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Highlights

If this is your first Turkey travel experience, there are some iconic cities, sites and destinations located throughout the country that are simply a must-see for first-time travel to Turkey, which include Istanbul, Ephesus, Cappadocia, Pamukkale and Bodrum.

ISTANBUL

"If the earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital." Thus declared Napoleon Bonaparte-and his words ring as true today as they did in 1800. The Turks themselves say that in Istanbul one can hear the nation's heartbeat. There is so much to see and do that any definitive overview would fill volumes, but following are some travel highlights in Turkey.

Begin with its historic sights, which have been designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

The Roman Hippodrome was the center of Byzantine life for 1,000 years, and the center of Ottoman culture for another 400 years. The Hippodrome was the scene of countless political and military dramas, including rival chariot races. During your Turkey tour, see the impressive granite obelisk, carved in Egypt around 1,500 BC and brought to Constantinople in 390 AD. The Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque is a masterpiece of 17th century Ottoman architecture, famous for its unique hand-made original Iznik tiles. The Hagia Sophia is absolutely spectacular-some say it is the most beautiful church ever built. Other famous Turkey travel destinations include the Basilica Cistern, and the Topkapi Palace, the seat of the Ottoman government and its resident sultans for 500 years; see its Imperial Ottoman Treasury, which includes the famous Spoonmaker Diamond.

The Suleyman Mosque is a monumental building, a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture. The Dolmabahce Palace, built around 1843, was an administrative center during the Ottoman Empire and later residence of the sultans. This ornate and vast palace overlooks the Bosphorus, and is well worth a visit as you travel Turkey.

The Grand Covered Bazaar is a marketplace of staggering proportion-with over 4,000 shops it is a world within itself. This is the very heart of Turkish culture, a sensory overload of sights, sounds and color.

The Kariye Museum is housed in a charming small church with beautiful mosaics and frescoes, and is a wonderful example of Byzantine architecture. The Jewish Museum of Turkey catalogs and celebrates the history and contribution of Jewish Turks. Located in the former Zulfaris Synagogue, its exhibits depict the daily lives of the local Jewish community throughout different periods of history. Other splendid sights well worth a visit during your tour of Turkey include the Church of Cora, Archeological Museum, Tile Museum and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts.

We recommend a cruise on the Bosphorus Strait at sunset, where one literally crosses from Europe into Asia. And for those who don't mind a few steps, the top of the Galata Tower is the best place to take in the complicated geography and gorgeous views of Istanbul.

CAPPADOCIA/ GOREME VALLEY

An essential - and otherworldly - stop on any tour of Turkey, Cappadocia is a region of extraordinary natural and cultural wonders that figures large in Biblical history. The surreal lunar landscape is comprised of cone, mushroom and pinnacle-shaped formations of red sandstone and salt deposits from the Miocene (Tertiary) period that have been naturally shaped by wind and rain for thousands of years.

During the Roman and Byzantine eras this area served as a shelter for the early Christians escaping persecution and Christianity flourished from the 4th to the 11th century. During this time, the soft volcanic deposits were carved out for dwellings, monasteries, churches and underground communities. Now it is possible for those traveling Turkey to explore these underground cities and dwellings carved into the stone "fairy chimneys." This extraordinary natural and cultural wonder has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

EPHESUS

A must see for ancient-history buffs traveling in Turkey, the ancient Greek city of Ephesus houses the best-preserved Greco-Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. It is a repository of unsurpassed historical riches, and offers a telling glimpse into what Roman life looked like 2,000 years ago.

The main sites include the Great Theater, with 25,000 seats, and the Library of Celsus, one of the architectural masterpieces of Anatolia (Asia Minor). See the Terraced Houses, which evince the decadent luxury of Roman upper-class life, and visit the last home of the Virgin Mary, where St. John hid her from the pagan Ephesians to save her life. Ephesus figures large in Biblical history: the Apostle Paul came to the city to preach in its Great Theater, its church was one of the seven churches of Asia that are cited in the Book of Revelation, and the Gospel of John may have been written here. Explore the remains of the Temple of Diana (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) and St. John's Basilica. Walk in the footsteps of Marc Antony and Cleopatra along the marble streets of the Sacred Way - a remarkable Turkey travel experience.

PAMUKKALE/ HIEROPOLIS

Pamukkale is an area of spectacular natural thermal hot springs and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The name means "Cotton Castle" and refers to the gracefully curved white pools, formed by minerals in the thermal waters, which cascade down a ridge.

Nearby is the fascinating archaeological site of Hieropolis, an ancient hot springs resort founded in 190 BC and greatly enlarged by the Romans. Many consider the springs to have healing properties and it is possible to bathe in these soothing waters during your tour of Turkey-indeed people have been doing so since before recorded history.

