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Location of Nicaea within Turkey.
Coordinates 40°25.74′N29°43.17′E / 40.42900°N 29.71950°E / 40.42900; 29.71950 Coordinates: 40°25.74′N29°43.17′E / 40.42900°N 29.71950°E / 40.42900; 29.71950

Nicaea or Nicea ( /nˈsə/ ; Greek : Νίκαια , Níkaia) was an ancient Greek city in northwestern Anatolia, and 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 (which comes from the First Council), and as the capital city of the Empire of Nicaea following the Fourth Crusade in 1204, until the recapture of Constantinople by the Byzantines in 1261.

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Anatolia Asian part of Turkey

Anatolia, also known as Asia Minor, Asian Turkey, the Anatolian peninsula or the Anatolian plateau, is the westernmost protrusion of Asia, which makes up the majority of modern-day Turkey. The region is bounded by the Black Sea to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Armenian Highlands to the east and the Aegean Sea to the west. The Sea of Marmara forms a connection between the Black and Aegean seas through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits and separates Anatolia from Thrace on the European mainland.

First Council of Nicaea council of Christian bishops convened in Nicaea in 325

The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in the Bithynian city of Nicaea by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325.


The ancient city is located within the modern Turkish city of İznik (whose modern name derives from Nicaea's), and is situated in a fertile basin at the eastern end of Lake Ascanius, 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 could not 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.

Turkey Republic in Western Asia

Turkey, officially the Republic of Turkey, is a transcontinental country located mainly on the Anatolian peninsula in Western Asia, with a smaller portion on the Balkan peninsula in Southeast Europe. East Thrace, the part of Turkey in Europe, is separated from Anatolia by the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorous strait and the Dardanelles. Turkey is bordered by Greece and Bulgaria to its northwest; Georgia to its northeast; Armenia, the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan and Iran to the east; and Iraq and Syria to the south. Istanbul is the largest city while Ankara is the capital. Approximately 70 to 80 per cent of the country's citizens identify as Turkish. Kurds are the largest minority; the size of the Kurdish population is a subject of dispute with estimates placing the figure at anywhere from 12 to 25 per cent of the population.

İznik Place in Bursa, Turkey

İznik is a town and an administrative district in the Province of Bursa, Turkey. It was historically known as Nicaea, from which its modern name also derives. The town lies in a fertile basin at the eastern end of Lake İznik, bounded by ranges of hills to the north and south. As the crow flies, the town is only 90 kilometres southeast of Istanbul but by road it is 200 km around the Gulf of Izmit. It is 80 km by road from Bursa.

The ancient city is surrounded on all sides by 5 kilometres (3 mi) of walls about 10 metres (33 ft) high. These are in turn surrounded by a double ditch on the land portions, and also included over 100 towers in various locations. Large gates on the three landbound sides of the walls provided the only entrance to the city.

Today the walls have been pierced in many places for roads, but much of the early work survives and, as a result, it is a major tourist destination.


Early history

Istanbul Gate, photo by Paolo Monti, 1962. Paolo Monti - Servizio fotografico (Iznik, 1962) - BEIC 6339289.jpg
Istanbul Gate, photo by Paolo Monti, 1962.
The Lefke Gate, part of Nicaea's city walls. Lefke Kapisi Iznik 932a.jpg
The Lefke Gate, part of Nicaea's city walls.

The place is said to have been colonized by Bottiaeans, and to have originally borne the name of Ancore (Ἀγκόρη) or Helicore (Ἑλικόρη), or by soldiers of Alexander the Great's army who hailed from Nicaea in Locris, near Thermopylae. The later version however was not widespread even in Antiquity. [1] Whatever the truth, the first Greek colony on the site was probably destroyed by the Mysians, and it fell to Antigonus I Monophthalmus, one of Alexander's successors ( Diadochi ) to refound the city ca. 315 BC as Antigoneia (Ἀντιγονεία) after himself. Antigonus is also known to have established Bottiaean soldiers in the vicinity, lending credence to the tradition about the city's founding by Bottiaeans. Following Antigonus' defeat and death at the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC, the city was captured by Lysimachus, who renamed it Nicaea ( Νίκαια , also transliterated as Nikaia or Nicæa; see also List of traditional Greek place names), in tribute to his wife Nicaea, who had recently died. [1]

Bottiaeans or Bottiaei were an ancient people of uncertain origin, living in Central Macedonia. Sometime, during the Archaic period, they were expelled by Macedonians from Bottiaea to Bottike. During the Classical era, they played an active role in the military history of ancient Chalcidice, but after the Macedonian conquest under Philip II nothing remained except the names of these two regions and the adjective Bottiaean, which was limited to sole geographical meaning. Unlike other tribes of Macedonia ruled by kings or living in villages, Bottiaeans developed some polis form of self-government. Unfortunately, no Bottiaean individual is known to us and the limited historical or archaeological sources shed no further light.

