Turkey – Between Cultures, Between Histories
Spanning a rich history of over 4,000 years, Turkey offers its guests a rich, heady mix of European and Asian delights, ranging from stunning historical landmarks to delicious Turkish cuisine and unforgettable entertainment. Turkey continues to be one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, attracting almost forty million tourists every year. The natural landscape alone is stunning, with tall rugged mountains and ruins of ancient empires scattered across the countryside. Every region, too, is unique in its approach to food, history, and heritage, with each region offering up distinct ingredients and recipes. Turkey is also famous for its beaches, from its secluded coves for more private adventures, to its sprawling beaches that are perfect for larger parties. The stunning blue water of the Mediterranean alone is worth the visit to this historically significant space.
The country’s most populous city is definitely the first place to start for any person who’s visiting Turkey for the first time – the city offers unique cultural and historical riches, combined with the fact that Istanbul has been home to numerous civilisations over the years, makes it a fascinating place to visit. Each region within the city contains a new mystery to uncover, and with over 2500 years of history, the city is just begging to be explored.
One of Istanbul’s most popular sites is the Hagia Sophia, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, and certainly one with a fascinating history. Initially built as the Christian cathedral of Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) at around 537, the building served as a charge for over 900 years, till the conquest of Sultan Mehmed, where it was converted to a mosque for approximately half a century. In 1935, the building was eventually converted into a museum, inviting guests from across the globe to enter and take a close look at the building’s stunning design and mosaic tiles, while learning about Turkish history.
Another delightful place to visit is Istiklal Avenue, a mile-long pedestrian walkway housing movie theatres, restaurants, shops, and nightclubs – making it one of the most popular places in the city. For those who don’t feel like walking, the tram is available, all the way to Taksim Square, where you can check out the monument of the republic – the square itself is considered to be the heart of modern Istanbul, and is the central station of the city’s metro network.
Bursa is a city in north-western Turkey, and is the country’s fourth most populous city. Colloquially known as ‘Green Bursa’, the city is filled with gardens and parks, and is situated at the centre of a fruit-growing region. The city is also famous for its peaches, its silk, and its thermal springs. Approximately 90 kilometres from Istanbul, the city’s a popular destination thanks to its UNESCO World Heritage Sites, its stunning handmade souvenirs, and its thermal springs at public bathhouses and spas that are scattered throughout the city.
Bursa’s downtown bazaar, too, is a fantastic place to visit for shopping, eating, interacting with locals, and absorbing the region’s culture. Two major highlights are Koza Han and the Ulu Cami’i, the Grand Mosque. Many guests choose to walk around the bazaar just to soak it all in, from the thriving city life to the stunning architecture around. The city is home to a number of museums as well, each one discussing the history of the city, its archaeology, its culture, and its heritage, along with a Science and Technology Museum that is a perfect visit for families with young ones.
Izmir, the third most populous city in Turkey, is another modern city that is a must-visit for any tourist looking for an unforgettable experience. From ancient monuments to sun-kissed days out on the waterfront, the city is inviting for its laid-back nature, making it lovely for visitors looking for a relaxing weekend filled with stunning views and Turkish coffee.
The city’s market, Kemeralti, is worth the walk around the bazaar to fully soak up the Turkish spirit. Initially built during the Byzantine empire, the market is a short distance from Konak Square, and is a pleasant space to visit to witness Turkish bargaining, along with being a fantastic place to visit to get to know local cultures and traditions. The market also offers a range of local food specialties, making it a must-visit for those looking to try out new flavours. The Konak Square, on the other hand, is famous for its clock tower, built as a gift to Sultan Abdulhamid, and is over 120 years old. The square is populated with cafés, restaurants, and bars, making it a fun place to visit once the sun sets.
For visitors who want to spend time near the sparkling blue water, the Aslancak quarter is one of the city’s most beautiful spaces. The waterfront is filled with restaurants and bakeries, and the traditional Greek houses, coupled with the picturesque views of the water, make for some stunning memories (and photos!).
Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish, is a natural site in Denizli, south-western Turkey. The area is recognised as a World Heritage Site, along with Hierapolis, an ancient Greek city whose ruins are adjacent to Pamukkale in Turkey, both forming an archaeological museum. The area comprises of natural mineral basins that are formed against bright calcium bicarbonate deposits formed by calcite-filled waters, resulting in a surreal landscape. These white deposits stand out against the natural bright blue pools that are formed in layers, and are one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.
The museum, too, is worth the visit, for guests looking to learn more about Pamukkale and Hierapolis. The museum houses historical artefacts from Hierapolis, along with a large section devoted to artefacts found at Beycesultan, including artefacts from the Bronze Age. The site itself can be explored a myriad of ways, from walking along the pathway, down up to the pools, or even by air – with companies organising hot air balloon flights to marvel at the white deposits from above.
Cappadocia is a historical region in Central Anatolia, in Turkey, and has become a popular tourist destination thanks to its unique geological, historic, and cultural features. The tour of Cappadocia includes four cities – namely, Nevsehir, Kayseri, Aksaray, and Nigde. This historical space is home to many stunning valleys, but its most popular tourist attraction is the hot air balloon ride, one of the best methods of transport to fully absorb Cappadocia’s natural beauty. The hot air balloon rides last for approximately one hour, and allows guests to soar far above the valleys and rock formations – the experience is heightened with other hot air balloons in the sky, making it picturesque and breath-taking.
