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Religious centers you can visit in a cradle of civilisations, Turkey

Turkey has been home to numerous civilizations over, each leaving a special mark, making Turkey a center of different beliefs, religions and places of worship. From Istanbul, Manisa, Hatay to Mardin, there is a wealth of religion, history and architecture for you to explore at these fascinating religious centers.

1. Selimiye Mosque

Built in the name of Sultan Selim II in the 16th century, Selimiye Mosque, with its technical perfection, dimensions and aesthetic values, is considered as one of the greatest works of back then and the following periods. Labeled as his masterpiece by Mimar Sinan, Selimiye Mosque has been accepted into UNESCO World Heritage List in 2011.

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2. Grand Synagogue of Edirne

Began to be constructed by the French architect France Depre in 1906 to replace 14 former synagogues that had been reduced to ashes in the great fire of 1905, the Grand Synagogue of Edirne opened for religious service in 1907 with the name “Kal Kados ha Godal”. As Balkan’s biggest and Europe’s third biggest synagogue, it had been used actively for service until the 1960s.

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3. Ahrida Synagogue

Located in the Balat district of Istanbul and began being constructed in the 15th century, Ahrida Synagogue got its name from current day Ohrid in North Macedonia as it was the hometown of the builders who migrated to Istanbul. Synagogue’s “teva” (torah reading pulpit) resembles the prow of a ship. According to one legend, it is made so that it evokes Noah’s Ark, while according to another it symbolizes the galleys that brought the Sephardic’s to Ottoman Empire from Spain.

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4. Sveti Stefan Church

Subsidiary of the Bulgarian Exarchy in Balat, Sveti Stefan Church is the only iron church in the world that’s been able to be preserved. Cast iron framework of the church was prepared in Vienna and brought to Istanbul over Danube River and Black Sea in 1892. It’s been constructed by Armenian architect Hovsep Aznavour.

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5. Büyükada Hagia Yorgi Church

Located in Yüce Tepe (204 meters high), which is one of the higher spots in Büyükada, Hagia Yorgi Church (also referred to as Agios Georgios Greek Orthodox Monastery) is built in 1751. Visited mostly on the dates of April 23rd and September 24th by people from various beliefs, Hagia Yorgi Church is also known as “the church that grants wishes”.

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6. Neve Shalom Synagogue

Opened on March 25th, 1951, 10.30 AM with a ceremony held by the leader of the congregation Rav Rafael Saban, Neve Shalom Synagogue has a dome that carries an immensely heavy chandelier and glasses that were imported from England.

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7. Blue Mosque

Constructed by Sedefkar Mehmed Ağa between the years 1609 and 1617, after being instructed by Sultan Ahmed. Blue Mosque started to be called with this name by Europeans referring to it’s green and white İznik tiles and it’s blue-heavy ornamentations. Blending the traditional Islamic architecture with the Byzantine influences borrowed from its neighboring Hagia Sophia, it is the biggest of the late classical era mosques.

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8. Hagia Sophia Museum

Began being constructed in 360, it is one of the most important landmarks of the world’s architectural heritage that’s been able to be preserved to this day. Hagia Sophia, with its design, magnificence and function, is among the most valuable monuments in history. Hagia Sophia is the biggest church that Eastern Roman Empire has built in Istanbul.

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9. The Patriarchal Cathedral Church of St. George

It was constructed by Saint Andrea, an apostle of Christ, in the 4th century. Church of St. George has gained a special place in the Orthodox world by having been located in the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and being the principal cathedral among the Orthodox churches.

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10. Süleymaniye Mosque

Constructed by Mimar Sinan between the years 1551 and 1557, Süleymaniye Mosque survived over a hundred earthquakes without sustaining any damage. Regarded as one of the most magnificent examples of classical Ottoman architecture, it’s 4 minarets represent Suleiman the Magnificent’s place as the 4th Sultan of the empire following the conquest of Constantinople and it’s 10 balconies represent this place as the 10th Sultan of the empire.

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11. Iznik Hagia Sophia Mosque

One of the important temples in world history, Hagia Sophia was constructed by Byzantines as a basilica over the Gymnasium built by the Romans in the 7th century. It was renovated after the earthquake in the 11th century. After the conquest of İznik by Orhan Gazi in 1331, it was converted to a mosque and during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent and it was renovated again by Mimar Sinan.

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12. Grand Mosque of Bursa

Constructed between the years 1396 and 1400 during the reign of Yıldırım Bayezid, Grand Mosque is the first monumental multi-domed structure amongst the Ottoman mosques. It has a sixteen-sided pond with a fountain in the middle with three basins circling it. Grand Mosque is regarded as the 5th highest degree mosque in Islam.

