Founded in 1923 out of the remnants of the great Ottoman Empire,modern Turkey is a young country but a very historic land. The legacies of the Greeks, Romans, Christian apostles, Byzantines, Ottoman Turks, and the other peoples that have called this area home have made Turkey into a vast outdoor museum full of beautiful, intriguing religious sites. Highlights of Turkey’s many religious treasures include the spectacular Byzantine churches and beautiful mosques of Istanbul; the ancient city of Antioch where emperors lived and apostles preached; the ruins of the fabled city of Pergamum on its windswept hilltop; the Sufi holy city of Konya; the otherworldly landscape and cave churches of Cappadocia; and the colonnaded streets and great theater of Ephesus. With its unique fusion of Europe and Asia, West and East, exotic and familiar, and ancient and modern, today’s Turkey is a delight to travelers.
Turkey might be the world’s most contested country. Its landscape is dotted with battlegrounds, ruined castles and the palaces of great empires. This is the land where Alexander the Great slashed the Gordion Knot, where Achilles battled the Trojans in Homer’s Iliad, and where the Ottoman Empire fought battles that would shape the world. History buffs can immerse themselves in marvels and mementos stretching back to the dawn of civilisation.
But however deep its past, Turkey is now a thrusting and dynamic society that embraces cultural, economic and political change while consciously seeking to retain the best of its multicultural heritage and time-honoured traditions of hospitality.
Treat Turkey as that most quintessential of Turkish dishes, the meze, a table piled high with scrumptious treats. Throw away the menu, order a plate of everything and feast till you can’t go on. Afiyet olsun!
For meteorologists, Turkey has seven distinct climatic regions, but from the point of view of most casual visitors, the most important distinctions are between the coast with its moderate winter temperatures and hot, humid summers, and the inland areas with their extremely cold winters and excessively hot summers.
Where to Stay
Hotels in Istanbul and throughout Turkey cover the full range of lodgings, from luxury palace hotels through charming, historic inns to simple but clean and cheap pensions and hostels, and even rental villas and flats/ apartments.
Most Turkish hotels offer rooms with private bathrooms, and include breakfast in the rates.
Below are descriptions of the ratings by the national Ministry of Tourism.
Special-Class Hotels & Inns
When to go
Spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October) are the best times to visit, since the climate will be perfect for sightseeing in Istanbul and on the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, and it will be cool in central Anatolia, but not unpleasantly so.
Anticipate crowds along all coastal areas from mid-June until early September. Also, try not to visit the Gallipoli Peninsula around Anzac Day (25 April) unless it’s particularly important for you to be there at that time.
What to buy
The color, grain and light passing through this pretty stone is why you like it.
Old stuff is found all over Turkey, but the best antique shops are undoubtedly in Istanbul.
Turkey produces a lot of wool and cotton, and manufactures a lot of clothing from it. Quality varies from poor to excellent. You’ll see many knock-offs (fake goods) bearing famous brands, names and logos.
Books, Maps & Prints (Old)
Istanbul has the best places to shop.
Brass & Copper
They’re attractive, decorative, useful and relatively inexpensive, but don’t use copper items for cooking or serving unless the surfaces that contact food are completely covered in bright, silver-colored tin.
Carpets and kilims were part of Turkish nomadic households a thousand years before the Turks settled in Anatolia and lived in houses instead of tents and yurts. Carpet shops are everywhere in Turkey, but their carpets may not have been made in Turkey (did someone say China?).
Turkey has been famous for excellent faience (colored tilework) since the 16th century, when the kilns of Iznik turned out some of the most beautiful work ever made. The classic Iznik pieces are now classified as antiquities and may not be exported, but the master potters of Kütahya are still making excellent plates, bowls, cups, tiles and other items in the traditional way. They’re sold all over Turkey for prices from a few US dollars to several hundred, depending on the item and its quality.
