, and is thought to have first been occupied by the Phoenicians and later by Alexander the Great. The current site was built by the Byzantines and became a Crusader stronghold until its capture by Saladin in 1188.

The Citadel of Salah Ed-Din was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2006.

Gemiler Island

A tiny island located just off the Turkish mainland, Gemiler Island is packed with Byzantine remains including a number of ancient churches.

DID YOU KNOW?

Beautifully situated in a mountain-girt bay, Gemiler Island is packed with c.1,500 year old Byzantine remains. The island, just 1km long, has been surveyed by Japanese archaeologists who have revealed the existence of a thriving small town clinging to the northern shore. Unlike the classical cities of the region, there are none of the typical public buildings, no theatre, no baths, no gymnasium, no colonnaded streets, no agora, just a dense collection of houses, cisterns and four main churches.

Described on Italian medieval maritime charts as St. Nicholas Island, Gemiler seems to have thrived as a key stop on the Christian pilgrimage route to the Holy Land. Pilgrims sailing to Jerusalem would put in at this safe harbour, replenish water and supplies and pray for their safe journey. Today, one can explore the remains of these early churches, decorated with mosaics and frescoes, discover a huge public cistern and walk in a unique processional passageway up to the cathedral church and the island’s summit with its stunning 360-degree views.

Contributed by Peter Sommer. Peter is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, travel writer and one time archaeologist who now heads a specialist tour operator, Peter Sommer Travels, offering expert-led gulet cruises and archaeological tours in Turkey, Greece and Italy.

Photo by alex_m_jones (cc)

Goreme Open Air Museum

Located in the picturesque Goreme Valley, Goreme’s open air museum is one of the most accessible ways to explore the region's ancient rock-cut churches.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Goreme Open Air Museum in Cappadocia includes a collection of around 30 ancient churches, and feels about as far from a traditional museum as it’s possible to get.

Easily accessible to visitors, the Goreme valley was the first historical site to be discovered in Cappadocia. The roughly cut rock churches are quite breath-taking; an unsuspecting visitor to the area would find it difficult, on first sight, to ascertain their purpose. It’s a stunning, almost haunting, landscape. The church interiors, particularly those of the Dark Church and the Buckle Church, contain some of the most beautiful and well preserved frescoes of the region.

By the end of the 2nd century AD, the Goreme valley had been transformed into a hub of Christian activity – converts to the new religion had been drawn to the valley’s natural defences as they fled persecution. During the 3rd century, Christianity began to take on a more organised form in the region as priests ‘of good character’ began to transform the area. Indeed, by the 4th century Cappadocia became to be known as the ‘Land of the Three Saints.’ These saints comprised St. Basil the Great, Bishop of Kayseri; his brother, St Gregory of Nyssa; and St George of Nazianzus. St Basil initiated worship within the community, and it was in Goreme that this practice was begun.

The name ‘Goreme’ is actually the fourth name by which it has been known throughout history. The Byzantines named the valley Matiana, and the Armenian Christians named it Macan. The valley was then named Avcilar by the Turks, who then bestowed upon it the name Goreme, meaning ‘unseen’, in honour of the churches of the same name which marked the valley.

Perhaps best described as a collection of monastic complexes, each monastery in the Goreme Open Air Museum contains its own church and there are some notable highlights among the list including the Dark Church, the Snake Church and the Apple Church. The Tokah Church, or ‘Church with the Buckle’ is one of the best preserved of the valley. This church contains an atrium, which was formerly a church itself, and is notable for the striking blue paint that is used in the frescoes that depict various scenes from the life of Christ.

Finally the Dark Church contains some of the most beautiful frescoes in the valley. Recently restored, the frescoes are a mixture of ochre, red and navy blue, which combine to fantastic effect. They portray the life of Christ, as well as the four evangelists.

Probably the most accessible way to view these ancient rock-cut churches, the Goreme Open Air Museum is also therefore quite a bit busier than other similar sights. A virtual tour can be explored here.

Contributed by Chris Reid

Photo by David Spender (cc)

Hagia Sophia

One of many important Byzantine sites in Istabul, the Hagia Sophia is a world famous sixth century church turned mosque.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Hagia Sophia, or ‘Ayasofya’ in Turkish, is a world famous sixth century church turned mosque in Istanbul, which now operates as a museum.

Whilst the original Hagia Sofia was built in the fourth century AD by Constantine the Great, very little remains of this structure nor the one built after it in the fifth century. The current building dates back to between 532 and 537 AD, during which time it was constructed under the order of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian.

The architects Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles designed the Hagia Sophia in the Byzantine style, with typical features such as its impressive dome, and Hagia Sophia served as a central religious home for the Eastern Orthodox Church. The building was converted to a mosque in 1453 under the orders of Sultan Mehmed II when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and thus it remained until 1935, when it became a museum.

However, it was during its time as a mosque that several dominant architectural features were added, such as the minarets at each of its four corners and the mihrab. Visitors to Hagia Sophia can view remnants of the first two Hagias Sophias as well as touring the current building with its stunning mosaics and ornate Muslim altars and chapels.

Outside, cannonballs used by Mehmet the Conqueror during his invasion of the city line the paths and there is an eighteenth century fountain for ritual ablutions. Hagia Sophia is a beautiful mixture of Muslim and Christian influences and architecture, including the Byzantine mosaics, which can only really be seen in the higher galleries for a further fee. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Turkey.

Photo by Turkish Travel (cc)

Hagia Sophia, Trabzon

A thirteenth century church, a fifteenth century mosque and a twentieth century museum, the Trabzon Hagia Sophia has a fascinating history and boasts a wealth of ancient art and frescoes.

DID YOU KNOW?

The historic Hagia Sophia in Trabzon, Turkey, is an impressive 13th century Byzantine church which now operates as a museum boasting a range of fascinating ancient frescoes.

