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İznik has a distinguished past but a faded present. Nobody knows when the city was actually founded, but it was put on the map in 316 BC when one of Alexander the Great's generals claimed the city. It fell under the rule of many subsequent rulers, including the general Lysimachus, who renamed it Nicaea after his wife. The Seljuks made the city their capital for a brief period in the 11th century, and Byzantine emperors in exile did the same in the 13th century while Constantinople was in the hands of Crusaders. The Ottoman Sultan Orhan Gazi (ruled 1326–61) captured it in 1331. The famous İznik tiles, unequaled even today, were created under Ottoman rule.
İznik was an important city in early history, known as the site of the First and Second Councils of Nicaea, the first and seventh Ecumenical Councils, and the Nicene Creed; it was also the capitral of the Byzantine Empire for a short period, between 1204 and 1261. Today, however, it's a fairly average looking city, though with impressive city walls and a lovely lakefront. Nature has been generous to İznik and it's beautifully situated around the east end of İznik Lake, where you can swim (though the water can be chilly) or rent a kayak or paddleboat. The revival of the tile industry draws many travelers—many of whom end up placing huge orders for delivery overseas.
İznik is also an easy place to navigate: the town hasn't grown much, so the classical Roman layout still works. You'll almost certainly come across the city's walls as you explore; the four main gates date back to Roman times, and the city's two main streets intersect each other and end at these gates. Running north–south is Kılıçaslan Caddesi; east–west is Atatürk Caddesi. Sancta Sophia Church is at the intersection of these streets.
İznik at a Glance
Elsewhere in The Sea of Marmara and the North Aegean
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