Turkey is a good place to look for big, bold, old necklaces, brooches, clasps, belts and other items, as well as finer, more delicate modern work. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is good, as is the Egyptian (Spice) Market, but shops and bazaars in other towns will have interesting selections as well. When buying silver or gold, be sure to look for the maker’s hallmark stamped into an inconspicuous part of the piece, certifying that it is genuine. Pewter and nickel-silver are sometimes passed off as sterling silver, though not by reputable dealers.
A kilim is a woven mat. Unlike a carpet, it has no nap. The bold designs and earthy colors so valued in kilims are a Turkish hallmark. A few decades ago kilims were seen as inferior to carpets, and were much cheaper, but today the bold, forthright kilim designs and colors are valued, and priced appropriately. Shop around for what you like, and compare prices.
Where to visit
ISTANBUL – Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia which is situated at the Sultanahmet Square and which is considered as the biggest Christian place of worship for years is one of the most important historical places in İstanbul. According to Theophanes, Nikephoros and Grammarian Leon the first building of Hagia Sophia was erected during the reign of Emperor Constantius I (324-337). The church which was burned down in the year 532 AD took its present form during the reign of Emperor Justinian I. The construction of the church started in 532 and was completed in 537 AD. The interior of the basilica shape construction which is a characteristic example of Byzantine architecture has been decorated with mosaics, coloured marble plates, stained glass and ceiling coverings. Among the mosaics of Hagia Sophia there are important mosaics such as “ Virgin and Child “ in the apse and the mosaics displaying Constantine, Justinian, Imp. Zoe and Eugene on the narthex.
For over 900 years Hagia Sophia has been used as a church where the Orthodox Patriarch was seated. After the conquest of Istanbul in the year 1453 Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque and the mosaics inside the building were covered to meet the requirements of the Islam Religion. Hagia Sophia which was converted into a museum by Mustafa Kemal in the year 1934 has been taken under protection by UNESCO in the year 1993. Hagia Sophia may be visited from 09.00 to 16.30 every day except Monday.
ISTANBUL – Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque has been constructed between the years 1609-1616 by Mehmet Ağa who was one of the famous architects of the period. The mosque , originally called “I. Sultan Ahmet Mosque” is situated at the Sultanahmet square. The mosque complex includes a bazaar, bath and caravanserai. The Main Entrance of the Sultanahmet Mosque is on the side where the hippodrome from the Roman Empire time stands. The mosque is also called “Blue Mosque” due to the blue tiles used in the interior decoration of the mosque.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is the only mosque in Turkey that has six minarets. When the number of minarets was revealed, the Sultan was criticized for presumption, since this was, at the time, the same number as at the mosque of the Ka’aba in Mecca. He overcame this problem by paying for a seventh minaret at the Mecca mosque.
At its lower levels the interior of the mosque is lined with more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles, made at Iznik (the ancient Nicaea). Its upper levels are painted. Large crowds of both Turks and tourists gather at sunset in the park facing the mosque to hear the call to evening prayers, as the sun sets and the mosque is brilliantly illuminated by colored floodlights.
ISTANBUL – Topkapi Palace
The Topkapı palace which is one of the biggest palaces of the world is known as being first erected on 1478. The construction of Topkapı Palace which has been used as the government palace and the residence of the dynasty in the capitol city Istanbul of the Ottoman Empire has been completed in 1473 short after the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih Sultan Mehmet.
The Topkapı Palace has been erected on the Byzantine acropol situated in Sarayburnu at the end of the historical Istanbul peninsula between the Marmara Sea, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn constituting the topography of Istanbul.
The palace is open everyday except Tuesdays from 09.00-16.00 and from 12.00-16.00, during the first days of Ramadan and Sacrifice Feasts. The Harem section can be visited in groups with seperate ticket between 09.30-15.30
ISTANBUL – Golden Horn
The Golden Horn is the arm of the Bosphorus Strait penetrating into the land. The Golden Horn is 8 km. and the length of its shores reaches 18 kms. Haliç is also known as the Golden Horn. The traces of many civilizations are still hidden under the waters of the Golden Horn today. Along the banks of the Golden Horn there are numerous buildings from the Ottoman and Byzantine times.