Originally constructed under the direction of Trebizond Emperor Manuel I between 1238 and 1263 AD, the Hagia Sophia was originally built to serve as a Church and its design reflects late-Byzantine architecture. It acted as such until 1461 when it was converted into a Mosque under the authority of Sultan Mehmed II after the Ottoman conquest of Trabzon, but during the next 400 years or so the building deteriorated rapidly.

By the mid-nineteenth century the Mosque was in desperate need of repair and restoration work began in 1864. However, with the advent of the First World War the once-grand Mosque was subject to a more utilitarian purpose; it was used both as a storehouse and hospital by Russian forces. In 1964, thanks to international co-operation and restoration efforts, the Hagia Sophia was finally opened to the public.

Today the Trabzon Hagia Sophia operates as a museum and visitors can explore the unique art and architecture found withing.

The building itself stands as an example of outstanding Byzantine architecture, containing three naves and three porticoes as well as numerous frescoes depicting Biblical scenes such as the birth, crucifixion and ascension of Jesus Christ, the twelve apostles and the frieze of angels. These frescoes had been covered after the Ottoman conquest and were only revealed during the 20th century restoration. Perhaps the most outstanding piece of decorative art within this group is the bas-relief frieze of Adam and Eve, located to the south.

In addition to the Christian decorative art that can be found throughout the Trabzon Hagia Sophia, there is also an abundance of Islamic art and architecture, including a domed and tiled roof and geometrically designed interlocking medallions, indicative of the Seljuk period. There are also tiles containing the crescent moon and stars as well as other motifs.

The tower was a later addition, when the Church was being converted into a Mosque. Little of the decorative art that was once installed into the Tower remains, although effort has recently been made to restore the paintings on the walls.

[Update Aug 2013: The museum has now closed and the site is now operating as a mosque]

Contributed by Ros Gammie

Haidra

Haidra contains the remains of the Roman city of Ammaedara and includes a number of interesting ruins including the large Byzantine fort and underground Roman baths.

DID YOU KNOW?

One of the earliest Roman settlements in North Africa, Haidra in Tunisia contains the remains of the Roman city of Ammaedara. Well off the beaten track, Haidra – also called Hydrah – attracts few tourists and even the archaeological excavations have been few and far between.

Founded in the first century AD, Ammaedara was originally a legionary outpost, used by the Third Legion Augusta during their campaign against the rebellious Numidian leader Tacfarinas – a deserter from the Roman auxiliaries who led his people in an uprising against Rome during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius.

After the defeat of the rebellion, Ammaedara was settled by veterans from the campaign and grew into a thriving Roman city. Indeed, remains of the cemetery of the 3rd legion have been identified on outskirts of the site.

It is unclear as to whether a pre-Roman settlement existed at Haidra. Though the foundations of a Punic temple to Ba'al-Hamon were found near the site, there is little additional evidence of a major settlement.

The Romans ruled the region until the Vandal invasions of the 5th century AD and the ruins of Haidra contain evidence of the period of Vandal rule as well as the subsequent Byzantine period which followed after Justinian’s successful re-conquest.

Today Haïdra contains a number of interesting ruins dating from the various periods in the city’s history. Perhaps the most impressive is the imposing Byzantine fortress - built around 550 AD on the orders of Justinian, it acted as a defensive stronghold for the newly conquered Byzantine lands.

Dating to around the same period is the Church of Melleus which is in a reasonable state of preservation with a number of surviving columns and interesting inscriptions from the 6th and 7th centuries on the paving stones. Evidence of the Vandal period survives in the form of the Vandal Chapel - dating to the reigns of King Thrasamund and King Hilderic in the early 6th century AD.

Of the other ruins at Haïdra, the most prominent is the Arch of Septimius Severus. Built in 195 AD it remains very well preserved with decorative markings still intact. However, one of the best places to actually explore is the underground bath complex, a series of reasonably intact bath chambers and corridors which you can still wander around freely.

Scant remains of the original market and theatre can also be seen as well as just one surviving column from the ancient temple that stood on the capitol. Other elements to explore at Haïdra include the Roman cemetery and the three mausoleum towers – impressive structures that have survived the ages in pretty good condition.

Photo by amiinsidemyself (cc)

Histria

Histria was occupied by the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines and is thought to be the oldest settlement in Romania.

DID YOU KNOW?

Histria, close to the city of Constanta in Romania is an archaeological park housing ruins which date throughout Romania’s history. Histra was once a harbour, first occupied by the Ancient Greeks in 675 BC. Under the Greeks, it flourished into a centre of trade, specialising in ceramics, glass and metals. The earliest Romanian currency, the 8g silver Drachma, was first issued in Histria in circa 480 BC.

Over the centuries, Histria was invaded numerous times, including twice by the Romans and it served as both a Roman and Byzantine settlement. Only in the seventh century was Histria destroyed by enemy forces.

This rich yet turbulent history has endowed Histria with a wealth of sites and monuments such as temples to Aphrodite and Zeus as well as Roman baths. Visitors can walk around the site with relative freedom, looking at its fascinating collection of remaining walls, columns and structures.

Histria has an archaeological museum, housing a display of finds from the site ranging from jewellery and coins to tools and weapons.

Photo by Verity Cridland (cc)

Ihlara Valley

The Ihlara Valley is famous for a number of rock-carved ancient churches known for their ornate frescoes depicting biblical events.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Ihlara Valley near the historic heart of Cappadocia, in central Turkey, is famous for both its natural beauty and for a number of rock-carved ancient churches and dwellings known for their ornate frescoes depicting biblical events.

The valley was probably first inhabited in the 4th century AD, initially by hermits and priests as a place of solitude; but the natural defences of the gorge attracted new converts to Christianity, some fleeing persecution by the Romans.

At its peak Ihlara Valley was host to up to 80,000 inhabitants with a huge number of dwellings cut into the rock walls and churches decorated by frescoes which pay testament to Ihlara’s history. The frescoes are interesting as they document the spread of Christianity. As the religion spread amongst diverse populations, the message of Christianity was spread using imagery. Therefore the frescoes which adorn the valley’s churches portray the life of Jesus, and other themes found in the Bible.

