Istanbul verifiably otherwise called Constantinople and Byzantium, is the most crowded city in Turkey and the nation’s financial, social, and noteworthy focus. Istanbul is a cross-country city in Eurasia, straddling the Bosphorus strait between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Its business and authentic focus lies on the European side and around 33% of its populace lives on the Asian side. The city is the managerial focal point of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality both facilitating a populace of around 14 million residents Istanbul is one of the world’s most crowded urban areas and positions as the world’s seventh biggest city appropriate and the biggest European city.
Established under the name of Byzantium on the Sarayburnu projection around 660 BCE, the city created to wind up a standout amongst the most huge ever. After its restoration as Constantinople in 330 CE, it served as a majestic capital for very nearly 16 centuries, amid the Roman and Byzantine (330–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin (1204–1261), and the Ottoman (1453–1922) empires. It was instrumental in the progression of Christianity amid Roman and Byzantine times, before the Ottomans vanquished the city in 1453 and changed it into an Islamic fortification and the seat of the Ottoman Caliphate.
Istanbul’s key position on the notable Silk Road, rail systems to Europe and the Middle East, and the main ocean course between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean have created a cosmopolitan masses, albeit less so since the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. Ignored for the new capital Ankara amid the interwar period, the city has subsequent to recovered quite a bit of its unmistakable quality. The number of inhabitants in the city has expanded tenfold since the 1950s, as transients from crosswise over Anatolia have moved in and city limits have extended to oblige them. Arts, music, film, and social celebrations were set up toward the end of the twentieth century and keep on being facilitated by the city today. Base upgrades have delivered an unpredictable transportation system.
Around 12.56 million remote guests touched base in Istanbul in 2015, five years after it was named an European Capital of Culture, making the city the world’s fifth most mainstream vacationer destination. The city’s greatest fascination is its memorable focus, in part recorded as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its social and diversion center can be found over the city’s characteristic harbor, the Golden Horn, in the Beyoğlu region. Considered a worldwide city, Istanbul has one of the quickest developing metropolitan economies in the world. It has the base camp of numerous Turkish organizations and media outlets and records for more than a fourth of the nation’s gross residential product. Hoping to benefit from its renewal and fast extension, Istanbul offer for the Summer Olympics five times in twenty years.
You can see Istanbul’s top sights in a rush on an overnight stay, but you’ll need at least 2 days to do them justice, and 3 or 4 days to really get a sense of the city. In a week, you can get a good look at most of what Istanbul has to offer, do some shopping and enjoy an excursion as well.
Many of Istanbul’s top sights such as Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Hippodrome, are in or near Sultanahmet, as are many good hotels, including charming Ottoman inns.
Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is just a 12- to 15-minute walk or short tram ride west of Sultanahmet along the old Roman road called Divan Yolu.
Once you’ve settled into your Istanbul hotel, you might want to take a city tour for orientation, and later a Bosphorus cruise or an excursion to the Princes’ Islands, to the nearby cities of Edirne, İznik (Nicaea) or Bursa, Gallipoli and Troy, or even Ephesus or Cappadocia. More…
Be sure to take some time to just sit at a sidewalk café and sip Turkish tea or coffee, or go native and smoke a nargile (water pipe). Dine on savory Turkish cuisine in an excellent Istanbul restaurant, consume a traditional fish sandwich by the Golden Horn, and you’ll realize why it’s my favorite city in all the world.
Usually called just Afyon, it’s famous for its Turkish delight (lokum), some of it made with the rich local clotted cream (kaymak) that also appears in baklava and other desserts. Because Afyon is halfway between Izmir and Ankara, travelers often take a break here to eat some.
Legend has it that the clotted cream is produced by cattle fed on the leftover opium poppy plants grown in abundance here.
Graceful old Ottoman houses line some of Afyon’s back streets, and Seljuk and early Ottoman mosques such as the Great Mosque (Ulu Cami, 1273), Dervish Hall Mosque (Mevlevihane Camii, 1300s) and Soup Kitchen Mosque (Imaret Camii, 1472) are worth a visit.
The Battle of Dumlupınar near Afyon was the decisive victory (August 30, 1922) which swept the invaders out at the end of Turkey’s War of Independence.
Although opium poppies are still grown around Afyon, there’s hardly any black market for the drug anymore. Most of the opium ends up as mophine for use in hospitals.
There’s plenty of bus service to Afyon, and trains between Izmir and Ankara, and Istanbul and Konya, stop here as well.
Visitors come for the charming old stone houses on narrow streets lined with sidewalk cafes, restaurants and boutiques. Over 80 small inns and boutique hotels provide hospitality. (My favorite is the Taş Otel.)
Among the most eager visitors are windsurfers, who come for the predictable brisk winds over a safe, wave-less, sand-bottom bay.
A windfarm (ranks of wind-propelled electricity generators) on a neighboring hilltop testifies to the strength and reliability of the winds.
Alaçatı (AH-lah-chah-tuh) was founded around 1850, when Ottoman Greek workers from the Aegean islands were brought to the mainland to drain malaria-breeding marshes.
The Greek workers and their families liked what they found (when the malaria was gone), and stayed. They named their village Agrilia. Soon their vineyards were producing wine for export.
The League of Nations-mandated exchange of populations following WWI changed the face of Agrilia, bringing Turkish Muslims from the Balkan countries to the village. The Greek inhabitants were moved to new homes in Greece.
For years, Agrilia/Alaçatı slept, a small farming village forgotten by time. This was lucky, as the village kept much of its character, allowing it to be preserved and beautified.
It’s now in the midst of a construction boom. Right next to a beautifully-restored old stone house, you’ll see a derelict ruin, or a construction site. Some streets are paved with old stones in the traditional way, some are asphalt, some are dirt.
Nestled in the broad, fertile Meander River valley, this city has been here for millennia. At its heart is an acropolis on a hill formed of the detritus of settlements dating back at least to the Early Bronze Age (as old as 2800 BC).
By the 8th century BC, Aphrodisias was famous as the City of Aphrodite, and pilgrims came to pay homage to the Goddess of Love at her temple. The goddess was called Venus by the Romans, and it’s easy to imagine ancient fertility rites such as the belly dance being performed in her temple here.
With the coming of Christianity her temple, site of who knows what other rites in worship of love, was converted into a chaste church.
Without the flow of pilgrim money the city declined. In 1402 the fledgling Ottoman Empire and Aphrodisias were attacked by Tamerlane. The empire recovered. This city did not.
Today the ruins, set amid fertile fields of cotton and groves of spindly cypresses, include an elaborate Tetrapylon, or monumental gate (in the photo to the right), the foundations of the Temple of Aphrodite, the Christian bishop’s palace, a beautiful marble odeon (small theater) in excellent condition, and a stadium still capable of seating nearly its original capacity of 30,000 spectators.
Next to it is a colonnaded palaestra, or playing field, and the great Portico of Tiberius.
Aphrodisias had a famous sculpture academy in Roman times, probably because of the high-grade marble quarried only a few kilometers away at Babadağ. The museum at the site thus has an especially good collection of Roman sculpture. Take a look at the Faces of Aphrodisias.
Aphrodisias is best seen on the way to or from Pamukkale. For example, you might drive from Selçuk (Ephesus) or Kusadasi eastward up the Meander valley for about two hours, turn south at Nazilli, and proceed via Karacasu to Geyre, the village next to the site. More…
After touring the museum and exploring the ruins at Aphrodisias, continue eastward to Pamukkale, where you can spend the night or, if you want to do it all in one long day, have a swim, then return westward to your base in Selçuk or Kuşadası. (I recommend staying the night at Pamukkale.)
By the way: yes, the Meander River (Menderes Nehri in Turkish) is where we get the English word meander, meaning “to follow a winding course.” If you visit Priene, south of Kusadasi on the way to Miletus, you’ll see why: the river wanders all over the broad, flat flood plain on its way to the Aegean Sea.
Though officially named Behramkale (BEHH-rahm-kah-leh), most people still call this town 66 km (41 miles) south of Troy by its ancient name of Assos. It was founded in the 700s BCE by colonists from Lesvos. Aristotle came here and married King Hermeias’s niece, Pythia, before sailing over to Lesvos.
Atop a hill surrounded by olive groves are the ruins of the Doric-style Temple of Athena (530 BC) surrounded by crumbling city walls and an ancient necropolis (cemetery). Nearby is the 14th-century Ottoman Murad Hüdavendigar Mosque. The hill offers spectacular views of the Aegean Sea and the nearby Greek island of Lesvos.
Down the steep seaward side of the hill at the water’s edge is the hamlet officially named Behram, but actually called İskele (Dock, Wharf) by everyone, with old stone houses now serving as inns, hotels and restaurants. It’s hopelessly charming and picturesque. The small pebbly beach is less of an attraction than the boat tours and the picturesqueness of the hamlet itself.
These days, the nearest Lesvos ferry services are from Ayvalık and Dikili, to the south. The way to get to Assos is by bus from Çanakkale or Ayvalık. You’ll probably have to get off the bus at Ayvacık (not Ayvalık) and switch to a minibus or taxi to make the final 19-km (12-mile) run into Assos.
The nearest small airport is at Çanakkale, the nearest large one is Adnan Menderes Airport south of İzmir. The Bandırma-İzmir train stops at Balıkesir, 161 km (100 miles) to the east. Going by bus is faster.
Most travelers ride right by Aydın (ah-yee-DUHN) on their way between Ephesus, Kuşadası, Aphrodisias, Denizli and Pamukkale, which is just as well. For all its history (it’s been here for over two millennia), the city has little to hold the casual visitor.
Earthquakes have razed many of its historic stone buildings, and the scorched-earth policy of the retreating Greek troops in Turkey’s War of Independence destroyed most of the city’s burnable buildings.
Formerly known as Tralleis, Aydın was the birthplace of Anthemius, one of the two architects of Emperor Justinian’s great Hagia Sophia Church (Ayasofya), the pride of Byzantine Constantinople.
You may want or need to change buses in Aydın, or stay the night, for which there are sufficient comfortable hotels.
Should you have an hour or two to spend sightseeing, the Ottoman Süleyman Bey Camii mosque (1683) is worth a look. The ruins of ancient Tralleis, on the outskirts of the city, are unimpressive compared to many of Turkey’s other sites.
Most of the best objects from Tralleis have been removed to Aydın’s Archeological Museum, where they’re displayed alongside finds from Afrodisias, Didyma, Miletus and Priene. This gives you a hint: Aydın is not of much touristic interest in itself, but it is the capital of the province of Aydın, which includes such tourist meccas as Kuşadası, and the outstanding archeological sites just mentioned.
Surrounded by groves of olive trees which produce much of Turkey’s best olive oil, Ayvalık (AHY-vah-luhk, “Quince Orchard”, pop. 30,000) has an interesting history.
After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Ottoman Greeks of Ayvalık moved to Greece, and Turkish citizens of Greece moved to Ayvalik. Thus, even after the Greeks left, you could still hear Greek spoken in the streets of Ayvalık, although the speakers were Turkish Muslims (who had grown up in Greece).
Ayvalık has several Orthodox churches now converted to mosques, and some graceful old mansions made into boutique hotels.
For example, the 9-room Macaron Konağı is a historic stone mansion only 100 meters inland from the harbor, convenient to everything. More…
Turkish tourists throng the many waterside open-air restaurants in summer, or take the ferry across the bay to Alibey Island (Cunda) where there are even more good waterside restaurants and tavernas.
Dining, relaxing, swimming and boating are the things to do here in summer. Sarımsaklı Beach, on a quiet cove southwest of the town center, is the most popular place to spend the day.
Modern Bergama (BEHR-gah-mah, pop. 100,000) is a center for farming, light industry, schools, gold mining, and of course tourism. It’s a l-o-n-g spread-out city. It’s 7 km (4.35 miles) from the north-south highway and the bus terminal to the center of Bergama around the Bergama Müzesi (archeological museum), so you may have to take a taxi from the bus terminal to your hotel. From the museum, it’s another 5.35 km (3.3 miles) to the summit of the lofty Acropolis. More…
Guided tours are available from İzmir, or you can visit Bergama on a 6-day Self-Guided Driving Tour from Istanbul. More…
Most travelers visit Bergama on day-trips from İzmir or Ayvalık, or stop to see the sights on their itinerary between Çanakkale or Assos and Ephesus, but Bergama does have a few suitable hotels if you decide to spend the night here.
Bus is the best way of getting to Bergama. The town is long and spread out, so if you don’t have your own vehicle, expect to take some taxi rides. More…
Pergamum (or Pergamon) was an important kingdom during the second century BC, having grown from a city-state captured by Alexander the Great.
Upon Alexander’s death in 323 BC, his generals fought for control of the parts of his empire. Lysimachus took command of the Aegean coast, but was killed in 281 BC, leaving Pergamum in the control of Philetarus the Eunuch, who used Lysimachus’s treasure to increase his power.
Philetarus’s nephew and heirs built on their inheritance, and Eumenes II (197-159 BC), King of Pergamum, became the most powerful ruler in Anatolia. He beautified his capital city by building the Altar of Zeus, by constructing numerous buildings in the “middle city” on the slope of the Acropolis, and by expanding and beautifying the Asclepion medical center. More…
Eumenes II’s son Attalus III was not his father’s equal. Pergamum’s power declined, and on Attalus’s death in 129 BC, the Kingdom of Pergamum was willed to Rome and became its Province of Asia (Minor).
Roman Pergamum was still a rich, important city. Some of its most important monuments, such as the Temple of Trajan, date from Roman times.
Two small picture-perfect bays frame the castle, making it particularly attractive to yachters.
The beaches right in town are small and the water not particularly appealing, but there are other beaches and towns nearby. In fact, many people choose to make their base in other towns around the Bodrum peninsula, coming to Bodrum itself for visits. More…
To get away to a secluded hotel, or rental villa or cottage in Bodrum or one of the other towns on the Bodrum peninsula for a week or a fortnight is really a dream-come-true. More…
Bodrum’s beauty, mild climate and access to the sea have drawn so many Turkish and foreign visitors and part-year residents that population growth and construction are changing the character of the peninsula dramatically. Traffic is now a major concern, with roadways unable to keep up with the explosive growth in the number of vehicles. Allow plenty of time for slow going as you move about the peninsula.
Bodrum is also known for its enthusiastic nightlife. If you like staying up late at loud discos and clubs, you’ll love Bodrum. If you go to bed early and sleep lightly, you may suffer. As the provincial governor once said, “If you want quiet, go somewhere else.” My recommended hotels, however, tend to be the quiet ones. More…
One of my favorite hotels in all of Turkey is in Bodrum: the Su Otel. It’s a real refuge!
For other hotel reservations, car rentals, yacht charters, airport transfers, and ferry tickets from Bodrum, it’s good to contact one of my recommended travel agencies.
There are plenty flights and buses to Bodrum in the warm months, but no train service.
Milas-Bodrum Airport is 33 km (21 miles) north of the town with direct daily flights from Istanbul.
Known for much of its history as Tenedos, it became part of the new Turkish Republic in 1923, mostly for reasons of national security: Bozcaada (BOHZ-jah-ah-dah) and nearby Gökçeada (GERK-cheh-ah-dah, formerly Imbros) are two islands at the southern end of the strategic Dardanelles strait. They were used by the Allies against the Ottoman Empire during the Gallipoli campaign (1915-1916), and the Turks didn’t want it to happen again.
Today tourism is Bozcaada’s prime industry, but vineyards and winemaking are still important here as they have been for a millennium or more. The Corvus, Çamlıbağ and Talay wineries maintain the tradition, with vineyards and restaurants where you can discover their wines.
Also, fishing boats set sail daily in suitable weather from the island’s only town to bring in the daily catch. You can see their nets piled on the wharf.
With an average elevation of about 1000 meters (3281 feet), 60% of its land covered by mountains, some tillable plateaus and valleys, it lives by agriculture as well as from the tourists who visit its lakes.