ISTANBUL – Bosphorus
The Bosphorus Strait is a place adored by the world and is a symbol of Istanbul. Bosphorus which is the only passage connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean displays a marvellous tableau inspiring composers and poets while giving transit opportunity to foreign flag vessels. Today there are two bridges erected over the Bosphorus , namely the Bosphorus Bridge and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.
ANKARA – Anıtkabir Ataturk’s Mausoleum
Anıtkabir which is one of the symbols of Ankara and Turkey is the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic. The body of Ataturk who died at the Dolmabahçe Palace was temporarily buried at the Ethnographic Museum in Ankara and was transferred to Anıtkabir in 1953. Anıtkabir which is situated in Anıttepe district of Ankara has been erected on a rather high hill of the city. The sculptures and reliefs situated in Anıtkabir belong to famous sculptors such as Zühri Müritoğlu, Hamdi Bora and Nusret Duman.
The grave of Ataturk is in the foundation of a room beneath the mausoleum standing in the main building. Visitors who reach the Lion Road lined by statutes of Hittite lions after a wooded area arrive at a 80×130 m wide square where ceremonies are held. Right in front of the building which is known as the hall of Honor and where the mausoleum of Ataturk stands there is the grave of Ismet Inonu, the second president of the Republic of Turkey. The Anıtkabir museum is located in the southeast of the Ceremony Square. In the museum private belongings of Ataturk and gifts given to him are displayed. Ataturk’s private library is also open to visitors at another corner of the museum.
ANKARA – Anatolian Civilizations Museum
The Anatolian Civilizations museum is located in the district known as Atpazarı. The Anatolian Civilizations museum which is erected inside the Ottoman Bedesten near the Ankara Castle and which dates back to 15th century has moved here after the restoration works carried out between 1938-1968 were finished. Upon finalization of the restoration works the museum has been moved here in parts and took its present shape. One of the two buildings comprising the museum is Kursunlu Han which is used as a center where rooms for researchers, the library, conference room, laboratory and the workshops are situated.
Mahmut Paşa Bedesteni (1464- 1471) on the other hand is being used as display room. In the Anatolian Civilizations Museum very important remains from the Palaeolithic, Neolithic, Calcolithic, Old Bronze Age, Hittites, , Phrygians, Urartu, Late Hittites, Greek, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods are displayed. This museum was elected as the first from among 68 museums and has been awarded the “Museum of the Year” prize at a contest held in Switzerland in 1997.
CAPPADOCIA – Nevsehir – Goreme – Urgup
The city of Nevsehir is located within the boundaries of the Inner Anatolia in a region known as Cappadocia in the antique world. The fairy chimneys here attract worldwide attention. The fairy chimneys which are formed by natural events have hosted many civilizations since the antique ages and carried their traces to the present day.
Goreme is the heart of Cappadocia. The first settlement in the region ranges from Christianity to the Roman period. In Cappadocia there are churches carved into stones which cannot be noticed from outside. These churches are considered as hidden places of worship built before Christianity was recognised in the 4th century. In the churches there are colourful frescoes depicting stories from the Bible like a fable book.
Urgup which has a geological structure with vulcanic origin is settled in a district where typical examples of the interesting formations called fairy chimneys caused by rain and wind are frequently seen. The fairy chimneys formed between the splits of the rocks as a result of the erosion caused by the rain and the wind have formed a very interesting landscape specific to that region.
CAPPADOCIA – Zelve
Zelve related to Nevsehir is a town situated 2 km from the turnout on the Goreme-Avanos road where the Christian population lived together with the Muslims until recently. The majority of the fairy chimneys are found in this town.
Zelve is an open air museum where rather interesting natural formations can be seen. In Zelve there are many churches, monastries and mosques carved into stones along the three valleys joining each other via tunnels.