The main entrance to Ihlara Valley is by Ihlara village, at the southern end of the valley, where the churches dating from the 6th century display a Persian and Syrian influence. As one travels further down the valley, one finds a large number of Byzantine churches and domestic dwellings.

At the northern end of the valley stands the majestic Selime monastery. Cut out of the rock walls of the valley, the Selime monastery is quite a sight to behold, not looking at all like the European preconceived image of a monastery, but nevertheless, gazing upon this monument, which was commandeered as a fortress by the Byzantine and Seljuk armies between the 10th and 12th centuries, is a truly breathtaking moment.

As well, as the historic attractions, the natural scenery is spectacular as well; wild olive trees, and poplars are found in the fertile valley, next to the clear green, sometimes shallow, sometimes deep, Melendez river. Taking up residence among the vineyards, poplars and pistachio trees are a number of lizards, frogs, and the occasional eagle.

In all, the valley contains a great many of these ancient churches – most of which date to the Byzantine era – with frescoes depicting a whole host of biblical scenes. Most people visit with an organised tour and, though they mostly cover the same sites, tours will differ as to exactly which churches and dwellings they will visit.

Contributed by Chris Reid

Photo by Elisa atene (cc)

Istanbul Mosaic Museum

The Istanbul Mosaic Museum contains the amazing remains of mosaics excavated the Great Palace of Constantinople built during the Byzantine period.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Istanbul Mosaic Museum, located near Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul, contains the amazing remains of mosaics excavated from the courtyard of the Great Palace of Constantinople.

First discovered in 1933 and later fully excavated in the 1950s, the mosaic floors were found under the modern Arasta Bazaar and now form the core of the Istanbul Mosaic Museum. The floor was originally part of a peristyle courtyard in the Great Palace and is one of the very few elements of this Byzantine palace to have survived. The mosaics themselves were probably commissioned under Justinian I during his major renovations of the palace in the 6th century.

The museum itself is on the northern side of the courtyard ruins and houses mosaics that made up the pavements outside the original palace as well as the floor of the courtyard. The original mosaic is believed to have been far larger than the remnants on display, and it is thought much of this ancient treasure remains hidden beneath the surrounding buildings.

The Great Palace mosaics that make up the museum have been dated between 450 and 550 AD and depict scenes from daily life, hunting nature and mythology rather than religious figures. Visitors can walk around and above the excavated mosaics and read detailed information points which describe the content and history of each mosaic section.

Located next to Sultanahmet Square, Hagia Sophia and the Boukoleon Palace, the Istanbul Mosaic Museum is in the heart of Istanbul’s historical district, within easy walking distance from all the famous sights of the city.

Contributed by Isabelle Moore

Photo by randyc9999 (cc)

Kapnikarea

Sitting right in the middle of bustling modern streets, Kapnikarea is a beautiful 11th century Byzantine church in Athens.

DID YOU KNOW?

Sitting right in the middle of bustling modern streets, Kapnikarea is a beautiful 11th century Byzantine church in Athens.

Built around 1050 AD, the church was constructed atop the remains of an earlier ancient Greek temple, probably dedicated to either Athena or Demeter.

Kapnikarea looks oddly out of place in the middle of a busy thoroughfare however its beauty is in its size. Small but perfectly formed, the Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea is an excellent example of a well preserved Byzantine building. Inside, visitors can also discover the excellent decorative art, particularly the Mosaic of the Madonna and Child.

Photo by Rev Stan (cc)

Kaunos

Kaunos contains the remains of an ancient Carian city and includes a host of Hellenic, Roman and Byzantine remains – particularly its impressive theatre.

DID YOU KNOW?

Kaunos archaeological site in Turkey contains the remains of this ancient city which has witnessed the rise and fall of several empires, cultures and civilisations over almost 3,000 years of history. Though not as spectacular as many ancient cities in Turkey, it has the advantage of being quieter, tranquil and picturesque.

Founded around the 9th century BC, Kaunos was a Carian city and an important trading port which bordered Lycia and was culturally influenced by its neighbour. Later conquered by the Persian Empire, the city was also altered by the increasing influence of Hellenic culture in the region leading to many ancient Greek-era structures, the ruins of which can still be found in places within the site.

As with the rest of the locality, Kaunos was incorporated into the Roman Empire and later was part of the Byzantine territories. With the Muslim invasions and later the rise of the Ottoman Empire, Kaunos was re-fortified and walls were constructed on the Acropolis.

Ancient writers attested the Malarial nature of Kaunos and it was this, along with earthquakes and the gradual silting of its harbour, which eventually led to the city’s abandonment.

Today, the ruins at Kaunos include a well preserved theatre, which displays both Roman and Hellenistic features, a temple dedicated to Apollo, a Byzantine basilica and Roman baths as well as the spectacular rock tombs - known as the Kings' Tombs - which are situated just outside the archaeological site.

Just to the north-west of the main settlement are the 4th century BC city walls which stretch for 3km – in places they are very well preserved.

Excavations at the site are still continuing and may lead to further areas being opened to the public at a later date.

Contributed by Victoria Haughton

Photo by silverman68 (cc)

Knidos

The picturesque remains of the ancient city of Knidos are a popular tourist attraction, as much for the beautiful coastal views as for the archaic ruins.

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The remains of the ancient Greek city of Knidos, near the modern Turkish town of Datça, are among the most picturesque historic attractions in the region. Perched upon a steep hilltop, looking out over its natural harbour, Knidos boasts stunning views alongside its ancient ruins.

Founded by Greek settlers, Knidos was an important cultural and political centre by the 5th century BC and, with its large natural harbours, the city was also an ancient trading hub. Throughout this period, Knidos was a member of the Dorian Hexapolis - a federation of six cities of Dorian Greek origin - along with Halicarnassus and Kos among others.

The city was famed for its association with Aphrodite and for its famous statue of the goddess, sculpted by the renowned classical sculptor Praxiteles of Athens. While this statue has not survived, a number of copies exist, one of which can be found in the Vatican Museums. At Knidos itself, the ornate marble pedestal that the Aphrodite statue stood upon can still be seen.

