For a country that has seen its share of wars and cultural revolutions, seated somewhere between Asia and Europe. Strewn with ancient battle fields, historic bath houses and ruins from empires turned golden and then ruined. Take Turkey by storm this year, exploring it one World Heritage site at a time.
Turkey has seven such sites, scattered around the country. If you want a thorough Turkish experience, this may be just the itinerary you’ve been looking for, with plenty of time to unwind at one of the traditional hammams along the way. These sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list will take you all the way around the country, from Letoon to Nemrut Daği National Park, are you ready?
Once, the capital of Lycia, you can still see how Lycian and Hellenic traditions came together. Archaeologists have learnt a lot from these sites from the epigraph inscriptions (the longest written in Lycian language ever to be found) and the incredible funerary monuments, many of which are still standing. Xanthos and Letoon are 8km apart from each other. Sights at Xanthos: an old Lycian Acropolis, a Roman-styled theatre, Lycian funerary monuments and town ruins. Sights at Letoon: the ruins of a nymphaeum (a Roman monument devoted to the nymphs) dating back to Hadrian and a famous trilingual inscription from 358 BC (Lycian, Aramaic and Greek).
Archaeological Site of Troy
Troy has 4,000 years of history and is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, mostly because of the siege of Troy by the Spartans as described in the Illiad by Homer. The site has been extremely important in discovering the roots of European culture and of course the effect it has had on the creative arts thanks to Homer. It was first established as a city in the Bronze Age (4th century) and the first stone houses and walls were built around 2000 BC. Used as an important trading point in the Aegean region, it is no wonder the Greeks wanted to take it over!
This city is built on history. It’s been connected with major political, religious and artistic events for at least 2,000 years, reason enough to make this a stop on your itinerary. Find a cheap hotel in the city centre and stick to its historical sights like the ancient Hippodrome of Constantine, the 6th-century Hagia Sophia and the Süleymaniye Mosque dating back to the 16th century. The Ottoman Empire is most characterised by the Topkapı Saray and the Blue Mosque. While protected by UNESCO, these sites are all in serious danger due to the growing population of Istanbul and the deteriorating effects from industrial pollution and the urban sprawl which is uncontrollable.
City of Safranbolu
From the earliest times, Safranbolu was an important stop along the trading route between the East and the West. During the so called “golden age” of the city in the 17th century, it heavily influenced urban development and architectural style throughout the Ottoman Empire. Today the city’s most important historical monuments include the Old Mosque, Old Bath and the Süleyman Pasha Medrese which were built in the 1300s. The city today has kept its Ottoman-feel, a rarity.
Hattusha was the former capital of the Hittite Empire, known of its early urban development and detailing on city gates. The city temples, royal residences and city walls have all been preserved, as have the Lion’s Gate and Royal Gate and its striking rock art. There are two levels of the city to explore with underground tunnels built to help protect from attacks. The most impressive of the monuments here is the great temple, dedicated to Arinna, the goddess of the Sun. Also, the royal residence of Büyükkale is worth checking out.
Mosque and Hospital of Divriği
This part of Anatolia wasn’t conquered by the Turks until the 11th century. Shortly after though an intricately decorated mosque as well as a hospital were built. The mosque has a single room for prayer and is notable for its two cupolas. On the outside, it’s decorated using, for that time, a very advanced style of decoration, while the interior is remarkably plain. Having a hospital built-into the mosque is unique but was designed that way by request of the prince, Emir Ahmet Shah who founded the project in 1228.
Perhaps the most interesting of all the sites, mostly for its strange and somewhat creepy stone heads laying around is Nemrut Dag, a site located atop a mountain in eastern Turkey. The mausoleum of Antiochus, who founded a kingdom north of Syria after Alexander’s empire broke up, was at the time a very ambitious project, probably the most ambitious of the Hellenistic period. Some of the stones that were used weigh up to 9 tonnes! The place was discovered by accident in the 1880s but wasn’t properly excavated until the 1950s. Most notable is the huge hill of stone chips and the two terraces on either side. On the upper level are two rows of five humongous figures (we’re talking 7m tall figures) representing deities. The heads of these statues have broken off, laying now on the ground below their stone bodies.
Have you ever visited one of Turkey’s UNESCO World Heritage sites?