History and Regions we travel

History and Regions we travel

“Turkey gives a new meaning to the word wilderness, because even in the most inaccessible or isolated parts the visitor still has the feeling that sometime in history this place was home to civilizations.”

Because of its geographical location, Anatolia has witnessed the mass migration of diverse peoples shaping the course of history. Twenty fascinating civilizations render Turkey the heir of 10,000 years of history, which is still being examined for further ancient secrets to be brought up into daylight. These lands inhale at any moment the mystery of the past through the existence of the statues of gods and goddesses, temples, theaters, agoras, churches, mosques, palaces and caravanserais.


ISTANBUL

Istanbul embraces two continents, one arm reaching out to Asia, the other to Europe. Through the city’s heart, the Bosphorus strait, courses the waters of the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn. The former capital of three successive empires – Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman – today İstanbul honors and preserves the legacy of its past while looking forward to its modern future.
Indeed, it is Istanbul’s variety that fascinates its visitors. The museums, churches, palaces, great mosques, bazaars and sights of natural beauty seem inexhaustible. As you recline on the shores of the Bosphorus at sunset, contemplating the red twilight reflected in the windows on the opposite shore, you understand, suddenly and profoundly, why so many centuries ago settlers chose to build on this remarkable site. At times such as these, you feel that Istanbul is truly one of the most glorious cities in the world.

On a spot of land at the confluence of the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn and the Marmara Sea, stands Topkapi Palace, a maze of buildings at the center of the Ottoman Empire between the l5th and l9th centuries. In these opulent surroundings the sultans and their court lived and governed. A magnificent wooded garden fills the outer, or first, court. To the right of the second court, shaded by cypress and plane trees, stand the palace kitchens, now galleries exhibiting the imperial collections of crystal, silver and Chinese porcelain. To the left, the Harem, the secluded quarters of the wives, concubines and children of the sultan, charms visitors with echoes of a centuries old intrigue.

Facing St. Sophia stands the supremely elegant, six-minaret, imperial Sultanahmet Mosque. Built between 1609 and 1616 by the architect Mehmet, the building is more familiarly known as the Blue Mosque because its interior gleams with a magnificent paneling of blue and white Iznik tiles. During the summer months an evening light and sound show both entertain and inform.
The cascading domes and four slender minarets of Süleymaniye Mosque dominate the skyline on the Golden Horn’s west bank. Considered the most beautiful of all imperial mosques in İstanbul, it was built between 1550 and 1557 by Sinan, the renowned architect of the Ottoman golden age. On the crest of a hill, the building is conspicuous by its great size, which the four minarets that rise from each corner of the courtyard emphasize.

The Basilica of St. Sophia, now called the Ayasofya Museum, is unquestionably one of the finest buildings of all time. Built by Constantine the Great and reconstructed by Justinian in the 6th century, its immense dome rises 55 meters above the ground and its diameter spans 31 meters.

The Archaeological Museums are found just inside the first court of Topkapi Palace. Included among the displays are the celebrated Alexander Sarcophagus among its treasures of antiquity. The Museum of the Ancient Orient displays artifacts from the Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Hatti and Hittite civilisations.

Near St. Sophia is the sixth century Byzantine cistem known as the Yerebatan Sarnici. Three hundred and thirty-six massive Corinthian columns support the immense chamber’s fine brick vaulting.

The ancient Hippodrome, the scene of chariot races and the center of Byzantine civic life, stood in the open space in front of the Blue Mosque, an area now called Sultanahmet. Of the monuments which once decorated it, only three remain: the Obelisk of Theodosius, the bronze Serpentine Column and the Column of Constantine. Remains from the curved-end section of the Hippodrome’s wall can be seen on the southwest side of these three monuments.

The Ahmet III Fountain, built in 1729, stands at the entrance to Topkapi Palace. Deep overhanging eaves shade the water spouts where the parched could stop for a cup of refreshing water. This highly ornate, free-standing fountain is a superb example of the late Ottoman style.

The Bozdogan-Valens Aqueduct, built in 368 A.D., supplied the Byzantine and later the Ottoman palaces with water. Today part of the remaining 900 meters of double-tiered arches straddle the major highway that runs through the old part of town.