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13. Thyateira Church

One of the seven churches of the Book of Revelation, meaning one of the first seven churches of Christianity, Thyateira Church was constructed in Manisa (formerly Thyateira) in the 3rd century. Connecting two of the important centers of ancient times, Pergamon and Sardis, it became a point of interest for Christians from all over the world.

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14. St. Jean Church

Constructed in 600 and located in Manisa, St. Jean Church, with the height and diam of its columns and the way they connect with the arch, is one of the most important works of the Byzantine era. One of the seven churches of the Book of Revelation, it is also known as Philadelphia Church.


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15. Ancient City of Sardis

Built in 1300 BC as the capital of Kingdom of Lydia in the Iron Age, the Ancient City of Sardis is the birthplace of the coin as we know it today. Home to one of the seven churches in Western Anatolia that was essential in the expansion of Christianity towards the west, Sardis was accepted into UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 2013.

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16. House of Virgin Mary

Located on Mount Koressos in the Ancient City of Ephesus located in Izmir, a sanctuary for Catholics and Muslims both, it is discovered in the 19th century after the reported dreams that a Catholic priestess Anne Catherine Emmerich had.

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17. Ancient City of Laodicea

Located in the 6 kilometers north of Denizli, Hellenistic Ancient City of Laodicea is built in the 3rd century BC, in the name of Laodicea who was the wife to the Seleucid king Antiochus II. Since it became a seat of Christianity and a bishopric after the 4th century AD and was recognized as a holy pilgrimage site, it has great importance for the Christian world.

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18. St. Nicholas Church

More commonly known as the church of Santa Claus, St. Nicholas Church with its architectural style and ornamentations, was fully constructed by the 11th century, and it is one of the most outstanding examples of middle Byzantine period that has reached to this day.

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19. Ancient City of Pisidia

Located in Isparta where the Mediterranean, Aegean and Central Anatolia intersect in the “Lake District”, the city sits upon a hill 1236 meters high. It was built by Seleucid dynasty in the 3rd century BC. Since Saint Paul visited the place and preached Christianity, it is recognized as a holy pilgrimage site and is still visited by Orthodox Christians every year. There are numerous other holy places to explore along the St. Paulus Trail as well ancient city. The first part of the trail starts at Perge and passes Kursunlu Waterfall and ends at the ancient city of Sutculer Island Ancient City. The second stage runs from Aspendos, Koprulu Canyon, Selge, Kerime, Kasımlar and joins with the first trail at Adada and extends from Davras and Eğirdir Barla mountain to Yalvaç. Remember to use ancient paths throughout the walk.

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20. Mevlana Museum

Started to be constructed in 1273 after the death of Mevlana (Rumi), the mausoleum sits on four elephant-foot columns and is a Seljuk masterpiece. Museum grounds is 6500 square meters but with the addition of new areas arranged as rose gardens, it covers 18000 square meters in total.

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21. St. Paul Monument Museum

Constructed in 1856 and converted to a monument museum in 2001, the church is the biggest of all churches built in the name of St. Paul. The murals on the ceiling depicting Christ, John, Matthew and Lucas, is world-renowned.

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22. St. Pierre Monument Museum

Hatay’daki Saint Pierre Kilisesi, Haç (Stauris) Dağı'nın batısında kayalara oyulmuş 13 m derinliğinde, 9.5 m genişliğinde ve 7 m yüksekliğinde bir mağaradan oluşuyor. Hatay’daki ilk Hristiyanların gizli toplantıları için kullandıkları bu mağara, Hristiyan tarihinin en eski kiliselerinden biri olarak kabul ediliyor. 12 havariden biri olan Aziz Petrus’un ilk vaazını verdiği yer olduğuna ve cemaatin, Hristiyan adını bu kilisede aldığına inanılıyor. Kesin inşa tarihi bilinmeyen kilise, 1983 yılında Papa 4. Paul tarafından Hristiyanlar için Kutsal Hac Merkezi ilan edildi.

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23. Saint Theodoros Trion Church

One of the monuments of the 19th century, Saint Theodoros Trion Church is famous for it’s bell tower. Also known as Üzümlü Church, every year in May a spring ceremony is held here by Patriarch Bartholomew I.

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24. Hacı Bektaş Veli Complex

Constructed in the 13th century for one of the greatest thinkers in the history of Islam, Hacı Bektaş Veli mausoleum is not just considered a historical structure but a center where the Bektashi teachings which see and accept everyone as equals. It is still felt in this day and it is where these teachings expanded into the world from.