Apart from Cappadocia’s rock formations, the underground cities are another site worth visiting. Believed to have housed around 10,000 people, the 36 cities were originally used to escape the harsh winter, later being used as a hiding spot for Christians to escape Roman persecution. The cities are worth the visit due to their stunning architecture – housing everything including a winery, storage rooms, bedrooms, stables, and even a church, complete with ventilation shafts to keep the air fresh.
Cappadocia also houses a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Goreme Open Air Museum. This museum originally was a Byzantine monastic settlement that housed monks, and currently contains some of the finest rock-cut churches. The churches themselves are wonderfully painted, with murals dating from 900 – 1200 AD.
Fethiye, a city in the Muğla Province in the Aegean Region of Turkey, is another popular tourist destination in the Turkish Riviera, particularly during the summer months. The city works as a holiday resort, and as a convenient entry point for the ruins of other Lycian cities (an ancient civilisation particularly noted for their unique burial habits), and the city is known for its stunning beach and lagoon at Ölüdeniz.
The Blue Flag Ölüdeniz Beach alone is worth the visit to Fethiye, thanks to the stunning blue water of the lagoon and the calm, soft sands of the beach. Visitors are encouraged to visit the beach at their own leisure, and is one of the best beaches in Turkey. One section of the beach faces the commercial street of Ölüdeniz, and is filled with paragliders (which Ölüdeniz is famous for); visitors can sign up for a tandem ride off Babadag Mountain, giving a birds-eye view of the lagoon before landing on the soft beach. Along the beach are the rows of restaurants and bars, separated by a walkway. Dining in one of the restaurants, with the lagoon on one side and the thriving city on the other, makes for a perfect meal, particularly with the sun setting on the crystal-clear lagoon.
Fethiye is also famous for its Lycian sites, with a number of monuments scattered around the city. The most famous is the rock-cut Tomb of Amyntas, in the south of Fethiye. As you walk up the hill towards the tomb, you will be able to see Lycian sarcophagi along the way, with more tombs by the town hall in the city’s centre. The city also houses a few pieces of Roman architecture, back when the Romans conquered Turkey. The Roman Theatre is small and is partially excavated (having originally been built at around 2nd century BC), and would have originally seated around 6,000 spectators. Guests are allowed to climb to the top of the theatre, allowing for stunning views of the town and the sea, and the park opposite the theatre is a great place to rest one’s legs and relax in the shade.
Kas is a small fishing, fiving, and yachting town in the district of Antalya Province in Turkey, and is a fantastic place to spend the dayon the seaside. The town of Kas is a stunning visit, and the centre has a Hellenistic theatre, along with beaches and underwater caves – and plenty of exploration tours to check these caves out. For scuba divers, there are several spots underwater, including an underwater sculpture of a shark, sculpted by Kemal Tufan. The small town is mainly about the beach – the bright summer sun, stunning blue sea, and soft sand. The Kaputas Beach in particular is a popular tourist beach, but for guests looking for a quieter spot to relax in the sun, the beaches of Liman Agzi are on the opposite peninsula, and are easily accessible by water-taxi from Kas’s harbour
Off of Kas’s shore les the island of Meis. The ferry ride is approximately 20 minutes, though Meis actually belongs to Greece, making this short trip an international one. The island of Meis, too, is worth the visit, thanks to its coastal caves and hikes along the hills to abandoned church ruins. The village alongside the harbour, too, is a fantastic place to spend the afternoon amongst its many cafés and calm, pastel-coloured buildings.
Trabzon, historically known as ‘Trebizond’ in English, is a city on the Black Sea coast of north-eastern Turkey, and is the capital of the Trabzon province. The city is located on the historical Silk Road, and became a hotspot of religions, languages, and cultures, along with a trade gateway for Persia and the Caucasus. Now, the city is covered with remnants of its rich history, including churches, monasteries, mosques, and so much more. One interesting site to visit is the Sumela Monastery, tucked into the side of a steep cliff, overlooking a stunning landscape. The Greek Orthodox monastery was first built in 386 AD, and is at an altitude of 1,200 metres over the Altindere National Park.
The Trabzon Kalesi, located in the city itself, dates back the Byzantine empire. The structure is comprised of three fortresses, and scholars believe that a few parts date back to 2,000 BC, when it served as an acropolis. Trabzon, too, has a Hagia Sophia, a former Greek Orthodox church first built between 1238 and 1263, before being converted to a mosque in 1584. The Hagia Sophia church is an important example of Byzantine architecture, and is worth the visit for its stunning pavement of multicoloured stones, its high central dome, and the external relief found on the stone.
This country that straddles both Europe and Asia has been a culturally significant and powerful part of world history, with knowledge, goods, and services flowing through Turkey to either continent, resulting in the country becoming a melting pot of culture, religion, tradition, and information for centuries on end. Having witnessed many empires and civilisations cross its ground, Turkey has an incredible number of archaeological sites spread out all over the country, and each site contains aeons of history just begging to be explored and rediscovered. Similarly, the museums scattered across the country actively preserve findings from these sites, while the markets and bazaars do a fantastic job of promoting local culture, cuisine, and goods for guests to enjoy.
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