Alexander the Great King of Macedonia

Alexander III of Macedon, commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a king (basileus) of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon and a member of the Argead dynasty. He was born in Pella in 356 BC and succeeded his father Philip II to the throne at the age of 20. He spent most of his ruling years on an unprecedented military campaign through Asia and northeast Africa, and by the age of thirty he had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from Greece to northwestern India. He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered one of history's most successful military commanders.

Nicaea or Nikaia, was an ancient fortress of the Epicnemidian Locrians, situated upon the sea, and close to the pass of Thermopylae. It is described by Aeschines as one of the places which commanded the pass. It was the first Locrian town after Alpenos, the latter being at the very entrance of the pass. The surrender of Nicaea by Phalaecus to Philip II, in 346 BCE, made the Macedonian king master of Thermopylae, and brought the Third Sacred War to an end. Philip kept possession of it for some time, but subsequently gave it to the Thessalians along with Magnesia. But in 340 BCE we again find Nicaea in the possession of Philip. According to Memnon of Heraclea, Nicaea was destroyed by the Phocians, and its inhabitants founded Bithynian Nicaea. But even if this is true, the town must have been rebuilt soon afterwards, since we find it in the hands of the Aetolians during the Roman wars in Greece. Subsequently the town is only mentioned by Strabo. William Martin Leake identifies Nicaea with the castle of Mendenitsa, where there are Hellenic remains.

Sometime before 280 BC, the city came under the control of the local dynasty of the kings of Bithynia. This marks the beginning of its rise to prominence as a seat of the royal court, as well as of its rivalry with Nicomedia. The two cities' dispute over which one was the pre-eminent city (signified by the appellation metropolis ) of Bithynia continued for centuries, and the 38th oration of Dio Chrysostom was expressly composed to settle the dispute. [2] [3]

Bithynia region in Anatolia

Bithynia was an ancient region, kingdom and Roman province in the northwest of Asia Minor, adjoining the Propontis, the Thracian Bosporus and the Euxine Sea. It bordered Mysia to the southwest, Paphlagonia to the northeast along the Pontic coast, and Phrygia to the southeast towards the interior of Asia Minor.

Nicomedia ancient city of Vithynia

Nicomedia was an ancient Greek city in what is now Turkey. In 286 Nicomedia became the eastern and most senior capital city of the Roman Empire, a status which the city maintained during the Tetrarchy system (293–324).

Metropolis very large and significant city or urban area usually with millions of inhabitants

A metropolis is a large city or conurbation which is a significant economic, political, and cultural center for a country or region, and an important hub for regional or international connections, commerce, and communications. The term is Ancient Greek (μητρόπολις) and means the "mother city" of a colony, that is, the city which sent out settlers. This was later generalized to a city regarded as a center of a specified activity, or any large, important city in a nation.

Roman period

The theatre, restored by Pliny the Younger. Nicaea theatre 990.jpg
The theatre, restored by Pliny the Younger.

Along with the rest of Bithynia, Nicaea came under the rule of the Roman Republic in 72 BC. The city remained one of the most important urban centres of Asia Minor throughout the Roman period, and continued its old competition with Nicomedia over pre-eminence and the location of the seat of the Roman governor of Bithynia et Pontus. [2] The geographer Strabo (XII.565 ff.) described the city as built in the typical Hellenistic fashion with great regularity, in the form of a square, measuring 16 stadia in circumference, i.e. approx. 700 m × 700 m (2,297 ft × 2,297 ft) or 0.7 km × 0.7 km (0.43 mi × 0.43 mi) covering an area of some 50 ha (124 acres) or 0.5 km2 (0.2 sq mi); it had four gates, and all its streets intersected one another at right angles in accordance with the Hippodamian plan, so that from a monument in the centre all the four gates could be seen. [3] [4] This monument stood in the gymnasium, which was destroyed by fire but was restored with increased magnificence by Pliny the Younger, when he was governor there in the early 2nd century AD. In his writings Pliny makes frequent mention of Nicaea and its public buildings. [3]

Roman Republic Period of ancient Roman civilization (509–27 BC)

The Roman Republic was the era of classical Roman civilization beginning with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom, traditionally dated to 509 BC, and ending in 27 BC with the establishment of the Roman Empire. It was during this period that Rome's control expanded from the city's immediate surroundings to hegemony over the entire Mediterranean world.

