The historic cave church of St. Peter in southern Turkey, one of the oldest churches in the world, has become a major destination for faith-based tourism.
In the province of Hatay, the cave church was carved out of the mountainside of Mount Staurin (Mount Starius), in the Antioch region (modern-day Antakya) of the Apostle Peter's early ministry. The church, also known as St. Pierre Church, is some 9.5 meters wide, 13 meters long and seven meters high, and in 2011 was added to UNESCO's Tentative World Heritage List.
According to UNESCO's website, the church, the world's very first cathedral, dates to the years 38-39 A.D. and was dedicated to the first pope, St. Peter (Pierre).
"The church was announced as a place of pilgrimage by the pope in 1963 since it "witnessed the first Christians and their meetings," said the website.
"Every year, thousands of local and foreign tourists visit the church. It is an important place for religious tourism," Hüsnü Işıkgör, the provincial culture and tourism director, told Anadolu Agency (AA).
"Also, every year religious ceremonies are carried out here. Our aim is to add the church to UNESCO's permanent list," he said. Hatay, one of Turkey's cosmopolitan provinces, is home to various different ethnic and religious groups, including Turks and Turkmens, Arabs and Alawites, Syriac Orthodox Christians, Syriac Catholics and Armenians.