It’s likely that the sugar you use to sweeten your tea in Turkey may come from Burdur, which has extensive sugar beet fields and a big factory to convert the beets into pure sugar.
Although today it has mostly a modern aspect, Burdur is an amazingly ancient place, having been inhabited since Neolithic (New Stone Age) times some 8000 years ago.
In classical Hellenic times, it was known as Polydorion. Burdur is a modern Turkish form of the same name.
Burdur was a town in Byzantine times, and was then conquered by the Seljuk Turks, was ruled by the local Hamitoğulları beys following that, until absorbed into the Ottoman Empire.
Perhaps Burdur’s finest monument is the Ulu Cami, built by the Hamitoğul emir Feleküddin Dındar Bey in 1300. Though destroyed by an earthquake in 1914, it was rebuilt during the 1920s and is well worth a visit because of its unusual pre-Ottoman architecture: flat roof and mostly wood-frame interior. Look for it right next to the town’s tall clock tower (Saat Kulesi, 1942) in the center.
The Ottomans built numerous mosques in Burdur, including the Selimzade, Tepe, Kayışoğlu, and several others.
Burdur also has a fine small museum with archeological, architectural and anthropological finds
Located on the southern shore at the anrrowest point in the Dardanelles strait (Hellespont, Çanakkale Boğazı; map), Çanakkale has been a major strong-point in the defense of the Dardanelles from the time of the Trojans through World War I.
Today Çanakkale is a pleasant town with adequate hotels to serve travelers crossing the Dardanelles via the Dardanelles car ferries. More…
You can visit Çanakkale and either Gallipoli or Troy on a whirlwind day-trip from Istanbul, but to see them both—or to tour either one in a less-rushed fashion, I recommend a more comfortable overnight excursion by car or bus. If you have the time, a multi-day excursion by car is the optimal way to see these sights.
For a smaller, cozier, less crowded version of Çeşme, make the short trip to nearby Alaçatı.
There are good beaches south of Çeşme, and at nearby Ilıca (UH-luh-jah), easily reachable by minibus (dolmuş).
This distant suburb of İzmir boasts the Urla Şarapçılık winery, making quality wines in an area where winemaking thrived for thousands of years.
Denizli is important for farming and commerce, but not so much for tourism—and certainly not for the sea, except that the longtime famous hot-spring spa resort of Pamukkale is only 18 km (11 miles) to the northeast.
Selçuk, the town 3 km (2 miles) east of the Ephesus archeological site, lies at the foot of Ayasoluk Hill, topped by a Byzantine-Ottoman fortress. On the slope are the St John Basilica and İsa Bey Mosque, both worth a visit, and below them the scant remains of the renowned Artemision. The Ephesus Museum holds the excavation treasures. More…
Selçuk has a big weekly market on Saturday, rivaling the famous weekly market at Tire (TEE-reh), a town 42 km (26 miles) northeast of Selçuk.
Good beaches are at Pamucak, Kuşadası and Altınkum, or you can take a day-trip for beach and windsurfing to charming Alaçatı.
You can see the Ephesus archeological site on a flying day-trip from Istanbul, but you could easily fill two, three or four days in this area, visiting the ancient cities of Priene, Miletus and Didyma on a day excursion, and Aphrodisias, the Belevi Monumental Tomb, the hot mineral water spa of Pamukkale, and taking a day-trip or overnight excursion via Euromos to Bodrum.
If you want to visit a place where you can really get a feel for what life was like 2000 years ago during the glory-days of Greece and Rome, Ephesus is the place. In terms of ruins, it’s better than Rome itself.
St Paul’s New Testament Letter to the Ephesians was written to the citizens of Ephesus. St John is believed to have written his Gospel here, and to have been buried in the St John Basilica. More…
The Virgin Mary is believed to have spent her last days on earth here, and you can visit the reconstructed House of the Virgin Mary (Meryemana) on a mountaintop to the south of the Ephesus archeological site.
The soft white stone which mineralogists call sepiolite (hydrous magnesium silicate, called lületasi in Turkish) is mined in nearby villages and carved into beads, necklaces, earrings and especially tobacco pipes.
Though its name means “Old City,” what you’ll see of present-day Eskişehir (ess-KEE-sheh-heer, alt. 730 meters/2400 feet, pop. 800,000) is mostly modern, though the Roman city of Dorylaeum was located here or nearby.
Assuming that you’re not interested in visiting factories making cement, locomotives and sugar, and are not allowed into the big Turkish Air Force base on the outskirts, you’ll spend your time seeing its several museums: Archeology, Ethnography, Ottoman House and Lületaşı (Meerschaum) Museum. The local produce markets are fun.
In other words, without a keen interest in meerschaum, There’s not much to hold you in Eskişehir.
South of the city 42 km (26 miles) at Seyitgazi is the tomb complex of Seyit Battal Gazi, an Umayyad military commander who led his Arab army against the Byzantines in 717-740 AD.
South of Seyitgazi was ancient Phrygia, ruled by King Midas around 725 BC. The most impressive remaining monument is at Midas Şehri (Yazılıkaya).
Bus and train service to Eskisehir is frequent. The trains on the main Istanbul-Ankara, Istanbul-İzmir and Istanbul-Konya runs come through here.
Set in a forest of olive trees, it almost looks like a Hollywood set, except it’s for real. Though it is partially ruined, in fact the temple was never completed. Apparently, an economic crisis left the local budget with insufficient funds for its completion.
Wealthy citizens stepped forward with financial support, and had their names engraved on plaques on some of the columns, but this support was insufficient. The temple was never completed, and some of its standing columns were never fluted (carved with grooves).
Stabilization efforts in 1975 used modern cement, which is now looked upon as a mistake. Archeologists resuming study of the temple in 2015 had no plans to change its “magical atmosphere” by re-erecting any columns toppled by earthquakes.
Stop for a half-hour’s look if you’re driving south from İzmir or Ephesus headed for Milas, Bodrum or Marmaris.
Located about 2 km (1.2 miles) south of the village of Selimiye, on the northeast side of the highway, the temple archeological site has no services, although there may be a villager selling cold drinks.
The small Euromos sign on the hghway is easy to miss, so keep your eyes open for it.
Your GPS may have the wrong location for Euromos and the temple. In April 2015, both Apple maps and Google maps had it wrong. Here is a map with the correct location. The temple is only a few hundred meters northeast of the highway. It is NOT up a steep and winding country road, as the GPS may tell you!
Euromos is actually a much larger archeological site than just the Temple of Zeus. The hillside to the east is littered with ruins, and if you spend an hour hiking around you can find a theater, an agora and massive defensive walls.
If you drive north on the highway after visiting the temple, look to the right for more extensive, unexcavated ruins right next to the highway. This was a big city!
There are actually two towns here: Eski Foça (Old Foça) and Yeni Foça (New Foça). Eski Foça, usually just called Foça, is the larger of the two, seated beside two small bays and a fine small harbor that has been in use by skillful mariners since 600 BC.
Phocaea’s mariners explored the Black, Aegean and Mediterranean seas in their 50-oar ships, founding colonies at Samsun, in Corsica, Italy, France and Spain.
Today the mariners are mostly yachters, pleasure-boaters and windsurfers, both Turkish and foreign, as well as visitors who come in hopes of spotting one of the rare Mediterranean monk seals (fok) that gather on the small islands offshore.
Foça has surprisingly little to show for so much history: two small fortresses, Beşkapılar and Dışkale, dating from Byzantine, Genoese and Ottoman times; a few Hellenic ruins here and there; a monumental tomb 7 km east of the town center; a bit of aqueduct.
The ruins are a sideshow to the main reason for a visit: to enjoy the seaside atmosphere, the old Ottoman-Greek houses fronted by open-air restaurants lining the shore of the Küçük Deniz (“Small Sea,” the northern part of the bay); and the fishing boats anchored in the Büyük Deniz (“Big Sea,” to the south).
Today, the Gallipoli battlefields are silent, preserved as a national historic park strewn with marble and bronze monuments, among the most emotionally touching places in Turkey.
The best base for visits to Gallipoli, the Dardanelles and Troy is the town of Çanakkale, on the Dardanelles’ Anatolian shore. Eceabat, on the Gallipoli peninsula shore, is closer but has fewer accommodations. Kilitbahir, across the Dardanelles from Çanakkale, has a useful ferryboat dock, but no other travel services.
The nearest major airport is Istanbul, although Çanakkale has a small airport which receives scheduled flights in the busy summer months. More…
The battlefields on the peninsula cover an extensive area from Abide – Cape Helles at the southern tip of the peninsula north for over 35 km (22 miles) to the Anafarta hills in the north.
The central point is the Çanakkale Epic Presentation Center (Çanakkale Destanı Tanıtım Merkezi) at Kabatepe, a dramatic building offering an elaborate hour-long multimedia presentation on the Gallipoli campaign, and a number of museum exhibits.
Invading armies and navies have coveted the strategic Dardanelles strait since the days of the Trojans because it controls sea traffic between the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the Aegean/Mediterranean.
Only 1.2 km wide at its narrowest point (Kilitbahir – Çanakkale), and over 100 meters (328 feet) deep, the Dardanelles is also the key to Constantinople (Istanbul): warships that could get through the Dardanelles could easily train their guns on the sultan’s palace in Istanbul and bring the Ottoman Empire to its knees.
The British navy wanted very much to get its battleships through the Dardanelles and attack Constantinople to knock the Ottoman Empire, an ally of the Central Powers, out of World War I. This would allow another Allied power, Imperial Russia, to use the Ottoman straits (Dardanelles and Bosphorus) for shipments of vital military and other supplies.
It is the transport center of the Aegean region.
During the War of Independence (1922) a disastrous fire destroyed most of old Smyrna.
Today Izmir (EEZ-meer, pop. 3 million) is a mostly modern city with good hotels and restaurants, an interesting bazaar, a few small archeological sites, a big, busy Otogar (bus terminal), and an important airport south of the city on the way to Ephesus.
Some travelers use Izmir as a base to visit such regional sights as Bergama/ Pergamum, Çeşme & Alaçatı, Sardis, Ephesus & Kuşadası, Aphrodisias & Pamukkale, because Izmir has a great variety of hotels.
You needn’t linger in Izmir if your time in Turkey is short, but if it suits your schedule to spend a night here, enjoy Izmir’s Aegean ambience: see the sights, wander in the bazaar, sip drinks and dine at the pleasant waterfront restaurants.
Being so close to the renowned ruins of Ephesus, it gets more than its share of Turkish and foreign visitors.
With more than 140 hotels, Kuşadası has plenty of beds for visitors, though some of them are noisy. More…
Everybody visits Ephesus. Some travelers also come for the city’s vibrant nightlife and shopping, others come for Kuşadası’s beaches.
Although there are some stretches of beach right in the city, the prime beach—rather narrow, and also backed by city—is Ladies Beach (Kadınlar Plajı) south of the center.
Serious beach fans make the 15-minute, 8-km drive north to Pamucak Beach, which is wide, long and uncrowded, and nearer to Ephesus, but with fewer services, some surf, and no lifeguards.
You can use Kuşadası as a base for tours of other sights in the region such as Priene, Miletus and Didyma; Euromos; Pamukkale and Aphrodisias; and even İzmir and Bodrum.
Kütahya (kur-TAHH-yah, from the Latin Cotyaeum; pop. 250,000) rests beneath a ruined hilltop fortress in Aegean Turkey just about equidistant (around 330 km/205 miles, 5 hours) from Ankara, Istanbul, İzmir, Konya and Pamukkale.
King Mausolus was king of Caria (377-353 BC), perhaps its greatest king. He ordered a splendid, gigantic tomb built for himself in Halicarnassus (Bodrum). Today little remains of the tomb, but the marble Gümüşkesen temple in Milas is thought to be a small-scale replica of the Mausoleum, the grand tomb that gave its name to all grand tombs since.
Perhaps more important for today’s visitors, Milas is a noted carpet-making center and has a fairly busy airport which serves Bodrum as well.
If you come to buy Turkish carpets, have a look at the Gümüşkesen, and also the Baltalı Kapı (Gate with Axe), a Roman gate in the city walls. Also visit some of the town’s 14th-century mosques, built when Milas was capital of the Menteşe emirate. These include the Great Mosque (Ulu Cami, 1378), the Mosque of Orhan Bey (1330), and the Firuz Bey Mosque (1394).
Up in the hills north of Milas is the ancient city of Labranda.
Most people stop for a few hours (and lunch) in Milas as they travel to or from Bodrum or Marmaris, though Milas does have a few serviceable small hotels. Minibus services to Milas are frequent from Söke, southeast of Kuşadası.
Named the Cotton Fortress (pah-MOOK-kah-leh) in Turkish, it has been a spa since the Romans built the spa city of Hierapolis around a sacred warm-water spring. The Antique Pool is still there, littered with marble columns from the Roman Temple of Apollo. You can swim in it for a fee.
You can spend a pleasant day at Pamukkale, exploring the extensive Roman ruins of Hierapolis, climbing the ranks of seats in the great Roman theater, touring the exhibits in the Archeological Museum, splashing along the travertines (where permitted) and even soaking in the Antique Pool littered with fluted marble columns.
Coming from, or going to the Aegean coast, you may be able to combine a visit to Pamukkale and Laodicea with a visit to Aphrodisias, the ancient City of Aphrodite, goddess of love.
Around 1200 BC there were great migrations of “Sea Peoples” from Greece and Thrace to Anatolia. Some of these people—probably Phrygians—conquered the Hittite capital of Hattusha (hah-TOO-shah, Boğazkale) and set up their own city there. Phrygians may also have participated in the battle for Troy.
Having come from Thrace, the Phrygians occupied Anatolia from the Sea of Marmara to the Halys (or Kızılırmak) River, as far east as Çorum, Yozgat, Nevşehir and Niğde. Important Phrygian cities included Afyon, Ankara, Gordion, Eskişehir and Hattuşa.
In the same period other “Peoples” migrated to the Aegean coast, giving rise to other cultures: Ionian around İzmir, Lydian around Sardis, Carian around Milas, and Lycian around Antalya. The flowering of classical Hellenic civilization happened along the Aegean coast about the same time the Phrygians were flourishing inland.
These cultures flourished for 3 or 4 centuries, that is from around 1000 to 600 BC. The Phrygian Kingdom flourished under Midas at Gordion from about 725 to 675 BC—only half a century—before a Cimmerian invasion put an end to this golden age.
While the Phrygians flourished, here’s what else was happening:
– The great Hellenic philosophers, poets and scientists were holding forth in Ionia
– Rome and Byzantium were founded as small towns
– The earliest Jewish prophets were teaching their wisdom
– In India, physicians were learning their art, no longer looked upon as mystical, from anatomical models
– The wretched Assyrians discovered that if they filled animal bladders with air they could float across rivers and kill people on the other side.
Phrygian culture flourished again from the mid-600s to the mid-500s alongside the great florescence of Hellenic civilization, science and philosophy in Ionia (the region around İzmir). Coinage came into use in Anatolia around this time, and King Croesus of Lydia, one of its first great advocates, became exceedingly rich using it.
Phrygian culture recovered after the Cimmerian invasion and flourished again to the west of Gordion between Eskişehir and Afyon for a short period, leaving the monuments at Midas Şehri (Yazilikaya), Aslankaya, Aslantaş, etc.
In 546 BC, Cyrus of Persia conquered Anatolia all the way to Ionia, putting an end to the Phrygian flowering for good. And in 333 BC Alexander the Great stormed through and cut the Gordian knot.
The town provides hotels, restaurants, transport and other services to travelers.
You can visit the ruins of Ephesus on a flying day-trip from Istanbul via İzmir’s Adnan Menderes Airport, but it’s better to spend at least one night in a hotel here.
Spend at least two nights if you plan to see the other sights in the region, such as the impressive ruins of Priene, Miletus and Didyma.
