İznik (Nicaea) is a city in Turkey which is primarily known as the site of the First and Second Councils of Nicaea, the first and seventh Ecumenical councils in the early history of the Christian church, the Nicene Creed, and as the capital city of the Empire of Nicaea. It served as the interim capital city of the Byzantine Empire between 1204 and 1261, following the Fourth Crusade in 1204, until the recapture of Constantinople by the Byzantines in 1261.
The city lies in a fertile basin at the eastern end of Lake �znik, bounded by ranges of hills to the north and south. It is situated with its west wall rising from the lake itself, providing both protection from siege from that direction, as well as a source of supplies which would be difficult to cut off. The lake is large enough that it cannot be blockaded from the land easily, and the city was large enough to make any attempt to reach the harbour from shore-based siege weapons very difficult.
The city is surrounded on all sides by 5 km ( 3 miles ) of walls about 10 m ( 33 ft ) high. These are in turn surrounded by a double ditch on the land portions, and also include over 100 towers in various locations. Large gates on the three landbound sides of the walls provide the only entrance to the city.
Today the walls are pierced in many places for roads, but much of the early work survives and as a result it is a major tourist destination. The town has a population of about 15,000. It has been a district center of Bursa Province since 1930. It was in the district of Kocaeli between 1923�1927 and was a township of Yeni�ehir ( bounded to Bilecik before 1926 ) district between 1927-1930.
Early History, Roman and Byzantine Empires
The place is said to have been colonized by Bottiaeans, and to have originally borne the name of Ancore (Steph. B. s. v.) or Helicore (Geogr. Min. p. 40, ed. Hudson); but it was subsequently destroyed by the Mysians. A few years after the death of Alexander the Great, Macedonian king Antigonus � who had taken control of much of Asia Minor upon the death of Alexander (under whom Antigonus had served as a general) � probably after his victory over Eumenes, in 316 BC, rebuilt the town, and called it, after himself, Antigoneia.Several other of Alexander's generals ( known together as the Diadochi) later conspired to remove Antigonus, and after defeating him the area was given to Thessalian general Lysimachus in 301 BC as his share of the lands. He renamed it Nicaea ( also transliterated as Nikaia or Nicaea; see also List of traditional Greek place names), in tribute to his wife Nicaea, a daughter of Antipater. According to another account , Nicaea was founded by men from Nicaea near Thermopylae, who had served in the army of Alexander the Great. The town was built with great regularity, in the form of a square, measuring 16 stadia in circumference; it had four gates, and all its streets intersected one another at right angles, so that from a monument in the centre all the four gates could be seen. This monument stood in the gymnasium, which was destroyed by fire, but was restored with increased magnificence by the younger Pliny, when he was governor of Bithynia.
The city was built on an important crossroads between Galatia and Phrygia, and thus saw steady trade. Soon after the time of Lysimachus, Nicaea became a city of great importance, and the kings of Bithynia, whose era begins in 288 BC with Zipoetes, often resided at Nicaea. It has already been mentioned that in the time of Strabo it is called the metropolis of Bithynia, an honour which is also assigned to it on some coins, though in later times it was enjoyed by Nicomedia. The two cities, in fact, kept up a long and vehement dispute about the precedence, and the 38th oration of Dio Chrysostomus was expressly composed to settle the dispute. From this oration, it appears that Nicomedia alone had a right to the title of metropolis, but both were the first cities of the country.
The younger Pliny makes frequent mention of Nicaea and its public buildings, which he undertook to restore when governor of Bithynia. (Epist. x. 40, 48, etc.) It was the birthplace of the astronomer Hipparchus (ca. 194 BC), the mathematician and astronomer Sporus (ca. 240) and the historian Dio Cassius (ca. 165). It was the death-place of the comedian Philistion. The numerous coins of Nicaea which still exist attest the interest taken in the city by the emperors, as well as its attachment to the rulers; many of them commemorate great festivals celebrated there in honour of gods and emperors, as Olympia, Isthmia, Dionysia, Pythia, Commodia, Severia, Philadelphia, etc. Throughout the imperial period, Nicaea remained an important town; for its situation was particularly favourable, being only 40 km (25 mi) distant from Prusa (Pliny v. 32), and 70 km (43 mi) from Constantinople. (It. Ant. p. 141.) When Constantinople became the capital of the Eastern Empire, Nicaea did not lose in importance; for its present walls, which were erected during the last period of the Empire, enclose a much greater space than that ascribed to the place in the time of Strabo. Much of the existing architecture and defensive works date to this time, early 4th century.
Nicaea suffered much from earthquakes in 358, 362 and 368; after the last of which, it was restored by the emperor Valens. During the Middle Ages it was for a long time a strong bulwark of the Byzantine emperors against the Turks.
