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Istanbul is unquestionably one of the world’s great metropolises. The city formerly known as Constantinople has served as a capital of great civilizations including the Roman and Ottoman Empire. Ankara usurped it as the seat of government when the Republic of Turkey was formed in 1923, but it remains the biggest city by far. Straddling Europe and Asia on both sides of the Bosphorus, it is an endlessly and compelling blend of East and West. Historic sites such as the Blue Mosque and Topkapı Palace are vivid reminders of the city‘s long run of glory, while teeming bazaars and ancient Turkish Baths also offer a window into the past. Its history is not the only lure. International press have been talking up Istanbul for many years. There are numerous innovative boutiques, bars, galleries, clubs, and restaurants as there are Ottoman mosques. In a city of so many interesting sights, it can be difficult to know where to start so here are some suggestions.
MUST SEE PLACES
The Hagia Sophia Museum: Originally built as a Christian church between 532 and 537 AD by the emperor Justinian, it became a mosque in 1453 when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople. It remained as such until 1935, when it became a museum. For 1,000 years, its dome was the world’s largest – 98ft in diameter, surpassed only in the 16th century with the construction of St. Peter’s in Rome.
Topkapi Palace and the Spoon makers Diamond: The world’s seventh largest diamond was allegedly found on a rubbish heap in 1669 and bartered to a spoon maker who, in turn, sold it to a jeweler. It sits in the Topkapi Palace that was completed during the 15th century and home of Ottoman sultans for centuries.
Kariye (Chora) Church: An extraordinary Byzantine church dating from the 11th Century. Inside are truly unparralelled mosaics and frescoes depicting the lives of Christ and Mary.
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts: A must-see place if you have a passion for textiles and calligraphy. The floor-to-celling Usak carpets and beautifully illuminated Qurans are housed in a building that was originally the palace of Ibrahim Pasha,Grand Vizier to Suleyman the magnifıcent.
Suleymaniye Mosque: Often mistaken for the Blue Mosque by fırst time visitors, Suleymaniye Mosque dominates the Istanbul skyline and provides a magnifıcent landmark for the entire city.
Istanbul Archaeological Museum: Divided into three buildings, this museum contains artefacts from the Hittite empire,Pre-islamic Ottoman relics ,Egyptian and Lycian sarcophagi and galleries of statues.
Watch the Ceremony of Whirling Dervishes: In Hodja Pasha Culture Center, watch the mystical whirling dance of the dervishes as they perform their religious ceremony, known as the sema. Whirling dervishes are followers of the famous poet and philosopher Rumi.
Eat Istanbul Cuisine in Ortakoy: With its thriving cafe culture and position at the foot of the Bosphorus Bridge, which links Europe and Asia, Ortaköy has a distinctly cosmopolitan feel. The district boasts a fantastic choice of fish restaurants positioned directly on the waterfront, as well as a bustling Sunday market.
Follow James Bond through the Yerebatan Underground Cistern: Yerebatan Sarayi (‘sunken palace’) appears in the 1963 James Bond film called “From Russia with Love”. Do you remember the scene where 007 rowed a small boat through the marble columns? That was filmed at this sixth-century underground Byzantine cistern. The upside-down head of Medusa supports one of columns.
Haggle for Bargains in the Grand Bazaar: Whether it is the highlight of your stay or an endurance test, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar will provide a memorable experience. Created during the 14th century, it is located in the heart of the old city and one of the world’s largest covered markets, with thousands of shops lining 65 streets and alleys.
Tour the Idyllic Princes Islands: A 90-minute ferry ride from Istanbul brings you to Buyukada, largest of small islands collectively known as the Princes’ Islands. For centuries, these were places of exile but now, tourists visit to enjoy the serenity of the leafy, traffic-free lanes.
Feel Real Istanbul Life in Beyoglu: Istanbul’s modern centre is bustling with coffee shops, quirky boutiques, and galleries. Spend the afternoon exploring the area by foot,- talking in the unobstructed views by strolling down Istiklal Caddesi.
Deep in the heart of Anatolia, Cappadocia offers surreal scenery, adventure activities, and an in-depth look into the history of Christianity. The lunar landscape is dotted with rocks nicknamed “Fairy Chimneys.”