Besides the Ephesus archeological site and, on the way to it from Selçuk, the remains of the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the World), Selçuk holds the Ephesus Museum and, on Ayasoluk Hill, the St John Basilica and the 14th-century İsa Bey Mosque. You can also make day-trip excursions to more distanct sights such as Pamukkale and Bodrum.
Selçuk also has storks! The town is a favorite nesting-place for the leggy birds, who take up residence here on the pillars of the old Roman aqueduct, the disused minaret of a ruined mosque, the one remaining column of the Artemision, television aerials, and any other safe perch, from April into September.
A dozen small restaurants cater to day-trippers, hotel guests, and locals alike.
Here are the sounds of Şirince: birds chirp, donkeys bray, goats baa, mourning doves coo, dogs bark, roosters crow, children play. A tractor passes.
The call to prayer from the village’s single minaret is a scratchy recording.
Tourism has arrived, however, and on any pleasant weekend in the warm months, so will thousands of local and foreign visitors.
Weekdays are not so crowded, but in any case, Şirince becomes a village again in early morning and evening, when the day-trippers are gone.
Troy is impressive for its great age (the oldest ruins date from 3000 BC) and beautiful situation. The hokey wooden horse is just for fun (especially for kids).
For most of the last 3000 years, people assumed that Homer’s Iliad was fiction, and that Troy (Truva in Turkish) never existed.
Then in 1863 a British expatriate named Frank Calvert discovered ancient ruins at a place in western Turkey called Hisarlık, and was convinced they were Troy.
Heinrich Schliemann showed up in 1868, provided money for more digging, and took credit for discovering Troy.
Two small picture-perfect bays frame the castle, making it particularly attractive to yachters.
The beaches right in town are small and the water not particularly appealing, but there are other beaches and towns nearby. In fact, many people choose to make their base in other towns around the Bodrum peninsula, coming to Bodrum itself for visits. More…
To get away to a secluded hotel, or rental villa or cottage in Bodrum or one of the other towns on the Bodrum peninsula for a week or a fortnight is really a dream-come-true.
Bodrum’s beauty, mild climate and access to the sea have drawn so many Turkish and foreign visitors and part-year residents that population growth and construction are changing the character of the peninsula dramatically. Traffic is now a major concern, with roadways unable to keep up with the explosive growth in the number of vehicles. Allow plenty of time for slow going as you move about the peninsula.
Bodrum is also known for its enthusiastic nightlife. If you like staying up late at loud discos and clubs, you’ll love Bodrum. If you go to bed early and sleep lightly, you may suffer. As the provincial governor once said, “If you want quiet, go somewhere else.” My recommended hotels, however, tend to be the quiet ones.
One of my favorite hotels in all of Turkey is in Bodrum: the Su Otel. It’s a real refuge!
For other hotel reservations, car rentals, yacht charters, airport transfers, and ferry tickets from Bodrum, it’s good to contact one of my recommended travel agencies.
There are plenty flights and buses to Bodrum in the warm months, but no train service.
Milas-Bodrum Airport is 33 km (21 miles) north of the town with direct daily flights from Istanbul.
Greek island ferries take you to and from Kos and Rhodes.
It’s among Turkey’s most popular seaside resorts for foreign tourists coming on packaged holidays. They fill the town’s many hotels small and large, promenade along its palm-lined waterfront, set out on jeep safaris and yacht cruises, go in for water sports, laze on the beaches (particularly Cleopatra Beach on Cedar (Sedir) Island), and have a good time.
Marmaris is also the hub for an ever-expanding resort area which includes the separate town of İçmeler across the bay, and smaller vacation getaway villages on the Bozburun Peninsula and Reşadiye Peninsula which jut into the Mediterranean to the west and southwest.
Holiday-makers are not the first foreign visitors to come to Marmaris. English admiral Lord Nelson readied his fleet in this perfect natural Mediterranean bay in 1798, then sailed out to defeat the Napoleon’s navy at the Battle of Abukir.
Since then, the beautiful natural harbor of Marmaris has been pretty quiet.
That is, until the tourism boom of the 1990s made it Turkey’s premier yachting port for Blue Voyage yacht cruises. Sleek boats now crowd its modern full-service marina, and jostle for space along the waterfront promenades.
Its small fortress/castle is now a museum.
Ferries cruise to and from the Greek island of Rhodes several times daily during the summer (less frequently off-season), bringing yet another flow of visitors. Here’s full ferry information.
Marmaris’s small market district and covered bazaar in the center of town is usually crowded with foreigners.
Those who find Marmaris over-developed and noisy flee to colonies like İçmeler, Datça, Orhaniye and Selimiye out on the peninsulas that jut west- and southwestward into the Mediterranean.
You’ll see beehives everywhere, set to gather Marmaris’s famous honey. You’ll also see workshops quarrying and shaping the region’s famous mable.
The ambience here is unlike that of any other Turkish Mediterranean tourist town.
Perhaps it’s so placid because it’s nowhere near a Mediterranean beach. The lake is the source of the Dalyan Çayı (Dalyan Creek) which runs through nearby Dalyan to the south, past the ruins of ancient Caunos, through the fishing weirs, and into the Mediterranean.
A few simple hotels cater to overnight guests. Most of the lodgings are in nearby Dalyan. More…
There’s not much to do in Köyceğiz (kuy-JEH-yeez) except stroll along the lakeshore, have tea in a café, browse the market (which is what the occasional bus- or boatload of tourists does), take a boatride on the lake, and perhaps enjoy a bit of music in one of the few small bars at night.
The big thrill—such as it is—is having a mudbath at the Sultaniye Kaplıcaları (hot springs), 30 km (19 miles) by road to the southwest, or a short boatride across the lake.
Boats will also take you south to Dalyan, Caunos, and İztuzu Beach, should you want to use quiet Köyceğiz as your base.
Buses run frequently between Köyceğiz and Marmaris and Fethiye, and minibus dolmuses run frequently to Marmaris, Ortaca (change to a Dalyan minibus), Dalaman (with its airport) and Muğla.
People come for its setting on the placid Dalyan Çayı (Dalyan Creek), for the dramatic Lycian tombs hewn into the rockfaces that dominate the town on the west bank of the river, for the ruins of ancient Roman city of Caunos, and for broad İztuzu Beach, a natural nesting-ground for carretta carretta (loggerhead turtles).
Upsteam, on the shore of placid Köyceğiz Lake, are the Sultaniye hot springs, with their therapeutic (or at least fun) mud baths.
Many of the fields surrounding this farming town now grow new hotels, and the smooth-flowing creek is often thronged with excursion boats both local and from as far away as Fethiye and Marmaris.
Even so, Dalyan is still an interesting place to stop for one or two days.
The center of town is marked by the tall, modern PTT (peh-teh-TEH, Post Office building), around which Dalyan’s weekly market takes place on Saturday.
To the west of the PTT across a park are the riverside docks from which motorboats leave for İztuzu Beach, Köyceğiz Lake, and day excursions that include a river cruise, a swim in the lake, a stop at the Sultaniye hot springs, the ruins of the Roman city of Caunos, and İztuzu Beach.
By the way, Köyceğiz has its weekly market on Monday, and Ortaca has its on Friday.
Further afield, you can take a minibus east to Göcek, halfway to Fethiye, to board a day excursion boat for a sailing cruise of the 12 Islands in the bay of Fethiye.
If you prefer the mountains, day trip minibuses leave Dalyan for Yuvarlak Çay, a mountain forest stream that provides a peaceful respite from the town.
Dalyan has a wide selection of lodgings, from homey pensions and small hotels to three and even a few four-star places.
There’s nothing wrong with Dalaman, a tolerably nice little Turkish Mediterranean farming town 5.5 km south of the coastal highway. But for travelers the Dalaman Airport, 5.5 km (3.4 miles) south of the town, is the main reason people come to Dalaman. (Bodrum to the west and Antalya to the east have their own airports.)
The other reason is Sarıgerme Beach and its resort hotels, 5.2 km (3.2 miles) southwest of the town of Dalaman.
Göcek’s living used to be fishing and farming, but now it’s yachts and yachters. If you’re not a yachter, there’s little to do in Göcek except stop for a meal, a browse through the shops, and an overnight in one of the few small hotels.
This is fine! You may want to break your journey in a quieter place than Fethiye or Ölüdeniz. If so, try Göcek. It can be a good base for exploring the region, its archeological sites and its beaches, and Göcek now has plenty of hotels, villas and rental apartments/flats.
The wide swath of Çalış Beach, several kilometers long, is only 5 km (3 miles) northeast of Fethiye. Ölüdeniz, perhaps Turkey’s most beautifully-situated beach, is 8.5 km (5.3 miles) south of Fethiye, over the hills. Both beaches have their own selections of hotels and restaurants.
Besides the beach, visitors like the ruins of ancient Telmessos scattered through the city, and the day-long 12-Island yacht cruise of the bay, especially the stop at Gemile Island, covered in unrestored Byzantine ruins. Boats depart on the cruise every day in the warm months from Fethiye’s busy harbor.
Fethiye is a favorite getaway for British travelers. You may hear English spoken in the streets, shops and markets.
Some 2400 years ago, Fethiye (FET-hee-yeh) was the prominent town of Telmessos, but earthquakes have left only a few Lycian stone sarcophagi from the old town, along with the dramatic Tomb of Amyntas carved into the sheer rock cliff high above the town.
Fethiye is the starting point of the Lycian Way, a 500-km (311-mile) footpath through the rugged mountains of the Tekke Peninsula to Antalya.
Hundreds of hotels, flats/apartments and villas accommodate the international sun-seekers who flock here in the warm months.
Belcekız Beach at Ölüdeniz (ur-LEW-deh-neez, “dead” or calm, sea), is big enough to handle the crowds of swimmers and sunbathers, but not always the number of cars and buses that cram the access road.
Paragliders leap from nearby mountaintops, soaring and floating above the beach and the sea, finally landing right on the beach. Tandem paragliding, where an unexperienced person flies with and under the control of a pilot, is very popular.
The fertile alluvial plain behind the beach is now filled with small hotels, pensions and restaurants, and any further expansion has been relegated to the nearby hilltop towns of Ovacık and Hisarönü.
The beach takes its eerie name from the secluded lagoon at the beach’s western end by the 3-star 94-room Hotel Meri. Protected by hills and entered by a narrow channel, the lagoon is calm during even the worst storms.
The Lycian Way, a 500-km (311-mile) rustic footpath, starts in Fethiye and wanders through the hills, descending to Ölüdeniz before ascending again above Kıdrak and Faralya, passing the head of Butterfly Valley before wandering southeastward toward Patara and, ultimately, Antalya.
To get away from it all, consider the Mandarin Boutique Hotel in Faralya, past Ölüdeniz along the coast.
If you plan only a short stay at Ölüdeniz beach before moving on, you might want to stay in Fethiye, where prices tend to be lower, and take one of the frequent minibuses to Ölüdeniz for the day. All intercity buses operate out of Fethiye’s otogar (bus terminal).
Santa Claus? Am I kidding? Not at all! Santa Claus, otherwise known as St. Nicholas, was born in Patara in the 3rd century, and moved to Demre (Myra) where he became a bishop and did his many good works.
Patara village, 3.5 km (2.2 miles) south of the D400 coastal highway, is well-suited to low-budget travelers with numerous little pensions and simple hotels charging very reasonable rates for double rooms.
Patara beach is 20 km (12 miles) long, 50 meters/yards wide, and never crowded, because the small village inland from the beach has only a few hundred tourist beds. The ruins of ancient Patara are just inland from the beach, and no big hotels can be built in an archeological zone, so the beach should be protected from heavy development.
If the beach has one drawback, it’s that there are few trees and thus little shade, so be prepared for a day of sun.
The Patara ruins are interesting: a sand-swept theater, a triple-arched triumphal gate, a necropolis (cemetery) with Lycian tombs, a ruined basilica and a public bath, among others.
Car, or bus and taxi, are the ways to get to Patara. Any bus will drop you on the Fethiye-Kaş highway at Ovaköy, whence it’s a 3.5-km (2-mile) taxi ride (or hitch) to the village that’s officially named Gelemiş (GEHL-eh-meesh), but which everyone calls Patara.
The ruins of ancient Patara are a further 1.5 km (1 mile) south of the village, and the beach yet another kilometer (6/10 mile) through the ruins.
Kalkan has retained more of its Ottoman-era character, and has beauty and charm despite the inevitable modern development, most noticeable in the form of the 60-room Patara Prince Hotel & Resort and the 18-villa Club Patara Villas on the southeast side of Kalkan’s pristine little azure cove.
The good news is that Kalkan has a good selection of hotels and villas to rent/let for your visit.
Once an Ottoman Greek fishing village named Kalamaki, Kalkan (kahl-KAHN, shield) has a tiny beach, but is too hemmed in by mountains falling right into the sea to have much coastal sand. Most people swim from tiny concrete decks set near the sea, reached by stairs or ladders.
Kalkan’s small yacht harbor stays busy ferrying day-trippers to the Blue Cave and to tiny, hidden Kaputaş (KAH-poo-tahsh) beach, 7 km (4.3 miles) to the east.
Kalkan is a favorite destination for British travelers coming for a week’s villa vacation, or years of easy retirement living. If you’re traveling through, I wouldn’t recommend Kalkan for a long stay, but a night or two can be pleasant.
You get a completely different feeling for Kalkan if you stay in your own villa—an easy thing to accomplish.
Despite dozens of new hotels and pensions, Kaş (KAHSH) still has charm, part of which comes from its setting at the foot of a wall of mountains facing the sparkling Mediterranean.
Another part of its charm comes from Kaş’s unhurried ambience. Because it is hours away from the Mediterranean’s two major airports (Antalya and Dalaman), it gets fewer visitors than towns that are more quickly accessible.
Ruins of the ancient town of Antiphellos mix with modern buildings in Kaş. Across the water to the south lies the Greek island of Megisti (Kastellorizo; Meis Adası in Turkish). You can go there easily for a day trip.
Kaş’s beaches are small, pebbly and apt to be crowded, so visitors in search of a broad, long sand beach drive west to Patara.
Otherwise, visitors to Kaş spend time in waterfront coffee-houses and restaurants, take boat trips to nearby Üçağız and Kaleköy or the Blue Cave, visit the neighboring village of Kalkan, or walk up the mountain to the cliff tombs.
Kaş is also a good base for exploring the plentiful ancient Lycian cities and archeological sites such as Demre (Kale), Patara, Xanthos (Kınık), Letoön, Saklıkent and Tlos.
The best way is on a boat excursion from nearby Kaş, or from Çayağzı near Demre-Myra.
Okay, Üçağız (EWCH-ah-uhz, “Three Mouths,” for the three rivers that debouche here) is no longer the perfectly authentic little Mediterranean seaside hamlet that it was in 1990, but the government is limiting new building so it’s still pretty nice.
Old village houses are interspersed with tall stone Lycian tombs over 2000 years old, and the marble ruins of a Roman “sunken city” still glisten beneath the pellucid waters of the Mediterranean just offshore.
In 1990 there wasn’t even a decent road into the place. Most people came by boat then–and they still do, because the road, although paved, twists through the hills for 19 km from the coastal highway.
Whether you start from Kaş or Çayağzı, or whether you drive to Üçagiz and join a boat tour there, you’ll also be dropped at the pristine village of Kaleköy (Castle Village) to walk its streets, have tea in its cafés, and see its little fortress.
Üçağız has some pretty good restaurants for the yachters who moor here for lunch, and a few small, simple lodging-places, but the beds tend to fill up in summer, so if you want to stay here awhile your best bet is to come on a day-trip, ask around, find a room, make a reservation, and come back with your stuff.
Actually, it was St Nicholas, a 4th-century Bishop of Myra, who lived and worked here, and who was later transmuted into the jolly Christmas elf called Sinterklaas in Holland (and similar names in other European countries), and later Santa Claus in North America.