CAPPADOCIA – Avanos
Avanos, 18 km north of Nevsehir was named Venessa in the antique age. The history of Avanos, as per the archeologic researchs, dates back to the 2nd century BC. Settlement in Avanos which comprises 24 archeological building layers has continued until the Byzantine period. It is another fact known that during the Byzantine period the Christian culture settled here and that frescoes were put inside the fairy chimneys. Pottery is a tradition in this town where numerous pottery workshops are available.
CAPPADOCIA – Ihlara Valley
Ihlara Valley is located at a distance of 40 km from Aksaray. The valley can be reached by turning at the 11th km point of Aksaray-Nevsehir highway. The lava containing dense basalt and andesite vomited by Hasandag got cold thus leading to formation of crevices and settlements which then constituted the canyon.
The Melendiz brook which found its way through these crevices and gave the canyon its present shape was called “Potamus Kapadukus” in the early ages meaning the “Cappadocia River”. The 14 km long valley starts from Ihlara and ends in Selime.
The height of the valley reaches 100-150 m at certain places. Along the valley there are numerous shelters, tombs and churches carved into stones. Some shelters and churches are interconnected through tunnels as is the case in underground cities.
CAPPADOCIA – Mount Erciyes
Mount Erciyes with an elevation of 3917 m. stands within the provincial boundaries of Kayseri. This mountain at the same time is the fifth biggest mountain of Turkey.
It is suggested that the name of Mount Erciyes was derived from the greek word “Erkiyos” meaning white. If the weather is clear, there is a stunning view of an area stretching from Cappadocia to the Taurus mountains from the top of the Mount Erciyes .
Mount Erciyes which is one of the favourite places of those who like mountaineering for instance, is an important mountaineering center with its high but smooth routes. The first person to succesfully make the summit was W.J Hamilton in 1837. And the first Turk who made the summit was Miralay Cemil Cahit Bey in 1924.
Also there is a winter sports center on the mountain . Here activities such as skiing and snowboard are performed.
İZMİR – Kusadasi
Kusadasi is set in a superb gulf, on the site of a settlement founded by Ionians and identified as ancient Neapolis. In the vicinity were the two other Ionian cities of Phygale and Marathesion, but mighty Ephesus swapped Marathesion with Samos for Neapolis. Ephesus and Samos were both part of the Ionian Confederacy whose council, the Panionion, was held at the foot of Mount Mycale.
Following the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman domination, Neapolis was ruled by the Byzantines. After Ephesus had lost its prior prosperity and its harbour was totally silted up by the alluvial deposits of the Cayster river, the Byzantines searched for a new port and a new road that would be suitable for trading and chose Neapolis, then renamed Ania, instead. The town became an important port with the Greek, Jewish, and Armenian merchants, and was called Scala Nueva in the 15th century by the Venetian and Genoese colony of merchants which had established there.
In 1920 the domination of Izmir and its surroundings, of which Kusadasi, was granted to Greece by the Treaty of Sèvres. During the War of Independence in September 1922, it was taken back by the Turkish forces and the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) gave Izmir and its surroudings back to the new Turkish Republic.
İZMİR – Kusadasi – Selcuk – Ephesus
The first establishment of the antique City of Ephesus within the boundaries of Selçuk in İzmir dates back to 6000 BC , to the neolithic age.
During the researches and excavations settlements from the Bronze Age and Hittite period were found in the tumuluses around Ephesus (pre-historic tumulus settlements) and on the Ayasuluk Hill where the castle stands. During the Hittite period the city was named “Aphasas”.
The harbour city Ephesus where also immigrants from Greece settled moved to the neighbourhood of the Artemis Temple in 560 BC. Efes visited today has been founded by Lysimakhos, one of the generals of Alexander the Great in the year 300 BC. Efes which experienced its most glorious days during the Hellenistic and Roman Ages had a population of 200.000 as the capitol and the biggest harbour city of the Asian province. Today it is a touristic place with a population of 30.000 people. On the Road to the the Ephesus Ruins there stands the Efes Archaeologic Museum. Here findings from Roman and Byzantinium periods are displayed.