Along with the rest of the region, Knidos was later absorbed into the Roman world and the city survived into Byzantine times – as evidenced by the remains of a number of churches on the site.

During the initial excavations in the 19th century a number of impressive statues and artefacts were discovered among the ruins, many of these are now found in the British Museum including the famous Lion Statue and the Statue of Demeter.

Other ruins found at Knidos include temples to Apollo, Dionysus and Aphrodite, ancient theatres, the agora and the remains of Byzantine-era churches. The site also includes a large ancient necropolis spread out over a wide area, much of which has yet to be fully excavated.

Overall, it’s worth pointing out that the ruins of Knidos are not particularly well-preserved compared to other ancient cities in Turkey, and today most visitors come for the views as much as the history.

Contributed by Victoria Haughton

Photo by Historvius

Kourion

Kourion is an impressive archaeological site in Cyprus containing mostly Ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins.

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Kourion, also known as Curium, is an impressive archaeological site near Limassol in Cyprus containing mostly Ancient Roman and Byzantine ruins.

In fact, it is believed that the site of Kourion was first inhabited during Neolithic times, with the earliest evidence dating back to 4500-3900 BC, but that the town itself was founded in the thirteenth century BC by the Argives.

Over the centuries, Kourion has played important roles in many regional conflicts. During the Cypriot uprising against Persia (fifth century BC), its king – Stasanor – betrayed his country, lending his support and troops to the Persians. However, Kourion later supported Alexander the Great’s fight against the Persians (fourth century BC).

Kourion continued to be inhabited throughout the Roman and Byzantine periods, with the establishment of buildings, monuments and other structures from these times still visible today. Perhaps the most memorable site to be seen today at Kourion is its ancient theatre. Still intact and able to seat up to 3,500 spectators, the theatre at Kourion dates back to the second or third century AD, although there would have been a theatre here from the second century BC.

However, the theatre is definitely not the only thing to see at Kourion. The site includes the remains of a third century AD Roman market which includes some public baths and a Nymphaeum.

Several additional ancient buildings remain, including part of the fourth century AD House of Achilles - thought to have been a reception centre - with its mosaic floors and the third century AD House of the Gladiators, so named because some of its mosaics depict gladiatorial battles. The complex of Eustolios is another fascinating site, this having been an affluent fourth to fifth century private residence in Kourion and including a bathing complex.

Kourion also possesses evidence of early Christianity, both at the complex of Eustolios and by way of its early Christian basilica, a fifth century AD church at the site. Other sites of Kourion include the remains of a stadium and the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates. However, it is worth noting that these latter two sites are slightly separate from the rest of the archaeological park.

Photo by Historvius

Melnik

Melnik is said to be Bulgaria’s smallest town yet has quite a few historic buildings, several from the Byzantine and medieval period.

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Melnik is said to be Bulgaria’s smallest town yet has quite a few historic buildings, several from the medieval period. With a history dating back to ancient times, Melnik has been inhabited by a number of peoples, from the Bulgarians to the Byzantines and the Ottomans.

Today, Melnik’s history and architecture is a draw for tourists, who come to see sites such as the ruins of the 13th century St Nicholas Church and the Byzantine House, also from around the same period. Another interesting aspect of Melnik are its Melnishki pyramids, essentially large sand mounds which naturally occur in the area. The town is also not from the Rohzen Monastery.

Museum of Byzantine Culture - Thessaloniki

The Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki explores the history and legacy of the Byzantine era.

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The Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki in Greece is dedicated to exploring various aspects of the Byzantine period, from its beginnings in the third and fourth centuries AD to its fall to the Ottomans in 1453.

As its name suggests, the Museum of Byzantine Culture explores various social aspects relating to this period including politics, ideology, religion and social structures. From mosaics and icons to ecclesiastic objects and everyday utensils, the Museum of Byzantine Culture displays almost 3,000 artefacts from the Byzantine period throughout its eleven rooms, categorising them and creating a chronological narrative for visitors to follow.

Adopting a multifaceted approach, the Museum of Byzantine Culture combines ancient pieces with multimedia presentations to create a picture of Byzantine life.

Photo by erinc salor (cc)

Myra

Myra has one of the best-preserved collections of ancient ruins, and is a perfect place to experience an illustrious period of Greek and Roman history being brought back to life.

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The ancient town of Myra in Lycia gives a unique insight into Turkey’s history and the many different civilisations which influenced the area.

Today a collection of mostly Roman ruins remain which give visitors the opportunity to envisage the bustling centre that is thought to have been established up to 2,500 years ago. Strolling through the Acropolis, the amphitheatre and the Roman baths, visitors can get a tangible feel for daily life in the ancient world.

According to Strabo, Myra was once a large city, making up one of the most influential parts of the Lycian League in the 1st and 2nd centuries BC. This League brought self-rule and semi-independence to Lycia under permission from Rome.

Among the most impressive structures of the ancient city are the two necropoli of Lycian rock-cut tombs carved into Myra’s vertical cliff faces. The most remarkable tomb is known as the ‘Lion’s Tomb’ or the ‘Painted Tomb’, which still has eleven life-size figures in relief on its wall. And these tombs are likely to have been even more extraordinary in the past; when the traveller Charles Fellows visited the site in 1840, all of the tombs on the cliff face were painted in the bright colours of yellow, red, and blue.

Myra’s history has also been marked by a number of notable visitors. In around 60 AD, Saint Paul stopped at the city’s port on his journey to Rome, where he was to face trial after having been arrested for inciting a riot in Jerusalem. In 131 AD, the Emperor Hadrian paid a visit to Myra and built a large granary at Andriace. This granary can still be seen today by driving along the D400 highway into Demre.

