İznik is a town in the Eastern Marmara Region of Turkey, with a population of 22,507 in 2012. It stands at the east end of Lake İznik and is nowadays a quiet market town, but as ancient Nicaea was once a major cultural centre.
"So if Jesus is the Son of God, there must have been a time before God created him?"
"Oh no there wasn't!" "Oh yes there was!" Whack! - "Take that, you disgusting Arian heretic!"
In 325 AD, with ruthless Roman persecution still a recent memory and with so many other daily threats to survival, this was how early Christians got dandered up. Then Emperor Constantine made it a tolerated Roman religion, whatever it was - Christianity took on multiple forms as it diverged from Jewish belief and practice, and encountered different gentile / pagan audiences. And so he convened a grand assembly at Nicaea of all the bishops of Christiandom, which became known as the First Ecumenical Council: about 300 of the 1000-some attended. Their meeting place was the Imperial Palace, north side near Istanbul gate, but building and site are long lost. Constantine attended as host and convenor but did not intervene in debate - his crucial role was to fund the show, including the travel expenses. Its outcome was the Nicene Creed, the first unified doctrine and code of Christianity.
This became the Roman state religion in 380 but continued to be riven by disputes, as it is to this day. Further ecumenical councils were held, with the seventh and last of that format again held in Nicaea in 787. The city itself long pre-dates that, and a series of Hellenistic proto-states warred over it. In 301 BC it was captured by Lysimachus, who named it Nicaea (Νίκαια) after his late wife, and for the Greek goddess of victory. It became capital of the kingdom of Bithynia then fell under the sway of Rome. Around the first century AD it was laid out on a Roman grid pattern, and in 123 AD Emperor Hadrian visited. He'd just completed Hadrian's Wall in Britain and now commissioned the great defensive walls that still define the inner city. But it suffered major earthquakes in the 360s and declined as Byzantium / Constantinople rose.
In later centuries Nicaea continued to sit at the opposite end of the see-saw from Constantinople, either as the place you fled to, or as the redoubt from which you plotted the overthrow of that over-mighty city. Thus from 1071 AD it was the base of the Seljuk's Sultanate of Rum, with "Rum" being their Roman target. When the Crusaders captured Constantinople in 1204, a rump Byzantine "Empire of Nicaea" clung on here for over 60 years. In 1331 it fell to the Ottomans and thereafter the see-saw tilted inexorably to Constantinople.
"A wretched village of long lanes and mud walls" in 1797 was a typical description of the place, camped amidst the ruins. But this meant that the ancient layout was preserved. There are 3 km of walls with gates and thoroughfares to each direction: Istanbul Gate (İstanbul Kapı) north, Lefke Gate east, Yenişehir Gate south and Lake Gate (Göl Kapı) west. The lake has receded so its waterfront is modern. The old centre was smashed in the war with Greece 1920-22 so this too is mostly modern, but religious buildings such as Hagia Sophia were restored. There was also a nationalist purging of Greek populations, culture and placenames, so Nicaea became Iznik. The 1990s saw a revival of the city's 16th / 17th century decorated tile industry.
There's no official Tourist Information Centre. Places around town square are commercial outlets selling tours and bus tickets, which may be what you want.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
The climate of İznik is generally similar to nearby Bursa, a mix of Oceanic and Mediterranean, but İznik has a warmer and sunnier microclimate, allowing some palms and subtropical trees to grow, even if they're not part of the natural tree cover; this adds a more Mediterranean feel to the views of the city.
Summers are hot, with daytime temperatures averaging at almost 30°C (86°F). İznik is drier than Bursa during the summer, with only 2-3 days of rain a month.
Winters are cool to chilly, with a good amount of rain and sporadic snow. The skies are often cloudy during this time, and daily highs average around 10°C (50°F).
İznik can avoid snowfall even when nearby areas get accumulations of it, but manages to get some snow every year, with a week or two of snow cover on average.
Spring (except March, which can often feel more like winter) and fall are both mild, and both good times to visit the city, especially as İznik does not get soaked by the Anatolian storm season that often brings heavy showers further south.
The inter-city buses from Istanbul don't serve Iznik. The best approach is to reach Yalova by bus or ferry, then take a dolmuş. These start from downtown by the ferry pier so you don't need to make your way to the edge-of-town otogar. They run hourly M-Sa 07:30-21:00, Su from 09:00, and take one hour.
