Istanbul & the Marmara Region
Glorious Istanbul, former capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, fascinates travelers with its spectacular mosques and ancient monuments, its colorful history and natural beauty. Straddling the Bosphorus between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, the former Constantinople is the only city to span two continents.
In the heart of the Old City, step into the world of the Ottoman sultans at the grand Topkapi Palace. Marvel at the iconic Hagia Sophia, first built as an Orthodox Basilica by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 537. Witness the Islamic call to prayer at the striking Blue Mosque commissioned by Sultan Ahmet in 1609. Bargain for carpets, silks and gold in the labyrinth of shops at the Grand Bazaar and inhale the pungent scents of cumin and cloves in the Spice Market. Let the magic continue with a sunset cruise on the Bosphorus.
Travel northwest to explore Edirne and its lively bazaar and beautiful mosques, including the 16th-century Selimiye Camii, a masterpiece whose four minarets are reputed to be the tallest in Turkey. Or retreat south to the ancient spas and gardens of former Ottoman capital, Bursa.
Surrounded by mountains and rich in wildlife, the region along the Aegean Sea is a treasure trove of historic sites. On the European side of the Gallipoli Peninsula is the site of the World War I battle. Cross the Dardanelles Strait and you find yourself in the ancient city of Troy, where at least nine cities have been built atop the ancient settlement of Homer’s Iliad.
Discover the legends, gods and achievements of Ancient Greece at Pergamum, which was one of the two top centers of civilization in the 2nd century. Beyond its famous library and temples dedicated to Trajan and Demeter is Asklepion, the world’s first hospital site.
Izmir is Turkey’s third-largest city and has been a shipping center since Ottoman times. Within a two-hour drive of Izmir are the ruins of 50 Ionian cities including the great Hellenistic city of Ephesus. Walk the white marble streets of this ancient masterpiece and be swept away by its great Celsus Library, Temple of Diana and the colossal theatre where St. Paul preached. Nearby, the House of the Virgin Mary is believed to be the last home of Mary, mother of Jesus.
Moving on to the coastal resort town of Bodrum, you’ll be charmed by its waterfront medieval Crusader castle, white-washed houses, resort marina and yachting center. Marvel at the final resting place for the Lycian kings of Caunus, their tombs cut into the rock cliffs overlooking the ancient port city. Or travel inland to Denizli province and take a walk through the ancient city of Laodicea, founded by Syrian King Antiochus I. Nearby, discover the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Hierapolis and Pamukkale. The “Cotton Castle” bedazzles with its cascading cliffs of white limestone, layers of stalactites and natural swimming pools formed by thousands of years of calcium and mineral deposits. Romantics will want to continue on to explore the temple, theatre and fine stadium ruins of Aphrodisias, the ancient city dedicated to the goddess of love.
Along the northeast Black Sea coast of Turkey, the earliest civilizations date back more than 9,000 years near the fabled city of Trabzon. Ruled by Romans, Goths, Greeks, Persians, Assyrians, Ottomans and home to the last of the Byzantines, Trabzon grew prosperous with passing camel caravans trading silks and spices. Explore its medieval main square, centuries-old churches and ancient walled citadels. Examine the magnificent 13th-century frescoes at the Hagia Sophia church turned mosque, including “The Marriage Feast at Cana.” Those interested in more recent history can visit Ataturk’s summer residence in the hills, Ataturk Kosku.
Explore Altindere National Park, the spectacular setting of the impressive white-walled Sumela Monastery perched on a steep cliff at an altitude of almost 4,000 feet. It’s a must-do excursion and can easily be accomplished in a half-day from Trabzon.
Turkey’s official capital and secondlargest city is Ankara. Home to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey, and several outstanding museums, Ankara is the starting point for exploring the magical region of Central Anatolia. Step into another world when you travel through the extraordinary lunar landscape of Cappadocia. Volcanic eruptions and several million years of erosion have resulted in an unusual display of spectacular pillars, cones and “fairy chimneys” in varying hues and sizes. Marvel at the many painted underground churches carved into the volcanic rock in the open-air museum of Goreme Valley. The valley is estimated to have up to 5,000 man-made cave dwellings. Explore the underground cities of Kaymakli or Derinkuyu, used by early Christians to hide out from persecutors.
