A trip to Turkey offers you the best in two continents – Europe and Asia -which combine to provide the visitor with an irresistible destination.
Although 90 per cent of Turkey is geographically inside Asia, the European influence is very discernible. Istanbul is an excellent example of this. This country is certainly one of contrasts and full of wonderful and appealing places to visit. No matter what your interests, Turkey will probably provide it. From amazing historical and archaeological sites to excellent beach resorts and a few phenomena mentioned later, time spent here will be well rewarded. This article cannot cover every destination worth visiting, but as most travellers only have a certain amount of time, you can choose from the following and enjoy your Turkey vacation adequately.
Very much a contrast to Istanbul, Ankara is Turkey’s capital and second largest city. It is where you will find foreign embassies intermingled with a large university and a vibrant street life. Ankara is very significant for the Turkish people and represents the place where independence from the sultans came to Turkey through their national hero, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, who died in 1938.
The two most important venues for visitors to the city on Turkey vacations are Anitkabir and the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. The former is an imposing monument to Ataturk and is situated on a hill. In essence, this is his mausoleum, visited by millions of Turks annually to show respect to Ataturk. The Museum of Ataturk and War of Independence is located inside Anıtkabir. There is a large collection of Ataturk memorabilia including his state carriages and cars, plus a section dedicated to the War of Independence. The Museum of Anatolian Civilizations contains displays of artefacts from Asia Minor. It is one of the best in Turkey. Some of the exhibits date back over 7500 years. Another important site is the Citadel, also known as Ankara Castle, which can be seen from almost any point in Ankara. This is the site of the original city from 3000 years ago. The outer walls were built in the 800s AD. Within the walls, the buildings are partly restored, showing a total contrast to the modern city outside.
Cappadocia is a very unusual place which can be described as a wonder of nature with its fantastic landscapes and underground features. It is like no other place on earth. It is a combination of nature’s endeavours and man’s addition and adaption to this landscape. Cappadocia consists of windswept rock formations which are, to say the least, bizarre. From these, man has added fresco-adorned rock-cut churches, the Goreme Open-Air Museum (the country’s largest open-air museum), and subterranean tunnels.
The most fascinating thing for me is the cave houses. This includes cave hotels, which are literally built into the side of mountains, rocks, and similar terrain. So, not only are you staying in a cave but you are surrounded by oddly-shaped rock formations that look like something you would see on the moon. Cave hotels are just as comfortable as a standard hotel, perhaps even cozier. Other aspects of Cappadocia include fairytale chimneys, underground cities, and long deep gorges once used by Christians fleeing Roman soldiers. You can also try an early morning hot-air balloon trip to observe this unique landscape.
There are some outstanding Greco-Roman sites to explore on a trip to Turkey. Number one has to be Ephesus. It started out as an ancient Greek city when built in the 10th century BC and was famous for the nearby Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. However, it came under the control of the Roman Empire in 129 BC. Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia that are cited in the Book of Revelation, and the Gospel of John may have been written here. Today, after many destructions and an earthquake, it is one of the largest Roman archaeological sites in the eastern Mediterranean to be experienced on Turkey vacations. The ruins still give an idea of the city’s original splendour. These consist of the theatre which seated 25,000 people, the largest in the ancient world, the Library of Celsus, the Agora (marketplace), the Temple of Hadrian, the Odeon, Terrace Houses where the wealthy lived during the Roman period, and a number of bath complexes.
The main reason to come to Konya on a Turkey vacation is to visit the Mevlana Museum, the former lodge of the Whirling Dervishes. These were members of a Muslim religious order who had taken vows of poverty and austerity. Dervishes first appeared in the 12th century and were noted for their wild rituals such as dancing, whirling, or howling. It is one of the biggest pilgrimage centres in Turkey and for Muslims, it is a very holy place. Inside, you can see Mevlana’s Tomb flanked by that of his son, Sultan Veled and other eminent dervishes. They are all covered in velvet shrouds with gold embroidery. There is a small mosque which contains exhibits such as musical instruments, the original copy of Mevlana’s prayer rug, and a 9th-century Christian manuscript. There is also a casket containing strands of Mohammed’s beard. The nearby Konya Archaeological Museum has sarcophagi and other antiquities from the ancient city of Catalhoyuk. Other exhibits are from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Roman and Byzantine periods.