These and other routes are operated by İznik Minibüs ve Otobüsçüler Koop (+90 224 757 1648). Some you might use are:
- From Bursa every 20 min 08:00-00:00.
- From Gölcük via Karamürsel three times a day.
- From Osmaneli every two hours 08:30-18:30.
1 Otogar the bus station is central, 500 m southeast of the clocktower - enter from Mahmut Sk on its north side. There's little cafes and convenience shops in the terminal.
From Istanbul or Ankara take O-5 across Osman Gazi Bridge (toll), and stay on it for 20 km to Orhangazi. Then follow D-150 for 40 km east along the north lake shore. You might save the price of a cup of coffee by taking the ferry to Topçular and rejoining O-5 there.
From Izmit and Gölcük at the head of the gulf follow D-130 west to Karamürsel, then the scenic but winding D-595 mountain road.
From Bursa take O-5 or D-575 north past Gemlik, then follow the south lake shore, which is the more scenic side.
Foot-passenger ferries sail to Yalova from Istanbul Yenikapı (75 min) and Pendik, and a car ferry sails from Gebze Eskihisar to Topçular. Dolmuşes ply from Yalova to Iznik, see above.
Walk: the going is level, and all the gates – the most distant points of the town – are about 1 km from the central square.
Taxis wait in the streets near Hagia Sophia. Operators include İznik Taksi (+90 224 757 3737), İznik Terminal Taksi (+90 552 207 9177) and Merkez Taksi (+90 224 757 5164).
- The clocktower (İznik saat kulesi) presides over the town crossroads next to Hagia Sophia, with views to each city gate.
- 1 Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya Cami), Kılıçaslan Cd 163. This is a redbrick Byzantine-style basilica of 1065 AD, built over earlier churches back to the 4th century. (Its predecessor hosted the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 767, as their first meeting place at the palace was tumbledown.) Its name and status have long acted as political litmus. It was converted to a mosque in 1331 in the early days of the Ottoman dynasty, and restored in the 16th century after a fire. It suffered another fire in the war of 1920, and in 1935 was designated a museum. Having soaked up restoration funds to that purpose for over 70 years, it was re-opened as a mosque in 2011. Free.
- Tile ovens (Çini fırınları) from the 16th century lie ruined a block south on Maltepe Cd, corner of Ali Paşa Sk, next to an old hamam. All over town are craft shops calling themselves tile museums ("Come in, is free to look!"), see Buy.
- Haji Özbek Mosque is on Kılıçaslan Cd 200 m east of Hagia Sophia. It was built in 1333 shortly after the Ottoman conquest, but much altered when the street was widened in the 20th century.
- 2 Eşrefzâde Rumi Mosque (up alley from Haji Özbek Mosque). This is modern as the 15th century original was destroyed in the war, but it's built around a minaret of perhaps 1518, with tile-work similar to the earlier and better Green Mosque.
- Huysuzlar Tombs are on Atatürk Cd north towards Istanbul Gate. The name means "grumpy" and the hoaky tale goes that misbehaving children were made to stand here and think on.
- 3 Istanbul Gate is the best preserved of the city's four gates.
- 4 Ismailbey Hamam on Sultan Sk might be 15th / 16th century but is dilapidated.
- Ahiveyn Sultan Tombs are a short block east then south of the hamam. Ahiveyn or Afyon was grandson of Orhan, the second of the Ottoman dynasty, but these tombs are 17th century; they're fairly plain.
- 5 Green Mosque (Yeşil Camii). Built in the 1380s, this mosque has an impressive 25 m minaret covered with green-turquoise-blue mosaics and tiles. It was shot up in the war of 1920 but restored in the 1960s. Free.
- Museum, Museum St 11 (next to Green Mosque), ☏ . Closed. This is within Nilüfer Hatun imaret, originally a dervish frat-house then a 14th century soup-kitchen for the poor. It is contemporary with the Green Mosque, so early Ottoman, but its overall external appearance has an unmissable Byzantine influence, perhaps paying tribute to the origins of its namesake: Nilüfer Hatun, the daughter of a Byzantine governor, and the wife of Orhan. It was restored in 1955 but is now closed for further restoration. You may be able to peek at the marble sarcographi, columns, and columnheads in its yard.