However, Myra is perhaps best known for its Byzantine-era Church of St Nicholas (often associated with Santa Claus), who was bishop of Myra in the 4th century AD. Placed on the outskirts of Demre, the church has been a popular site of pilgrimage since it was built in the 6th century and remains a fascinating place of historical and religious interest today. Such was the church’s popularity that it played a role in Myra becoming the leading city for religion and administration in Lycia. Unfortunately Myra’s notability wasn’t to last; in 808 AD Myra was besieged and captured by Abbasid Caliph Harun ar-Rashid, after which it fell into decline. In the 11th century, Myra was once again subjected to invasion, this time by the Seljuk Turks, at which time the relics of St Nicholas were also taken from the city.

The ancient features of the city thankfully survived these invasions, and now help to make Myra an unmissable destination for anyone with an interest in developments in the area from the Ancient Greek period right up to the Byzantine Empire.

Contributed by Siobhan Coskeran

Nokalakevi

An ancient city in Georgia, Nokalakevi contains remains from hundreds of years of ancient occupation and is best known for its massive Byzantine walls.

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Nokalakevi, also known as Archaeopolis meaning "ancient town", is a village and archaeological site in the Senaki region of Georgia. Tracing its roots as far back as the 8th century BC, the site contains remains from a number of cultures and civilisations.

Known during ancient times as Archaeopolis, the city was an important centre within the Kingdom of Colchis and was occupied throughout the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods and archaeological evidence has been found from all these cultures.

The city was the focal point of an intense struggle between Byzantine forces and those of the Persian Empire during the was these great power fought between 540-562AD. The battle for Nokalakevi was chronicled by the Byzantine writer Procopius of Caesarea.

Today visitors to the site can see a number of impressive remains, mostly dating back to the late-Roman and early-Byzantine period dating from the 4th to the 6th centuries AD. Chief among these are the remains of the massive Byzantine outer walls, built in the 6th century to resist Persian attack. Within this outer wall are the remains of two inner walls, dating to the previous two centuries.

Inside the defences are the ruins of the city’s citadel, a number of ancient churches – including the Church of the 40 Martyrs – and the small royal palace. Elsewhere within the Nokalakevi archaeological site you can find the remains of a Roman bathhouse as well as an underground defensive tunnel running under the river Tekhuri. Digs at the site have also revealed an ancient cemetery site, containing burials from throughout Nokalakevi’s period of occupation.

A small museum on the site gives more detail on the history of Nokalakevi as well as hosting various exhibits of artefacts found at Nokalakevi.

Photo by bitmask (cc)

Ozkonak Underground City

Ozkonak is one of many examples of an underground city in Cappadocia which was carved into the mountains in ancient times. It is smaller but far quieter than many of the other underground cities in the region.

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Özkonak Underground City in Cappadocia is one of several ancient settlements which were carved out of solid rock in late antiquity to provide shelter and defence in times of trouble. As much a city carved into the hillside as a city dug underground, Özkonak is smaller but quieter than many of the other underground cities in the region.

Underground cities like that found at Özkonak were scattered all over Byzantine Cappadocia and formed an important aspect of defence for a civilisation that was prey to raids from nearby enemies. Although the cities were undoubtedly utilised by the people of Byzantium, there is great debate as to whether the sites actually originate further back into antiquity, with some suggestions dating the towns to as far back as the Bronze age. The extent of Byzantine excavation and expansion has made ascertaining the dates of the original structures difficult and certainly the Özkonak visited by tourists today can tell us more about the Byzantine culture than any other.

The city itself was built across many levels and these would have housed both families and livestock. Carved into the rock itself, the primary tunnels would have also been used to trap intruders. Moreover, thick millstones propped up from behind made accessing certain tunnels difficult and the city’s residents could direct enemies to their death by leading them down certain more treacherous routes. Indeed, one fascinating aspect of the remains at Özkonak are the narrow holes carved into the ceiling of certain chambers and passageways. These were used not only for ventilation and communication but could also have been utilised by the occupants on upper floors to attack and pour hot oil onto any attackers in the rooms below.

This particular site also boasts a well, a winery and a ventilation shaft – all essential features for a civilisation that could be forced to flee into the mountains for long periods.

Ozkonak was only discovered in 1972, so many of the city’s ten floors are still undergoing cleaning and preservation but there is more than enough open for the eager tourist to explore. A good tip is to visit the website to take the virtual tour and see first-hand what exciting wonders await!

Contributed by Rebecca Lewis

Priene

Priene is a quiet, picturesque ancient Greek city in Turkey which boasts some amazing historical remains without the crowds of the nearby sites. It contains several Byzantine ruins.

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Priene is an ancient Greek city which lies between the popular holiday resorts of Kusadasi and Bodrum.

It is one of many important ancient sites in the area and is close to both Miletus and Ephesus. However, though smaller than other nearby historical attractions, the real charm of Priene lies in its quiet appeal and off-the-beaten-track atmosphere.

The original origins of Priene are unknown, though legend dates the city’s founding to Athenian settlers in the 11th or 10th centuries BC.

Although Priene itself may have never been a major power, it’s location in the heart of a region that constantly witnessed the clashes of empires ensured it saw an almost continual flow of conquerors, occupiers and ‘liberators’.

Originally an ally of Athens, Priene was conquered by the Lydians and then by the Persians in the 6th century BC. The city fought in the ill-feted Ionian Revolt against Darius (which would eventually lead to the Persian invasion of Greece and their defeat at Marathon) and, to punish the rebels, Priene was devastated. This destruction prompted one of many re-locations of the city that took place over the centuries, and the new Priene was founded in around 350 BC.

Built on a steep hillside to an innovative grid-pattern design, Priene was a more ordered construct than many contemporary ancient settlements. However, this new incarnation of Priene did not have to wait long for the next regime change, with Alexander the Great conquering the region in around 334 BC. In fact, Alexander himself dedicated a temple to Athena, the remains of which can still be seen at Priene today. A stone inscription recording this event can be found in the British Museum.

Further rule by the Seleucids and Pergamon followed, before Priene was incorporated into the Roman Republic and Empire. The city suffered during the invasions of King Mithridates of Pontus in the first century BC but recovered to prosper in the early Imperial period under the Emperor Augustus.