An 11th-century church in Demre, now the Santa Claus Museum (Noel Baba Müzesi), once held his earthly remains, but in 1087 most of his bones were taken by force to Bari in Italy, and the remainder taken to Venice in 1100. (Churches were built in both cities to preserve the purloined relics. In 2009 the Turkish government demanded the return of the relics to Demre.)
Nicholas was born in nearby Patara, became a priest, rose to the rank of bishop, and did much of his good work here in the Roman town then called Myra, a name derived from myrrh.
Legend has it that he’d drop small bags of gold coins down the chimneys of houses with poor girls who were old enough to marry, but had no dowry. Another story says he’d leave gold coins in the shoes of the poor who put them out for him. Sanctified for his good works, he became the patron saint of virgins, sailors, children, pawnbrokers and Holy Russia.
Today the Santa Claus Museum (Noel Baba Müzesi) is Demre’s most visited site, but there are other things to see in this small coastal Mediterranean town. About 2 km (1.2 miles) inland are the ruins of Roman Myra, with a well-preserved theater and impressive rock-hewn tombs.
Çayağzı, 5 km (3 miles) west of Demre just off the coastal highway, was called Andriake in Roman times, and has ruins of a plakoma, harbor, baths, churches and synagogues, as well as a decent, small beach, and several small restaurants.
Here in 2009, archeologists from Akdeniz University discovered the ruins of a 1500-year-old Roman synagogue atop a hill overlooking the harbor. A marble tablet inscribed with a menorah, shofar and bugle, palm tree and lemon tree helped to identify the building.
The 7-room Hadrian granary (129 AD) is now the Museum of Lycian Civilizations, with displays including a 16-meter-long (52-foot) Roman-era boat.
Located 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Antalya on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast not far from Phaselis, Olimpos and Çıralı are set 7 km (4 miles) off the highway among pines, citrus orchards and farmers’ fields. A little stream flows through a rocky gorge and reaches the Mediterranean at a beautiful beach (more photos).
The hamlets of Olimpos and Çıralı are side by side behind Olimpos Beach, and you can walk along the beach from one to the other in 15 minutes, but the narrow roads that reach them from the highway are entirely different.
“Discovered” by backpackers on a budget, Olimpos became popular decades ago for its tree-house camps and pensions, the most famous of which is the renowned Kadir’s Tree Houses (but Bayram’sis also well-regarded).
Tree houses offer a variety of comfort levels, and where else can you live in a tree with an Internet connection? But be advised, there are no banks or ATMs in Olimpos. Bring cash to cover your expenses here.
Located between Kemer and Olimpos, and not all that far from Antalya, it’s a perfect spot for a quiet rest and a splash in the sea from one of the small pebbly beaches. Excursion boats and yachts often drop anchor in the southern harbor for lunch, a swim, and a stroll through the ruins.
There’s a TL8 per-person admission fee to the national park, which is open from 07:30 am to 19:00 (7 pm) in summer. Drinks, snacks and toilets are available in the building housing the small museum. Picnicking is prohibited anywhere in the park, but if you are discreet and pack out your trash it may be possible to snack undisturbed.
Two millennia ago in Roman times this was a thriving port town shipping rose oil and the perfumes made of it, as well as timber from the surrounding forests.
Today the three bays and ruined aqueduct of golden limestone shaded by fragrant pines are a poignant reminder of once-prosperous Phaselis.
The ruins of the ancient city have been mostly cleared of brush and trees, so you can walk along the grand Harbour Way past the elaborate Roman baths, an Agora, and the small but beautiful Theater (reached by a flight of wooden stairs).
If you climb to the top row of seats in the middle of the cavea (theater seating) you will appreciate the ancients’ genius for siting their theaters: the grand mountain vista above the scaena (stage wall) would compensate for even the dullest play.
The most obvious beaches are those at the northern harbor, but the better ones, with softer sand, are at the southern harbor. Walk along Harbour Way to reach it. There are no changing or shower facilities at either beach.
In autumn (October—November), wild cyclamen flower beneath the copses of trees around Phaselis, adding a welcom note of color and delicacy.
Though not as large or elaborate as Mexico’s Cancún, the principle at Kemer (keh-MEHR, pop. 25,000) is the same: pick a favorable seaside location with little habitation and build a modern resort town of white concrete buildings in it.
With virtually nothing to offer in the way of quaint old buildings, photogenic winding streets or archeological ruins, people come to Kemer for sun and sea.
The beaches are mostly of large pebbles and stones, although the ones near the yacht marina and Yörük Parkı (an anthropological park with a Turkish nomad theme) are of sand.
Shops and restaurants have signs, ads and menus in Russian, Arabic, German and other foreign languages for the benefit of international visitors.
Kemer can be a base for exploring nearby sites like Olimpos, Phaselis, Termessos, Perge and Aspendos, but Antalya is more centrally located and, overall, has more to offer.
The historic center, called Kaleiçi (Kah-leh-ee-chee, Old Antalya) surrounds the Roman harbor. Many buildings here date from Ottoman times, a few from Roman times, and some have been restored as houses, boutique hotels, pensions and restaurants.
Antalya’s prime beach is Konyaaltı Plajı, a l-o-n-g swath of rough sand and pebbles running west for several kilometers.
The sand is somewhat softer along Lara Plajı to the east. Other beaches are farther afield at Side and Alanya to the east, or Kemer, Phaselis and Olimpos to the south.
Visit Antalya for Kaleiçi, the museum and beaches, and because it’s the transport hub of the region with a big, modern airport 10 km (6 miles) east of the city center, and a big, modern bus terminal (Otogar) 4 km (2.5 miles) north. Here’s more on how to get to Antalya, and how to get around.
Antalya is also a good base for day-trips to nearby archeological sites such as Aspendos, Olimpos, Perge, Phaselis, Selge, Side and Termessos, and even river rafting in Köprülü Kanyon National Park.
Golf is, in fact, one of Belek’s main reasons for existence. The plan was to attract avid golfers from around the world to a Mediterranean resort planned with golfers in mind, but also close to many other attractions.
Important changes to Turkish laws regarding foreign ownership of real property triggered an explosive boom in real estate sales and villa development construction, and now hundreds of villas large and small compete for road frontage and water sources with the large hotels. Like the large hotels, the villa compounds are gated communities open only to property owners or guests.
Belek has a small town center with municipal buildings, a city hall, various services, and shopping streets. Modern replicas of ancient Roman aqueducts and arches are common decorations in the city (really town) center.
Transportation among resorts, and to and from the town center and nearby sights, may need some planning. The Tourism Center covers a large area, the roads can be confusing, and the signage, while helpful, is often inadequate.
If you’re driving your own car, allow some time for wrong turns, dead ends and asking directions. If you’re coming by taxi, expect the fare to reflect the relatively long distances covered.
The only problem with Belek? It could be anywhere: Turkey, Thailand, Mexico, Paraguay, Spain. There’s little that is Turkish about it except the many workers who construct all the villas, manicure the golf courses, and work in the hotels. It’s a gigantic development still under construction, a villa sales office, a shopping mall, a tangle of busy roads, and vast expanses of grass kept green and fresh, even in the withering Mediterranean sun, by rivers of fresh water and tons of chemical fertilizers.
Why anyone would want to make a beautiful pine-forested stretch of Mediterranean shoreline resemble the rainy downs of Scotland (where golf originated) I do not know.
If tourism is a business, then Belek, like Cancún, is its factory: resources and tourists go in one end, money comes out the other.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with money. We all need it, and all of the workers at Belek are undoubtedly happy to have their jobs so they can provide for their families. Turkey’s economy relies heavily on tourism for billions in foreign exchange, and tourism has helped many Turks to better their lives, their health, and their children’s promise for the future.
Belek is successful. Lots of people like it.
As for me, I think of my favorite boutique hotel in the historic center of Antalya, the Tuvana, with its charming atmosphere, personal service, friendly owner and manager, and I want no part of a huge gated golf-course hotel with a staff of hundreds.
I think of what lies just east and inland from Belek: the road to Köprülü Kanyon National Park. After my visit to Belek, I drove this road, a narrow two-lane in good condition that winds through farming country dotted with ancient aqueducts, up into the mountains, with spectacular views of the peaks and the emerald-green river that courses among them. This, for me, is Turkey: sun, beautiful countryside, farming villages, friendly people (they’ll take you rafting along the river if you like), and ancient Roman ruins (Selge, at the top of the valley.)
Tourism arrived with a vengeance in the 1980s, however, and although Side is still nice, it is now crowded in warm weather.
Both Turks and foreigners come for the perfect white sand beaches, the seaside restaurants and bars, the variety of lodgings (from cheap little pensions to luxury hotels), and the impressive Hellenistic and Roman ruins.
The best times to enjoy Side are late April, May, early June and October. If you must come in high summer, avoid weekends, when half of Ankara roars down to Side for a swim.
Car, bus and minibus are the ways to get here. Buses and minibuses come from Antalya and Alanya. The nearest airport is Antalya’s, 55 km (34 miles) west of Side.
For the Seljuks, the attraction was the mild climate, the good harbor, and its relative closeness to Konya, the Seljuk capital.
For today’s visitors it’s the l-o-n-g stretches of sand beach, the warm waters of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, and the deep history of the town.
Alanya has grown incredibly during the past decade, and now boasts a population of more than 250,000, which must double during the summer tourist season.
Many visitors fly into Antalya airport on inexpensive package vacations, then bus to Alanya. Lots of new hotels have been built to cater to the package trade.
While you’re here, visit the vast Seljuk Turkish fortress which dominates the town from its promontory; the tall, octagonal Seljuk Kızılkule (Red Tower); and the Tersane (shipyard).
The dank atmosphere of Damlataş Cave, said to be beneficial to asthma sufferers, but with hordes of tourists exhaling hot carbon dioxide into the humid, already-stuffy atmosphere.
But of course Alanya’s big attraction is its beaches, l-o-n-g swaths of sand to west (several kilometers) and east (many kilometers).
It has an impressive fortress, uncrowded beaches, and a Byzantine ghost town.
The Fortress of Mamure, 7 km (4.5 miles) east of the town of Anamur, was built by the Romans, expanded by the Crusaders, and is still impressive.
The beach, with a selection of hotels and pensions, is at İskele (“Dock”), southeast of the town center.
The Byzantine ghost town of Anamurium, 5 km (3 miles) west of the town center, is an eerie place of semi-ruined stone buildings–churches, public baths, shops, a theater, a stadium, a necropolis (cemetery).
Anamurium was founded by the Phoenicians, flourished under the Romans, but was sacked by the Arabs in the 600s and never recovered. Its very forlorn-ness preserved it: no one wanted to live here, which is why it has been preserved.
Bus is the only public transport serving Anamur.
If you’re driving the coast from Antalya to Adana, it makes sense to stop for the night in Anamur. It’s smaller and more easily negotiable than Alanya, with more congenial lodgings than Silifke or Mersin. (although Kızkalesi, near Silifke, is another congenial possibility for an overnight stop.)
Founded by Seleucus I Nicator (one of Alexander the Great’s generals) in the 3rd century BC, Silifke (see-LEEF-keh, pop. 60,000) has a few interesting historic sights, such as:
—The Byzantine fortress commanding the town from a hilltop
—The Tekir Ambarı, an ancient stone cistern blow the fortress
—Ruins of the Roman Temple of Jupiter
—A small Archeological Museum
—The Great Mosque (Ulu Cami) with foundations from Seljuk Turkish times
—The Reşadiye Mosque, built by the Ottomans using columns recycled from the Temple of Jupiter.
About 5 km (3 miles) from Silifke’s otogar (bus station) off the road to Taşucu is the Cave of St Thecla (Ayatekla). A young virgin from Iconium (Konya), Thecla overheard St Paul preaching in her neighbor’s house and converted to Christianity. Persecuted for her beliefs, she triumphed and was revered by the Byzantines, who built a splendid church above the cave where she allegedly sought shelter from her persecutors. The church is now in ruins, but the cave beneath is a place of pilgrimage for Christians.
On the shore at the eastern end of the fine beach is another castle, Korykos, making Kızkalesi (KUHZ kah-leh-see) a two-castle town.
Why stop here? To take photos of the castles and, if you’re intrepid and a strong swimmer, to swim out to the Kız Kalesi on the island. If you’re not intrepid, small cruise boats will take you out there, you can paddle yourself in a paddleboat, or you can even fly over it by parasail.
Dozens of hotels, villas, flats to let and pensions provide beds, making this a charming place to spend the night if you’re traveling along the coast. It’s generally cheaper and far more relaxing than the cities (Silifke, Mersin, Tarsus, Adana). More…
I stayed quite happily at the Rain Hotel, a simple but pleasant and clean three-star only a half-block from the beach. More….
Kızkalesi also makes a good base for visits to the Roman ruins of Elaiussa-Sebaste, the Roman-Byzantine necropolis at Kanytelis, inland from the coastal village of Kumkuyu, the extensive Roman-Byzantine ruins at Kanlıdivane, and the impressive caverns of Heaven and Hell (Cennet ve Cehennem).
At Narlıkuyu, a few kilometers west of Kızkalesi, are numerous waterfront seafood restaurants just right for a pleasant evenings dining and conversation. Roman mosaics are preserved here in a small museum.
Mersin (MEHR-seen, population 1.5 million) is the capital of the province of İçel, and the major port for shipments to and from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. In fact, the city of Mersin is sometimes called İçel (EE-chell).
It has good hotels—even a Hilton—so you can stay here comfortably enough. If you do, have a look at the space-age Great Mosque (Ulu Cami) on the main square of Customhouse Square (Gümrük Meydanı), an unusually modern place of worship in this land slavishly devoted to the great age of Ottoman architecture.
Also peek into the Atatürk House (Atatürk Evi, closed Sunday), a stone house used by Kemal Atatürk on his visits; and the small museum (closed Monday).
Mersin is easy to reach by bus, being a major transport point. The highway from Mersin east to Adana and Osmaniye is four lanes.
Trains run along the coast to Tarsus, Adana and İskenderun, and the daily Çukurova Mavi Tren between Ankara and Adana stops at Yenice, east of Mersin.
There are also trains between Mersin and Aleppo (Halep, Halab) Syria—if there’s no war on.
Ferries cross the water between Mersin and Magusa (Famagusta) in northern Cyprus several days each week carrying cars and passengers (buy your tickets at least a day in advance).
The nearest airport is 50 km (31 miles) east at Adana.
The historic city center holds several buildings of interest:
— The Church Mosque (Kilise Cami, or Baytimur Camii) in the city center was built as a church about 300 AD, perhaps dedicated to St Paul. After a thousand years as a church, it was converted to a mosque in 1415 when the city was conquered from the Byzantines by a Turkish Ramazanoğlu emir.
— The Roman-era Cleopatra’s Gate may have nothing to do with Cleopatra, but it is a monumental remnant of the ancient city’s system of defensive walls.
— St. Paul’s Well, an obviously old stone well, may have nothing to do with St. Paul, but it is interesting to see, and perhaps the main reason many travelers stop in Tarsus.
— The few streets of historic houses near St. Paul’s Well are interesting to walk through, a glimpse at what the town looked like for much of its history during the last millennium.
— The Tarsus Museum is housed in a 16th-century medrese (theological seminary).
Access to Tarsus (TAHR-sus, pop. 200,000) is easy as it lies between Mersin and Adana, with fast highways and frequent buses, minibuses and trains.
Adana (AH-dah-nah, pop. 2 million) is hardly a tourist mecca: high heat and humidity in summer, swirling traffic, and limited sights keep it that way even though it has a good selection of hotels (mostly for business travelers).
It is an important transport point, however, and if you find yourself spending the night, visit the 16th-century Ulu Cami (Great Mosque), the Ethnography Museum set up in a sweet little Crusader church, the Regional Museum with lots of good Roman artifacts, and the Taş Köprü (Stone Bridge) built by Roman emperor Hadrian (117-38 AD) over the Seyhan River.