BODRUM

Bodrum is famous throughout Europe for good reason. The exquisite sapphire waters of the southern Aegean Sea surround a town of square whitewashed houses that appear like sugar cubes dotting the hills. Strolling the winding alleys reveals a charming village draped in brilliant pink bougainvillea.

The marina is modern, its cafés trendy and its restaurants posh. The Castle of Peter, built by Christian Crusaders in 1402, graces Bodrum's harbor. It houses the interesting Museum of Underwater Archeology. Take the time during your Turkey tour to stroll through the quaint market, and see the statue of Herodotus-Bodrum's native son-the Greek "Father of History" who is credited with being Western culture's first systematic historian. The eponymous Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was located in Bodrum. While there is little left of the ancient structure, models and sketches found on its grounds attempt to convey its majesty. There is also an ancient theater.

A glorious day-or week-may be spent aboard a traditional Turkish yacht known as a gullet, complete with a crew and a certified archaeologist as your Turkey tour guide. Sail through the crystal-clear waters of the "Turquoise Coast," stopping at islands such as Aquarium and Karaada, with its natural hot springs. Longer excursions can access the outer islands of Knidos and Patara, where the ruins of ancient Greek civilizations can be explored. Greek islands such as Rhodes may also be accessed.

In summer droves of European tourists and a pounding disco scene recall the worst excesses of Mallorca. Spring and fall are recommended times to visit lovely Bodrum.

Adventures

Have more time, second trip to Turkey, or looking for something specific? Here are some additional highlights when creating your custom Turkey travel plan.

THE WEST

KUSADASI

One of Turkey's most popular resort towns, the port city of Kusadasi is famed for its sparkling turquoise water, bright sun and large marina set on the Aegean Sea.

This inviting town has many restaurants and cafés overlooking picturesque Pigeon Island, and a stroll along its waterfront esplanade makes for a delightful afternoon. Surrounding beaches such as Kadinlar Denizi offer white sand and beach chairs for rent, but can be very crowded in the summer.

APHRODISIAS

This is one of the world's most complete and extraordinary excavations of a lost classical site. Dedicated to the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, it flourished during the Hellenistic period, and then later under Roman and Byzantine rule. In the 13th century it was abandoned and buried by a series of earthquakes. What has been unearthed includes a stadium with more than 30,000 seats, the Temple of Aphrodite and Baths of Hadrian.

THE PHILOSPHERS OF IONIA

The southwest coast of present-day Turkey was a province of Greece known in ancient times as Ionia. It is a region rich with archaeological wonders, but is also of great historic significance as the site where the Ionian School of Greek philosophy flourished in the 6th century B.C. This intellectual epicenter of the pre-Socratic era greatly influenced Western science and thought. Philosophers of the Ionian School rejected the prevailing reliance on superstition and myth as a means to explain phenomenon, instead promoting a naturalistic view of the universe, the scientific method of inquiry and rational thought. These giants of Western thought, including Thales, Anaximander, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras and Diogenes, changed the course of history through their teachings.

ASSOS

Assos is best known for its ruins of the Temple of Athena, goddess of wisdom, justice and war. What's left of the acropolis is wonderfully situated on a hill above a quaint picturesque bay. It is also pleasant to stroll along the waterfront of the small village below during your tour of Turkey, visit the 14th century mosque, and see the original defense walls, which can only inspire respect for the masons who built this fortification 2,500 years ago.

PERGAMUM (BERGAMA)

Pergamum was a great ancient capital during the Hellenistic period. Like nearly all great cities of Hellenistic Greece it featured monumental public works such as a massive outdoor theater, an imposing temple, a library, and an acropolis crowning it all, this one modeled after the one in Athens. The Great Alter of Pergamum, thought to be dedicated to Zeus, is spectacular-however it is difficult to see on a trip to Turkey since it is, in fact, housed in a museum in Berlin.

Many classical antiquities that originate in present-day Turkey are on display in museums from New York to London. Some were excavated and restored by European and American archaeologists and removed with Turkish permission to museums abroad, while others were carted off in wartime or by other questionable means. Turkey is appealing for their return in many cases. However, since the Turks were in the Altai Mountains (where the Turkish people originated, near Mongolia) 3,000 miles to the northeast when these structures were built, the antiquities would arguably be more at home in present-day Greece.

RANKING THE RUINS

With so many spectacular Greco-Roman ruins along Turkey's west coast it can be overwhelming trying to decide which to visit during a Turkey tour. We recommend, in order of importance, Ephesus, Pergamum, Aphrodisias, Aspendos, Perge and Assos.

If that doesn't quench your thirst for antiquity, ask your Travel Specialist about including a few more of the country's 60+ classical ruins on your Turkey itinerary. Other top candidates would be Sagalassos, Knidos, Priene, Patara, Sardis and Xanthos.