- Davud Kayseri Tomb is two short blocks north of the museum. Dawūd al-Qayṣarī (circa 1260-1350), meaning "David from Kayseri", was a notable sufi scholar. Orhan built a school for him in Iznik.
- 6 Lefke Gate is the east exit of town - Lefke 31 km east is nowadays Osmaneli. The wall and gate are well preserved here and just outside is several hundred metres of Roman aqueduct.
- Çandarlı Hayrettin Paşa Tombs are 200 m east of Lefke Gate. The Çandarlı were a prominent family of the early Ottoman years, and Sarı Saltuk was a 13th century sufi saint.
- 7 Berber Kaya was a magnificent mausoleum of the 2nd century BC - the name means "Barber Rock" as its statues resembled customers sat in a barber's shop. But in 1953 tomb robbers sought to break in with dynamite, so there it lies in itsy-bits on the hillside.
- 8 Abdulvahap Sancaktar Tomb inters the flag-bearer of an Islamic army, who died during a raid into Byzantine Anatolia in 740 AD. The pine-covered hill offers great views over the town, the lake, and the surrounding countryside.
- Church of Koimesis or Dormition is just a weed-strewn gap site two blocks east of the bus station. It was 11th century but destroyed in the 1920s war. It's the burial place of Theodore I, who fled here from the Crusaders in 1204 to rule the remnant "Empire of Nicaea."
- 9 Roman Amphitheatre is just a jumble of stones, with no access as excavations continue.
- Candarlioglu Mosque two blocks west of Hagia Sophia (towards Lake Gate) is a surprising sight on Kılıçaslan Cd, a small mosque richly clad in blue / green tiles. It was built in 1996.
- 10 Lake Gate (Göl Kapı) is the west end of Kılıçaslan Cd. Nothing left of the gate itself, and the adjacent walls are crumbling beneath the vegetation.
- Senate Palace is just a gnarly masonry foundation along the waterfront 300 m south of Lake Gate. If you sit on it you'll have a better lake view and won't have to contemplate the sorry state of the palace.
- Basilica of Saint Neophytos is another 200 m south, but don't hold your breath searching for it. It was probably built shortly after the Ecumenical Council of 325 AD, but became submerged by the lake after an earthquake of 740 AD, and was only rediscovered in 2014.
- 11 Yenişehir Gate south end of town survives, but the walls are gone or incorporated into later buildings. Kiz Kulesi is the stump of a bastion one block west on Osmangazi Cd. Hagios Tryphonus Church is a ruin south by the main highway. Kırgızlar Tomb adjacent is from the time of the Ottoman conquest but it's not known who's buried here.
- Halil Hayrettin Paşa Mosque just north of the gate is modern but in attractive traditional style.
- 12 Roman quarry (Roma Dönemi Antik Taş Ocağı) 3 km northeast was used right up to 1990 for building stone and statuary. Its best-known feature is a relief of Hercules, but this and many other relics have been damaged by souvenir hunters, quarrying and waste-dumping. Free, 24 hours.
- 13 Roman catacombs (Yeraltı Mezarı), discovered in the 1960s, have brilliant frescoes in the outer burial chamber. A modern front has been built on for security and they're closed in 2022. They're in the keeping of the city museum so enquire there in case a visit is possible, for a suitable fee.
- 14 The obelisk (Dikilitaş) on the hilltop is 1st century AD, 12 m tall but looking like it could fall any minute. Its inscription commemorates Cassius Philiscus, who is probably buried beneath.
- Swim: the lake waters are reasonably clean, and a pleasant temperature in summer. Multiple access points along the waterfront.
- Iznik Ultra is a 160 km race around the lake, with a mountain section so you climb and descend 4930 m. There are part-races within it, such as Orhangazi 90K and Narlıca Mountain Marathon 55K. The next is probably 19-21 May 2023 (the public holiday weekend) but tbc.
- The Evliya Çelebi Way is a partly marked hiking, cycling, and horse riding trail from Hersek on the Gulf of İzmit through İznik to Simav southwest of Kütahya, roughly following the path taken by Evliya Çelebi, a 17th century Ottoman traveller, during his Hajj pilgrimage.
- The Sufi Trail, a partly marked hiking and cycling trail, connects Sufism-related and other sites along its course between Yalova (with a ferry connection to the initial stage in Istanbul) and Konya through İznik, loosely following another Ottoman pilgrimage route.