Roman governor Position

A Roman governor was an official either elected or appointed to be the chief administrator of Roman law throughout one or more of the many provinces constituting the Roman Empire. A Roman governor is also known as a propraetor or proconsul.

Strabo Greek geographer, philosopher and historian

Strabo was a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian who lived in Asia Minor during the transitional period of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.

Emperor Hadrian visited the city in 123 AD after it had been severely damaged by an earthquake and began to rebuild it. The new city was enclosed by a polygonal wall of some 5 kilometres in length. Reconstruction was not completed until the 3rd century, and the new set of walls failed to save Nicaea from being sacked by the Goths in 258 AD. [2] [4] The numerous coins of Nicaea which still exist attest the interest taken in the city by the Roman 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. [3]

Hadrian 2nd-century Roman Emperor

Hadrian was Roman emperor from 117 to 138. He was born Publius Aelius Hadrianus in Italica, Hispania Baetica, into a Hispano-Italic family that settled in Spain from the Italian city of Atri in Picenum. His father was of senatorial rank and was a first cousin of Emperor Trajan. He married Trajan's grand-niece Vibia Sabina early in his career, before Trajan became emperor and possibly at the behest of Trajan's wife Pompeia Plotina. Plotina and Trajan's close friend and adviser Lucius Licinius Sura were well disposed towards Hadrian. When Trajan died, his widow claimed that he had nominated Hadrian as emperor immediately before his death.

Goths East Germanic ethnolinguistic group

The Goths were an East Germanic people, two of whose branches, the Visigoths and the Ostrogoths, played an important role in the fall of the Western Roman Empire through the long series of Gothic Wars and in the emergence of Medieval Europe. The Goths dominated a vast area, which at its peak under the Germanic king Ermanaric and his sub-king Athanaric possibly extended all the way from the Danube to the Don, and from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.

In Greek antiquity, athletic festivals under the name of "Olympic games", named in imitation of the original Olympic games at Olympia, were held in various places all over the Greek world. Some of these are only known to us by inscriptions and coins; but others, as the Olympic festival at Antioch, obtained great celebrity. After these Olympic festivals had been established in several places, the great Olympic festival itself was sometimes designated in inscriptions by the addition of Pisa.

Byzantine period

By the 4th century, Nicaea was a large and prosperous city, and a major military and administrative centre. Emperor Constantine the Great convened the First Ecumenical Council there, and the city gave its name to the Nicene Creed. [3] [5] The city remained important in the 4th century, seeing the proclamation of Emperor Valens (364) and the failed rebellion of Procopius (365). During the same period, the See of Nicaea became independent of Nicomedia and was raised to the status of a metropolitan bishopric. However, the city was hit by two major earthquakes in 363 and 368, and coupled with competition from the newly established capital of the Eastern Empire, Constantinople, it began to decline thereafter. Many of its grand civic buildings began to fall into ruin, and had to be restored in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian I. [5]

The city disappears from sources thereafter and is mentioned again in the early 8th century: in 715, the deposed emperor Anastasios II fled there, and the city successfully resisted attacks by the Umayyad Caliphate in 716 and 727. [5] The city was again damaged by the 740 Constantinople earthquake, served as the base of the rebellion of Artabasdos in 741/2, and served as the meeting-place of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which condemned Byzantine Iconoclasm, in 787 (the council probably met in the basilica of Hagia Sophia). [6] Nicaea became the capital of the Opsician Theme in the 8th century and remained "a center of administration and trade" (C. Foss). A Jewish community is attested in the city in the 10th century. Due to its proximity to Constantinople, the city was contested in the rebellions of the 10th and 11th centuries as a base from which to threaten the capital. It was in the wake of such a rebellion, that of Nikephoros Melissenos, that it fell into the hands of Melissenos' Turkish allies in 1081. [7] The Seljuk Turks made Nicaea the capital of their possessions in Asia Minor until 1097, when it returned to Byzantine control with the aid of the First Crusade after a long siege. [7]

The 12th century saw a period of relative stability and prosperity at Nicaea. The Komnenian emperors Alexios, John and Manuel campaigned extensively to strengthen the Byzantine presence in Asia Minor. Major fortifications were constructed across the region, especially by John and Manuel, which helped to protect the city and its fertile hinterland. There were also several military bases and colonies in the area, for example the one at Rhyndakos in Bithynia, where the emperor John spent a year training his troops in preparation for campaigns in southern Asia Minor.