In the Byzantine era Priene became the seat of the local Bishop and an important local Christian centre. However, after the Muslim conquest, Priene began a gradual decline which, combined with the slow silting of the coast and harbour led to the eventual abandonment of the city.

Today the ruins of Priene are located next to the modern village of Güllübahçe near the town of Söke. The site remains relatively free of tourists, though several tour companies offer trips from local resorts.

Visitors to Priene can view the Temple of Athena, the ancient theatre and the well preserved council chamber (Bouleuterion). Also found at the site are the remains of Roman baths and gymnasiums, the ruins of an ancient Synagogue and the ‘House of Alexander the Great’ - where it is reported that the young conqueror stayed during his siege of Miletus in 334 BC.

As well as these historic sites, visitors to Priene can simply wander the side streets and houses of this Hellenistic city to explore the ruins in peace and quiet.
 

Photo by Historvius

Sabratha

A picturesque ancient city on Libya’s coast, Sabratha contains some excellent Roman ruins.

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Once a thriving Roman city, the impressive ruins of Sabratha lie approximately fifty miles west of Triopli, alongside the modern town of the same name.

Remarkably picturesque, the ruins of Sabratha look out across the Mediterranean and give modern visitors an insight into why this location served the ancient trading routes so well.

Much like Leptis Magna, Sabratha itself was a Roman conquest rather than a Roman creation, starting life as a Phoenician city before becoming part of the Numidian Kingdom and eventually falling under Roman control. The city flourished throughout the 2nd and 3rd centuries before a series of elements combined to cause its decline and eventual abandonment. A devastating earthquake struck Sabratha in the late 4th century (likely to have been around 365 AD) while the city suffered during the Vandal invasions and Byzantine Reconquest.

Much of what can be seen at Sabratha today was partially or wholly reconstructed by the Italians in the early 20th century – particularly under Mussolini who gave speeches from the ancient theatre.

Today, visitors can explore an impressive set of ruins, including the three-storey theatre, several temples and the remarkable remains of luxury Roman villas, which boast well preserved mosaics. Also found at Sabratha is the Byzantine-era Basilica of Justinian.

A good place to start your exploration is at the museum, which contains background information, exhibits and artefacts.

Check the official advice of your country’s foreign office before considering travelling to Libya.

Photo by offwhitehouse (cc)

Simena

The ruins of Simena are spread along beautiful beaches and submerged under crystal clear waters. Enjoy spectacular views from the crusader castle or explore an authentic Lycian Necropolis.

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The remains of ancient Simena, now modern Kaleköy in the Kekova region, form one of the most impressive historical places in Turkey. The city’s striking crusader castle combines with a wealth of partly submerged ancient ruins and the beautiful Mediterranean waters to produce a truly inspiring place to explore.

Indeed, it comes as no surprise that Simena is an environmentally protected site; this unspoilt harbour town is surrounded by blue skies, white sand and a wealth of archaeological wonder. The surviving ancient ruins date to as far back as the 4th Century BC but most of the sites to have survived are from the Roman and Byzantine periods.

Although a member of the Lycian League, Simena’s coastal location afforded it a degree of independence from Lycian affairs, instead Simena was a small port town for traders of the wider Mediterranean. Certainly pirates saw promise in the treasures of Simena and the problem of piracy is prominent throughout the town’s history. The coastline was militarised to deal with the threat and Simena boasts the remnants of a crusader castle, erected by the Knights of Rhodes (an order of the Knights Hospitaller) atop earlier fortifications.

Today this historic castle is probably the most renowned of Simena’s sights and tourists can visit the castle which also possesses its own small ancient theatre among other remains. The well preserved ruins also offer great views of the surrounding countryside and the idyllic coastline.

While many of the ruins were submerged when Simena was prey to earthquakes in the 2nd century AD, many points of historical note still remain. It is evident, for example, that Roman Baths c79AD were dedicated to the Flavian Emperor Titus during his short reign by the townsfolk of Simena, and inscriptions that decorate the ruins are ready to be deciphered by the eager Latin historian.

If you’re brave enough, Simena is also home to a Lycian necropolis or burial ground. The sarcophagi are large structures which can be accessed on foot; many of them still remain scattered along the nearby hill side. A Byzantine wall also surrounds the village, while the remnants of a Temple to Poseidon can be discovered nearby.

However, one of the most fascinating aspects of site are the numerous remains which are now underwater. Visitors can see Lycian tombs protruding from the coastal waters along with half-submerged ancient houses. In fact, a small but thriving boat-tours industry has now established itself to serve the needs of visiting tourists – though more challenging canoeing tours are also available in the village while renting a yacht is another option for tourists looking to get the most out of their visit to this spectacular site.

Today, Simena provides a scenic backdrop for visitors that travel year round by both land and sea to experience the awe inspiring history of the city; what was once a small fishing village is now an idyllic coastal treasure trove for the tourist and the historian alike.

Contributed by Rebecca Lewis

St Savior in Chora

St Savior in Chora, Turkey is an eleventh century church turned mosque and, more recently, a museum known as Kariye Muzesi.

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St Savior in Chora (Kariye Camii) is an eleventh century church turned mosque and, more recently, a museum known as Kariye Muzesi (Chora Museum).

Originally built within a Christian complex outside the boundary of Constantinople’s walls, St Savior in Chora derived its name from its countryside setting, "in chora" meaning "rural". However, the building of St Savior in Chora we see today is a newer incarnation, having been built in the eleventh century and turned into a mosque in the sixteenth century.

Today, a highlight of visiting St Savior in Chora is its incredible set of Byzantine mosaics dating to the fourteenth century, when the church underwent redecoration. Hidden by plaster during its time as a mosque, these works now remain beautifully preserved.

Photo by samurai_dave (cc)

Sumela Monastery

A 13th century monastery nestled into the cliff-face of the Zigana Mountains, this picturesque Byzantine monastery is located in a scenic, mountainous setting.

