Saturday, September 08, 2007

Remains of the day

Ephesus, Turkey — When St. Paul arrived here nearly 2,000 years ago, this bustling port city was famous for its enormous amphitheater, highly coveted marble and one of the wonders of the ancient world.

When Paul left three years later, Ephesus was known for something else entirely: a budding Christian community whose adjustments to a new religion provide guidance for followers of Jesus, even today.

While Jerusalem and northern Israel are well-known hubs for Christian pilgrims interested in where Jesus lived and died, Turkey offers deeper insights about the path and progress of his followers and his faith.

Roughly 70 percent of the sites mentioned in the New Testament — places like Tarsus, Ephesus, Antioch, Galatia — are in present-day Turkey, the area where Paul spent almost 20 years working to spread Christianity to non-Jewish residents of the region.

Few U.S. tourists

These historic sites, as well as the country's beaches, liberal culture and reputation for safety have made Turkey a favorite vacation spot for Europeans and a growing tourist hub over the last decade. Americans, however, have not been part of the trend. Of the nearly 20 million tourists who vacationed in Turkey in 2006, only 2 percent came from the United States, according to Turkey's Ministry of Tourism.

But for those interested in travel to the Middle East, whether for religious or other reasons, Turkey provides an excellent starting point. And its economy is easier on a wallet than Europe or Israel.

Basing a trip at one of Turkey's Aegean Sea beach resorts allows visitors to take advantage of the country's major tourist draws, including well-kept biblical sights like Ephesus, whose majestic ruins have been likened to those in Pompeii for their scope and visual majesty.

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