Nicaea in Early Christianity
In the reign of Constantine, 325, the celebrated First Council of Nicaea was held there against the Arian heresy, and the prelates there defined more clearly the concept of the Trinity and drew up the Nicene Creed. The doctrine of the Trinity was finalized at the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD which expressly included the Holy Ghost as equal to the Father and the Son. The first Nicene Council was probably held in what would become the now ruined mosque of Orchan. The church of Hagia Sophia was built by Justinian I in the middle of the city in the 6th century (modelled after the larger Hagia Sophia in Constantinople), and it was there that the Second Council of Nicaea met in 787 to discuss the issues of iconography.
The ancient walls, with their towers and gates, are in relatively good preservation. Their circumference is 3,100 m (10,171 ft), being at the base from 5 to 7 m (16 to 23 ft) in thickness, and from 10 to 13 m (33 to 43 ft) in height; they contain four large and two small gates. In most places they are formed of alternate courses of Roman tiles and large square stones, joined by a cement of great thickness. In some places columns and other architectural fragments from the ruins of more ancient edifices have been inserted. As with those of Constantinople, the walls seem to have been built in the 4th century. Some of the towers have Greek inscriptions. The ruins of mosques, baths, and houses, dispersed among the gardens and apartment buildings that now occupy a great part of the space within the Roman and Byzantine fortifications, show that the Ottoman era town center, though now less considerable, was once a place of importance; but it never was as large as the Byzantine city. It seems to have been almost entirely constructed of the remains of the Byzantine era Nicaea, the walls of the ruined mosques and baths being full of the fragments of ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine temples and churches. In the northwestern parts of the town, two moles extend into the lake and form a harbour; but the lake in this part has much retreated, and left a marshy plain. Outside the walls are the remnants of an ancient aqueduct.
The Church of the Dormition, the principal church of Nicaea, was probably the most important Byzantine cathedral in Asia Minor. It was decorated with very fine mosaics from the 9th century. The church was destroyed by Turks during the pogroms and destruction of the Christian community there in 1922 under the leadership of Cemal Mustafa, during the Turkish War of Independence.
Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya), (at the town square, intersection of two major streets of the town). While much smaller in size compared with its namesake in Istanbul, this rectangular, red brick building built in typical Byzantine style, holds as much historical importance, if not more, as it�s the site of the seventh ecumenical council of Christianity (i.e. Second Council of Nicaea, in 787 CE). Located in a pleasant small park, entry into the building itself, it seems, is not allowed at the moment.
Green Mosque (Ye�il Cami), (in a little square park on the left side when walking towards Lefke Gate on K�l��aslan Caddesi, next to the Museum),.Built in early 14th century, this mosque with its impressive minaret (tower) covered with green-turquoise-blue mosaics and tiles (that's where the name of the mosque comes from) looks more like earlier Seljuk edifices rather than Ottoman mosques.
Museum, (in a little square park on the left side when walking towards Lefke Gate on K�l��aslan Caddesi, next to the Green Mosque),. Housed inside Nil�fer Hatun imaret (a social security instution of the past which provided free food for the poor), built in 14th century. There are also some marble sarcographi, columns, and columnheads dating back to Roman and Byzantine times in its yard.
Esrefzade Mosque (E�refzade Camii), K�l��aslan Caddesi (in a side alley on the left side of the street when walking towards Lefke Gate from town square; not far from Green Mosque, only a couple streets in between), A recently built (2007) neighbourhood mosque with an ancient minaret (tower; when it was constructed is not exactly known, but likely 16th century) decorated with green tiles, in a similar fashion with the one of the Green Mosque, except that the tiles of this one are far less showy than those of the Green Mosque. So, if you have just started your trip around the town and come across with this one first, don�t be disappointed and confuse it with Green Mosque.
City Walls. The town is still mostly enclosed by ancient walls, if partially a bit weary. You can also come across with some slowly crumbling towers here and there. Istanbul Gate (northern gate) and Lefke Gate (the eastern one) are more or less still completely intact and are quite beautiful. Just outside the Lefke Gate is an ancient aquaduct running for some hundreds of metres and eventually disappearing in the fields out of town.
Candarlioglu Mosque (�andarl�o�lu Camii), (on the left side of the street when going to the Lake Gate/waterfront from the town square),. Another recently built (1996) small mosque. An ordinary building with nothing fascinating except that it�s mostly coated with blue/green tiles all over its exterior walls, making a quite pleasant sight. It�s directly on the street and a bit hidden from view by the surrounding multi-story buildings on both sides, so for not passing-by without noticing it, watch the left side of the street while walking.
Take a stroll in the park along the lakefront.
Take a dip in the lake. In the summer months the water is usually calm and pleasant. There are several easily identified spots along the lakefront that are suitable for entering the lake.
İznik has been well known for its local faience/tile (�ini) tradition since 15th century. Nowadays, designs range from classical/traditional to somewhat kitsch to avant-garde. You can see lots of tile workshops, which also double as showrooms for tiles painted on square porcelains on sale, in alleys on both sides of K�l��aslan Caddesi St, especially near the Green Mosque/the Museum.
�znik Foundation also works for reviving the tile art, and offers tiles and household pottery such as bowls, dishware and vases, hand-painted in the traditional �znik style.