İncirlik (EEN-jeer-leek) Air Base is the big joint Turkish-US air force facility a few kilometers east of the center of Adana.
Because of its importance to business and commercial travelers, Adana has a fine selection of hotels in all price ranges.
Originally called Alexandretta, İskenderun (eess-KEHN-deh-roon, pop. 175,000), at the far end of the Turkish Mediterranean coast, was founded by Alexander the Great (Büyük İskender in Turkish) as a port.
But unless you’re passing through by ship, there’s little to detain you, although the Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Caravansaray in nearby Payas, 22 km (14 miles) to the north, and its neighboring Fortress of the Genies (Cin Kalesi) are worth a look.
Otherwise you’re probably on your way to or from Antakya (Hatay, Antioch-ad-Orontes) and its famous Roman mosaics and cave-church of St. Peter. Bus is the best way to go.
A visit to Antakya (ahn-TAHK-yah, also called Hatay), three hours’ ride southeast from Adana, is a detour from most travelers’ routes, requiring a trip south over the Belen Pass (740 meters, 2428 feet) but it’s definitely worth it.
If you’re on your way to Syria, however, Antakya is right on your route, with easy transport to the border—though the Syrian civil war keeps most people from visiting that once-beautiful land.
Besides its Roman mosaics, Antakya is noted for its regional cuisine, especially for a sweet after-dinner treat called künefe.
It’s also famous for traditional regional products including olive oil soap and fine silk.
Known as Antioch ad Orontes in Roman times, this is where St Peter is said to have preached in a cave belonging to St Luke. The cave, gouged from the side of Mt Sipylus (Spil Dağı) is thus said to be the first Christian church. You can visit it.
Antakya was also on the Silk Road, and silk cloth is still made and sold in nearby Harbiye (Daphne).
When I first visited Antakya 30+ years ago, there were no comfortable hotels. Now, I’m happy to say, there are several.
While you’re in the area you might want to take a side trip to Samandağ (Seleucia ad Piera), 29 km (18 miles) SW on the Mediterranean, especially since Antakya is usually very hot and dry.
Cappadocia is Turkey’s most visually striking region, especially the “moonscape” area around the towns of Ürgüp, Göreme, Uçhisar, Avanos and Mustafapaşa (Sinasos), where erosion has formed caves, clefts, pinnacles, “fairy chimneys” and sensuous folds in the soft volcanic rock.
Although the volcanic landscape can appear inhospitable, the mineral-rich soil is excellent for growing vegetables and fruits, making Cappadocia a rich agricultural region. It has always been one of Anatolia’s prime grape-growing areas, and still boasts many productive vineyards and wineries.
The Bible’s New Testament tells of Cappadocia, but in fact this part of central Anatolia has been important since Hittite times, long before the time of Jesus.
Prime activities here are visiting the historic painted cave churches of the many monastic valleys (especially the Göreme Valley and Zelve Valley), flying in a hot-air balloon at dawn above the incredible landscape, hiking the volcanic valleys (especially the Rose Valley [Güllüdere]), and spending the night in a comfortable cave hotel room with all the modern comforts.
For an excellent full-day excursion, drive to the surprising underground cities at Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı and the formerly Ottoman-Greek mountain town of Güzelyurt before taking a hike of several hours in the Ihlara Valley.
You may also want to spend a half-day hiking the less-visited Soğanlı Valleys of southern Cappadocia, south of Mustafapaşa.
Cappadocia was known as Hatti in the late Bronze Age, and was the country of the Hittite force focused at Hattusa. After the fall of the Hittite Empire, with the decrease of the Syro-Cappadocians after their thrashing by the Lydian lord Croesus in the sixth century, Cappadocia was ruled by a kind of medieval gentry, abiding in solid palaces and keeping the laborers in a servile condition, which later made them well-suited to outside servitude. It was incorporated into the third Persian satrapy in the division set up by Darius however kept on being administered by leaders of its own, none evidently incomparable over the entire nation and all pretty much tributaries of the Great King.
Kingdom of Cappadocia
In the wake of closure the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great attempted to administer the zone through one of his military officers. In any case, Ariarathes, a Persian noble, some way or another got to be ruler of the Cappadocians. As Ariarathes I (332–322 BC), he was a fruitful ruler, and he developed the fringes of the Cappadocian Kingdom to the extent to the Black Sea. The kingdom of Cappadocia lived in peace until the demise of Alexander. The past domain was then partitioned into numerous parts, and Cappadocia tumbled to Eumenes. His cases were made great in 322 BC by the official Perdiccas, who executed Ariarathes; however in the disagreements which realized Eumenes’ demise, Ariarathes II, the received child of Ariarathes I, recouped his legacy and left it to a line of successors, who generally bore the name of the author of the administration.
Persian homesteaders in the Cappadocian kingdom, cut off from their co-religionists in Iran legitimate, kept on honing Zoroastrianism. Strabo, watching them in the main century B.C., records (XV.3.15) that these “flame kindlers” had numerous “blessed spots of the Persian Gods”, and additionally fire temples. Strabo besides relates, were “imperative fenced in areas; and in their middle there is a sacred place, on which there is a huge amount of fiery debris and where the magi keep the flame ever burning.”
Under Ariarathes IV, Cappadocia came into relations with Rome, first as an adversary embracing the reason for Antiochus the Great, then as an associate against Perseus of Macedon. The lords henceforward put their support behind the Republic as against the Seleucids, to whom they had been occasionally tributary. Ariarathes V walked with the Roman proconsul Publius Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus against Aristonicus, a petitioner to the throne of Pergamon, and their strengths were demolished (130 BC). The imbroglio which took after his passing at last prompted impedance by the rising force of Pontus and the interests and wars which finished in the disappointment of the dynasty.
Roman and Byzantine province
Principle article: Cappadocia (Roman region)
The Cappadocians, upheld by Rome against Mithridates VI of Pontus, chose a local ruler, Ariobarzanes, to succeed (93 BC); yet around the same time Armenian troops under Tigranes the Great entered Cappadocia, deposed lord Ariobarzanes and delegated Gordios as the new customer lord of Cappadocia, consequently making a cradle zone against the infringing Romans. It was not until Rome had removed the Pontic and Armenian rulers that the guideline of Ariobarzanes was set up (63 BC). In the common wars Cappadocia was first for Pompey, then for Caesar, then for Antony, lastly, Octavian. The Ariobarzanes tradition arrived at an end, a Cappadocian aristocrat Archelaus was given the throne, by support first of Antony and after that of Octavian, and kept up tributary freedom until AD 17, when the sovereign Tiberius, who he had infuriated, summoned him to Rome and diminished Cappadocia to a Roman region.
Cappadocia contains a few underground urban communities (see Kaymaklı Underground City), to a great extent utilized by early Christians as concealing spots before Christianity turned into an acknowledged religion. The underground urban communities have boundless resistance systems of traps all through their numerous levels. These traps are exceptionally innovative, including such gadgets as vast round stones to piece entryways and openings in the roof through which the safeguards may drop lances.
The Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century were indispensable to quite a bit of early Christian reasoning. It additionally delivered, among other individuals, another Patriarch of Constantinople, John of Cappadocia, who held office 517–520. For the majority of the Byzantine time it remained moderately undisturbed by the contentions in the zone with the Sassanid Empire, however was a basic boondocks zone later against the Muslim successes. From the seventh century, Cappadocia was isolated between the Anatolic and Armeniac subjects. In the 9th–11th hundreds of years, the district contained the subjects of Charsianon and Cappadocia.
Cappadocia imparted a continually changing relationship to neighboring Armenia, at that point a locale of the Empire. The Arab antiquarian Abu Al Faraj declares the accompanying about Armenian pilgrims in Sivas, amid the tenth century: “Sivas, in Cappadocia, was ruled by the Armenians and their numbers turned out to be many to the point that they got to be basic individuals from the majestic armed forces. These Armenians were utilized as watch-posts as a part of solid strongholds, taken from the Arabs. They separated themselves as experienced infantry troopers in the royal armed force and were always battling with extraordinary fearlessness and accomplishment by the side of the Romans at the end of the day Byzantine”. As an aftereffect of the Byzantine military crusades and the Seljuk attack of Armenia, the Armenians spread into Cappadocia and eastbound from Cilicia into the bumpy territories of northern Syria and Mesopotamia, and the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was in the end shaped. This migration was expanded further after the decay of the neighborhood magnificent force and the foundation of the Crusader States taking after the Fourth Crusade. To the crusaders, Cappadocia was “terra Hermeniorum,” the place that is known for the Armenians, because of the extensive number of Armenians settled there.
Another great excursion is to the Byzantine Iconoclastic rock-hewn monastery at Eski Gümüşler near Niğde.
It used to be that Ürgüp was for upscale visitors and tour groups, and Göreme for backpackers, but that has changed. There are now excellent boutique hotels and inns in both towns, although Ürgüp does have many more of these.
The center of Ürgüp (EWR-gewp, pop. 15,000) boasts many fine old houses of carved Cappadocian stone. The soft volcanic tufa lends itself to carving for decoration and to expansion: if the house needs a new room, the residents merely hollow one out of the hillside into which the house is built.
Like most Cappadocian towns, Ürgüp clings to the walls of a valley and tumbles down along the valley floor for some distance.
The town has many fine inns with cave rooms such as the Esbelli Evi, as well as cheaper pensions. On the outskirts of the town toward Kayseri are large modern hotels designed for tour groups.
The best restaurants in Ürgüp are Ziggy Café and Dimrit, just down the hill from the Esbelli district. More…
The center of Ürgüp has shops, a historic hamam (Turkish bath), and the Temenni Hill, a high rock ledge looming above the very center of town, with a saint’s tomb at its edge. Temenni was a favorite place to go for the fine view, and to watch the sunset. In spring 2007 a section of the rock collapsed on several buildings in the town, so the viewing terrace is now smaller.
If you plan to take a hot-air balloon flight, and you’re staying in Ürgüp, your ballooning company will pick you up from your Ürgüp hotel and drive you to the launch site.
Ürgüp has historically been the tourist center in Cappadocia, but a few decades ago budget travelers discovered the farming town of Avcılar, set in a steep moonscape valley only a mile (1.5 km) from Göreme Open-Air Museum. They started to fill the beds in its simple, cheap family pensions.
Avcılar has been renamed Göreme, more comfortable pensions, hotels and inns have been set in restored Cappadocian houses, good restaurants opened, and now the town is the bustling center of the tourist trade.
With “fairy chimney” pinnacles of volcanic rock rising right in the town center, and cave houses in the valley walls, Göreme is a worthy rival to nearby Ürgüp.
Sensitive local people and foreign residents work hard to preserve the town’s beauty. The Göreme Charity Restoration Fund takes donations and organizes volunteers to restore and beautify the town. (If you see one of their donation boxes at a historic site, consider making a donation. It’s a worthy cause.)
If you happen to visit Göreme at the time of the spring and fall cave house tours, you can get a peek into how modern troglodytes live, with all comforts and mod cons.
The popular backpacker base of Göreme Town is a short distance downhill from Uçhisar (OOCH-hee-sahr, “tiptop castle”).
Uçhisar has numerous hotels, inns, rental houses and pensions, some of them with cave rooms, such as the Kale Konak Hotel, but the main reason visitors go there is to climb to the top of the hisar, the tall rock outcrop via tunnels and enjoy the spectacular panoramic view, the best view of Cappadocia except for that which you get from a hot-air balloon.
Though not as well known as Ürgüp, Göreme, or Uçhisar, Avanos has several good hotels (including a DoubleTree by Hilton) and restaurants, as well as plenty of shops.
The red clay from the riverbanks is excellent for traditional household pottery as well as industrial uses such as building blocks and roof tiles.
You can see pottery being made, and even take a pottery-making class and make some yourself.
Avanos’s artisans also carve alabaster, the light-colored, translucent stone.
The Sarı Han (Yellow Caravanserai), a caravanserai built by the Selcuk Turks, is out in the country 6 km (4 mi) east of Avanos. Unless you’re a good walker, hire a taxi to get there as there’s little hitching traffic on the road to Sarı Han.
Avanos is 17 km (11 mi, 25 minutes) NE of Nevşehir, 8 km (5 miles) N of Göreme, 13 km (8.1 mi) NW of Ürgüp. and 70 km (44 miles) W of Kayseri. It’s not quite as central as Ürgüp or Göreme to use as a base for your visit, but it’s a bit less touristy, and still has a small selection of hotels and restaurants.
Today it is a thriving town with a university, an excellent Ottoman-Cappadocian style hotel patronized by royalty, and lots to see and do nearby.
Called Sinasos (SEE-nah-sohss) by its Ottoman Greek residents, it is still called that today by many local people.
The Cappadocian tourist towns of Ürgüp and Göreme are better known, but Mustafapaşa is just as interesting, less well known, and therefore a better choice for those seeking authenticity.
If you want to get away from the crowds and spend your Cappadocian time in a real-life Turkish town, Mustafapaşa is a good choice. The place to stay is the Gül Konakları (“Rose Mansions”), whose former guests include the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Queen of Spain. More…
Mustafapaşa is a little closer to the Soğanlı Valleys than are Ürgüp and Göreme, and not much farther from Göreme Valley and Zelve Valley, so you’re in a more central position here.
Travel Store Turkey listed top things to do in Cappadocia
You can visit Bursa to see the top sights on a day-trip excursion from Istanbul, although an overnight in Bursa is more comfortable and rewarding. That way you can also see the ancient town of İznik (Nicaea) on the way to Bursa, and you may even have time to go to the top of Uludağ (OO-loo-dah, 2543 meters, 8343 feet), the mountain behind the city.
Bursa was the first capital (late 1200s-early 1300s) of the Ottoman Empire. The two founding sultans, Orhan and Osman, are buried here, and this is where the empire’s great architectural style was first developed.
The city clings to the slopes of Uludağ, the Bithynian Mount Olympus, and thus got its nickname Green Bursa from the surrounding forests. Now a large, bustling city of 2 million people, much of the greenery has disappeared beneath the concrete and macadam urban sprawl. Bursa’s traditional industries of silk weaving and fruit processing have long since been supplemented by motor vehicle manufacturing (it’s “Turkey’s Detroit”) and other industry, large and small.
On Bursa’s western outskirts is Çekirge, a thermal spa resort since Roman times, with many spa hotels and bathing establishments.
Some people come for İskender kebap, slices of grilled lamb dressed with savory tomato sauce and browned butter. (On that subject, here’s a funny sign.)
Fast catamaran ferryboat (hızlı feribot) routes take you from Istanbul to Güzelyalı, Mudanya or Yalova on the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara.
From Güzelyalı or Mudanya you can get to Bursa by bus and Bursaray (Metro).
From Yalova, take a bus to Bursa, or a minibus to İznik. After touring İznik, you can catch a minibus onward to Bursa.
Two Christian ecumenical councils were held here, the 1st in 325, and the 7th in 787.
The Hagia Sophia Church right at the city center was the scene of the 7th council.
In 1331, Orhan Gazi had it converted to a mosque. In the reign of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, the sultan’s great architect, Mimar Sinan, made some additions and modifications to improve its function as a house of worship.
Badly ruined sometime thereafter (perhaps by earthquakes), it was restored to its former shape beginning in 2007, and re-opened as a mosque in November 2011, which means you can now enter and get a good idea of the building’s earlier Byzantine form.
İznik’s Green Mosque (Yeşil Cami) is a fine Seljuk Turkish-influenced work. Across the street is an Ottoman imaret (soup kitchen) that now houses the city’s good museum.
In 2014 the remains of a 1,600-year-old Byzantine basilica were discovered a short distance offshore in İznik Lake. Constructed in the 330s in honor of St. Neophytos, who was martyred on this spot by the Romans, the church was destroyed by an earthquake in 740 AD/CE. Preservation efforts now underway will lead to its preservation as an underwater museum.
