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Did You Know … ?

  • The world’s first coins were minted in ancient Sardis where Croesus was king.
  • The long-haired angora cat originated naturally in central Turkey and is regarded as a national treasure.
  • Tulips and coffee came to Europe and the West via Turkey.
  • The early church’s Nicene Creed (325 A.D.) was created in Nicaea, now Iznik, Turkey.
  • The tale of Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian Knot was set at Gordium in today’s Turkey.

At the crossroads of history

Turkey elicits a surprising diversity of impressions in the mind of the interested traveler. Try these: the Gordian Knot, the Gallipoli campaign, tulips, coffee, native sons Herodotus and St. Paul, angora cats, carpets and kilim rugs, Noah’s Ark and Mount Ararat, water pipes, whirling dervishes, Troy, the kings Croesus and Midas.

It is difficult to comprehend how many individuals or peoples who made the world what it is today also made Asia Minor (now Turkey) their stage. The Troy of Homer was in Turkey — and coexisted with the Hittites. Later kingdoms included Phrygians (and King Midas) and the Lydians (the last monarch was Croesus).

Conquerors included the Persians, Alexander the Great and the Romans (including Julius Caesar himself). The Eastern Roman Empire morphed into the Byzantine and was eventually taken by the Ottoman Turks — with a brief interruption by the scourges of Tamerlane.

Numerous Asia Minor city names appear in the New Testament, and the Virgin Mary is believed to have lived her last years at Ephesus.

Turkey is a secular democracy with modern hotels, resorts and spas, plus mountains for skiing, lots of often warm and sunny coastline for water sports.  However, North Americans generally are drawn by the culture — the food, music and all that history. Those who like really old places can visit the ruins at Troy, Gordium (Phrygia), Sardis (Lydia) and numerous Hittite sites.

Roman leavings include theaters that are still used; Ephesus is most prominent among sites associated with early Christianity, and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul leads the long list of surviving Byzantine churches and monasteries. In Cappadocia, tourists see painted churches and even some homes carved out of soft rock.

There are the more recent Ottoman palaces and mosques to appreciate, as well. Then, there is fascinating Istanbul, the city that more than any other is most aptly described as being at the crossroads of history.

Turkey’s democracy has experienced bumps, but on the whole it works. Turkey also experiences occasional earthquakes, which can be severe. It is advisable to monitor the news when planning this trip.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Turkey boasts at least a dozen hotels that were dug out of soft rock. Overnight in one.
  • Climb Mount Nemrut in southeastern Turkey. Its peak, at more than 6,000 feet, is the site of the astonishing (and UNESCO-listed) remains of 26- to 33-foot statues commissioned by Antiochos I, king of the Commagene kingdom in the first century BC. Stone reliefs with more outsized figures decorate the high-altitude terraces. Fly to Adiyaman to see this.
  • Watch camel wrestling in Izmir.
  • Plan an itinerary around ancient Hittite sites, which can be found in numerous places around the country. Include Troy (located in Hisarlik) in the itinerary; the Trojans were contemporaries of the Hittites.
  • Charter a boat for a multiday sailing trip on the Aegean coast of Turkey. Or, join a yacht tour at Bodrum.
  • Adrianople, located near the Bulgarian border and now called Edirne, was the Ottoman capital for nearly 100 years. As a result, the city — called a living museum — boasts bazaars, bridges, caravanserais, mosques and palaces of interest to tourists. Visit in the summer when the city hosts the Kirkpinar Greased Wrestling Contests.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Some medieval caravanserais have been converted into modern hotels. Book a room in one of them.
  • Shop (and bargain) until you drop at any of several Turkish bazaars.
  • In Konya, be mesmerized by whirling dervishes, who are members of the mystic Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi religious order.
  • Find an opportunity to smoke tobacco using a Turkish water pipe. Buy one to take home, as well.
  • There are several places for alpine skiing in Turkey. Sample the slopes at Uludag, near Bursa, which is the country’s largest center for winter sports.
  • Book a tour to Cappadocia and spend several days exploring ancient painted churches carved out of the area’s soft rock; take a look — with a guide, to avoid getting lost — at an underground city, too.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Book a packaged tour that lets you follow the path of St. Paul in Turkey.
  • Join a guided tour to get the most out of a visit to Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. Do the same for a better appreciation of the city’s Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia (once a Byzantine church, dating from the 6th century), as well.
  • Experience a Turkish bath. Facilities modeled on traditional hamams can be found in many fine hotels.
  • Buy a good carpet for your home.
  • Book a room in the Loft, a wing of the five-star Marmara Antalya that rotates continuously the full 360 degrees after the manner of a rotating restaurant.
  • Get a handle on Turkey’s long and fascinating history through antiquities on exhibit at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. The building is a museum piece, too; it is a restored covered bazaar.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism at