Magical Turkey Sights

Istanbul

The only city in the world to span two continents and to have been the capital of both Christian and Islamic empires, this ever-growing metropolis of the latest 16 million inhabitants is Turkey’s cultural and social fulcrum. More acutely than anywhere else in the country, here East and West meet in an endlessly fascinating meeting pot.
 
First and foremost visitors are drawn to the famous skyline. Domes and minarets of colossal mosques rise in moody outline, above waterways which bear a constant flow of snaking traffic. Whether veiled in the morning haze, at sunset or at night, no urban sprawl is more memorable.
 
There are enough outstanding palaces, mosques, museums, and churches to satisfy the most ravenous culture vulture. Yet even more absorbing is the city’s contemporary life. Lake many great metropolises, Istanbul feels on the edge of chaos but is borne along by invisible force.
 
Part of the city’s allure is its setting, where Europe faces Asia across the winding turquoise waters of the Bosphorus, making it the only city in the world to bridge two continents.
 
Here, where the waters of the Black Sea blend into the Marmara, East and West mingle and merge in the cultural melting pot of Turkey’s largest metropolis. Busy Oriental bazaars co-exist with European shops; kebab shops and coffee houses sit alongside international restaurants; modern office buildings and hotels alternate with Ottoman minarets along the city’s skyline; traditional music and Western pop, belly-dancing and ballet, Turkish wrestling and soccer all compete for the attention of the Istanbul audience.
 
The strategic location of Istanbul owes its long-held historical significance at the mouth of the Bosphorus . In the words of the 16th-century French traveller Pierre Giles: ‘The Bosphorus with one key opens and closes two continents, two seas’.

Ephesus

Ephesus itself is one of the best-preserved and most visited of Turkey’s ancient cities. It’s marble streets and monuments have been extensively excavated and restored by the archaeologists, and with only a little imagination it is easy to transport yourself to Roman times.
 
The city was always indissolubly linked with the Anatolian fertility goddess Cybele, who became the Greek goddess Artemis and Roman Diana. The Temple of Artemis was three times the size of Athens Parthenon and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Today, it’s hard to imagine its glorious past from the only single column left at site and often flooded foundations. The acts of the Apostles record that St Paul came to Ephesus in the 1st century AD and preached that the silver images of the Artemis were not divine. Plus he provoked a riot among the local silversmiths by saying this: ‘Handmade God can’t be the true God.’
 
Ephesus itself was founded around the 10th century BC by the Ionian Greeks from Samos, and was ruled in turn by the Lydians, Persians, the Attalid kings of Pergamum and finally the Romans, under whom the city became capital of Asia Minor with 240,000 inhabitants. It’s greatness was linked to its port and its Artemis Temple. When the harbor began to silt up the city eventually declined, and around the 6th century AD it was probably deserted. Most of what we see today belongs to the imperial Roman period.
 
The scale of the site is awesome. With its well-defined streets, a host of public and private buildings, details such as masonry inscribed in Latin and Greek, and with Christian crosses and chariot ruts in the thoroughfares, few places in the world can evoke, more effectively, the feel of a great metropolis 2,000 years ago.

Hierapolis & Pamukkale

One of the most popular excursions from the all the coastal resorts goes to the spectacular travertine terraces of Pamukkale (the Cotton Castle), which lie above the town of Denizli, about 200km inland from Ephesus or Selcuk.
 
This remarkable natural formation has been created by mineral-rich hot springs cascading down the hillside and depositing layers of calcium carbonate. The resulting pools, terraces and ‘petrified waterfalls’ of dazzling white travertine are one of the most famous sights.
 
The ruins of ancient Hierapolis lie scattered on the hillside above the terraces, adding historical interest to natural beauty. In the grounds of the former Pamukkale Motel you can bathe in the Sacred Pool, where the therapeutic, restorative warm spring waters will float you above a picturesque jumble of broken Roman columns and Corinthian capitals.

Gordion

It was the capital city of the Phrygians, the Hittites’ successors in Anatolia in 1200 BC. Gordion came to its prime in the 8th century BC, under Gordios and Midas. An oracle had prophesied that whoever undid the Gordion Knot would conquer all Asia: in 333 BC Alexander the Great severed it with his sword. On the acropolis mound you can see foundations of Phrygian houses called megarons, while over 100 burial mounds spread across the surrounding plains which are called Phrygian Valleys. The coal miners helped excavate the burial chamber of the largest, the Great Tumulus. Reconstructed in Ankara’s Museum of Anatolian Civilizations with its grave findings, it may have belonged to King Midas or King Gordios.

The Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara

All artifacts are laid out in chronological sequence, these almost exclusively pre-classical finds. Neolithic man is represented in wall red paintings and Rubenesque mother goddess figurines in baked clay found at Catalhoyuk, near Konya. The Bronze Age section has famous Hatti bronze stag statuettes and gorgeous gold ear plugs, goblets and headbands found in the royal graves at Alacahoyuk. In the Assyrian Trading Colony section look for cuneiform tablets found at Kultepe, near Kayseri. The Old Hittite gallery’s highlights are the ceremonial bulls with grumpy faces from Hattusas. Many Phrygian artifacts are brought from Gordion. The most miraculously preserved Phrygian art work is an ornate wooden table. Numerous reliefs and monumental lion and sphinx statues in the central hall are displayed, all found in Alacahoyuk and Hattusas.

Hattusas

It’s located at the above rustic village of Bogazkale on the east of Ankara, and two hundred kilometers away. Hattusas was the Hitttite capital city during 1700 – 1200 BC. The remains date mainly from the end of this period. Few of them stand more than waist high’ any sculpture of aesthetic merit has been removed. Top highlights in Hattusas ancient city are the Great Temple, the Great Fortress, the King’s Gate, Yerkapi, and the Lion Gate.
 
The village has a museum with some minor Hittite pieces. Most of the visitors are impressed by the Hittites principal religious center which is called Yazilikaya (Inscribed Cliff). Etched into the rock walls of two little ravines, the narrower probably a royal burial chamber, has numerous bas-reliefs of gods and goddesses. Rows of interlinked warrior gods with pointed hats march in unison, while important deities like the weather god Teshub and the sun goddess Hepatu, and King Tudhaliya 4, who may have built the sanctuary, each stand 1.2m high.

Cappadocia

Over a million tourists visit each year to admire at this geological wonderland – a sea of cones and giant pinnacles and remarkable ‘fairy chimneys’ where the pillars are topped by rock like the bobble on a Dervish’s hat.
 
Thirty million years ago three (still visible) volcanoes buried the region under consolidated volcanic ash (tuff). Wind and water have eroded the tuff into strange shapes, the oddest resulting from rocks of varying degrees of the hardness wearing at a different pace.
 
Man has adapted this environment fascinatingly. Rather than build individual houses, it made sense to use the rock as walls, and thousands of Flintstone-like cave dwellings still honeycomb the hills and cliffs. Christian hermits arrived by the 4th century and monastic communities soon followed. When Arab armies invaded in the 7th century, the inhabitants went underground, and dug dozens of cities undetectable from the surface and hundreds of churches visible only by a door from the distance.
 
Over 150 churches in Cappadocia contain frescoes of the gospels – a treasure trove of 8th to 11th century Byzantine art. The churches were among the few to escape defacement during the iconoclastic controversy from 726 to 843, when the use of icons or religious images was banned.
 
The locals treat the surprisingly fertile land in much the same way as their forebears did. Four legs is the preferred method of transport – shawled women ride stubborn donkeys weighed down with baskets of produce – and in autumn the fields are all activity as grapes, potatoes and pumpkins are harvested. Some rocks serve as pigeon-cotes, with pigeon droppings used as fertilizer.
 
This bucolic landscape is best appreciated by bike (easy to hire) or on foot. Through the region covers the area between Kayseri, Aksaray and Nigde, central Cappadocia lies within the much smaller triangle of Avanos, Mustafapasa and Nevsehir.

Konya

Konya is located on the vast Anatolian plains. It was a Hittite settlement, an important Roman outpost, a center of the early Christian church, and a Selcuk state’s capital. Despite this long history, Konya would have long ago settled into relative obscurity were it not for the Sufi mystic Celaleddin Rumi, who became known as the Mevlana and founded the sect known as Mevlevi, or Whirling Dervishes.
 
The Mevlana’s tomb and the adjoining Mevlana Museum are among the most important pilgrimage destinations in Turkey and the Islamic world, visited by thousands who come to pay homage to the great mystic and thinker. Rumi was born in Central Asia at Belk in 1207 and fled to Konya when he was 20. Here he met his mentor, a wandering dervish named Sems-i-Tabriz. Rumi devoted himself to study with Sems and was inconsolable when his master disappeared (possibly murdered by jealous colleagues of Rumi). Turning himself to Sufi teachings, he was inspired to write several volumes of spiritual poetry, the Mathnawi. He became an ardent teacher, encouraging his growing band of disciples to embrace love and charity, as well as such enlightened concepts as respect for women.
 
The brotherhood that Rumi founded is best known to outsiders for its distinctive and beautiful Sema, a ceremony in which dancers whirl to symbolically free themselves of earthly ties. The position of the arms, with the right arm extending to heaven and the left to the floor, reassuringly conveys the notion that the dancers are conduits through which the grace of God is flowing to humanity. The dancers’ garments also have symbolic significance: The hat represents a tombstone, the cloak is the tomb ( and is shed during the dance to represent escape from earthly bonds), and the white skirt is the funeral shroud.
 
Through the Mevlevi have been forbidden to practice openly since all religious brotherhoods were banned during the Republic’s early years, the government has continued to promote the Sema for its folkloric merit; today, an increasing number of the dancers also openly follow the teachings of the Mevlana. The dervishes perform in Konya during an annual December festival, though you can see them at other times in Istanbul, Cappadocia, and elsewhere throughout Turkey.

Antalya

Busy Antalya, 50 km east of Phaselis, was one of the major cities of ancient Pamphylia, settled more than a thousand years before the Christian era by Greek refugees fleeing from the sack of Troy. Antalya and its now-ruined, neighboring Pamphylian cities of Perge, Aspendos, and Side then passed through the hands of the Persians and Alexander the Great before becoming a sleepy backwater of the Roman Empire.
 
What will strike you first about Antalya is not its past but its heady involvement with the here and now. Turkey’s fastest growing city is spreading in pell mell fashion over a plateau beneath the Taurus mountain range. However, it’s Kaleici, the old town surrounding the harbor, that will be of most interest to visitors.
 
The Antalya Museum is at the western edge of the central city center and houses an outstanding collection of archeological artifacts. Many of the holdings are from the ruins at nearby Perge and range from a game board to statuary to a pantheon, reassembled here in its entirety. Other curiosities of local origin include Lycian coins from the seventh century B.C., some of the first coinage to ever be minted, and bones said to be those of Saint Nicholas, (Santa Claus). More skeletal remains (of a prehistoric man), recline poetically in a broken funeral urn.
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