On the outskirts of the town is a rare Byzantine underground tomb (Yeraltı Mezar).
It’s the transfer point between the fast ferries to/from Istanbul, the express train to İzmir, and buses to/from Çanakkale, the Dardanelles and the northern Aegean coast.
You can spend a pleasant few hours in Bandırma (bahn-DUHR-mah, pop. 80,000), but most travelers are just passing through.
The ferry docks right in the center of town have their own train station for travelers going between Istanbul and İzmir by ferryboat and train.
Bandırma’s bus terminal (otogar) is up the hill away from the docks, near the highway.
A pleasant enough small town, it offers services to travelers, including many sea-view restaurants near the ferry docks, several hotels, and an interesting History Park by the docks illustrating the battles that took place nearby during the Gallipoli campaign (1915-1916).
All in all, Çanakkale on the Asian shore of the Dardanelles offers a better base for touring the sights in the area, but Eceabat can serve as a base if your time is short, or if you don’t have your own vehicle with which to tour the battlefields.
Right in the town center next to the ferry dock is Eceabat’s Respect for History Park (Tarihe Saygı Parkı), with informative displays including a scale model of the Gallipoli Peninsula with the main features and battle sites marked.
This can help you to better appreciate the country you’re exploring on the Gallipoli peninsula.
Next to it is a life-size recreation of trenches at Quinn’s Post (Bomba Sırtı)—the ANZAC and Ottoman soldiers are only a few meters apart, with death a near certainty.
The village takes its name from the Kilitbahir Fortress (Kilitbahir Kalesi, “Lock on the Sea”) which dominates it. Paired with Çanakkale’s Çimenlik Fortress, often called just “Chanak” in foreign history books, these two fortresses could indeed lock the narrows to the passage of enemy ships, as they did during the 1915 Dardanelles naval campaign.
Today Kilitbahir (kee-LEET-bah-heer) is known mostly for its car ferry dock, launching point for frequent ferry voyages between Kilitbahir and Çanakkale. Larger vehicles prefer the Eceabat dock because of its wider access roads. Smaller vehicles may prefer using Kilitbahir because of the shorter voyage time, 12 to 15 minutes versus 20 to 25 minutes via Eceabat. More…
As you debark from the ferry at Kilitbahir, you’ll see signs pointing left (south) to Abide, the Turkish war monument at the southern tip (Cape Helles) of the peninsula near Sedd-ül Bahir; and right (north) toward Eceabat, Gelibolu, Edirne, Tekirdağ and, eventually, Istanbul.
The Kilitbahir Fortress is part of a more extensive defensive compound, parts of which have been restored and are now used for exhibitions and as museum space. The fortress itself is under restoration, and may be open to visitors during the centennial commemorations for the Gallipoli campaign in 2015.
Bursa Deniz Otobüsleri (BUDO) operates at least 6 voyages per day in each direction between Istanbul’s Kabataş docks and Bursa’s Mudanya docks. The fast catamaran ferries carry foot passengers only.
Besides being a port for centuries, Mudanya’s claim to fame is as the town in which the forces occupying Turkey and fighting in the Turkish War of Independence met to sign an armistice.
The signing of the armistice on October 11, 1922, is a milestone in Turkish Republican history, for it established the victory of the Republican armies and the concession of Greece and its European allies France, Great Britain and Italy.
The formal peace treaty, negotiated and signed later in Lausanne, Switzerland, rewrote the earlier Sèvres treaty which was highly disadvantageous to Turkey.
The peace of Lausanne allowed the new Turkish Republican government to get to work on the daunting challenge of building a new 20th-century government and society on the ruins of the medieval Ottoman one.
History buffs may want to visit the Mudanya Armistice House Museum (Mütareke Evi) and monument, 825 meters (1/2 mile) northwest of the Mudanya ferry dock along Halitpaşa Caddesi, the waterfront street.
That would be Ertuğrul Gazi (died 1288), the warrior chieftain who fought on the border of the Seljuk Turkish and Byzantine empires, and whose sons went on to form the Ottoman state.
Apart from his tomb, there’s not much else to see in Söğüt (sur-EWT) except pretty rolling hills. If you have an intense interest in early Ottoman history and you’re driving between Bursa and Eskişehir, stop and pay your respects to The Founder and have a glass of tea.
Ertuğrul (EHR-too-rool) established a small principality with Söğüt as its capital, but his sons Osman and Orhan moved on to conquer the Byzantine towns of Nicaea (İznik) and Broussa (Bursa), and made Bursa the capital of their burgeoning empire. (Osman and Orhan are buried in elaborate tombs in Bursa).
By 1452, just over a century and a half after Ertuğrul Gazi’s death, the Ottomans controlled most of Anatolia, much of eastern Europe, and major parts of the Middle East.
In 1453 they captured Constantinople (Istanbul), setting the stage for the Ottoman Empire’s golden age.
Always an important port for shipment of the agricultural wealth of eastern Thrace, it is mostly modern and undistinguished, though a walk along Rákóczi Sokak is pleasant enough, with its old wooden houses, most dilapidated, some about to collapse, a few restored. The old, well-kept Ottoman-style Tekirdağ Vali Konağı (provincial governor’s building, 1927) is now the Archeology & Ethnology Museum.
Rákóczi Sokak ends in the west at the Rákóczi Museum, once the house of Prince Francis II Rákóczi (II. Rákóczi Ferenc, 1676-1735) the Hungarian nobleman who led a revolt (1703-1711) against Habsburg rule in Hungary.
After the revolt was defeated, Rákóczi eventually accepted the invitation of the Ottoman sultan, who was at war with the Habsburgs, to reside in his empire. Rákóczi moved to Rodosto (Tekirdağ), lived here with a large entourage, and died in 1735 at the age of 59.
Otherwise, have a look at the Rüstem Pasha Mosque (1546), a work of the great Minar Sinan up the hill from the main square (Cumhuriyet Meydanı).
It’s also the place you catch a minibus to İznik (Nicaea) or to the early Ottoman town of Söğüt.
The dock for passenger ferries to and from Istanbul’s Yenikapı Feribot Terminalı is right in the center of town.
The dock for car ferries (hızlı feribot) to Yenikapı Feribot Terminalı is a 10-minute walk eastward. See Sea of Marmara ferries for details.
There is also car and passenger ferry service to Pendik, on the Gulf of Izmit shore east of the Bosphorus.
Minibuses depart from near the passenger ferry dock about every half hour to take people to İznik (Nicaea).
Big comfortable buses with “Yalova” emblazoned on the side wait just outside the Yalova fast car ferry docks (Yalova İskelesi) to take passengers to Bursa. Leave the ferry, walk to the buses, board one (TL7) and you’ll son be on your way. (The official schedule lists departures every 20 minutes throughout the day, with lots of extra buses connecting with the ferries.) The 55-km (34-mile) ride from Yalova along a divided highway to Bursa’s bus terminal takes less than one hour.
The thermal spa of Termal, in use since Roman times (at least) is 12 km (8 miles) southwest of Yalova. Get there by minibus and taxi.
Yalova (YAH-loh-vah, pop. 60,000) suffered terribly in the violent earthquake of August 17, 1999. Many buildings were destroyed and many lives lost. If you see a lot of new buildings, that’s why.
Anyone traveling between Ankara, Konya and Nevsehir might consider stopping in Aksaray for lunch, fuel or a tea or toilet break. The Orhan Ağaçlı Tesisleri at the intersection of the nort-south and east-west highways has all these as well as fuel, shops, auto repairs and even a motel. There are also a few servicable hotels in the city center if you need to stay the night.
The sights of Aksaray (AHK-sah-rah-yee, alt. 980 meters/3215 feet, pop. 110,000) include its Ulu Cami (Great Mosque, 1408) built in the post-Seljuk Beylik period, the nice Aksaray Museum housed in the Zinciriye Medresesi (Chain Seminary, 1336), and the Kızıl Minare Camii (Mosque with a Red Minaret, 1236).
Next to the mosque stands its eponymous red Eğri Minare (Leaning Minaret). Because of settlement at its foundations the minaret does have a distinct lean to it, earning it the name “Aksaray’s Leaning Tower [of Pisa].” The thrill from seeing this local wonder dissipates in seconds.
Aksaray is a major way-station along the ancient Silk Road, which means there are impressive Seljuk Turkish caravanserais to the east and west of it. The nearest is the Ağzıkarahan, 10 km (6 miles) to the east; the enormous Sultan Hanı, largest of the Seljuk caravanserais in Anatolia, is 42 km (26 miles) to the west. More on caravanserais…
Also near Aksaray is the Ihlara Valley, with its dozens of tiny Byzantine churches. A few pensions and inns near the valley host visitors, or you can stay in Aksaray, or visit Ihlara on a day trip from Cappadocia.
If you’re planning to tour the Black Sea coast, be sure to stop in Amasya (ah-MAHSS-yah, pop. 65,000) for at least one night on your way.
Amasya, a provincial capital, stretches along the banks of the Yeşilırmak (Green River) in a narrow mountain defile, with sheer rock cliffs rising above the town center. Ancient tombs of the kings of Pontus (3rd century BCE), carved right into the sheer rock, are floodlit at night.
Many graceful old Ottoman houses have been preserved, and a few now serve as charming boutique hotels, inns & pensions.
Other sights include several fine 13th-century Seljuk Turkish buildings, a Mongol madhouse, and a good little museum which contains, among other curiosities, a collection of local mummies!
Bus and car are the best ways to get here. The nearest airport is the small Merzifon-Amasya Airport, 41 km northwest of Amasya.
Before the Turkish War of Independence brought Kemal Atatürk and his generals to Ankara as a wartime command post, this Central Anatolian town 454 km (282 miles) southeast of Istanbul was a small town with a Roman citadel on a high hill and a brisk trade in soft Angora goat hair and the garments made from it.
After Atatürk proclaimed Ankara to be the capital of the new Turkish Republic, it began to grow. After WWII, a constant influx of villagers from the countryside in search of a better life brought Ankara explosive growth.
Today this city at an altitude of 848 meters (2782 feet) is a sprawling metropolis of five million people, many of them employed in government ministries and embassies, in universities and schools, in hospitals and medical centres, the military, and some in light industry on the outskirts.
The city now sprawls through valleys and across hills in every direction, but on your visit you need only be concerned with a few specific areas.
Ankara’s several interesting sights such as the citadel, Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, Anıtkabir (Atatürk Mausoleum) and Roman ruins, can fully occupy you for a day, but if your itinerary is rushed, spending half a day here may suffice. More…
If you don’t want to bother finding your way around, consider joining a half-day city tour.
Ankara can also be your base, or starting point, for visits to other points of interest in Central Anatolia. Excursions run from Ankara east to the Hittite capital of Boğazkale (Hattuşa-Yazılıkaya) and the historic town of Amasya, north to the fine historic town of Safranbolu, and south to Cappadocia.
Centrally located, Ankara is a transportation nexus for all of Turkey’s bus, train, plane and highway routes.
Ankara has plenty of good hotels and restaurants, of course, but again, you need be concerned with only a few for a one-night visit.
Travelers stop here for two reasons mainly: to visit the wonderful Eşrefoğlu Mosque and to dine on fresh fish from the lake.
The Eşrefoğlu Camii (esh-REHF-oh-loo jah-mee; 1296-1299) is the finest example of the Seljuk Turkish flat-wooden-ceiling and wooden column-style of mosque construction in Anatolia. As the plaque in front reads: “It is a wooden mosque museum in terms of its superior wood and tile workmanship.”
A grand Seljuk-style carved stone portal leads to a beautifully tiled interior portal, then into the main hall. This lofty space is a forest of tree-trunk columns supporting a flat roof of tree-trunk rafters. In the center is a pool, open to the sky above when it was built, but now covered with a glass roof to keep out the elements.
Carved wood, inlaid and painted wood decorate the beams and rafters. The capitals of the columns are carved as well.
At the far end the mimber (prayer niche) is a masterwork of Seljuk light-and-dark blue tilework, especially the mukarnas (nichework) at the top.
The mosque has been beautifully restored, and is a delight to explore.
Located 30 km (19 miles) southeast of Sungurlu on the way to Çorum and the Black Sea coast, Boğazkale (boh-AHZ-kah-leh) is impressive not so much for its buildings—there are none left, only their foundations—but for its setting, its layout, and its great antiquity.
The Hittites are mentioned in the Bible as the conquerors of Babylon and challengers of the Egyptian pharaohs. Hattusha ) was their power center, the site of their temples to the Storm God and other deities.
At Yazılıkaya, 2.6km (1.6 miles) uphill from the entrance to the Hattuşa site, bas reliefs of ceremonial processions were carved into the sheer rock walls of a natural holy-place. The Hitit Yolu (Hittite Way) walking path, marked by signs, shows you the way.
Alacahöyük, 36 km (22 miles) north of Boğazkale, was another important Hittite city, and is worth a look if you’re interested enough in Hittite history and art to visit Bogazkale.
No, it’s knot.
Gordion, 106 km (66 miles) west of Ankara and 21 km (13 miles NW of Polatlı near the village of Yassıhöyük, was the capital of Phrygia under its most renowned ruler, King Midas (725-675 BC).
The town and its fortress guarded the only practicable trade route between Troy and Antioch (Antakya) where it crossed the Sangarius (Sakarya) River. You had to get past the citadel of Gordion to trade with—or to conquer—Asia.
The flat terrain around Gordion is littered with tumuli, or mounds, about 80 of them. Archeologists have uncovered something like 18 layers of civilization from the Bronze Age through the Hittite, Phrygian, Persian, Greek and Roman periods.
In the largest tumulus they discovered a 2700-year-old tomb that may be Midas’s. The log-cabin-like tomb and its grave goods of coffin, furniture and food offerings, all buried beneath an arficial hill, are Gordion’s main attraction and the reason for you to visit.
As for the Gordian Knot, here’s the legend:
A man named Gordius, his wife, and their son Midas rode in an oxcart into the town that would soon be known as Gordion. A legend had foretold just such a coming by oxcart of a savior king, so Gordius was proclaimed ruler.
The cart that had brought them was put in a Temple to Zeus, and it was said that anyone who could untie the knot of cornel bark which fastened the cart pole to the oxen yoke would rule all of Asia.
The knot may in fact have been a religious knot-cipher guarded by Gordion’s priests and priestesses. It may have symbolized the ineffable name of Dionysus and its secret would have been passed on through generations of priests and revealed only to the kings of Phrygia.
In any case, Alexander the Great came along, defeated the Phrygians in battle, captured their fortress, and therefore had access to the remainder of Asia.
Set in the shadow of Erciyes Dağı (Mount Aergeus, 3916 meters; 12,848 feet), Kayseri’s historic buildings contrast with the sparkling ski slopes on Erciyes.
Most of Kayseri’s grand old buildings are made of dark, sombre volcanic stone, so different from the sunny volcanic tufa of Cappadocian buildings.
But Kayseri’s Citadel and great mosques and medreses are still impressive Seljuk Turkish works of art. Here’s what to see and do.
You can see most of Kayseri’s sights in a morning or afternoon excursion from your base in Ürgüp, Göreme, or another Cappadocian town, by minibus or your own car. The best place to stay is the Hilton Kayseri Hotel.
Kayseri’s citizens are renowned in Turkey for their commercial acumen—in other words, they’re known as sharp traders. But you’ll find friendliness if you visit the city’s two historic market buildings: the Bedesten and the Vezir Hanı, both near the Ulu Cami (Great Mosque) in the city center.
On Kayseri’s outskirts are several grand Seljuk Turkish caravanserais, the Sultan Han and the Karatay Han, left from the days of the Silk Road.
Kayseri is a major transport nexus for the region, with daily flights from/to Istanbul, a train station, and a busy bus station.
Located right on the ancient Silk Road, Konya has lots to see and do, a number of good hotels, and transport is easy.
