Historical and cultural sites
Turkey’s humanized landscape is inseparable from its culture. Nevertheless, to the outsider, Turkey gives a new meaning to wilderness, because even in the most inaccessible or isolated parts (such as the high mountain tops or the secret places in the valleys) the visitor remains with the feeling that sometime in history this place, now wild and untended, has been the home to civilizations with settled villages and city life for nine thousand years in Anatolia.
These were people of different origin, coming in waves and mingling with those already settled, each time creating a new synthesis. Between 2000 B.C. to 1500 A.D., this landscape was the center of world civilization. Interpretation of the world scene today is predicated upon our understanding of what took place on this landscape during the last four millennia, and which is now manifested in the ruins and monuments which adorn the landscape.
Up until the advent of modernity (which in Turkey is associated with the comprehensive highway program of the 1950’s) the landscape had remained as it was through millennia. When you see a replica of one of the first agrarian villages in the world, dating back to almost 7,000 B.C., in the Anatolian Civilizations Museum in Ankara, you cannot miss the similarity between this prototype and all those others that you become what we call the vernacular. When you have got something that works, why change it?
In Anatolia, the settlement pattern is more or less how it was during the time of the ancient civilizations. There is a good chance that the road you are traveling on is the same one on which great warriors of the East and the West trod and colorful caravans passed along, and couriers of mail or secret treaties galloped. Perhaps it is the same road traveled by St. Paul and his disciples or by Sufis spreading divine knowledge. Perhaps Alexander the Great or King Croesus fought against their enemies on the same spot you are traveling.
Graceful aqueducts built by the Romans made urban concentrations possible. Bridges built by Sinan and other Ottoman architects dot the countryside and are still used for the safe passage of goods and services. Caravanserais dating back to the Seljuk Empire of the 11th century offered sanctuary and relief to weary travelers. You can even stay in a caravanserai, for several have been restored into luxury hotels. Many Medresses are also in good conditions, mostly used as museums today.
In addition to the historic edifices proudly displayed at the main archaeological sites such as Assos, Troy, Pergamon, Ephesus, Miletus, Priene, Didyma, Aphrodisias, Heraclia, Myra, Olympus, Chimeira, Phaselis, Patara, Xantos, Pinara, Tlos, Letoon, Halicarnassus, Cnidus, Hattusas, Alacahöyük, Çatalhöyük, Yazilikaya, Nemrut, Zeugma, Psidian Antioch, Nicea, Sardis, Gordion, Caunos, Labranda, Perge, and Aspendos, many coastal villages and towns are blessed with their very own Anatolian ruins on the outskirts. This is usually an ancient theater commanding a spectacular view of the beach where, the villagers will tell you, Cleopatra often have swam. You don’t have to look far for the agora either. It is probably where it has always been – right at the market place! Several villages are also privileged to have ”sunken cities” (Kekova) or ruins under the sea, which you can see if you look down into the crystal clear, turquoise waters.
The Anatolian hinterland will show you glimpses of other ancient civilizations: the Hattis, the Hurris, Assyrians, the Hittites, the Phrygians, the Urartians, the Lydians and the Lycians. From these civilizations come many familiar legends: women warriors known as Amazons, the wealth of the Lydian King Croesus, King Midas with the golden touch, and the Knot of Gordion that young Alexander was able to undo with the strike of his sword.
Then there are the lesser places, both sacred and ordinary, but with profound meaning: monasteries, tombs of local saints, heroes, artists or poets, mosques, churches, walls, fortresses, palaces, fountains, and cemeteries. The hillsides are covered with broken pieces of ancient pottery, contemporary walls often have corner stones which may date back to antiquity. Children play and sheep graze amidst fragile remains. Until very recently Fairy Chimneys in Cappadocia were used by villagers as cold storage for their food or wine cellars.
The very richness of the landscape poses grave challenges for historic preservation in Turkey. Good progress has been made in safeguarding the integrity of the most important sites, and work is ongoing to excavate, catalogue and preserve the country’s tremendous legacy. Strict laws prevent the export of antiquities.
Historical and cultural sites