Pamukkale and Hierapolis
Pammukale is where you will find hot springs with a very high mineral content which form calcium and limestone pools and cascades. Dripping slowly down the vast mountainside, mineral-rich waters foam and collect in terraces spilling over cascades of stalactites into milky pools below. Pamukkale means “cotton castle” in Turkish. What you see is a set of unusual calcium cliff bathing pools overlooking the town. These petrified waterfalls are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Nearby is the ancient Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis which was founded as a thermal spa early in the 2nd century BC and which became a healing centre where doctors used the thermal springs as a treatment for their patients. Hierapolis became one of the most prominent cities in the Roman Empire in the fields of arts, philosophy, and trade.
Not quite as impressive as Ephesus but certainly important as a Greco-Roman site, Pergamon (close to the city of Bergama) was a rich and powerful city during the days of the Greek civilization. It was transformed into one of the major cultural centres of the Greek world. Many remains of its impressive monuments can still be seen, especially the outstanding masterpiece of the Pergamon Altar dedicated to Zeus and Athena. During the Roman occupation, Pergamon remained a famous city.
Canakkale, Gallipoli, and Troy
Canakkale is located in north-west Turkey and is the gateway to the Gallipoli WWI battlefields. The archaeological site at Troy is just south-west of the city. Canakkale provides a pleasant stay when heading to Gallipoli or Troy on a Turkey vacation. Being on the coast, there are hotels, cafes, and restaurants situated along the promenade. There is also a fortress and a good archaeological museum to visit.
Nearby Troy was founded in the 3rd century BC and flourished as a mercantile city due to its location. It is possibly more significant for its story immortalized by Homer in his Iliad about the legendary war between King Menelaus and Paris over the beautiful Helen of Troy than the actual ruins. Archaeological excavations have revealed nine separate periods of settlement here including ruins of city walls, house foundations, a temple, and a theatre. A large and symbolic wooden Trojan horse is to be seen here. At the end of a 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse and hid a select force of men inside who later crept out to help defeat Troy (so the story goes).
Gallipoli is the World War I battleground of the British and ANZAC (Australian New Zealand Army Corps) invasion that was repelled under Ataturk. More than 100,000 troops from both sides died in this invasion. Today, Gallipoli is the site of many cemeteries and war memorials which can be visited on a trip to Turkey.
Kusadasi is a pleasant resort town situated on the Aegean coast with many attractions to keep the visitor busy on Turkey vacations. It is, first of all, handy for a trip to Ephesus, mentioned earlier. In Kusadasi itself, there are several sandy beaches. You can visit Pigeon Island, which is reached via a 350 metre/380 yard long causeway. On the island is a 13th-century Byzantine fortress sitting on top of a hill from which you can have great views of Kusadasi. The sunset here in the evening is exceptional. Also in the evening, you can people-watch as they stroll along the promenade and take advantage of the plentiful cafes and restaurants, plus you can visit the Kusadasi Bazaar to do some affordable shopping, ranging from clothes and carpets to ornaments and ceramics. The bazaar is open during the day but at night, it is very colourful.
Kusadasi is a good place to purchase a Turkish carpet. The best place, however, is the town of Sultankoy, a little way out of town where you can also watch women weaving rugs.
Just outside of Kusadasi is Selcuk, where you will find the Basilica of St. John the Baptist, built in the 6th century AD and which is reputed to be his final resting place. His grave is marked with a marble slab.
The Turkish Riviera
If you are a serious beach lover, then Turkey can definitely accommodate you. The Mediterranean beach resorts of Antalya, Fethiye, and Marmaris are some of the better-known resorts with excellent choices of hotels. Antalya, known as the “capital of the Turkish Riviera,” has a mix of natural beauty, with its mountain backdrop and excellent facilities. There is more to Antalya than beaches. The old part called Kaleici, which has a certain amount of charm, has narrow winding streets enclosed by ancient city walls. The Antalya Museum has a notable archaeology collection.
Fethiye is less touristy and is surrounded on 3 sides by verdant pine forests. You might want to visit Butterfly Valley here, with its clear turquoise sea and picture-perfect white sand cove. The resort has an excellent marina where you will see luxurious and extremely expensive sailboats bobbing in the water. It also has a good nightlife.
Marmaris is a lively resort with excellent beaches and lots of bars and restaurants. Water sports are popular here, including diving and snorkelling. Swimming is possible in secluded bays as well as in front of the hotels in the city centre. Marmaris has long stretches of golden fine sandy beaches, small bays, coves, and islands.
So, there you have it. And yet space does not allow me to cover all the amazing places one can visit in this fabulous destination on a Turkey vacation.