- The Tolerance Way commemorates the Edict of Toleration by Galerius, the Roman emperor 305–311, which ended the persecution of Christians. The waymarked trail runs over the mountains from İzmit, where the edict was published.
- Market day is Wednesday in the streets east of the clocktower. Lots of fresh fruit, veg and other local produce.
- Banks with external ATMs are near the clocktower on Atatürk Cd or Kılıçaslan Cd.
- Supermarkets cluster in the same area:
- BİM has branches north at Atatürk Cd 108, west at Kılıçaslan Cd 56 and east at Alaaddin Mısri Sk 12, all open daily until 20:00.
- Dia is another national chain, at Tarlabaşı Sk 13 a block north of the clocktower.
- Migros is at Kılıçaslan Cd 86, with a smaller outlet north at Atatürk Cd 157.
- Şok has a dozen branches, with one next to the clocktower.
- Gül Çini Takı at Kılıçarslan Cd 159 towards Lefke Gate is a good value souvenir shop, open daily 09:00-19:00.
- Tiles (çini) and other elegantly glazed ceramics were a tradition here from about 1490 to 1620 then it died out. Pieces from this era survive, but if you buy any you'd better hope they're fake, since it's illegal to export them. The industry was revived in the 1990s, and designs range through classical and kitsch to avant-garde. There are dozens of little workshops and outlets, especially along Kılıçaslan Cd east towards the Green Mosque. İznik Foundation is a corporate tile enterprise nowadays based in Istanbul.
- Köfteci Yusuf, Atatürk Cd 73 (3 blocks south of clocktower), ☏ . Daily 07:00-01:00. Popular chain restaurant, reliable, slick, clean and convenient for the bus station. Usual Turkish fare, and there's a pleasant open-air dining terrace.
- Karçiçeği, Kılıçaslan Cd 54 (one block west of clocktower), ☏ . Daily 09:00-23:00. Good value central friendly restaurant.
- Umut Restaurant, Göl Sahili Yolu (waterfront 500 m north of Lake Gate), ☏ . Daily 08:00-00:00. Cheerful fish restaurant on the lakeside, specialties are the local catfish and carp.
- Few of the town cafes serve alcohol, but an "izgara" does, otherwise try the hotel restaurants.
- Hotel Aydın, Kılıçarslan Cd 64 (one block west of Hagia Sophia), ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Basic but clean central place with en-suite bathrooms, central heating, air-con, wifi and satellite TV.
- Çamlık Motel, Göl Sahil Yolu, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com. Rooms with satellite TV, air-con, central heating, and en-suite bathrooms. Clean, friendly and right at the lake shore; with an adjacent restaurant (Çamlık Restaurant). 45 TL/80 TL for a single/double room; breakfast included.
- Mavera Otel, Göl Sahili Cd 34 (corner of Bağkur Sk and Spandau Bvd on waterfront), ☏ . Basic rooms with en suite bathrooms, air-con, TV, wifi. Cleaning erratic.
- Seyir Otel, Kılıçarslan Cd 64, ☏ . Friendly comfy place on lakeside. B&B double 500 TL.
- 1 Limnades Hotel, Göl Sahil Cd 38, ☏ . Pleasant clean mid-range hotel on lakeside. B&B double 800 TL.
- 2 Iznik Otel, Kaymakam Hüseyin Avci Bvd 2, ☏ . Very mixed reviews for cleanliness and comfort; a lot of noise from live music. B&B double 500 TL.
- 3 Taş Mahal Hobbit House, Dil Sk 67, Elbeyli (on hill 10 km north of town), ☏ . The hobbit "cottages" are twee, but this one of the few luxurious hotels hereabouts, great reviews. B&B double 3000 TL.
As of June 2022, Iznik and the east-west approach highway has 4G from all Turkish carriers, but the signal is patchy on the north-south highway D-595. 5G has not rolled out in Turkey.
- Bursa was the first true city captured by the Ottomans and is full of historic sites.
- Mount Uludağ rears up south of Bursa and is a ski and summer hiking resort.
- See Istanbul to Izmir for an itinerary through this region; it swings through Iznik.
|Routes through Iznik|
|Ends at (N S) ← Orhangazi ←||W E||→ Osmaneli → Taraklı|
|Ends at ← Gemlik ←||W E||→ Ends at|