The İstanbul land walls, once an impenetrable fortification, stretch seven kilometers from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn. Restored recently, and many times previously, these walls date from the fifth century and the reign of Emperor Theodosius II. UNESCO has declared the land walls and the area which they enclose to be one of the cultural heritages of the world.
The Galata Tower, a Genoese construction of 1348, rises 62 meters high over the Golden Horn. From the top, you see a marvelous panorama of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus.

A stay in İstanbul is not complete without the traditional and unforgettable boat excursion up the Bosphorus, the winding strait that separates Europe and Asia. During the journey, you pass in front of the magnificent Dolmabahçe Palace; farther along rise the green parks and imperial pavilions of Yildiz Palace. On the edge of this park, on the coast, stands Çiragan Palace ,now restored as a grand hotel. Refurbished in 1874 by Sultan Abdülaziz, it stretches for 300 meters along the Bosphorus shore, its ornate marble facades reflecting the swiftly moving water. In Ortaköy, the next stop, there is a church, mosque and a synagogue that have existed side by side for hundreds of years – a tribute to Turkish secularism and tolerance. Overshadowing İstanbul’s traditional architecture is the Bosphorus Bridge, one of the world’s largest suspension bridges linking Europe and Asia.

The Golden Horn, a horn-shaped estuary, divides European İstanbul. One of the best natural harbors in the world, the Byzantine and Ottoman navies and commercial shipping interests were centered here. Today, lovely parks and promenades line the shores where the setting sun dyes the water a golden color. In Fener and Balat, neighbourhoods midway up the Golden Horn, whole streets of old wooden houses, churches, and synagogues date from Byzantine and Ottoman times. The Orthodox Patriarchy resides here at Fener. Eyüp, a little further up, reflects the Ottoman style of vermicular architecture.


CAPPADOCIA

The central Anatolian plateau, cleft by ravines and dominated by volcanic peaks, forms the heartland of Turkey. Covered with wheat fields and outlined with ranks of poplars the boldly contoured steppe has a solitary majesty.

This plateau was one of the cradles of human civilization. Remains of settlements from as early as the eighth millennium B.C. have been unearthed. The homeland of many people and the historic battleground of East and West, here the Hattis, Hittites, Phrygians, Galatians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks and Ottomans all fought for their sovereignty and established their rule. In the 11th century the migrating Turks from the east made the plateau their own. During its turbulent history Central Anatolia has endured invasion by great conquerors such as Alexander the Great and Tamerlane. In the course of ten millennia of habitation the denizens of the area have reflected in their art – from the vigorous paintings of Çatalhöyük to the confident lines of Seljuk architecture, to, more recently, the impressive modern form of Atatürk’s mausoleum – the dramatic contours of the surrounding landscape.

The road to Nevsehir and Cappadocia passes through Hacibektas, the town where Haci Bektas Veli settled and established his Bektas Sufi order in the 14th century. Nevsehir, a provincial capital, is the gateway to Cappadocia. In the town itself the hilltop Seljuk castle, perched on the highest point in the city, and the Kursunlu Mosque, built for the Grand Vizier Damat Ibrahim Pasha, are among the remaining historical buildings. The mosque forms part of a complex of buildings which includes a medrese, a hospice and a library. An ablution fountain in the courtyard still bears its original inscription. The Nevsehir Museum displays local artifacts.

Violent eruptions of the volcanoes Mt. Erciyes (3916 meters) and Mt. Hasan (3268 meters) three million years ago covered the plateau surrounding Nevsehir with tufa, a soft stone comprised of lava, ash and mud. The wind and rain have eroded this brittle rock and created a spectacular surrealist landscape of rock cones, capped pinnacles and fretted ravines, in colours that range from warm reds and golds to cool greens and greys. Göreme, known in Roman times as Cappadocia, is one of those rare regions in the world where the works of man blend unobtrusively into the natural surroundings. Dwellings have been hewn from the rock as far back as 4,000 B.C. During Byzantine times chapels and monasteries were hollowed out of the rock, their ochre-toned frescoes reflecting the hues of the surrounding landscape. Even today troglodyte dwellings in rock cones and village houses of volcanic tufa merge harmoniously into the landscape.

