Iznik is the town’s modern name as throughout much of its history the town was better known as Nicea. Situated on the eastern shores of Lake Iznik, the town is easily accessible from Istanbul, with the most popular, and quickest, method of being by ferry to Yalova and then by bus.
The town was founded in the 4th century BC. Nicea was an important centre in late Roman and Byzantine times. Its importance to Christianity occurred in 325 AD when the great Council of Nicea was called by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, who had converted to Christianity a decade earlier. He had replaced official persecution of Christianity with official support. The Council of Nicea was the first ecumenical (worldwide) council of the church and was the seedling which saw the spread and acceptance of Christianity as the preferred religion throughout the known world at that time.
A second Council was conducted in Nicea in 787 AD in the Hagia Sophia church. The building you visit today, which has been dedicated as a Mosque, has been rebuilt after fire destroyed the original.
Nicea’s reign as a Christian centre ended in 1331 when the town was besieged and conquered by the Ottoman Turks. One of Iznik’s major attractions, the Green Mosque was built then and is still a great example of early Islamic architecture.
The Roman and Byzantine city walls, that are over 4 kilometres long, remain almost entirely intact around the city. They were built in 300 BC by the Greek Lysimachus, then ruler of the town, and were frequently repaired by the Byzantines and Ottomans. The main gate is called the Istanbul Gate and is on the north side of the wall. It is attractively decorated with a carved relief of fighting horsemen.
Also worth visiting is the Iznik Archaeological Museum which is very close to the mosque. Considered to be one of Iznik’s most prestigious historical buildings, the museum is housed in the Kitchen of Lady Nilüfer which was established in 1388 by the wife of Ottoman ruler of the time as a hospice for wandering religious dervishes. The museum’s collection consists mainly of Roman antiquities and glass. From the 15th century Iznik has been a tile-making centre and also on display are some recently-discovered Seljuk and Ottoman tiles.