Located about three hours’ drive south of Ankara, it’s an extremely old city, its roots going back to the days of the Hittites, who called it Kuwanna. As a Roman city, it was Iconium. Today it is the most religiously conservative city in Turkey—and proud of it.
The reason to visit Konya is to see the Mevlana Museum which shelters the tomb of Jelaleddin Rumî (1207-1273), known to his followers as Mevlana (or Rumî), a Muslim poet and mystic and one of the great spiritual thinkers and teachers of all time.
Konya was the capital of the Seljuk Turkish Sultanate of Rum (“ROOM,” that is, Rome) which flourished in Central Anatolia from 1071 to 1275. The Seljuks built numerous caravansarays along the Silk Road between Cappadocia and Konya, and beyond.
Seljuk architecture is outstanding, and numerous great Seljuk buildings—mosques and theological seminaries mostly—are Konya’s pride and joy.
Konya has a sufficient number of hotels, but if you plan to visit in mid-December, when Şeb-i Aruz, the annual Rumî commemoration ceremonies, pack Konya with pilgrims, you must be sure to reserve your room well in advance; or, better yet, take a guided tour that includes Konya and Cappadocia.
During the holy month of Ramazan, many restaurants may be closed during daylight hours, and may open only for İftar, the break-the-fast dinner just after sundown.
The Mevlevi sema is the Sufi worship ceremony in which the Mevlevi dervishes whirl for a quarter of an hour at a time in their quest for mystical union with the Divine. (Dervishes also whirl in Istanbul.)
In fact, Konya is an interesting place any time of year, with its historic buildings and savory slow-roasted mutton Konya kebap, though it can be difficult to get a beer or a glass of wine with dinner (strictly observant Muslims do not consume alcoholic drinks at all).
About 45 km (28 miles) southeast of Konya lies Çatalhöyük, the famous Neolithic archeological site excavated by James Melaart in the 1950s, and currently under further investigation.
Beyşehir, 92 km (57 miles, 1.5 hours’ drive) west of Konya on the way to the Mediterranean coast, boasts Anatolia’s most beautiful Seljuk Turkish wooden mosque, the Eşrefoğlu Camii (1296-1299), well worth a look in passing, or even a day excursion.
There’s nothing wrong with the city of Nevşehir (NEHV-sheh-heer, “New City,” alt. 4134 feet/1260 meters, pop. 95,000). It’s mostly modern, having been founded only in late Ottoman times (a mere baby by Anatolian standards!), although there have been settlements here for at least 5000 years.
It’s got a fortress on a hill, a nice big museum a few decent hotels, and Cappadocia’s major bus terminal.
In 2014 a gigantic underground city was discovered beneath the hilltop fortress. Excavation is continuing, but it will be years before this discover is opened to the public.
Until the underground city is ready for visitors, there’s not much to hold you in Nevşehir. Most people just transfer at the Nevşehir bus terminal on their way to or from towns such as Avanos, Göreme, Uçhisar, Ürgüp, or the Underground Cities of Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu.
You could use Nevşehir as a base for visits to Cappadocia and the Göreme Open-Air Museum, but Ürgüp and the town of Göreme are closer and more interesting.
Niğde (NEE-deh, alt. 1216 m, 3990 feet, pop. 70,000), a farming center, is famous for a Turkish proverb: “If there’s no market at Niğde, go on to Bor.” In other words, if you go in search of something, don’t give up. Persevere!
Among Niğde’s historic buildings is the Seljuk Turkish Alaeddin Mosque (1223), on the hill with the fortress; the fascinating Süngür Bey Mosque, built by the Seljuks but extensively modified (1335) by the Mongols, of all people. The Ak Medrese (1409) is in post-Seljuk, quasi-Mongol style.
Niğde’s museum houses the mummified remains of a blonde Byzantine nun of the 900s discovered in the church-filled Ihlara Valley.
The troglodyte monastery is at Eski Gümüşler, 10 km (6 miles) east of Niğde’s center.
The city’s famous market still takes place on Thursday around the city’s clock tower near the hill with the fortress and Alaeddin Mosque, so if you plan ahead you won’t need to continue to Bor, 10 km (6 miles) to the southwest.
A good excursion from Niğde is to Aladağlar National Parkand the Kapuzbaşı Waterfalls.
Industrialization came to neighboring Karabük, a steel-making town that now exhibits an agèd steel mill of early 20th-century design, but it spared neighboring Safranbolu.
In the 1970s Turkish artists and photographers noticed this unspoiled historic gem of a town and began efforts for its preservation.
In the 1980s tourism authorities saw its value, and the government pledged to preserve it. Modern structures were prohibited in its historic neighborhoods, and traditional artisans were encouraged to ply their crafts in restored workshops. Costumed staff in cafés and restaurants serve Ottoman cuisine.
By 2013, most of the craftsmen and women seem to have opened boutique hotels or shops selling souvenirs—not as interesting as traditional crafts, but a lot easier and more profitable.
Today Karabük and Safranbolu are one continuous urban agglomeration, with Safranbolu being just a district of the bigger city. Parts of it, such as the Çarşı district in the valley, are still mostly preserved and are popular with Turkish day-trippers.
To avoid the crowds, plan your visit for a weekday and avoid weekends if possible.
Landmarks include the Cinci Han caravansaray, now filled with shops, and the Cinci Hamam, a historic Turkish bath still in operation (different hours for men and women).
Stroll along Safranbolu’s cobbled streets and visit its graceful, well-preserved half-timbered houses, many of which have huge water pools in them to cool the air on warm summer days.
The journeys and conquests of Alexander the Great probably created the Silk Road. Where armies march, merchants quickly follow.
After their Parthian campaigns, the Romans developed a liking for silk, and fostered trade along the route.
The Byzantines loved the luxuries of the orient, and did what they could to keep them coming. The Seljuk Turks did even better, improving roads and building hundreds of beautiful caravanserais to encourage trade with the east.
The Mongol Empire unified the lands of the Silk Road and made movement easier. The government developed a sophisticated “pony express” (ulak) system which allowed important messages and persons to travel between Europe and China quickly and safely.
Marco Polo took advantage of the caravans and the Pax Mongolicus to go from Venice to Mongolia and China in 1271, repeating the journey several times in following years.
With the rise of the Ottoman Empire, trade flourished as soon as Ottoman power secured all of Anatolia and its surrounding waters. Much of the commerce moved to the sea.
What’s left of the Silk Road? The most prominent part is that which runs between Konya and Cappadocia. The caravan path has been covered by the modern macadam highway, but many of the Seljuk caravanserais survive.
The Karatay Han, for example, is among the most beautiful Seljuk Turkish caravanserais and a major stopping-point along the Silk Road.
The Sultan Han, on the road between Aksaray and Konya, is the largest Seljuk caravanserais in Turkey.
Most caravanserais are ruined, a few have been restored, and all are worth seeing as reminders of when the world was much larger, and travel much more difficult and adventurous, than it is today.
Today it’s also a center of Turkish Alevi (Alawite) Islamic culture.
If you come to Sivas, it will be to see the Seljuk monuments such as the Çifte Minare Medrese (Seminary of the Twin Minarets, 1271), the Ulu Cami (Great Mosque, 1197), the Bürüciye and Şifaiye Medreses, and the splendid Gök Medrese (Celestial or Sky-Blue Seminary, 1271). There are also a number of Seljuk türbes (cylindrical tombs) scattered about the town.
A more recent historic building is the site of the Sivas Congress, convened by Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) on September 4, 1919, to rally the country to the cause of independence.
Seljuk architecture buffs (I’m one) may make a special trip to the city, but most people find themselves passing through on their way to somewhere else, such as Amasya, Kayseri, Malatya (and Nemrut Dagi) or Erzincan and Erzurum. That’s fine. You can break your trip here, stay overnight, see all there is to see in a half-day, and continue refreshed the next morning.
Sivas is a major transport nexus with good, frequent bus service, useful train service, and occasional flights by Turkish Airlines.
Famous for its massive black basalt walls, Diyarbakır (dee-AHR-bah-kuhr, pop. 2 million, alt. 660 meters/2165 feet) was a tense place during the Kurdish separatist troubles of the 1980s and 1990s.
Come for the walls which surround an old city still showing its Roman town plan; for the interesting old Arab-style mosques, a few Chaldean churches, and nice old historic houses. The lush gardens along the banks of the Tigris are worth a look as well.
One full day should be enough time to see Diyarbakir. With an extra day you can make a day-trip south to Mardin, if not to the amusingly-named (but boring) nearby oil town of Batman. (Also see my recommended Eastern Tour itinerary.)
Although the Güney (Southern) Express train runs from Istanbul to Diyarbakır four days weekly via Ankara, it takes nearly two days to make the trip.
Buses and planes get you to Diyarbakır faster, more reliably and more comfortably.
Turkish Airlines flies to Diyarbakır’s Kaplaner Airport (DIY) daily from Istanbul and Ankara, as does Onur Air.
At the city center is the Kale (citadel) which is truly ancient, dating back some 9000 years. Clustered around it are some historic neighborhoods which preserve some old stone houses among the characterless modern ones.
Because it is a booming business center, Gaziantep has lots of good hotels and even a few historic inns.
The Coppersmiths’ Bazaar (Bakırcılar Çarşısı) on the south side of the Kale has been spruced up and is well worth some time. Coppersmiths and other artisans work at their crafts in the narrow streets, now shaded by modern coverings from the intense sun and infrequent rains.
The Archeological Museum holds the Roman mosaics recovered from the inundation of ancient Zeugma by a dam project.
The Hasan Süzer Ethnographic Museum is an interesting old restored Gaziantep house fully furnished in the fashion of the late 19th and early 20th century.
In recent years the quiet old pistachio-growers’ town has seen modern office buildings rise in its center, and high-rise apartment blocks crowd its outskirts. Its population is pushing toward a million…but it still grows some of the best pistachios in the world. Try ’em plain, or in the local baklava, which is wonderful.
First noticed in 1963, excavation was initated in 1996 by archeologist Klaus Schmidt, Ph.D. (1953-2014), who led the German archeological team until his death.
Schmidt had earlier worked at the nearby early Neolithic site of Nevalı Çori where he saw what were then thought to be humans’ oldest carved-stone shapes and structures. He recognized similar structures at Göbekli Tepe, and discovered that they were even older, dating from about 11,000 years ago.
Göbekli Tepe amazes: before agriculture, metal tools, the wheel or written language, before even pottery-making, the hunter-gatherers around Göbekli Tepe used flint tools to hack huge 10- to 20-ton limestone blocks from the rock, carve animal figures in relief on them, and erect them on a hilltop in ceremonial formations thought to have religious significance.
Limestone pillars up to 5 meters (16 feet) tall, fitted into sockets carved in the bedrock, are arranged in rings up to 20 meters (65 feet) in diameter. The archeologists have identified more than 16 such rings.
Neolithic peoples gathered around Göbekli Tepe, then the center of a land rich in game for hunting and plants from which to gather food. It is thought that within about 500 years of the first temple’s construction, the people here had begun domesticating sheep, cattle and pigs, and begun breeding einkorn grass to develop wheat—the beginnings of agriculture.
This is the Göbekli Tepe revolution in archeological theory. Whereas archeologists used to believe that settled communities (such as at Çatalhöyük, the 9000-year-old site near Konya) came first and produced the surplus food that allowed non-farm workers to build temples, Göbekli Tepe appears to show just the opposite: that the temples came first and the effort to organize workers and feed them so that temple construction could progress may have been the start of organized farming communities.
In fact, it’s even older.
In the Book of Genesis (Chapter 11, Verse 31) it says the Patriarch Abraham lived here for awhile:
“And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Harran, and dwelt there.”
The most distinctive aspect of Harran (HAH-rahn, pop. 7000) is its mud beehive houses, and you can visit models of these at the Harran Kültür Evi (Cultural Center).
Harran (officially named Altınbaşak) also has a kale (fortress dating at least from Fatimid times (11th century), city walls, an 8th-century Ulu Cami (Great Mosque) and, a short drive east of Harran, sights such as the Seljuk Turkish Han el Ba’rur caravanserai, ancient Shuayib City, and the 1800-year-old remains of a sun-worshipper temple at Sogmatar.
For the story of how a picture of three smiling Harran girls got onto the cover of the second edition of my Lonely Planet guide to Turkey, and why it almost caused a diplomatic incident, see my Bright Sun, Strong Tea excerpt entitled “Diplomatic Démarche.”
Getting to Harran from Şanlıurfa is easy, with hourly minibuses during the day. Minibuses also run from Şanlıurfa to the Syrian border at Akçakale and will drop you at the intersection of the Harran road, but then it’s a 10-km (6-mile) hike eastward under the broiling sun, or, if you’re lucky, a ride hitched with a passing vehicle—if any come along.
The nearest airport is at Şanlıurfa.
For most of the city’s long history it was known simply as Marash (mah-RAHSH, alt. 568 meters/1864 feet, pop. 250,000).
During the Turkish War of Independence it fiercely resisted the French occupying armies. In recognition of its citizens’ bravery and tenacity, in 1973 it was renamed Kahramanmaraş (KAH-rah-mahn-mah-RAHSH, “Heroic Marash”).
Its earliest known name was Marqasi in Hittite times.
In fact, armies have regularly flattened the town so despite its great age only a few old buildings remain.
Its people raise a lot of cotton, peppers and potatoes, weave cotton textiles, and beat copper into interesting shapes.
If you stop here for a meal or a bed (here’s the best hotel in town…), check out the museum, the Great Mosque (Ulu, or Acemli, Camii) built in 1502, the 14th-century Taş Medrese and Taş Han, and the often-rebuilt citadel.
Whatever you do, eat ice cream. Maraş dövme dondurması (Marash beaten ice cream) is famous throughout Turkey. Because of the hot climate, it’s made with a lot of gum arabic “binder” to keep it from melting. This gives it so much “body” that sellers used to hang it on hooks outside their shops (or so they say….).
This ice cream rarely drips, and it is not ice cream that you lick, it is ice cream that you bite.
Today, vendors in multi-colored traditional Marash costume can be seen on street corners in tourist areas. They scoop ice cream from a cooler with long-handled paddles, plop it in a cone, and serve it with a flourish.
Mardin is a provincial capital (population 62,000, altitude 1325 m/4347 feet) and an ancient town built of sandstone with some interesting old buildings, including the medieval Sultan Isa Medresesi (1385), Kasim Pasha Medresesi (1400s), the Ulu Cami (Great Mosque, 1000s), and a rambling bazaar.
But most people come to visit the Saffron Monastery (Deyrul Zafaran), 6 km (4 miles) to the east. This was a holy place even in pre-Christian times. The monastery has been here since 495 AD. Some of its existing floor mosaics are 1500 years old.
Once the seat of the Assyrian patriarch (who now resides in Damascus), Deyrul Zafaran is now mostly an orphanage run by a few monks.
Church services are still chanted in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.
Other Assyrian monasteries are scattered throughout the Tur Abdin ( the region to the east), particularly at Midyat and Mor Gabriel.
Minibuses run frequently from Diyarbakır to Mardin throughout the day.
Turkish Airlines flies from Istanbul via Ankara to Mardin several times weekly, as does Onur Air. There are more frequent flights to Diyarbakır.
The nearest train station is at Şenyurt, 25 km (16 miles) south on the Syrian border. Thus the nearest trains now serve Diyarbakır.
Lost to memory for 2000 years, the mountaintop south of Malatya and north of Adıyaman and Kahta, was rediscovered by a geologist in 1881.
On it are two hierothesiums, open-air shrines to the gods, with huge limestone statues of Apollo, Fortuna, Zeus, Heracles, and Antiochus I Epiphanes, King of Commagene.
His kingdom was no more than a minor buffer state between the Roman and Persian empires, but Antiochus believed he was definitely big-league stuff, so he had his own huge statue seated with “his equals,” the gods.