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Perched on the edge of a sheer cliff-face 300 meters high in the heart of beautiful Altindere National Park, stands Sumela Monastery, a picturesque Byzantine monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

According to tradition the monastery was founded by Barnabas and Sophranius, two Athenian priests who visited the region during the reign of Theodosius I. Legend has it that the icon of the Virgin Mary, believed to have been the work of Saint Luke, was carried to the Zigana Mountains of Trabzon by angels, only to be discovered by Barnabas and Sophranius on their journey from Athens to the region. It is this icon of the Virgin Mary, arguable depicted in the style of a Black Madonna, which makes Sumela Monastery such a prized possession for the people of Trabzon and the Black Sea region.

While the ancient structures which may have stood on the site have not survived, the monastery which can be seen today is believed to have been founded in the 13th century AD, and further enlarged by Trebizond Emperor Alexios III sometime between 1349 and 1390. During the 1700s many parts of the monastery were expanded and renovated, with the addition of frescoes and a silver frame surrounding the icon.

In the 19th century new structures and buildings were added, including guest accommodation, and it became a popular destination for European writers. The monastery was finally closed in 1923 after the Turkish War of Independence following World War One, with a fire in 1930 destroying all wooden parts of the structure. Following the fire there was severe looting and the majority of the works of art are now in various museums around the world.

Whilst much of the artwork and frescoes have deteriorated beyond recognition, there are examples of Turkish artwork on exhibition in the courtyard and surrounding buildings, including examples of cupboards, fireplaces and other furniture. Manuscripts, books and documents found at the monastery have since been catalogued and are now on display at the Ankara Museum and the Ayasofya museum in Istanbul. Valuable items such as plates and crosses from the monastery are on display at the Museum of Byzantine Works in Athens, and the Icon, ‘Our Lady of the Roses’ is on display in the National Gallery in Dublin.

Today the monastery is reached via an incredibly narrow, steep path and staircase through the forest, initially chosen for defensive purposes. No trace remains of the large, ten-arched aqueduct that used to provide water to the monastery, instead all that remains is ruins. The frescoes on the inner and outer walls of the church are recent, with earlier works believed to be underneath these newer additions. This practice of re-painting older murals with newer frescoes is most obvious in the church carved into the rock of the inner courtyard, where inscriptions date back to 1710. It is also believed that frescoes from the reign of Alexios, including those of his sons, were also found on these walls, but no evidence exists today.

Recently the monastery has been granted restoration work, funded by the Turkish government, and there has been an influx of tourists and pilgrimages from Greece and Russia.

Contributed by Ros Gammie

Photo by Historvius

The Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is an underground wonder and one of Istanbul’s best Byzantine sites.

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The Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Saray) is a subterranean wonder and one of the greatest - and certainly the biggest - of Istanbul’s surviving Byzantine sites. With its imposing columns, grand scale and mysterious ambience, this subterranean site seems like a flooded palace, but it is in fact a former water storage chamber.

Built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in around 532AD, the Basilica Cistern measures approximately 453 feet by 212 feet and would have stored around 80,000 cubic metres of water at a time to supply the palace as well as the city of Byzantium. At the time, it was located underneath the square known as the Stoa Basilica, hence its name.

Today, visitors can explore the Basilica Cistern, treading its raised platforms to view its 336 beautiful marble columns, enjoy its vaulted ceilings and experience its eerie nature complete with dripping water. Amongst the highlights at the Basilica Cistern are two mysterious columns depicting the head of the mythological figure Medusa. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Turkey.

The Shiloach Pool

The Shiloach Pool in Jerusalem is thought to date back to the Byzantine period.

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The Shiloach Pool or “Pool of Siloam” in Jerusalem is mentioned in the bible and the current site is believed by archaeologists to date back to the Byzantine period.

It would have been fed by Hezekiah's Tunnel. It is believed that this pool was originally one of two, the second, larger one having existed during the period of the Second Temple (516 BC-70 AD).

Now part of the City of David National Park, the Shiloach Pool contains fragments of pillars thought to have derived from the Shiloach Church.

The White Tower of Thessaloniki

The White Tower of Thessaloniki, is a cylindrical stone tower monument and museum in the city of Thessaloniki, capital of the Macedonian region of northern Greece.

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The White Tower of Thessaloniki (in greek Lefkos Pyrgos), is a cylindrical stone tower monument and museum in the city of Thessaloniki, capital of the Macedonian region of northern Greece.

The White Tower of Thessaloniki

Constructed by the Ottomans in the 15th Century, it was originally built to help defend the city's harbour and replaced an older Byzantine structure. However, the White Tower of Thessaloniki later gained a far more sinister reputation when it became an infamous prison and the scene of executions during the Ottoman period.

Once Greece gained control of the city, the White Tower of Thessaloniki was substantially remodelled and its exterior whitewashed, hence the name ‘White Tower’. It has since been adopted as the symbol of the city.

The History of Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki itself was founded around 316/315 BC by Cassander, the King of Macedonia. Cassander named the city after his wife, the sister of Alexander the Great. Built in a region rich in productive sources, Thessaloniki was protected by the mountain of Hortiatis, deep in Thermaikos Gulf, which provided ships with safety and open communication to the sea.

Cosmopolitan in antiquity, as shown by the worship of various gods both from Ancient Greece and from abroad, Thessaloniki was first acquainted with Christianity in 50 AD, when St. Paul the Apostle visited it for the first time and taught at a Jewish synagogue.

During the Byzantine era, there were periods when Thessaloniki was the second most important city after Constantinople, the ‘First after the First’, as Byzantine writers called it. During the Ottoman occupation, Thessaloniki retained its importance, being the largest urban centre in the European part of the Ottoman Empire, with a multiracial society.

In 1912 the city was incorporated into the Greek state. Due to its geopolitical location, Thessaloniki has always been a crossroads where people of different religious and cultural origins met and coexisted for long periods of time. However, the city steadily maintained its Greek character, which was enhanced with the settlement of Asian Minor refugees in 1922.

