Explore a country that sits astride Asia and Europe, a land of astonishing landscapes, architectural monuments of staggering beauty and a culture that emanates from two continents.
Experience the magnificence of Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace and Blue Mosque; see the Fairy Chimneys and Underground City in fabled Cappadocia; wander the ancient streets of Ephesus; marvel at Nature’s unique crystal balconies at Pamukkale; and lose yourself in the magic and mystery of this ancient land that has a time honoured tradition of welcoming travellers with warm hospitality.
The European portion of The Republic of Turkey (called Thrace) is separated from the Asian part (called Anatolia) by the waters of the Bosporus. The country borders on the Black Sea, the Caucasus Mountains and the Mediterranean and enjoys a rich diversity of climate and landscape.
Turkey has a complex and fascinating history - and an astonishing array of ancient ruins. The oldest known human settlement in the world is located in Catalhoyuk, Konya, Turkey, dating back to 6500 BC. And two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World stood in Turkey - the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus in Bodrum. Since Turkey has been the capital of civilizations that have reigned the lands of Anatolia for centuries it can pretty much be regarded as an open air museum thanks to its magnificent heritage! Historical and cultural monuments and sites have been built throughout the country since ancient times.
One of the other precious and diverse treasures of Turkey is the Turkish cuisine. There is almost limitless variety offered by a magnificent heritage of flavours which evolved over the centuries. Turkish cuisine is the result of blending the culinary cultures of many communities and civilizations – resulting in thousands of unique delicacies and specialties ranging from meat dishes to cold dishes with olive oil and from sorbets to spices.
Turkey is also the home of dark, flavourful and aromatic Turkish coffee. Coffee means much more than a drink for Turks. It symbolizes hospitality, friendship and refinement and has been an important part of the Turkish social fabric for over five centuries. Turkey gave the world “coffee house culture” and recently UNESCO confirmed it as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. And once you have drained your delicious brew – you can read your future in the coffee grounds left behind!
Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey with 13 million inhabitants. Turkey’s main seaport and chief cultural centre, Istanbul occupies an exceptional site astride the Golden Horn, a small inlet on the European side of the Bosphorus, where it enters the Sea of Marmara.
Wonderful architecture and ancient monuments provide a feast for the eyes. For example the glorious former basilica consecrated to Holy Wisdom - the Hagia Sophia.
The central dome of the Hagia Sophia, representing the vault of Heaven, is 31 metres in diameter and hangs 55 metres above the ground. Its entire weight is borne by four immense pillars, leaving a remarkable airiness and lightness in the central space.
Just a few hundred metres to the west stands one of the most beautiful mosques in the world, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Named for the sultan who commanded it in the early 17th century, it symbolises the zenith of the Ottoman Empire. Though smaller than the Hagia Sophia, it is much more elegant, with a spaciousness created by a succession of domes. The porcelain tiles on the walls have given it its most common name: the Blue Mosque.
The other great monument of the old city is Topkapı Palace, the famous seraglio from which the sultans ruled the empire. The palace, a grand complex of courts and buildings, can be visited, as can the numerous museums it houses and a part of the former harem.
The Palace of Dolmabahçe alone is worth leaving the old city for the other side of the Golden Horn. Built on the north shore of the Bosphorus in 1855, it was the home of Sultan Abdülmacid I, who intended it to play a role similar to the court of Versailles. A tour shows a good proportion of the 285 rooms of the palace.
Turkey is home of The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. It is the oldest and largest shopping mall on the planet, made up of over 3000 shops spread across 61 covered streets, with hidden inns and labyrinth-like laneways. This mystical, magical place has no ordinary shops – discover authentic craft stores, some of them dating back over 500 years. A visit to the Grand Bazaar is a “must see” to breathe in the alluring fragrances, colourful sights, and hypnotizing sounds.
The Aegean Coast and the Western Half of the Turkish Mediterranean Coast is where you will find many Christian, Islamic and Jewish religious treasures. It is also home to the Archeological Site of Ephesus – one of the most magnificent remains of a Roman city anywhere in the world.
This region is where you will find the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hierapolis-Pamukkale and the modern resorts and beautiful beaches of Kusadasi and Bodrum.
Some of the earliest Christian communities lived in this part of Turkey when their religion was still forbidden in the Roman Empire. They gathered secretly in small churches such as the Seven Churches of Revelations in Ephesus. Ephesus also is home to the Church and Tomb of St. John the Baptist. St. Paul also lived in Ephesus for a few years while he was trying to convert the population in the area and he wrote the famous epistle to the Corinthians from here. Near Ephesus, on Mount Koressos, is a small house where the Virgin Mary is said to have spent her last years. After Jesus was crucified, St. John, fearing for the Virgin Mary’s life decided to move her to Anatolia.
There are also numerous vestiges of the Jewish heritage in Western and Southern Anatolia. Jewish communities have existed in Anatolia for more than 25 centuries. Most of the early Christians, including Saint Paul, were from these communities. Sardis, the capital of the Kingdom of Lydia was a city of no less than 100,000 inhabitants during the time of the Roman Empire with a very influential Jewish community. The remnants of a large local synagogue that were unearthed in the late 1950s are testimony to a very prosperous community.
Hierapolis – Pumukkale is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pamukkale is better known today for its hot springs; however in the past, under the name Hierapolis (meaning “Sacred City”), the city was an important religious centre - first for pagan cults and then for Christianity. Mineral laden waters from the hot springs have created an unreal landscape made up of mineral forests, petrified waterfalls and a series of terraced pools. These travertine terraces are the result of thousands of years of deposits left by calcium rich natural springs coursing down the mountain.
Turkey is home of Cappadocia which means “land of beautiful horses” in the Persian language. One of Turkey’s most beautiful regions, Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia are another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The history of the region dates back to 3000 B.C and it was a key stop on the Silk Road!
Cappadocia’s majestic landscapes have been carved by an exceptionally complex geological history. Over time, erosion of volcanic ash has sculpted a sumptuous array of canyons, hoodoos, and lush valleys.
This “other-worldly” landscape of Cappadocia is often described as” fairy chimneys”. Explore the dwellings, churches and castles created from these fairy chimneys and the ancient underground cities where thousands of early Christians once sheltered from the Romans. At its height the population of the underground cities was around 30,000 people and some fairy chimneys are still inhabited today. You can even stay in an elegant cave condo or hotel.
The region teems with architecturally remarkable churches and monasteries, each more beautifully decorated with paintings and mosaics than the last. There are still an impressive number of rock-hewn churches, many decorated with beautiful murals.
Cappadocia is also a centre for outdoor activities in Turkey. Cappadocia’s climate of clear summer skies and gentle breezes is ideally suited to hot air ballooning - a wonderful way to view the extraordinary landscape. And you can also experience Cappadocia’s magical blend of history and natural wonders on horseback, by bike or on foot.