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Iznik (Nicaea)

More than tiles

Best Time to Visit
May-October

Population
43.425

Airports
Bursa Airport

Best Places to Stay
Bursa

In northwest Turkey, a large beautiful lake occupies 298 km² worth of land. It is bounded by hills to the north and south, and to the east lies a fertile basin on which a small town stands. The mysterious town is surrounded on all sides by walls about 10m (33 ft) high, indicating that it must be ancient.

And ancient it is, for this is what was historically known as Nicaea, the venue of the first and seventh ecumenical councils. It was once a city of great importance to the Christians of the Eastern Roman, but time, which wears down all things, has reduced it to a small town with aging walls. This town is now Iznik, an administrative district in the province of Bursa that is home to a farming population.

Iznik’s rich history has bestowed upon it a pull that draws people from all corners of the world. As a result, hundreds of thousands of tourists every year pass through the ancient city walls on their way to explore and experience life in the small town.

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In northwest Turkey, a large beautiful lake occupies 298 km² worth of land. It is bounded by hills to the north and south, and to the east lies a fertile basin on which a small town stands. The mysterious town is surrounded on all sides by walls about 10m (33 ft) high, indicating that it must be ancient.

And ancient it is, for this is what was historically known as Nicaea, the venue of the first and seventh ecumenical councils. It was once a city of great importance to the Christians of the Eastern Roman, but time, which wears down all things, has reduced it to a small town with aging walls. This town is now Iznik, an administrative district in the province of Bursa that is home to a farming population.

Iznik’s rich history has bestowed upon it a pull that draws people from all corners of the world. As a result, hundreds of thousands of tourists every year pass through the ancient city walls on their way to explore and experience life in the small town.

Concierge Pin

Planning a trip to Iznik soon? Answer this trip planner and get your FREE quotation within 24 hours.

The History

Before Arrival

When to Go

What to Eat

Tips & Etiquette

Strabo writes that the city was founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals, Antigonus. He aptly named it Antigoneia, but it was later captured by Lysimachus, another of Alexander’s generals. Lysimachus would go on to rename the city Nicaea after his wife. The name stuck for centuries after the city’s conquest by the Bithynians, Romans, Goths, and Romans (again).

Nicaea’s best years came in the late Roman and Byzantine periods; they built its walls. When emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and made it the official religion of his empire, Nicaea became an important religious center. The first and the seventh ecumenical councils were held here, with the former culminating in the Nicene Creed.

The city would then briefly serve as the capital of the rising Ottoman Empire. During this time, the name would be changed to Iznik, and likewise, most of the churches built by the Byzantine would be converted into mosques.

By the 16th century, Iznik had been reduced to a small town of about 2000 people. Still, it was popular for its beautiful tiles and ceramics that now adorn many historical buildings in Turkey. Unfortunately, the trade declined and virtually went extinct in the 17th century before being revived in the late 20th century.

Iznik was severely damaged during the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922), and many inhabitants fled. Fortunately, the town has bounced back and is now home to an estimated population of 45,000 people.

Moreover, due to its role in the development and survival of early Christianity, Iznik was declared a holy city for Christians at the end of the 19th Ecumenical council held in Vatican City in 1962.

Bursa, which is only 50 miles (80 km) away by road, is the preferred base for people visiting the region. So make sure to book your accommodation in advance.

You’ll most likely be visiting in summer. So, make sure that you pack light clothes that will allow you to endure the summer heat better. And since you’ll spend much of your tour exploring on foot, make sure to wear comfortable flat walking shoes.

July offers the best climate to visit Iznik due to the warm weather and relatively low humidity. However, if you want to enjoy skiing in the nearby Uludag mountain, you should visit between December and March in winter and autumn.

Due to the fertile soil of Bursa, Iznik has one of the richest natural cuisines in Turkey. You’ll enjoy Candied Chestnut, Bursa Doner Kebab, Pita Kofta, Tahini Pita, Cantik, Inegol Kofta, Milk Halvah, etc.

You’ll visit some mosques during your travel. These have certain dress restrictions, i.e., cover your knees and shoulders at all times and your hair if you’re female. You’ll also have to take off your shoes before entering the mosque.

Otherwise, wear comfortable walking shoes and carry an ultralight day pack to carry extra clothes if you plan to.

Enjoy the best of Iznik Tours

Iznik sits in a picturesque setting on a fertile basin of land next to the big, beautiful lake by the same name. One of the most striking features, even before you enter the town, is its ancient walls. Much of the original work survives, albeit it is pierced in several places for roads. This creates an intriguing mixture of old and new, a harmony between the ancient and the modern that is unlike anything you have ever seen before.

Several monuments from the Byzantine and Ottoman eras are still standing. These include the Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya), a Byzantine-era church built by Justinian I in the middle of Nicaea in the 6th century. If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it is; the building shares names with that Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Like its sister, the church was converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest. However, it isn’t nearly as beautiful as it was in its early days or as the one in Istanbul. Repeated earthquakes ensured that much of its beauty was reduced to rubble. And although it was restored to its original shape in 2007, it’s only good for highlighting the nature of Byzantine architecture.

A particularly beautiful building in town is the Yesol Camii (Green Mosque). This 14th-century structure with remarkable tiles adorning its minaret is a must-see attraction in Iznik. Here, you’ll glimpse one of the earliest and finest examples of Ottoman architecture to take inspiration from the Seljuk’s traditional style of tile decorations.

And speaking of tiles, did you know that most tiles used in the mosques and temples of Istanbul came from Iznik? Midway through the last millennium, the town had a thriving industry that produced beautiful tiles and ceramic pieces for the Ottoman elite. One of the most iconic tiles made in Iznik is the Blue Mosque’s blue tiles in Istanbul.

Unfortunately, the industry experienced a sharp decline in the 17th century, and all potteries were closed by 1716. As a result, the secrets of the Iznik artisans were lost for 200 years until efforts in the latter half of the last century successfully reintroduced ceramic production in the town. Today, you can carry these famous tiles back to your home country as souvenirs.

The Haci Ozbek Mosque is another location worth visiting in Iznik. It’s been dated back to 1333, making it the earliest known Ottoman mosque. There is a hospice in the complex, Nilufer Hatun Imaret that now acts as an archeological museum. It is full of findings and artifacts that offer a glimpse into the history and culture of the region.

Iznik Tours

  • Grand Turkey Tour

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    21 Nights / 22 Days
    Explore Anatolia's region as a whole on this 22 days tour of […]
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Where to Go Next

From Iznik, you can visit Bursa town, ski at Uludag mountain, or travel back to Istanbul to explore more.

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