Created because of wind and water erosion, some of them have been inhabited for many years, with rooms, windows, and staircases laboriously curved inside creating 5-storey structures. Known as cave homes and hotels, they are one of the main attractions of the region.
Cappadocia’s geological quirks, plus the wealth of caves and hideaways, have made it a place of refuge since biblical times, when it was popular with Christians fleeing persecution. Their legacy includes the underground cities at Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı as well as the painted cave churches found in the Goreme and Zelve valleys.
Cappadocia has a steppe climate; there is a great temperature difference between day and night. The average temperature is +23 Degrees-Celsius (73 F) in summer and -2 Degrees-Celsius (28 F) in winter. It is cooler and drier than popular tourist areas of the Mediterranean and the Aegean coasts.
Cave Churches & Goreme Open air museum
There is more to Cappadocia’s otherworldly landscape than meets the eye. Take a closer book and you will discover hidden dwellings and subterranean churches, for it was here that early Christians escaping from persecution lived and worshipped. Of an estimated 3,000 cave churches in the area, some are open to the public, the most impressive of which are located in the Goreme Open Air Museum. The Tokali and Karanlik church, are among the best preserved with vivid frescoes.
Archaeologists believe the Hittites were the starters of the underground communities and in the 6th and 7th century, they were expanded by early Christians with the addition of air shafts, kitchens, living quarters, churches, water wells, horse stables and wine cellars. Christians used the elaborate subterranean systems as both a shelter and a safe place to worship. You should not miss a visit to Derinkuyu underground city that is the largest of 36 in the area. It covers 4 square kilometers and sheltered 2,000 households on seven floors reaching a depth of 70 to 85 meters.
Other places to see
Hot Air Balloon Rides over the unique lunar landscape and strange rock formations are popular. The region can be explored on foot, but to experience the breath-taking beauty of this remarkable area, take a hot- air balloon flight in Cappadocia at sunrise.
Quad-Biking in Goreme Valleys may sound crazy, but these four wheelers are one of the best ways to check out the scenery along the 10s to 100s of kilometers of paths criss-crossing this surreal landscape.
Massage Service in a Turkish Bath (Hamam) No visit to Turkey is complete without the experience of bathing in an authentic Turkish bath called a “Hamam” Beautiful marble sinks, brass fixtures and a gravity-defying dome deliver the right ambiance and exotic atmosphere. A belly stone is a large, circular, heated platform in the center of the bath where you can lounge and relax. This is where the massage will take place. Some massages are hard and long, while others are short and gentle. Some masseurs are gentle on foreigners because they know we are “soft”. As a rule, no self-respecting Turkish woman would let a man scrub her. So if a woman found herself in a situation where a man was going to do the scrubbing she would be well within her rights to ask for a woman. (Sorry men, your washer will always be a man!)
Kusadasi is situated in the Aegean region of Turkey, and is a magnificent and perfect place for an unforgettable vacation. It is not only popular with holidaymakers but also large cruise line ships carrying thousands of passengers. Most of them come just to visit the nearby ancient ruins of Ephesus, but the area does have many more attractions.
It is no surprise that as a cruise line destination, shopping is big business in Kusadasi. Everything is for sale from cheap leather goods to authentic carpets, jewelry, clothes, and souvenirs. There is a local bazaar, near to the marina entrance or you can bargain for local deals in the outlet centers, located near Ephesus.
Kusadasi has every type of restaurant you can imagine, from international with English speaking staff to backstreet fast food establishments only frequented by locals. Although there is no big nightclub, the likes of what people will see in Bodrum, Kusadasi still has an active nightlife scene.
Beach clubs dotted around the coastal line are popular with visiting Turks while Ladies Beach has family friendly venues with games and activities to keep adults and children occupied. For those who really want to party, Bar street is the best place to be at.
From Kusadasi, you can also visit Pamukkale, Priene, Miletus, Didyma, Pergamum, Aphrodisias or embark on Greek Islands Cruise ships leaving from Kusadasi Port during High season (May till October).
Ancient City of Ephesus
The ruins of Ephesus are one of the biggest attractions in Turkey. Once the second largest city of the Roman Empire, it is estimated there is still more than 60% of the city to excavate.
Visitors have a marvelous insight of this former seaport city. Walking down the cobbled agora street, they pass the public toilets and baths, temples and terraced houses of rich Roman citizens. The street leads to the impressive Celsius library that at one time, held more than 12,000 scrolls.
