What is the rare Obsidian rock and why was it important to St. Nicholas?

Image: St. Nicholas’s Church on the island of Obsidian rock

As we sail along the Lycian shore, east from the Gulf of Fethiye, a wild and rugged coast with a strong of large mountains starting with the 7,000 ft Baba Dag or ‘Father Mountain’ as it is also known, comes into view, a noble limestone giant. Progressing eastwards, you can see the sun rise over the mountains and then magnificently over the sea.

Nearby Father Mountain was once a volcanic crack, and up through this flowed a rare black lava, a hard, silica-rich glass-like volcanic rock filled with bubbles of gas known by the wonderful name of Obsidian.

This rock formed the small, steep-sided island known as St. Nicholas’s Island. Home to an early Christian community probably founded in the 4th century BC, it has five churches, a rare vaulted processional way and what may be the ruins of St. Nicholas’s religious college.

All the buildings and two large areas of early Christian vaulted tombs are built of the blackish Obsidian rock, rough-hewn and held together with weak Byzantine cement mortar. So Obsidian provided vital building material for these developments. It can be coarse with many bubbles but also sometimes fine enough to make jewellery with.

I know of only two other places where you will find Obsidian, although I am sure it does occur elsewhere: on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands and at the Langdale Pikes in Cumbria, England, but our gulet MS Odysseus does not sail to either of these places.