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25. Hacı Bayram Mosque

Started construction in 1427, Hacı Bayram Mosque got its name from the mausoleum in its garden, of the founder of the Bayrami sect, poet Hacı Bayram Veli. It’s been said that Bayrami is the first Turkish sect in history and it played an important role in the unification of the Anatolian peoples. Located next to the Temple of Augustus, the mosque is renovated in 1714 and gained characteristics of the 18th century.

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26. Yılanlı (Snake) Church

Located in the Ihlara Valley and housing murals dated back to the 9th and 12th century, according to the legends the church got its name from six snake figures emerging from the priest’s grave. Housing tablets depicting four sinner women getting attacked by eight snakes and murals depicting Helena holding the Ture Cross, Saint Onuphrius, Saint Theodore and Saint George, the church is one of the most interesting structures in the region.

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27. Al Nazar Church

Carved into a fairy chimney in the Al Nazar Valley in the 10th century, the murals in the Al Nazar Church chronologically depicts the time since Christ’s childhood to His ascension. Aside from scenes from the Holy Bible, the depictions of Emperor Constantine and his mother Helen is also worth seeing.

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28. Divriği Great Mosque and Hospital

Started to be constructed by its chief architect Hürrem Shah from Ahlat, son of Mughith (Khurramshāh b. Mughīth al-Khilātī) in 1228 and completed in 1543, the structure consists of a mosque with two domes and an adjacent hospital. With its rich and detailed examples of traditional Anatolian stonemasonry, the mosque was accepted into UNESCO World Heritage List. Another feature of the mosque is that when viewed from the front, many motifs in the decor seems symmetrical to the eye, but in reality, they are asymmetrical and are never repeated in the ornamentations.

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29. Cehennemağzı Caves

Consisting of three adjacent caves in the Ereğli district of Zonguldak, Cehennemağzı (Hellmouth) Caves are also known as “Acheron Caves”. In mythology, it is the gate where Hercules descended to the land of the dead in order to drag hellhound Cerberus to the surface. First of the caves is also known as the church cave and the columns, capitals, mosaic pavements and candle alcoves indicate that it’s been used by first Christians as a secret place of worship. The remnants found in this cave are all embellished with motifs influenced by early Christian period.

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30. Behramshah Mosque

Constructed in the name of Mengujekid ruler Fahreddin Behramshah by his son Muzafferüddin Mehmed in the 12th century, the mosque consists of congregational area covered by three domes and a harem area covered by one dome. Regarded as one of the most successful examples of Seljuk architecture, the Behramshah Mosque is the first known Seljuk monument in the Black Sea region.


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31. Soumela Monastery

Believed to be constructed by two priests from Athens in 365, the monastery was renovated and expanded in the 6th century by the order of Justinian. With the addition of grand buildings in the 19th century, the monastery got even more awe-inspiring. It got this name from the word “melas” which means “black”.


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32. Twin Minarets Madrasa

A Seljuk monument and the symbol of Erzurum, the Twin Minarets Madrasa was constructed by the daughter of Seljuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad, Hundi Hatun. Especially the decorations on the cap stone of the madrasa is one of the most impressive examples of Seljuk stonemasonry.

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33. Ancient City of Ani

Constructed by Armenian King Gagik I in 1001 and seen many wars, the Ancient City of Ani was an important center in the region. Also known as the "City of 1001 Churches", Ani has been home to many civilizations throughout the years. Located on the border between Turkey and Armenia, 40 churches, chapels and mausoleums were discovered in Ani to this day.

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34. Cathedral of the Holy Cross

Constructed in 915, Cathedral of the Holy Cross is considered as one of the most important middle age Armenian works of art. The exterior of the church is covered with scenes from the Holy Book. According to legends, it was built to house a piece of the True Cross smuggled from Jerusalem to Iran and brought to Van.

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35. Dome of Islam, Old City of Ahlat

Dating back to 8000 BC, Kubbat al-Islam (Dome of Islam) with its cave houses and nature, is one of the most culturally rich areas of Bitlis. The title Kubbat al-Islam has only been given to three cities in all of history.

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36. Mor Gabriel Monastery

Located in the 23 kilometers southeast of Midyat region of Mardin which is known as the homeland of the Syriacs, Mor Gabriel Monastery’s foundation has been laid in 397 on a high hill covered with oak trees. It is also the most important mausoleum in the region because the saints who lost their lives throughout the times have been buried in graves built in 15 separate niches in the monastery.

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