ÇANAKKALE

Çanakkale connects the Sea of Marmara to the gorgeous Aegean. This port town is the gateway to Gallipoli and the ancient archeological site of Troy. The locals don't seem to have learned their lesson regarding accepting wooden horses as gifts: a replica of the Trojan horse from the 2004 movie Troys tarring Brad Pitt as Achilles graces the waterfront.

TROY (HISARLIK)

This is the actual site where the legendary city of Troy lay, immortalized in Homer's Iliad. It is a fascinating stop for those traveling Turkey who possess a keen interest in history or archaeology, but may prove underwhelming to the casual observer. Troy has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its historic significance.

GALLIPOLI (GELIBOLU)

During World War I, when Turkish troops were under the command of their national hero Mustafa Kemal (later called Ataturk, Father of the Turks) the Turkish army maintained the defense of the region against the British, Australian and New Zealand forces. The victory of the Turks effectively ended British hegemony in the area. To honor the 100,000 soldiers who gave their lives, this peninsula has been made a national park of remembrance, and its Anzac Cemetery and memorial monuments are a moving and sobering experience.

THE SOUTH

ANTALYA

Antalya is an alluring, historic Mediterranean port town perched on coastal cliffs above a turquoise bay, ringed by dramatic mountains spires. It is known for its palm-lined boulevards, waterfalls in the nearby countryside, and a lovely marina.

The Old Quarter, Kaleici, is a warren of narrow winding streets and old Ottoman wooden houses surrounded by ancient city walls. The Roman emperor Hadrian visited and a triumphal arch built in his honor still stands. There is also a 13th century minaret, and the Antalya Museum, housing exhibits from the Stone Age through the classical periods and Ottoman era. Another museum, the somewhat funky Suna and Inan Kirac Museum, illuminates life in the Ottoman era and displays Turkish ceramics and photography.

Antalya is also well known for beaches that are easily accessed from the town, and it is a great place from which to take a yacht excursion, from one-hour cruises to all-day explorations of neighboring islands in the Gulf of Antalya. Overnight yacht cruises are also possible, to points as far away as the ancient Roman bath town of Olympos.

PERGE

Perge (Perga) was another great center of learning, architecture, arts and city life during the Hellenistic period. It was home to many sculptors and artisans and was considered one of the greatest of world cities during its day. The great Greek mathematician Apollonius hailed from Perge-a student of Archimedes, he wrote the definitive tome in several volumes on the analytical geometry of conical structures. Explore the ruins of Perge's grand stadium and theater, Roman roads and baths.

ASPENDOS

While there are many incredible Hellenistic, classical and Roman ruins in Europe, Aspendos is home to a best-preserved theater of antiquity. So solid is the structure it was even used by the Seljuk Turks as a caravansary around the 11th century.

MARMARIS

In spring and fall this glorious bay and yacht harbor will delight, with its über blue water and harbor-side promenade. Arrive in summer, however, at your peril: European sun seekers descend on Marmaris by the tens of thousands.

LYCEAN WAY

If 30 days of strenuous hiking sounds like a bit more than you would like to bite off, ask your Travel Specialist about including an afternoon jaunt with a local guide to sample a section of one of the world's most famous trails, known for its stunning views of the coast.

THE CENTRAL REGION

KONYA

Moving eastward, Greek temples give way to Ottoman mosques, bikinis are traded for headscarves, all-night discos are replaced by the spiritual spinning of Sufi mystics, and sun worshippers are few while Muslim pilgrims are many.

Konya lies in the heart of Anatolia, is one of the most ancient settlements in Asia Minor, and was the capital of the Seljuk Turks from 1071 to 1308. It was also an important city for Christians, mentioned in Acts, and St. Paul is known to have preached here. However, since the 13th century the town is best known as the home of the mystic philosopher and poet Rumi. He is one of Islam's most influential figures, founder of the Mevlavi sect of Sufi Islam, better known as the Whirling Dervishes. The sarcophagus, shrine and museum in his honor are Konya's greatest attraction, and a holy site to Muslims. Konya houses many other museums and sites of cultural significance such as Sircali Medrese, the Archaeological Museum and the Alaettin Camil Mosque.

One should take in a Whirling Dervish performance while in this area. These mystics strive to transcend earthly attachment through ritual spinning, while adorned in long white robes and black conical hats. Their right hand is raised to heaven in supplication while their left points earthward to transmit blessings to earth. They chant the 99 names of Allah while rotating. A hafiz directs the dancers-he must commit the entire Koran to memory, all 6,236 verses of it. A Dervish performance is an ethereal experience to behold.

