Thoughts of faith-based travel often evoke images of Jerusalem or Buddhist temples, but for practitioners of the world’s major monotheistic religions, Turkey—often dubbed as “the other Holy Land”—provides a unique opportunity to experience some of the lesser-known sites of importance for these faiths. While some travelers seek rest and relaxation, others are in pursuit of a deeper connection with their faith.
As an east-meets-west crossroads of many religions and cultures, Turkey has something to offer your Jewish, Christian and Muslim clients, or for those simply looking to add a spiritual element to their trip.
Although there is a great deal of overlap amongst these religions, certain sites in Turkey are more heavily associated with one monotheistic religion as opposed to another.
For your Christian clients, a trip to Tarsus, the birthplace of St. Paul, often regarded as one of the founders of the Christian faith after Jesus’ death, may be of interest. St. Paul preached the gospel throughout Turkey for several years, including from a cave in Antioch, which is now known as St. Paul’s Grotto—a must-visit for your Christian clients as it was recognized by the papacy in 1963 as the world’s first cathedral. Christian visitors will also want to pay a visit to the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus where Mary, the mother of Jesus, is said to have lived out her final years.
The crowning jewel of Christendom in Turkey can be found in the capital city: the Basilica of the Hagia Sophia. The Basilica was originally built as a Greek Orthodox church before being converted into a mosque; now, it serves as a museum that draws in people of all faiths and walks of life to marvel at its architecture.
Jewish clients in search of sites that reflect the history of their faith can head to to Sanliurfa, also known as the City of Prophets, where according to local tradition, Abraham was born. His home can also be found in the nearby village of Harran.
For a glimpse of how early Jews integrated into Roman life as late as the third century A.D., an impressive archaeological site in Sardis includes the ruins of a synagogue adorned with marble mosaics and geometric patterns. Slightly more modern temples can be found in Istanbul, home to a large percentage of Turkey’s Jewish community, and where your clients can explore the city’s Jewish Quarter in Galata and visit the 19-century Neve Shalom Synagogue. Istanbul is also home to the Jewish Museum of Turkey, which is housed inside the Zulfaris Synagogue.
With the holy relics of Islam also located in Turkey, your Muslim clients can find ways to connect with their faith in “the other Holy Land,” too. Inside Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace, where the Koran has been continually recited for more than 500 years, is the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle. This Pavilion is home to the Holy Relics Room where visitors can see on display the Prophet Mohammed’s bow, his footprint, and his mantle, plus the keys to the Kaaba in Mecca. The Tomb and Mosque of Eyup Sultan, which sits atop the believed burial site of Mohammed’s standard bearer and closest friend, can also be found in Istanbul.
Whether your clients are fervent believers of Judaism, Christianity, Islam or not, faith-based travel in Turkey presents opportunities to explore the history of all three of these religions.
For more information, visit goturkeytourism.com.