After the fall of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade in 1204, and the establishment of the Latin Empire, Nicaea escaped Latin occupation and maintained an autonomous stance. From 1206 on, it became the base of Theodore Laskaris, who in 1208 was crowned emperor there and founded the Empire of Nicaea. The Patriarchate of Constantinople, exiled from Constantinople, also took up residence in the city until the recapture of Constantinople in 1261. Although Nicaea was soon abandoned as the primary residence of the Nicaean emperors, who favoured Nymphaion and Magnesia on the Maeander, the period was a lively one in the city's history, with "frequent synods, embassies, and imperial weddings and funerals", while the influx of scholars from other parts of the Greek world made it a centre of learning as well. [7]

After the restoration of the Byzantine Empire in 1261, the city once again declined in importance. The neglect of the Asian frontier by Michael VIII Palaiologos provoked a major uprising in 1262, and in 1265, panic broke out when rumours circulated of an imminent Mongol attack. [7] Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos visited the city in 1290 and took care to restore its defences, but Byzantium proved unable to halt the rise of the nascent Ottoman emirate in the region. [7] After Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos and John Kantakouzenos were defeated at Pelekanon on 11 June 1329, the Byzantine government could no longer defend Nicaea. Nicaea finally surrendered to the Ottomans after a long siege 2 March 1331. [8]

Ottoman Empire

In 1331, Orhan I captured the city from the Byzantines and for a short period the town became the capital of the expanding Ottoman emirate. [9] Many of its public buildings were destroyed, and the materials were used by the Ottomans in erecting their mosques and other edifices. The large church of Hagia Sophia in the centre of the town was converted into a mosque and became known as the Orhan Mosque. [10] A madrasa and baths were built nearby. [11] In 1334 Orhan built a mosque and an imaret (soup kitchen) just outside the Yenisehir gate (Yenişeh Kapısı) on the south side of the town. [12] With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the town lost a great degree of its importance, but later became a major centre with the creation of a local faïence pottery-making industry in the 17th century.


Hagia Sophia of Nicaea (Iznik) in 2012 Hagia Sophia Iznik.JPG
Hagia Sophia of Nicaea (İznik) in 2012

The ancient walls, with their towers and gates, are relatively well preserved. 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. [13] 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. [13]

The Church of the Dormition, the principal Greek Orthodox church in Nicaea, was one of the most architecturally important Byzantine churches in Asia Minor. A domed church with a cross-shaped nave and elongated apse, and dating from the perhaps as early as the end of the 6th century, its bema was decorated with very fine mosaics that had been restored in the 9th century. The Church of the Dormition was destroyed in 1922; only the lower portions of some of its walls survive today. [14]

Excavations are underway in the Ottoman kilns where the historic Nycean tileware were made. The Hagia Sophia of Nicaea is also undergoing restoration.

See of Nicaea

The bishopric of Nicaea remains as a titular see of the Roman Catholic Church, [15] which has left the seat vacant since the death of its last titular bishop in 1976. [16] It is also a titular metropolitan see of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The incumbent 2001–2010 was the former Archbishop of Karelia and All Finland, Metropolitan Johannes (Rinne). [17]

Notable people

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  1. 1 2 Stefanidou 2003, 2. Foundation, other names.
  2. 1 2 3 Stefanidou 2003, 3. History.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 DGRG, Nicaea
  4. 1 2 Stefanidou 2003, 5. Culture - architecture.
  5. 1 2 3 Foss 1991, p. 1463.
  6. Foss 1991, pp. 1463–1464.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Foss 1991, p. 1464.
  8. Donald M. Nicol, The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453, second edition (Cambridge: University Press, 1993), pp. 169f
  9. Raby 1989, p. 19–20.
  10. Tsivikis, Nikolaos (23 March 2007), "Nicaea, Church of Hagia Sophia", Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Asia Minor, Foundation of the Hellenic World, retrieved 20 September 2014.
  11. St. Sophia Museum, ArchNet, retrieved 20 September 2014.
  12. Raby 1989, p. 20.
  13. 1 2 Comp. William Martin Leake, Asia Minor, pp. 10, foll.; Von Prokesch-Osten, Erinnerungen, iii. pp. 321,foll.; Richard Pococke, Journey in Asia Minor, iii. pp. 181, foll.; Walpole,'Turkey'[', ii. p. 146; Eckhel, Doctr. Num. i. pp. 423, foll.; Rasche, Lexic. Rei Num. iii. l. pp. 1374, foll.
  14. Cyril Mango, "Byzantine Architecture", p90.
  15. Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013, ISBN   978-88-209-9070-1), p. 939
  17. "Biography of Metropolitan Johannes (Rinne) of Nicea" (in Greek). Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Retrieved 2008-10-18.