The ancient city of Derbe may have been discovered in Karaman, in the Central Anatolian province of Turkey. If confirmed, the remnants of the city might become one of the greatest pilgrimage sites for Christians: one of the founders of the Christian faith, St.Paul, lived there while preaching his newly found faith.
While mostly a predominately Islamic country, Turkey is proving to be a holy place for Christians.
Starting with Saint Mary, who is believed to be buried in a little town of Meryemana on the Aegean cost of Turkey. The myrrh-impregnated bones of St. Nicholas, better known under the name of Santa Claus, were buried on the premises of a church in Myra where he taught. Historians can tell many stories about founders of the Christian faith living or teaching in Turkey, St.Paul among them. He was not only born there, in the city Taurus on the Mediterranean coast, but spent many years during his first two missionary journeys spreading his teachings throughout the country.
Now one of the episodes of his life might be uncovered by Turkish archeologists – the lost city of Derbe. It is said he stayed there twice, welcomed by local residents who gave him shelter after he was stoned in Iconium.
The exact location of Derbe has been a mystery for archeologists so far. It is only known that it is about 90 miles from Lystra and so few cities can claim that honor. New discoveries made by the excavation team of Selcuk University might put an end to the dispute.
“We have two stones with writings on them. The writings talk about the ancient city of Derbe. This is why we are looking for Derbe here,” explained the Associate Professor of Selcuk University, Mehmet Tekocak, to the Turkish Anadolu Agency.
But these two stones are not the only findings Turkish archeologists are proud of. So far they uncovered ancient wall remains, graves behind the walls, and the remnants of a structure they believe might have been a church – the one that served first Christians or even one where St. Paul was evangelizing his new flock.
If anthropologists confirm the age of the stones and bricks the walls is made of as well as the skeletons found in the graves, and date them back to the first Christians, newly found Derbe might become a holy place for Christians all over the world. Or so the city officials of Karaman hope.
Karaman is the closest town with 132,064 people living there. It is a historic place by itself known as Laranda in Biblical times. It was destroyed by one of Alexander the Great’s generals in 322 BC and later was settled by Isaurian people and then by the Romans and Byzantines.
With the newly discovered Christian relics, Karaman Governor Murat Koca expects tourists to flood the area, which is mostly rural, and bring more prosperity to the region. His hope may not be in vain. As soon as excavations have begun, tourists started visiting the place of excavations; with some of the pilgrims confessing that they have been waiting for this day for years.
Prosperity brought by touristic business is what the region needs badly to fully appreciate the value of archeological remnants. The Derbe site has already suffered some loss being used as a stone quarry for the locals.
Now, when archeologists came to the site, everything should change. Excavations are scheduled for the next three years and new findings may lead to many historical discoveries dating back long before Christian times. So far the oldest ceramic items found in this tumulus has been dated to 8,000 years.
Though archeologists feel very excited about ceramics found here on the site dating back to the oldest time of human civilization, they also hope to unearth more buildings connected to the early period of Christianity. It is written in Acts in the Bible that St. Paul stayed in Derbe and taught there. With the archeological discoveries confirming this little site in Turkey, lost in the sandy hills of Central Anatolia, might become one of the greatest treasuries of the Christian world.
By Alsu Salakhutdinov