The White Tower of Thessaloniki Museum

The museum that is found within the White Tower presents exhibitions covering the city’s history through time. It is intended to help visitors and residents to get better acquainted with the city, its monuments and its museums.

Visitors can also get great views of the city from the top floor of the White Tower.
 

Timgad

The ruins of Timgad are the extremely well-preserved remains of an Ancient Roman military encampment in Algeria. It was once of several ancient Roman and Byzantine sites restored under Emperor Justinian.

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The ruins of Timgad in Algeria are an impressive set of ancient Roman remains and rank among the best such ruins in North Africa.

Founded by the Emperor Trajan in 100 AD, the settlement of Timgad, then known as Thamugas, was probably a base for the Third Augustan Legion.

Timgad was both a military colony and an incentive to the African people to serve in the Roman army, as anybody who did so for twenty-five years would have a home in the base. An interesting point to note about the ruins of Timgad is that all of the homes built there were similar in size, a sign of equality amongst Rome’s citizens. The original settlement was a perfect square, spanning an area measuring 355 square metres.

Timgad continued to grow throughout the second century and reached its zenith during the reign of Septimius Severus, from which most of the current buildings date.

Much of Timgad was damaged in the fifth century and, despite a brief Byzantine revival of the settlement under Justinian, it was finally destroyed during the seventh century Arab invasion and abandoned by the eighth century.

Today, the vast ruins of Timgad are a well preserved UNESCO World Heritage site. Amongst other things, visitors can view the remains of a stunning second century Trajan arch, a 3,500-capacity theatre, a forum and a series of fourteen bath complexes. There is even a library and the remains of temples and churches, the latter demonstrating the later prominent Christian presence in Timgad.

The ruins of Timgad have been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1982.

Photo by Historvius

Umm Qais

Umm Qais, also spelt Umm Qays, houses the remains of Gadara, one of the Decapolis cities and contains an array of Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins.

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Present day Umm Qais has within it the remains of one of the ancient Decapolis cities, the Greco-Roman settlement of Gadara.

Probably established by the Greeks in the 4th century BC, Gadara was taken by the Seleucids and, in 63BC, by the Romans led by Pompey. It would later fall under the remit of King Herod. At its peak, Gadara was a creative and intellectual hub, home to famous poets, mathematicians, philosophers and poets.

For Christians, Gadara is also said to be the site where Jesus performed the Gadarene swine miracle.

Today, Umm Qais still has remnants of Gadara including a theater, churches, shops, a nymphaeum, baths, and paved roads. One interesting part of the sites in Umm Qais is that many of the structures, such as the theater, were made out of black basalt. There are also Byzantine-era elements built atop the original Roman ruins.

With the rolling hills of Jordan, Syria, and Israel and Lake Tiberias (the Sea of Galilee) enclosing the area, Umm Qais is also very picturesque.

Varna Necropolis

Varna necropolis consists of merely 300 excavated burials from the 5th millennium BC and contains the world greatest amount of manufactured gold for the time.

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Varna Necropolis is the site of some 300 excavated burials from the 5th millennium BC which are said to have once contained the world’s greatest amount of manufactured gold for the time. Today, many findings from Varna Necropolis – also known as the Eneolithic Necropolis – are displayed at the Varna Archaeological Museum.

Photo by By Ramblurr (cc)

Yedikule Zindanlari

Yedikule Zindanlari is an impressive Byzantine and medieval fort in Istanbul. One of several Byzantine sites in the city.

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Yedikule Zindanlari, also known as the Yedikule Fortress or the Castle of the Seven Towers, is an impressive Byzantine and medieval fort in Istanbul.

Originally part of the Theodosian Wall, built by Theodosius II in the fifth century, Yedikule Fortress was added to over the centuries, including by Mehmet the Conqueror during the Ottoman period. The Ottomans used Yedikule Zindanlari as a stronghold, a prison (zindanlari means dungeons) and a treasury. In 1622, Yedikule Zindanlari became the site of the execution of the seventeen year old Sultan Osman II.

Today, this imposing fort is open to the public, although it’s probably not ideal for children due to a lack of safety features. As implied in the name, visitors to Yedikule Zindanlari can see its dungeons as well as walking along its well-preserved walls and battlements.

Photo by Benh LIEU SONG (cc)

Zelve Open Air Museum

Spread out over three monastic valleys, Zelve, around 10km from Göreme on the Avanos road is a visually stunning town of homes and churches carved into the rocks and it was continually inhabited from the ninth century until as recently as 1952.

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Zelve Open Air Museum in the Cappadocia region is one of the most visually stunning historical sites in Turkey. Originally a Byzantine-era (9th century) monastery, it is reputed to be both one of the earliest settled and last-abandoned monasteries in the entire region. The ‘museum’ houses the oldest known examples of Cappadocian architecture and religious paintings.

The honeycomb-esque spaces include religious and secular chambers and pointed fairy chimneys and in the 400 years between the 9th and 13th centuries, four churches were built whose remains stand to this day despite nature’s best efforts at erosion.

The earliest built was the Direkli Church, famous for its standing columns and iconoclastic-doctrine high relief crosses and there followed the Balikli Church dedicated to fish, the Uzümlü Church (grapes) and the – now collapsed beyond recognition – Geyikli Church (deer). You can still see feint paintings on the remaining stone church walls as well as minaret that has survived the tests of time.

Over the centuries that followed, Christians and Muslims (during the Ottoman rule) lived perfectly happily side by side and after almost a millennium of continuous occupation, the government deemed the town too fragile to live in due to erosion. In 1952 the last inhabitants were relocated 2km away in the town of Aktepe which was affectionately renamed ‘Yeni Zelve’ or New Zelve.

Tours of the Zelve Open Air Museum take around two hours and thanks to the beauty of the location there are lots of open-air festivals and concerts as well as gift stalls and traditional Turkish restaurants serving famous local delicacies such as gözleme and ayran – stuffed flatbreads and a typically Turkish yoghurt drink.