Nicaea, Byzantine City

Anthony Bryer takes a visit to Nicaea; The seat of early Church Councils and, for a while, of the Byzantine Emperors, it has a history stretching from the reign of Alexander the Great to the present day.

Those who fly from Istanbul to Ankara see first on the distant horizon the heights of Bithynian Olympus, which once swarmed with Byzantine hermits, and then, closer to the left, the factory chimneys of Nicomedia, the modern Izmit. The aircraft soon crosses the Ascanian Lake, a great inland sea, and flies directly over one of the most impressive aerial sights in Anatolia at its eastern shore: Nicaea.

From the air a pentagon of massive double city walls, three miles long, stand out like the crown to which a late Byzantine eulogist compared them. Huddled amid gardens in the centre of the ruined city are the roofs of the modern village of Iznik. Six ancient roads snake into the mountains: east to Dorylaeum and Ancyra (Ankara), west to Cius, Nicaea’s port on the Propontis, and north to Nicomedia and through the gorge of the Dracon to Helenopolis and ‘Civetot’, the ferry stations for Constantinople.

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