Travel to Konya, home to Sufism – the mystical sect of Islam – and the Whirling Dervishes. Here, you’ll find exceptionally beautiful Seljuk buildings dating from the 12th and 13th centuries when Konya was recognized as the center for Muslim art and learning. Dominating the skyline are the blue-green dome and minarets of Mevlana Museum, where the sect’s founder Mevlana was buried in 1273. The museum is filled with precious works of art and furnishings, as well as an impressive display showing how Sufis lived.
This region offers a Turkey less traveled, but intriguing. At 6,000 feet high, the plateau city of Erzurum harbors the 5th-century citadel built by Emperor Theodosius and the brilliant turquoise tile minarets of Yakutiye Madrese, built in 1310 by Mongol rulers of Persia.
Travelers venture to Kars – “Snow”– to view the black basalt Armenian Church of the Apostles, built in 932, and are further amazed by neighboring Ani, a 10th-century Armenian city of hundreds of gates and thousands of churches. Continue to Agri, named for the towering Mount Agri (Mount Ararat), the 16,843-foot-high mountaintop thought to be where Noah’s Ark came to rest after the 40 days of rain.
Catch your breath on a boat tour around the immense volcanic 5,740-foot-high Lake Van. Disembark on Akhdamar Island to view the richly carved Old Testament scenes in the 10th-century Armenian Church of the Holy Cross, designated a sacred pilgrimage site. In the town of Van, be sure to visit neighboring Hosap Castle, the best preserved and most picturesque Kurdish castle in Turkey.
You’re sure to be fascinated by the historic sites of Southeast Anatolia, thought to be the birthplace of biblical Abraham, with a rich history dating from the Stone Age. Dominating the northern Mesopotamian plain is the ancient trade city of Diyarbakir. Wander its narrow winding streets and note the Great Mosque – modeled after the great Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, the Mosque of the Prophet with its striped minaret, and the beautiful Palace Gate.
As its name translates, the architecture and cultural heritage found in Sanliurfa is truly “glorious.” Reflect at the legendary Pool of Abraham, believed to have been created to extinguish the funeral pyre set by Assyrian King Nimrod to burn Abraham. Admire the 12th-century Great Mosque erected by the Seljuks. Nearby, at Göbekli Tepe, archaeologists are unearthing what may be the earliest Neolithic temple ever found, over 10,000 years old.
Don’t miss the drive up to the summit of Mount Nemrut to view the grandiose funeral monument to 1st-century King Antiochus. At Nemrut Dagi, there are over 200 colossal stone heads, exemplary of the Hittite and Oriental practice of enthroning images of gods on mountaintops.
Antalya & the Mediterranean
Known as the Turkish Riviera or the Turquoise Coast, Antalya attracts international visitors to its beautiful coastline and sparkling clear Mediterranean Sea. Basking in more than 300 days of sunshine annually, visitors come to sunbathe, yacht, mountain climb and bicycle. Then, you can discover historical sites tucked among pine forests, olive and citrus groves, and palms.
Catch up on your Roman history in Adana at the Adana Regional Museum of Roman Ruins. Marvel at the Tas Kopru – the mighty stone bridge built by Hadrian, the Ulu Camii (Great Mosque) and the Castle of Snakes. Stroll in the footsteps of St. Paul at his birthplace in Tarsus. Here, Mark Antony is said to have summoned his lover, Cleopatra, to chastise her for supporting Cassius, his rival.
Learn the truth behind the legend of Santa Claus at the ruined Byzantine church containing the tomb of St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra. Visit the ancient theatres, stadiums and colonnades of the ruined cities of Aspendos and Perge, which reached their zenith under Alexander the Great. Follow the saga of the tragic lovers to Side, another of their secret meeting places. With its ancient harbor, extensive Roman baths and a museum showcasing one of Turkey’s finest archaeological collections, the pretty resort town is a wonderful place to relax and unwind. Share your stories aboard your Turkish gulet while cruising along the Turquoise Coast.