“The church in Laodicea… because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be zealous and repent. See! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:14-20).
These strong words from the Apostle John’s Book of Revelation are how many have come to know of the ancient city of Laodicea (Laodikeia). As it stands today, the ancient city has been wonderfully restored and is one of the most extensive collections of ancient ruins in Western Turkey. Recent excavations by a team from the Denizli Museum Directorate, Pamukkale University, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism have restored much of this stunning ancient city.
The site of Laodikeia is laid on a grid (Hippodamic) system and covers 5 sq. km. (2 square miles). It encompasses the largest stadium in Anatolia, two theaters, four baths, five agoras, five fountains (nymphaeums), long colonnaded streets, impressive temples, and a myriad of churches and basilicas. This is barely scratching the surface of the incredible amount of features visible at this site.
I would recommend about 2.5 to 3.5 hours to explore this site fully. You can choose a shorter route to keep your visit shorter, which you may want to consider if it is a blisteringly hot summer day. Below I will outline several significant features with some historical background, as well as a guide on exploring the site!
As you drive up to the site (or arrive by taxi), there will be a gate with a guard where you can buy your ticket. It is possible to buy a combined ticket for Hierapolis and Laodikeia to tour both in one day. After this guardhouse, the Eastern Baths will be on a slight rise to your right, and an octagonal church will be on your left. The main site begins through the eastern gate, to the right of the small gift shop and bathrooms.
There is an excellent audio guide available which I would highly recommend! It provides extensive information and is a helpful aid as you navigate the site.
You can check the site’s official website for more updated price and hours information.
Transport to Laodikeia from the center of modern Denizli is relatively easy as it is only a short 10-minute drive or taxi ride (6.7 km/4 miles). You can also get to the ancient city from the modern town of Pamukkale, which is only about a 15-minute drive away (11km/7 miles).
Brief Overview and Guide
While discoveries dating from as far back as the Early Chalcolithic period have been found in the area, the Hellenistic city of Laodikeia was first founded in the mid-3rd century BC by the Seleucid king Antiochus II who named the settlement after his wife, Laodike. In 133 BC, the city came under the rule of the ever-expanding Roman Empire. Earthquakes often plagued the town, and in 494 AD, a massive quake severely crippled the city. A further earthquake between 602-610 and an increasing threat from Arab raids led to the eventual abandonment of the city. The heights of Laodikeia occurred during the first to third century AD and later in the 4th to 6th century AD.
Entering the site
After parking and ensuring you have plenty of water, make your way towards the entrance of the East Byzantine Gate. As you walk up, there are maps and details about the site and recommended routes. Laodikeia is quite massive, so I would recommend mapping out the most important places you want to prioritize ahead of time. You can explore the entire area in around 2.5 hours, but I recommend over three if you want to take in this incredible ancient city fully. Once you enter under the gate, you can begin exploring along one of the many colonnaded and paved streets that cut through the city's heart.
The stadium at Laodikeia would have been one of the largest in ancient Roman Asia Minor, holding a capacity of 20-25,000 people. An inscription found on the stadium dates it to 79 AD during the reign of Emperor Titus. The stadium would have hosted grand chariot races and gladiatorial combat. Closely attached to the stadium is the south bath-gymnasium complex, which was dedicated to Emperor Hadrian around 135 AD.
The stadium is located at the far southwest corner of the site. You can follow a path and signs towards it which start left from the central street you entered on.
There are two theaters which you can visit at Laodikeia. The West Theater is the better restored of the two and is located in the upper northeast section of the site. It would have first been constructed in the second century BC and at its height, held a capacity of 8,000 people. It continued in use until the early seventh century AD, when a devastating earthquake ravaged the city. The larger North Theater was built to accommodate the increasing population and entertainment needs. Constructed in the second century AD, this theater likely featured a three-story monumental stage. There is also evidence that this theater would have also been used for water games. The theater would have operated alongside the West Theater until earthquakes severely damaged both. Unfortunately, the North Theater is still under restoration and is in disrepair.
The Church of Laodikeia
The massive church discovered in 2010 is one of the most notable highlights of the archaeological site. It is now covered by a metal roof and features a glass catwalk so visitors can observe the beautiful mosaics. Constructed during the reign of Emperor Constantine after the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, the church features a unique eleven apse-like niches. It also contains one of the oldest and best preserved cruciform baptismal fonts. It is located in the northeastern section of the city near the North Theater.
Located just north of Syriac Street near the Church of Laodikeia, Temple A was initially built in the 2nd century AD and dedicated to Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, and the imperial cult. With the spread of Christianity, the building was eventually converted into a church before collapsing in an earthquake in 494. You can walk through the beautiful courtyard, and the vaulted subchamber has been covered with a modern glass and metal walkway so you can view its depth. You can see columns in this chamber that contain friezes dedicated to Emperor Diocletian. Walking out over this viewing point gives you a stunning view of the countryside on the northern edge of Laodikeia.
— by Caleb Bowman
For further information:
“Laodikeia Archaeological Site.” T.C. Ministry of Culture and Tourism. https://muze.gov.tr/muze-detay?sectionId=DLO01&distId=MRK
UNESCO. “Archaeological Site of Laodikeia.” Türkiye, 2013. https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5823/
Wilson, Mark. Biblical Turkey: A Guide to the Jewish and Christian Sites of Asia Minor. Istanbul: Yayinlari, 2020.