SULTANHANI

If traveling overland from Cappadocia to Konya don't miss a stop at the Sultanhani Caravansary. The Seljuk Turks built hundreds of these solid stone staging posts along the old Silk Road trade routes to host camel caravans that transported goods through central Anatolia. This one is particularly large and atmospheric, and appears like something straight out of the One Thousand and One Nights.

HATTUSA

The Hittites commanded a powerful empire during Babylonian times around 2,000 BC, and Hattusa was their capital. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1986 due to its outstanding historical value. See the Great Temple, the Great Citadel, the King's Gate, the Sphinx Gate and the Lion Gate. An Egyptian style sphinx was removed to Berlin by German archaeologists in 1917, where it resides to this day, much to the consternation of the Turks.

GORDION

An oracle foretold that whoever untied the inextricable Gordion Knot would become the ruler of all Asia. Alexander the Great was passing through this town when he sliced the knot in half with a stroke of his sword. He traveled eastward and went on to fulfill his destiny-he was all of 23 years old. Explore the excavations of the ancient Kingdom of Phrygia, where he cut the proverbial knot.

ANKARA

A visit to Ankara is essential to understand Turkey's amazing transformation into a modernized country that emerged from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire post World War I. The Ottoman Empire reigned for 600 years across three continents, from 1299 to 1923. It stretched from Hungary to Ukraine, through the Middle East and Arabia, Morocco and Egypt. Constantinople (Istanbul) was the capital of this Islamic empire. But during WWI Mustapha Kemal, later called Ataturk, defeated the British and later the Greeks, and became the leader of Turkey. He rejected Arabic script, founded a secular state modeled after a European constitutional democracy, and shaped Turkey into the modern republic it is today, establishing Ankara as the capital. Visit the insightful Memorial of Ataturk and the world-class Anatolian Civilizations Museum. This museum, one of the most impressive museums in the world, narrates a millennia of human civilization.

THE NORTH

TRABZON

Trabzon is the largest port and city on Turkey's northern coastal region along the Black Sea. A bustling and lively place, it is currently flourishing due to trade with countries formerly in the Soviet bloc.

You will hear Russian spoken in the streets, and even see the use of Cyrillic script. The local dialect has its roots in ancient Greek; the Byzantine churches and Ottoman mosques add to Trabzon's melting-pot appeal. The excellent St. Sophia Museum is a must while in this area. Other points of interest include the Ataturk Mansion, the Trabzon Museum, the Mosque of the Ottomans and the local bazaar.

SUMELA MONASTERY

The journey to Turkey's northern reaches can be justified by a visit to Sumela Monastery alone. This magnificent structure is built into a sheer cliff high above the valley floor. Two priests spent decades building it after coming upon an icon of the Virgin Mary in the cliff's cave around 375 AD. It houses a church, chapels, a library, a kitchen and guest quarters. Water is provided by an on-site aqueduct. Frescoes featuring Biblical scenes adorn the chapel walls.

THE EAST

MT. NEMRUT DAGI NATIONAL PARK

We don't often insist you awake before dawn while traveling, but for Mt. Nemrut Dagi we would be remiss if we didn't cajole at least a bit. Arrive at its summit just before dawn to watch in wonder as the sun slowly illuminates colossal heads hewn from stone.

This astounding sight is among the greatest of ancient Anatolia, and is thought to be the tomb-sanctuary of the megalomaniac King Antiochus I (69-38 BC), who flanked his own image with that of Greek and Persian gods. The statues were once seated, but the heads have been removed and damaged by vandals and earthquakes. This amazing site was lost to posterity for nearly two millennia-a German surveyor discovered the site in 1818. Please note: at 7,056 feet the mountain can get very cold, even in summer, and especially at dawn, so come prepared.

SANLIURFA

The ancient town of Sanliurfa, also known as Urfa, lies in the Tigris/Euphrates basin, the cradle of Mesopotamian civilization. It is the birthplace of Abraham according to both the Bible and Koran, and is thus a major pilgrimage site. Old Testament prophets such as Jethro, Job and Elijah lived here as well, and Moses was a shepherd in the region for seven years before returning to Egypt. While not as famous as Mecca or Jerusalem, it is nonetheless of outstanding religious and historic significance. Throughout its history pagan temples were converted to synagogues, synagogues to churches, and churches to mosques, resulting in a unique and diverse architecture well worth a visit for the student of world religions. Kurdish and Arabic influences run deep in this area; you could be forgiven for thinking you're in Syria or Iraq.

OTHER EASTERN DESTINATIONS

If you have been to Turkey before or have a special interest in some of Turkey's more obscure, but no less fascinating, destinations in the east, please ask your Travel Specialist about including some of the following places on your eastern Turkey itinerary: Van, Dogubayazit, Erzurum, Mardin and Diyarbakir.

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