Ürgüp, a lively tourist center at the foot of a rock riddled with old dwellings, serves as an excellent base from which to tour the sights of Cappadocia. In Ürgüp itself you can still see how people once lived in homes cut into the rocks. Leaving Ürgüp and heading to the south, you reach the lovely isolated Pancarlik Valley where you can stop to see the 12th century church with its splendid frescoes, and the Kepez church which dates from the tenth century. Continuing on to the typical village of Mustafapasa (Sinasos), the traditional stone houses with carved and decorated facades evoke another age. Still travelling in a southerly direction, just past the village of Cemil, a footpath on the west side of the road leads to Keslik Valley where you will find a monastery complex and the Kara Kilise and Meyvali churches, both of which are decorated with frescoes. Back on the main road you come to the village of Taskinpasa where the 14th century Karamanid Mosque and Mausoleum Complex, and the remains of a medrese portal on the edge of town, make for a pleasant diversion. The next village is Sahinefendi where the 12th century Kirksehitler church, with beautiful frescoes, stands at the end of a footpath 500 meters east of the village.

The Göreme Open-Air Museum, a monastic complex of rock churches and chapels covered with frescoes, is one of the best known sites in central Turkey. Most of the chapels date from the 10th to the 13th century, the Byzantine and Seljuk periods, and many of them are built on an inscribed cross plan with a central cupola supported by four columns. In the narthexes of several churches are rock cut tombs. Among the most famous of the Göreme churches are the Elmali Kilise, the smallest and newest of the group; the Yilanli Kilise with fascinating frescoes of the damned in serpent coils; the Barbara Kilisesi; and the Çarikli Kilise.

At Çavusin, on the road leading north out of Göreme, you will find a triple apse church and the monastery of St. John the Baptist. In the town are chapels and churches, and some of the rock houses are still inhabited. From Çavusin to Zelve fairy chimneys line the road.
The charming town of Avanos, on the banks of the Kizilirmak River, displays attractive vernacular architecture and is known for its handicrafts. Leaving Avanos in a southerly direction you come to an interesting Seljuk caravanserai. On the Nevsehir – Ürgüp road you can’t miss Ortahisar and its rock carved fortress. The churches in the Balkan Valley are some of the oldest in the Göreme region. In the neighbouring Hallaç Valley, the Hallaç Monastery displays decorations from the 10th and the 11th centuries. North of Ortahisar, the Kizilçukur Valley is breathtakingly beautiful especially at sunset. In the valley is the 9th century Üzümlü church.

The underground cities of Kaymakli, Mazi, Derinkuyu and Özkonak were all used by the Christians of the seventh century as places of retreat in order to escape persecution. They fled from the iconoclastic strife of Byzantium as well as other invasions in these safe and well hidden metropolises. A complete environment, these cities included rooms for grain storage, stables, sleeping chambers, kitchens and air shafts. Today they are well lit and an essential and fascinating part of a Cappadocian tour.

West of Avanos, Gülsehir has Hittite rock inscriptions, and nearby, at Gökçetepe, there is a bas-relief of Zeus. South on the Nevsehir road brings you to the 13th century church of St. John, and farther along is Açiksaray where the carved rocks hold churches and chapels.


ANTALYA

In Antalya, the pine-clad Toros (Taurus) Mountains sweep down to the sparkling clear sea forming an irregular coastline of rocky headlands and secluded coves. Important historical sites and beautiful mosques await your discovery, amid a landscape of pine forests, olive and citrus groves and palm, avocado and banana plantations.

Since its founding in the second century B.C. by Attalos II, a king of Pergamon, who named the city Attaleia after himself, Antalya has been continuously inhabited. The Romans, Byzantines and Seljuks successively occupied the city before it came under Ottoman rule. The elegant, fluted minaret of the Yivli Minareli Mosque in the center of the city, built by the Seljuk sultan Alaeddin Keykubat in the 13th century, has become Antalya’s symbol. The Karatay Medrese (theological college) in the Kaleiçi district, from the same period, exemplifies the best of Seljuk stone carving. The two most important Ottoman mosques in the city are the 16th century Murat Pasa Mosque, remarkable for its tile decoration, and the 18th century Tekeli Mehmet Pasa Mosque. Neighbouring the marina, the attractive late 19th century Iskele Mosque is built of cut stone and set on four pillars over a natural spring. The Hidirlik Kulesi (tower) probably was originally constructed as a lighthouse in the second century. The Kesik Minaret Mosque attests to the city’s long history in its succession of Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman renovations.

