Christian churches in Izmir Turkey


Walking through Izmir and looking at lovely Christian churches in Izmir, raises many questions for a tourist regarding how this city represents lots of beautiful churches while located in a Muslim country.

The Christian population has declined drastically since the Byzantine era in Turkey and now more than 99 percent of the Turkish population are Muslims, leaving less than 1 percent for those following other religions including Christianity.

To better understand the turn of events, you have no choice but to look deeper into history to find out how the Christian past almost completely faded through time.

A wide view of Izmir

How many Christians are living in Turkey now?

Nowadays, Turkey is home to around 300,000 Christians coming from different rites such as Oriental and Greek Orthodox, Protestants, Catholics, and even Mormons.

Early Christianity supported by the Roman empire ended when the Ottoman emperor Sultan Mehmed 2nd conquered Constantinople (today Istanbul) and founded Islamic Turkey in 1453.

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How did the 1st World War affect Christian Population in Turkey?

Another historical event that made Turkey lose millions of Christian residents was the first world war. Some other Christian Assyrians were killed by Kurds and Turkish forces later.

After the war, the Greeks who occupied Smyrna or today Izmir lost the city to Turks again which led to Lausanne Treaty. Consequently, more than a million Christians were sent to Greece from Turkey and less than half a million were relocated from there to Turkey.

All these historical events lead us to this minor population of Christians in Turkey while leaving us with many mesmerizing churches as souvenirs of a rich Christian past that you can find in many cities in Turkey, including lovely Izmir.

population exchange between Greece and Turkey

Stories are hidden in the walls of Christian churches in Izmir Turkey

Nowadays, Izmir is the third most famous metropolitan city in Turkey. This Aegean pearl was once called by the Greek name Smyrna. The history of people living in Izmir goes back further than 8,500 years which indicated the great things that this land must have experienced.

Read More: The Best Souvenirs from Istanbul

The Great Fire or Burning of Smyrna

One major historical event that is a necessity to the story of Christian churches in Izmir is the Great Fire that occurred in 1922. It is still not known for sure who started the fire, Turkish forces, or the Armenians and Greeks.

The story begins when Armenian and Greek minorities who suffered from Turkish troops’ invasions, built walls around their area to protect themselves from these Turkish forces.

Then the forces tried to tear these walls down shooting artillery fire. The fire lasted for 9 days, destroying many parts of the city including lots of Christian churches in Izmir.

Most popular Christian churches in Izmir

Although many churches were damaged by the fire, there are still lots of places left to blow your mind during your stay in Izmir. Below, you can find some of the most famous Christian churches in Izmir, waiting to be explored:

Saint John’s Cathedral

In Turkey called Aziz, Yuhanna Katedrali is where the Archdiocese of Roman Catholics seats in Izmir. This Cathedral was built in 1874 and is devoted to John the Evangelist which has a great story behind it.

Saint John cathedral in Izmir

The story of Saint John the Evangelist

His name is mentioned in the Book of Revelation. He had visions with clear voices telling him to send greetings to seven churches of Asia and describe to them what he saw when he was in Patmos, an island in Greece, in the presence of the holy spirit. Those seven churches were:

  • Ephesus Church
  • Pergamum Church
  • Thyarira Church
  • Sardis Church
  • Philadelphia Church
  • Laodicea Church
  • Smyrna Church

The last one is the church of Izmir.

Read More: Christian churches in Istanbul Turkey (+History)

Saint Johns cathedral is one of the Christian churches in Izmir that was built in the Ottoman era. Sultan Abdulaziz dedicated 11,000 golden Lira for its construction in 1863.

The interior design has wonderful paintings including Saint John, Saint Anne, and so on. The Baptistry was donated by a local in 1916.

If you look up to the ceiling above the sanctuary, you will find the symbol of the Trinity and the eye in the center which represents God’s wisdom at all times and places.

Saint John the Evangelist’s Christian church in Izmir

Saint John Cathedral that we mentioned above has a namesake Anglican church in Izmir which was built in 1625, long before the cathedral.

Unfortunately, the Great Fire affected the building and made its priest leave the city with his daughters. He strongly believed that the Turkish forces acted irresponsibly and started the fire.

Nowadays, this lovely Christian church in Izmir not only has a second church building but also has a memorial hall which is used for different events.

Saint Mary’s Catholic church in Izmir

This church was built in 1698 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary by Franciscans who lived in Izmir. It presents frescoes belonging to the Renaissance some of which are used in interior design.

Its central door only opens for rituals but it also has two other doors open to visitors every day.

One important thing to consider is that this church is different from the house of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus, which is a Greek ancient city located 56 Kms outside Izmir.

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The house of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus

It is also called by the name Meryemana and the tales say that a few years after Christ passed, the Virgin Mary was brought to Bulbul Mountain to this house by Saint John and lived here until she passed away.

The house has a mini chapel and although it is not a church per se, but is a spiritual place that especially Catholics must not miss while staying in Izmir.

Virgin Maty's statue in the saint mary's house

Saint Voukolos Christian church in Izmir

This church has probably faced the most functioning changes throughout the Christian history of Izmir. It was built in 1887 and named after one of Saint John’s students who later became the Bishop of Izmir (Smyrna).

This Christian church in Izmir was the only Armenian church that escaped from The Great Fire of Smyrna.

After the Greek-Turkish population reciprocity in 1923, the church was somehow abandoned until Mustafa Kemal Ataturk turned it into a museum in 1924.

Then again in 1951, the church building started to function as an Opera Hall and in 1990, an unfortunate fire damaged the building severely.

For 5 years, it was the Metropolitan Municipality of Izmir until 2008 and from then it is being used for cultural purposes and events.

Astonishingly, for the first time since 1922, the place held a Christian ritual in honor of the Virgin Mary in 2014 which hopefully says a lot about religious flexibility in recent years.

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Saint Stepanos Christian church in Izmir

This Armenian church belonging to 1863 was one of the many buildings which did not survive the Great Fire of Smyrna. The main structure, its lovely grand yard, and its schools which were in service of the Armenians of Izmir were destroyed by burning.

Saint Stepanos Christian church in Izmir

Saint Polycarp Catholic church in Izmir

When the king of France, Louis 13th asked the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman 1st to permit building a catholic church in Izmir, he couldn’t resist.

This church was built in 1625 and experienced many unfortunate events such as a damaging earthquake in 1688, a fire in 1763and, of course, the Great Fire of Smyrna, but fortunately, the building was repaired vastly in 1929 and now you have the chance to visit its bell tower and so much more.

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Izmir and its wonderful churches-a glorious ending

It might be unbelievable for a tourist that up until 1922, before the population exchange, Izmir used to hold many Christian communities including Armenian Christians and Greeks.

But if you visit the city, you will have the chance to see how events can turn through time while leaving traces of themselves that after centuries are still enchanting. Hope you enjoy your stay in the pearl of Aegean, beautiful Izmir.

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