İZMİR – Sirince
Set in the hills 8 kms/ 5 miles above Selcuk, this picturesque charming village was once named Kirkince by its Greek inhabitants who settled here by the end of the 18th century. After the great exchange of population following the establishment of the Turkish Republic, the village was repopulated by Turkish people who called it Cirkince, a distortion of Kirkince (which in fact was how the Greeks pronounced the Turkish name Kirkinca!). As the word Cirkince means “ugly” in the Turkish language, the name was finally transformed in Sirince which means “pretty” and which really suits the village.
Most of the old Greek houses have been restored with their original characteristics outside ( wattle and daub technique, projecting upper storey) and the local Turkish layout and decoration inside, allowing the place to keep an authentic appearance and reveal a synthesis of Greco-Turkish culture. Some of these houses are open to visitors. A nice stroll will allow to discover the village with at the top its old church, and enjoy the panoramic views of the vineyards, peach orchards and olive groves.
The local people make and sell wine and even invite visitors to taste their vintage. They also sell other local produces such as olive oil, bay leaves, origano, fruits…
Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish, is a natural site in Denizli Province in southwestern Turkey. The city contains hot springs and travertines, terraces of carbonate minerals left by the flowing water. It is located in Turkey’s Inner Aegean region, in the River Menderes valley, which has a temperate climate for most of the year.
The ancient Greco-Roman and Byzantine city of Hierapolis was built on top of the white “castle” which is in total about 2,700 metres (8,860 ft) long, 600 m (1,970 ft) wide and 160 m (525 ft) high. It can be seen from the hills on the opposite side of the valley in the town of Denizli, 20 km away.
Tourism is and has been a major industry. People have bathed in its pools for thousands of years. As recently as the mid-20th century, hotels were built over the ruins of Hierapolis, causing considerable damage.
An approach road was built from the valley over the terraces, and motor bikes were allowed to go up and down the slopes. When the area was declared a World Heritage Site, the hotels were demolished and the road removed and replaced with artificial pools. Wearing shoes in the water is prohibited to protect the deposits.
The city center surrounded by sea and land walls is called “Kale Ici” today. The streets and buildings of Kaleici brings the traces of the history of Antalya to our present day. The old houses are not only important from the architectural point of view but also because they reflect critical information about the life style, behaviour, traditions and social aspects of the people.
Many houses in the Kaleici have been restored maintaining the original structure. Kaleici today has become a uniqe tourism center with entertainment centers, pensions, restaurants, souvenir shops and carpet shops where antique carpets are sold. As a result of the restoration works Kaleici has become a tourism center with its pensions, bars and bazaar. The harbour has been arranged as a yacht harbour.
Because of the names of legendary heroes Calchas and Mopsus written on the basis of statues, the inhabitants of Perge believed that their city had been founded after the Trojan War. However, Perge did not appear in history until Alexander the Great came here in 333 BC.
The beautiful sculptures from Perge are displayed in Antalya Archaeological Museum.
The Archaeological site of Perge includes: The Theatre, The Stadium, The 4C AD Gate, The Baths Complex, The Main Gate of the Hellenistic, The Colonnaded Street, The Agora.
The city which is one of the richest cities is found on two hills, one big the other small. The first name of the city as can be seen from the coins minted was Estwediya. The most powerful money in the antique world was the Aspendos coin. In the Aspendos theater built in the 2nd century BC, in the lower floor of the two tiered facade built of regularly dressed blocks of conglomerate there are five doors through which the actors entered the stage.
Small doors at orchestra level belong to the galleries where wild animals were kept. At the middle of the façade at the upper floor in a triangular shape pediment there is a relief of the wine god Dionysos who at the same time was the founder and patron of theaters. The theater with a capacity of 17.000 people is the best preserved standing amphitheater. The secret of the perfect acoustics created could not be revealed up todate. Agora, Basilica, Nymphaeum and the arched waterways reaching up to 15 km. are other places worth to see in Aspendos.