The town of Selcuk, in the western Turkish province of Izmir, which hosts around 2.5 million tourists visiting the nearby ancient site of Ephesus every year, is hoping to improve its faith tourism potential and draw more tourists.
Selcuk Mayor Zeynel Bakıcı said Ephesus was one of the most important centers for the Christian world after Jerusalem, and the nearby Virgin Mary House and four churches currently drew the most tourists to the town.
However, despite the large number of holy places in the town and its Biblical resonance, Selcuk currently does not see a high enough share from faith tourism, Bakıcı added.
“Even the village of Fatima in Portugal, where the Virgin Mary was seen by three shepherd children, hosts more tourists than Selçuk. Fatima has a population of 10,000 people and hosts 5 million tourists a year. Selçuk, which is home to the world famous Ephesus, hosts only 2.5 million tourists. We are therefore working to promote the town better, and we have initiated works in collaboration with the municipality,” he said.
Bakıcı said their goal was to open all churches in the town to worship, and the first step was taken by opening the Dimitrios Church in the nearby Şirince Municipality.
A “Virgin Mary Feast” is held at the Virgin Mary House in Selçuk every year on Aug. 15 by the Catholic society living in the town, while a Saint John Feast was held at the Saint John Basilica last year on May 8.
Bakıcı said annual festivals were held at the historic Sümela Monastery in Trabzon and Cappadocia in Central Anatolia every year, and organizing such events might also increase interest in Selçuk.
“Last year, May 8 was the day of the Prophet Muhammad’s ascent to heaven [Miraç Kandili]. On May 8 last year, a feast was held at the Saint John Basilica in the daytime and the kandil was celebrated in the İsabey Mosque, 50 meters away from the basilica, on the same night. After this special day, we thought the basilica should host such feasts all the time. We want to organize traditional feasts at the Saint John Church, just like in Sümela and Cappadocia,” he said.
“We invited Greek Patriarch Bartholomew for the first feast and he was positive about it. We would expect many tourists from many countries, especially Greece and Russia, to come for such feasts. This would make a great contribution to the town,” Bakıcı said, adding that discussions were ongoing.
Religious heritage of Ephesus
The Saint John Church, one of the seven churches mentioned in the Bible, is in Selçuk’s ancient city of Ephesus. Two apostles of Jesus, St. Paul and St. John lived in this region for some time. St. John, who was one of the four writers of the Bible, spent his final years in Ephesus. He is also known as the only apostle who died a natural death among the 12 apostles.
It is believed that the tomb of St. John is in the Saint John Basilica, located in the Ayasuluk Castle. A six-dome basilica, which was built on this tomb in 575 A.D., and is one of the largest structures at the time, is thought to have collapsed during an earthquake between 1365 and 1370.