Between the hierothesiums is the artificial mountain peak of crushed stone, beneath which may be the actual tomb of Antiochus. We don’t know, and we may never know.
You can ascend Nemrut Dağı (NEHM-root dah-uh, 2150 meters, 7054 feet) from the south using either Kahta or Adıyaman as your base; or from the north using Malatya. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
Do it in July or August, or at least between late May and mid-October, or you might be blocked by snow (see Tom’s Turkish Almanac for details).
The roads up the opposite sides of the mountain do not meet at the top, so you cannot (yet) drive right over from north to south or vice-versa.
Bring warm clothes!—at least a warm sweater and windbreaker—because there is always a cool breeze at the summit, and sometimes a cold wind, even in August.
Turks know Urfa (as it’s commonly called) as the Prophets’ City because of legends telling that the Patriarch Abraham was born in a cave here. (The Bible does say he stayed at Harran, 50 km [31 miles] to the south.) The cave, and other legendary locations, are visited annually by hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims.
It’s certain that Urfa (OOR-fah, pop. 500,000, alt. 518 m/1700 feet), as it’s commonly called, is very old, dating back at least 3500 years to Hittite times; and the world’s first temple at nearby Göbekli Tepe dates from 11,000+ years ago.
Because Urfa is set right at the crossroads of routes to Europe, Asia and Africa, just about everyone important has marched through and left their mark, including the Babylonians, Egyptians, Alexander the Great, Greeks, Romans and Seljuk Turks under Saladin.
The Crusaders, no doubt attracted by the town’s easily-defended promontory called the Throne of Nimrod, called it Edessa and made it the capital of the Latin County of Edessa, ruled by Count Baldwin of Boulogne.
Daily flights connect Şanlıurfa’s GAP Airport (GNY) with Ankara and Istanbul, as do intercity buses (no trains—nearest train station is in Diyarbakır).
Because the coastal roads to east and west are not all that good, Amasra gets only a moderate number of summer visitors, keeping it pleasant and relatively undeveloped, although there are some hotels for vacationers.
If you visit the charming historic town of Safranbolu, come to Amasra (ah-MAHSS-rah, pop. 7000) for a night or two of seaside relaxation, explore the fortress, and take a dip in the chilly Black Sea.
Bus and car are the only ways to get here. Intercity buses serve Bartın, the provincial capital 16 km (10 miles) to the south, from which you take a minibus to Amasra. The nearest airport is at Ankara, the nearest train station at Zonguldak.
By the way, don’t confuse the Black Sea town of Amasra with the Central Anatolian mountain town of Amasya, 130 km (81 miles) south of Samsun.
If you plan to head east from Amasra to Sinop (312 km, 194 miles) by car, allow most of the day for the trip along the narrow, winding road.
Allow more than a day if you use the point-to-point local minibuses (there are no direct buses). It’s probably faster–and certainly more comfortable—to take inland buses via Bartın and Kastamonu to Sinop.
Founded by colonists from the Aegean port of Miletus in the 800s BC, Sinop (SEE-nohp, pop. 38,000) became a major port because of its fine natural harbor. Today it’s still a port, and the capital of the province of the same name.
Besides its medieval city walls, Sinop offers the Alaettin Mosque (1267) and its medrese (seminary); the ruined Balatlar Kilisesi, a Roman temple converted into a Byzantine church; and the Cezayirli Ali Pasha Mosque (1297).
A few remains of an ancient Temple of Serapis stand beside the Sinop Museum.
On November 30, 1853, the Imperial Russian Navy crossed the Black Sea to Sinop, attacked the Ottoman fleet which was in port there, and utterly destroyed it. The Russian bombardment went on long past when it was clear the Ottomans were defeated, killing many Ottoman sailors who were no longer combatants.
The “massacre of Sinope” was one of the events precipitating the Crimean War (1853-1854) in which Great Britain and France fought with the Ottoman Empire against the Russian Empire.
By the harbor in Sinop you’ll see a small monument built to commemorate the deaths of the Ottoman sailors, paid for with the coins collected from the pockets of the fallen.
Sinop has a few beaches, though the Black Sea water is chilly except on the hottest days.
Diogenes (c. 412-323 BC), the Cynic philosopher who carried around a lantern “looking for a good man” (and not finding one), was born in Sinop. He later moved to Athens, where he sought to live the simplest life possible, even throwing away his only possession—his drinking cup—when he realized he could drink from his cupped hands.
Alexander the Great met the famous philosopher and wanted to reward him:
“What can I do for you?” the emperor asked.
“Stand aside. You’re blocking my sunlight,” Diogenes replied.
Sinope, daughter of the river god Asopus, outwitted Zeus. He wanted to marry her, and promised she could have “anything she wanted.” She requested eternal virginity, and Zeus, outwitted, allowed her to enjoy it here on this promontory—or so the legend says—giving the town its name.
Although it’s very old, Genoese raiders burnt it to the ground in the 1400s, so there’s not much left of old Samsun (SAHM-soon, pop. 500,000).
It was in a Samsun of some 30,000 inhabitants that Mustafa Kemal Pasha (later Atatürk) came ashore on May 19, 1919 to rally the Turkish people against Allied occupation and to begin the War of Independence.
Little is left of that quaint early 20th-century Black Sea port town. A booming economy has covered old Samsun with modern high-rise buildings.
The Archeological and Ethnographic Museum and, right next door, the Atatürk Museum, are worth a look. The parks and promenades along the Black Sea shores of this l-o-n-g spread-out city are also pleasant.
Samsun has numerous decent hotels and restaurants.
Otherwise, you’ll probably find yourself heading west to Sinop or east to Giresun and Trabzon on the Black Sea coast, or south to Amasya, all of which are more interesting towns. For details, see my Recommended Itineraries, particularly the one for Eastern Turkey.
Bus service is frequent and convenient to Samsun, especially with the Ulusoy company. The few trains from Sivas via Amasya take twice as long and are not as comfortable.
Turkish Airlines has daily flights from Istanbul to Samsun.
Jason and his Argonauts sailed past on their way east to fabled Colchis (Georgia) in search of the Golden Fleece, but it was local traders who shipped the first cherries out in Roman times. Cherries are still an important local crop, along with hazelnuts (filberts) and tobacco.
What to do here? Eat cherries, and hazelnuts, and chocolate bars containing hazelnuts, and admire the few old Ottoman houses and the City Museum, housed in a former Orthodox church.
Virtually all of the rest of this city spread out for kilometers along the Black Sea shore here is a chaos of characterless modern concrete buildings.
Otherwise, Giresun is just a convenient place to stop for the night on your trajectory to or from Trabzon. Bus service is good and frequent. The nearest airport is at Trabzon, the nearest train station at Samsun.
The Romans called the town Cerasus, from which we get cherry (English), cerise (French), cereza (Spanish), kiraz and Giresun (Turkish) and I suppose even (somehow) kirsch (German).
Trabzon (pop. 240,000) has been around since at least 746 BC, so it has quite a story to tell, though you must work some to find the clues.
Its old walled quarter contains numerous Byzantine churches, though most are not easily accessible. Several kilometers to the west of the center, the well-preserved Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya, 1263) stands on a hill overlooking the Black Sea.
Trabzon is also a good base for visiting surrounding sites such as Sumela Monastery, the alpine village of Ayder, and the tea-growing towns such as Rize to the east.
Trabzon is also a good base for visiting surrounding sites such as Sumela Monastery, the alpine village of Ayder, and the tea-growing towns such as Rize to the east.
The border, 35km (22 miles) to the east, helps to define the role that Doğubayazıt (doh-OO-bah-yah-zuht, alt. 1950 meters/6400 feet, pop. 36,000) plays in life, as does the striking 18th-century Ishak Pasha Palace 5 km (3 miles) to the east.
You may be here to gaze upon legendary Mount Ararat, or the giant meteor crater 4 km (2.5 miles) west of the border, or Eski Beyazıt, the foundations of a settlement thought to date from Urartian times (800 BC). Unless, of course, you’re a soldier guarding the border region.
Bus and car are the only ways to reach this town. The nearest airports and train stations are at Erzurum and Van.
If you drive out here, don’t do as I did and get stuck! Follow the locals’ advice. (Read “Some People Never Learn” from Bright Sun, Strong Tea.)
According to TTP traveler Ed Brook, however, the road south from Doğubayazıt to Çaldıran is now in good condition, with regular minibus trips making the run.
Onward from there, the road is fine to Van.
The city of Van is the goal of most travelers because of its historic sights, hotels, transportation links, beautiful Van cats and other attractions, but Tatvan, on the western shore, is the railhead for trains westward to Ankara and Istanbul.
Just north of Tatvan, Nemrut Dağı (2935 meters/9629 feet) is an extinct volcano holding a beautiful crater lake. (This is not the Nemrut Dağı with the colossal stone statues, which is 500 km (311 miles) W near Malatya.)
Near Gevaş, 90 km (56 miles) E of Tatvan and 44 km (27 miles) SW of Van, you can hire a boat for the 3-km (2-mile), 20-minute voyage north to the island of Akdamar to see its 10th-century Armenian Church of the Holy Cross with fine relief carving.
Edremit, 15 km (9 miles) W of Van, has beaches at which you may dip a toe in the highly alkaline lake—but not if the toe is sunburned or has a cut on it, as the alkaline water will sting mercilessly. If you have dirty laundry, you can wash it in the lake and you won’t need any soap.
At Ahlat on the NW shore are unusual Seljuk Turkish tombs and cemeteries. What is now called Malazgirt, 87 km (54 miles) NW of the city of Van, was once Manzikert. On August 26, 1071, Seljuk Turkish Sultan Alp Arslan defeated Byzantine Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes on the field of battle here, opening all of Anatolia to conquest by the Seljuks and, later, the Ottomans.
Van is also the base for visits to the mountain towns of Hakkâri and Yüksekova.
Bitlis, a provincial capital 17 km (11 miles) SW of Tatvan, is set dramatically in a valley, and boasts several Seljuk Turkish mosques and caravanserais, and a castle.
Most people—at least foreigners—also mispronounce its name. It’s KARSS (rhymes with ‘farce’ and ‘sparse’), not ‘karze.’
Now that that’s settled, Kars (alt. 1768 meters, 5800 feet, pop. 90,000), set on its high, chill plateau beneath a steel-grey sky, dominated by its stolid, forbidding citadel, does not immediately endear itself to the visitor, but give it a chance.
It holds an odd mix of interesting things to see: the Armenian Church of the Apostles (937 AD), the 15th-century Ottoman Stone Bridge (Tas Köprü), the grim Citadel (1579), a 19th-century Russian cathedral, and a good local museum.
The region produces some of Turkey’s best butter and honey, and thick, rough but appealing carpets made with wool of different natural colors.
But most people come to Kars on the way to the ruins of Ani, the great medieval Armenian capital 45 km (28 miles) to the east on the Turkish-Armenian frontier.
You’ll have to spend at least one night in Kars. Kars hotels have improved in recent years.
Kars is served by air, bus and train. Turkish Airlines has daily flights from Istanbul and Ankara to Kars, Pegasus Air has daily flights from Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport, but many travelers fly to Erzurum instead and rent a car or take a bus to Kars. Virtually all long-distance bus service is via Erzurum. Minibuses will take you to Ardahan, Iğdır or Sarıkamış. To get to Yusufeli in the Kaçkar Mountains without your own car, you’ll need to go via Erzurum.
Although the Doğu Ekspresi train travels to and from Istanbul several times per week, bus and plane are far faster. If you do go by train, it’s a better idea to catch the train at Erzurum, and to reserve a place in a sleeping car.
By the way, Imperial Russia tried to grab eastern Turkish territory for centuries, and actually did grab Kars in 1878 and held it until 1920, which accounts for Kars’s having some Russian-style buildings.
In the steep, fertile valleys, farmers in villages and small towns make a precarious living from their fruit (especially apricot) and nut (especially walnut) orchards, mountain fields and pastures.
In the 1970s an American named Richard Bangs arrived in the Kaçkars intent on rafting down the treacherous Çoruh River which thunders along the steep valley on the southeastern side of the Kaçkars, with Class 6 rapids in some places. He did it, then began bringing groups through his company, Sobek Expeditions, to do it with him.
Thus was white-water river rafting born in the Kaçkars.
Today people come to the mountains to shoot the rapids along the Çoruh, to visit the interesting old Georgian churches left from when the population here was mostly Christian Caucasians, to trek in the mountains, or simply to drive through the valleys and enjoy the dramatic scenery.
Yusufeli, 130 km (81 miles) north of Erzurum, right in the midst of the best trekking and rafting country, is the favored base. A more pleasant town than the nearby provincial capital of Artvin, Yusufeli is right across the summits from Ayder on the Black Sea slope.
Erzurum was an important Seljuk Turkish city in the 1100s and 1200s, and has important Seljuk buildings such as the Çifte Minareli Medrese, the Mongol-built Yakutiye Medrese, a very old citadel, and various distinctive Seljuk Turkish tombs.
The museum and bazaar are also interesting and, in winter, the Palandöken ski resort on the city outskirts draws skiers from throughout Turkey to its dry powder.
Use Erzurum as a base for visits to the beautiful Tortum Valley and Georgian churches in the Kaçkar Mountains to the northeast, and to Doğubayazıt. to gaze on Mount Ararat.
If you don’t have enough time to complete my Recommended Itinerary of Eastern Turkey, you may want to fly to Erzurum, rent a car, and see the sights from here.
The Doğu Ekspresi (Eastern Express) train runs daily to and from Ankara, Kayseri (Cappadocia), Sivas, Divriği and Erzincan.
The train hauls sleeping cars, but is much slower than the bus, much much slower than a flight, and not as comfortable as sleeping car trains in western Turkey.
Its two peaks, Great Ararat (Büyük Ağrı, 5137 meters/16,854 feet) and Little Ararat (Küçük Ağrı, 3895 meters/12,779 feet) were revered by the people of ancient Urartu (13th to 7th centuries BC), who gave their name (Urartu = Ararat) to the mountain.
The nearest town to the mountain is Doğubayazıt.
When permits are granted for climbs up the mountain, the treks depart from this town.
The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2000 BC) describes a great flood, as does the later record of Berossus (3rd century BC), and of course the Bible (Genesis and Gospels) and the Kur’an.
In the story, a flood lasting 40 days and nights wipes out all living things except those in a boat or ark built, on orders of God, to survive The Deluge. In the ark are male and female representatives of each species, including Noah, his wife and family.
Recent marine archeological research in the chill, deep waters of the Black Sea has revealed sunken cities on the underwater slopes along the Turkish coast.
Geological evidence supports the theory that in ancient times the northern end of the Bosphorus was blocked by earth and rock. The Black Sea had no outlet (like Lake Van today), and its water level was below that of the Aegean Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosphorus.
However, an earthquake destroyed the Bosphorus blockage, releasing a deluge of water from the Bosphorus into the Black Sea, raising the water level and flooding its coastal communities.
Were there characters like Noah who saw the flood coming and built boats to survive? We may never know. What does seem far-fetched is that any of the boats came to rest on the slopes of Ararat, which is a long way from the Black Sea.
This has not deterred ark-hunters, who have trekked up Ararat over the years in search of Noah’s Ark. The most famous expedition was that led by ex-US Astronaut James Irwin in 1982.
In 1985 an expedition led by David Fusold discovered a boat-shaped stone formation on a nearby mountain called Musa Dağı (“Mount Moses”) east of Doğubayazıt near the village of Üzengili. Using ground-penetrating sonar, Fusold mapped the site and produced intriguing but inconclusive evidence that the stone formation was anything more than a curious stone formation.
Want to go look for yourself? It’s not easy. Although guided treks up Mount Ararat were allowed during the 1970s, after several grim incidents the government forbade them because of very real danger from smugglers and other outlaws, Kurdish terrorists, severe weather and wild beasts.
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