When Emperor Hadrian visited Antalya in 130 A.D. a beautifully decorated three-arched gate was built into the city walls in his honour. Near the marina the two towers flanking the gate and other sections of the walls still stand. The clock tower in Kalekapisi Square was also part of the old city’s fortifications.

The Archaeological Museum, with remains from the Paleolithic Age to Ottoman times, offers a glimpse of the area’s rich history. The Atatürk Museum displays objects used by the founder of the Turkish Republic. (Both open weekdays except Monday).

The ruins of the city of Termessos, set inside Güllük Mourn, a national park northwest of Antalya, is perched on a 1,050 meter high plateau on the west face of Güllük Mountain (Solymos). A wild and splendid landscape surrounds the monumental traces of this city. (A nature and wildlife museum is to be found at the park entrance.)

At the foot of Mt.Tahtali (Olympos),15 km south of Kemer, the three harbours of Phaselis were once a major commercial center. The ruins of aqueducts, agoras, baths, a theatre, Hadrian’s Gate and an acropolis reveal the city’s historical importance. From the south harbour, look up at Mt. Tahtali for a spectacular view. The sheltered sandy beaches make a superb playground, and the waters are calm and safe for swimmers.

The ancient city of Olympos is situated on the southern side of Mt. Tahtali. Oleander and laurel bushes shade the Olympos Valley, which you can approach by land and sea. The play of light on the quiet pools of water enhance the mosaics in the bath. A temple gate and theatre also remain from antiquity. The outer walls and towers around the bay date from the Middle Ages.

North of Olympos up from Çirali Beach, is Yanartas (at a height of 300 meters) where according to mythology the Lycian hero Bellerophon, mounted on his winged horse Pegasus slew the fire-breathing monster, Chimaera. Gas which seeps from the earth burns brightly at night at this site, which the Byzantines also considered a religious area.

At Demre (Kale), the ancient Myra, (25 km west of Finike), many splendidly carved rock tombs overlook the magnificent Roman theatre. St. Nicholas was the bishop of this Mediterranean city during the fourth century, and died here in 342. Every year in December the Santa Claus Commemoration Ceremony attracts . many tourists who spend their Christmas holidays on the sunny coast of ancient Lycia.

Kekova is an island an hour from Dalyanagzi by sea as well as the name of a whole ensemble of picturesque islands, numerous bays and ancient cities. These bays provide natural harbours in all seasons, and yachtsmen particularly enjoy exploring the unspoilt landscape. Along the northern shore of Kekova Island at Apollonia, earthquakes have disturbed the land causing some of the ancient houses to sink under the clear water, creating a sunken city. Kaleköy Castle (Simena) offers a bird’s-eye view of the bays, inlets, islands and colorful yachts sailing peacefully on the glassy water.

Continuing west out of Kekova, you come to Kas, a lovely spot surrounded on three sides by mountains. Of ancient Antiphellos, as Kas was once known, only the Lycian rock cut tombs and sarcophagi are left. But the charm of the town remains, and it is a pleasure to wander through the streets, stopping to examine souvenir shops that offer Turkish handicrafts, leather goods, copper and silver items, cotton clothing and the inevitable handmade carpet. You can walk through forested hills to visit remote villages and ancient ruins. The energetic may want to attempt the highest peak in the area, Mt. Kizlar Sivrisi (3,086 meters), or the second highest, Mt. Akdag (3,030 meters).

A principal harbour of ancient Lycia, Patara is reached by following a winding mountain road before descending to the site. Here, according to mythology, Apollo was born. More concrete history reveals that this town was the birthplace of St. Nicholas. The ruins are, of course, numerous and interesting. But Patara is also a place for beach lovers. Its 22 km of pure white sand stretches as far as the eye can see, making it a natural choice for all types of beach sports. The remoteness of this undiscovered corner makes it feel like your own private getaway.

