There was a knot in my stomach as I walked past clothing shops displaying life-jackets for sale. Inflatable rafts, some designed to carry two people, three at most. Diesel motors lined-up on the street outside shops that sell tourist souvenirs inside. While the rest of the world debates the migrant/refugee lexicon, in Izmir the inflow of Syrians has decisively created a multi-million dollar "raft economy" that supplies provisions for their sometimes fatal exit across the border into the European Union.
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Ancient Smyrna was located north of Ephesus in a powerful trading position on the Aegean Sea known for its harbors, commerce, and marketplaces. The primary ruins of ancient Smyrna, including its massive city market (agora) and underground sanitation system, are located in the middle of the modern Turkish city of Izmir. Since Izmir is a bustling city with the second largest population in Turkey, very little of ancient Smyrna has been excavated.
St. John Church
Monument (Basilica) of St. JohnThe Basilica of St. John on the southern part of the Ayasuluk Hill was dedicated to the gospel writer and young apostle whom Jesus most loved. First, a simple mausoleum was built for John the Apostle. In the 5th century AD, a basilica with a wooden roof was constructed on the same site. This basilica became unusable due to the earthquakes in early 6th century AD. Emperor Justinian (527-565) and his wife Theodora built a new cruciform basilica with three naves and six domes.The basilica is entered through the large narthex gate on the western side. The four small columns at the center of the bema belong to the ciborium. During former excavations, three graves were found in the crypt beneath it. The one in the middle of them is supposed to belong to John the Apostle. However, during the excavations, nothing was found in the graves. In fact, it is known that these graves were empty since the 13th century and that sacred relics had been transferred to the Church of the Holy Apostles in Istanbul earlier. The columns surrounding the bema and decorated architraves originate from the Middle Byzantine Period (10-12th centuries). Those and the synthronon were restored in recent years.
We caught the last train out of Izmir that night with a heavy heart. The busy square outside the arterial Basmane station is where a big chunk of the refugee economy ensues, where smugglers congregate and solicit clients. Under the setting sun, men, women and children wait on the sidewalk holding black trash bags – a waterproof solution for their belongings. The apparent lack of guise or pretence was disarming. I naively wondered if they knew what lay ahead. Have they seen the pictures, heard the stories?As travelers, we are often witness to the geopolitics of conflict. Both best and worst of humanity’s track record is often on display, sometimes lurking behind a façade of tourism. It is tough to be back home now and come to terms with whether I should have stayed and tried to help.
Day 8: Pamukkale Laodicea Philadelphia - Sardis Izmir. Wake up to the sounds of birds and don't miss a morning swim in the hotel's thermal pool before visiting the ancient city of Hierapolis, an ancient Roman city, where St. Philip was martyred during the persecutions ordered by Domitian. Hierapolis is located on the top of a hill where you can see the famous natural wonder, the White Cotton Fortress. Your next stop is Laodicea, one of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor [Rev. 1:11; 3:14; Col. 2:1; 4:13-16]. When you see the city of Hierapolis from a distance, you may have an idea why the Laodicians were "neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm" as it reads in the Bible. Following this nice little isolated old town, visit Philadelphia and Sardis. Philadelphia "the perfect church," was the only church which John had no real criticism (Rev. 3: 7-13). After a short drive, we reach Sardis-the dead church. Remember 'you seem alive, but you are actually dead'. Overnight in Izmir. Includes: (Breakfast, Dinner. Day 9: Izmir - Ephesus - Izmir. St Polycarp Church will be the first to host you this morning. In an hour's time you will be ready, after a short visit to traditional house of the Virgin Mary, to visit the ancient city of Ephesus where St. Paul lived and preached for more than two and a half years and to where he subsequently sent his letter to the Ephesians. We see the Baths of Scholastica, the Library of Celsus, the Temple of Hadrian, the theater, the Double Church (The Church of Mary) where the third ecumenical council was convened in A. D. 431. Then, we visit the Basilica of St. John where St. John was buried, the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, which was once one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Overnight in Izmir. Includes: (Breakfast, Dinner).