The ancient Lycian capital of Xanthos, today in the Turkish village Kinik, lies 18 km north of Patara. The theatre, Tomb of the Harpies, Nereid Monument, agora, and Inscribed Pillar, among a mixture of ruins from Lycian, Roman and Byzantine times, create the special atmosphere of this site. At the holy Lycian center of Letoon, six km farther, three temples dedicated to Leto, Apollo and Artemis, familiar gods of mythology, await the exploring tourist.

An important city of ancient Pamphylian, Perge (18 km from Antalya) was originally settled by the Hittites around 1500 B.C. St. Paul preached some of his first sermons here. The theatre’s stage has finely carved marble reliefs; other carvings from around the city are displayed in the stadium. Amateur archaeologists will want to see the handsome city gate flanked by two lofty towers, a long colonnaded road once paved with mosaics and lined with shops, a large agora, the public baths and a gymnasium.


EFES (EPHESUS)

A visit to Efes (Ephesus) – once the commercial center of the ancient world – is a highlight of any visit to Turkey. The city, whose wealth and patronage supported its splendid architectural program, was dedicated to the goddess Artemis. Her enormous temple, once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and rebuilt several times, dates in its latest form from the third century B.C. The ruins also include a theatre, gymnasium, agora and baths, as well as the Library of Celsius.

Ephesus is the best-preserved classical city on the Mediterranean, and perhaps the best place in the world to get the feeling for what life was like in Roman times. As a strategic coastal gateway to the Eastern World, this Ionian refuge grew to be the second largest city in the Roman Empire, the site of a Christian shrine, and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary, accompanied by St. Paul, came to Ephesus at the end of her life, circa 37-45 AD. Renaissance church historians mentioned the trip, and it is said that local Christians venerated a small house near Ephesus as Mary’s. In 1967 Pope Paul VI. visited the site, where a chapel now stands, and confirmed the authenticity of the legend. Also the Basilica of St. John is located near Ephesus. St. John is said to have lived the last years of his life here and after his death, a shrine was located over his grave .

The nearby town of Selçuk is dominated by a Byzantine citadel which stands close to the 6th century basilica of St. John built on the site of the Apostle’s tomb. The 14th century Isa Bey Mosque, next to the basilica is accessed through its typical Seljuk portal. The Archaeological Museum houses an impressive collection of statues and other finds recovered during the excavations of Ephesus.
Fethiye.

The popular resort Fethiye, 135 km southeast of Marmaris, boasts an important marina at the head of a beautiful bay strewn with islands. A hill crowned by the ruins of the crusader fortress built by the Knights of Rhodes overlooks the little port. Above the town, (called Telmessos in antiquity), numerous Lycian rock tombs, reproducing the facades of ancient buildings, were cut into the cliff face. The Tomb of Amyntas, which probably dates from the fourth century B.C. is the most remarkable.

The road to Belcegiz Bay takes you through the mountains where cozy guest houses cater to those seeking mountain scenery. On Gemiler Island (St Nicholas’s Island), Byzantine ruins lie tucked among the pines. To the southeast of Fethiye are the ruins of Xanthos, an important Lycian capital in a splendid natural setting. Letoon, nearby, was formerly an important religious cult center where three temples dedicated to Leto, Artemis and Apollo stood in ancient times.


APHRODISIAS

Aphrodisia’s theatre was built in c.1 BCE, and dedicated to the Julio-Claudian family, or the Roman Emperors of the time. An interior wall was used to record important events and documents concerning the city. It records privileges granted the the Romans as well as treaties with nearby countries. Sort of like the town courthouse. Marcus Aurelius remodeled and restored the theater, deepening the ochrestra section. Two miles of the wall surrounding the ancient city can still be followed. This wall was constructed in c.260 BCE, long before the Romans supplied aid.

The heart of the city’s religious life was the Temple of Aphrodite, built and rebuilt between 41 BCE and 130 CE. There are 13 columns on the long side, with 8 on the short side with the cult statue inside. The local sculptors decorated the building in Ionian style, with reliefs and statues. The school for sculpture was next to the Temple, and part of the temple. Many unfinished statues were found in the area between the temple and the theater. Along with many sculpting tools, the evidence for a school is overwhelming. Apparently the school was open to the air and nothing of the building survived.