To the left of this magnificent monument is the grand amphitheatre. Originally used by performing artists, the discovery of a nearby gladiator’s graveyard reveals that eventually it was an arena of death for enjoyment.
Situated in the hills above Ephesus is a small and humble house yet its existence is of major significance. Suspected to be the last resting place of the Virgin Mary, the house is now run by the Roman Catholic Church who opened it up to the public.
In the Denizli province of Turkey, sits the cotton castle. Tumbling down the side of a small mountain, white calcium pools filled with healthy spa water have solidified to form stunning looking travertines in the landscape. From a distance, the white pools look like part of a strategic castle hence the nickname. Along with Ephesus, Pamukkale is one of the top attractions for foreigner tourists visiting the Aegean coast.
People have bathed in the spa water pools for thousands of years. Indeed, the Romans redirected water to the nearby city of Hierapolis as a centre of healing for wounded soldiers.
In ancient Greek, the name Hierapolis meant “holy city.” Founded in the 2nd century BC, as well as being a centre of healing, many people chose to retire or even travel there so it could be their last resting place. Eventually the city was given to the empire of Rome, and along with places like Ephesus, Christianity became strong in the region.
Visitors today can view a gymnasium, library, the Domitain gate, and baths that were constructed using just stone and no cement. One of the most respected attractions though is the large amphitheatre. Nestled into the hillside, it is suspected to have been built in AD 60 with a capacity to seat 15,000 spectators. As often seen in other historical sites, there is also a Temple of Apollo. Pamukkale and the city of Hierapolis are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
WONDERS OF HELLENISTIC WORLD
Pergamum was an ancient Greek city on the north side of the river Caicus and named in the book of Revelations as one of the seven churches of Asia (Revelation 2:12). Today, the main site of ancient Pergamon is near the small coastal resort of Bergama.
Asklepion was built in the name of Aesculapius, the god of Health and Medicine. It contains ancient sites such as a small theater with a capacity for 3,500 people, rooms where patients were cured, the temple of Asklepion and the library.
Priene was formerly on the sea coast, built overlooking the ocean on steep slopes and terraces. Today, after several centuries of changes in the landscape, it is an inland site. Priene possessed a great deal of famous Hellenistic art and architecture. It is believed around 4 to 5 thousand inhabitants occupied the region.
Miletus is located near Akköy at the mouth of the Meander River. It was one of the largest cities in Anatolia with a population of between 80,000 and 100,000. Highly prosperous, it was the home of the 6 BC philosophers Anaximander, Anaximenes and Thales, the town planner Hippodamus and architect of Hagia Sophia, Isidorus. Having a prominent position, Miletus became the most important port in this area and it was the most active member of the twelve cities of the Ionian Confederation.
Didyma: The word Didyma means “twins” and it was associated by some as being the meeting place of Zeus and Leto to have their twins Apollo and Artemis. Didyma was famed as a prophecy center dedicated to Apollo, which served a similar purpose as the Delphi of Anatolia. It was not a city but a sanctuary linked to Miletus by Milesians with a 19 km sacred road.
The Greek wine making village of Sirince is high in the hills, only reached by a winding mountain road. Originally started by freed slaves from Ephesus, it is now a popular jaunt for Turks as well as foreigners. Taste homemade wine, be intrigued at the local handicrafts for sale, and do not forget to buy some souvenir olive oil soap.
Daily ferries are available from Kusadasi port to the Greek Island of Samos in the morning and late afternoon. After 1½ – 2 hours at sea you will arrive at Samos’ main port ‘Vathi’, where you’ll be greeted by beautiful pastel colored shops and restaurants built around the bay with picturesque mountains in the background.
Enjoy Dinner with a Turkish Night Show in Thousand Year-Old Caravanserai
Not only is it a really fun evening where you get to watch traditional Turkish dancing and Belly dancing, it’s also held in a fantastically beautiful building that’s called the Caravanserai.
Once a roadside inn where travelers could rest and recover from the day’s journey, it was built by an Ottoman vizier Okuz Mehmet Pasha in 1618 AD.
It has been furnished to meet present day needs, whilst preserving all the typical characteristics of a Caravanserai - two floors, two entrances and a spacious courtyard.
The Antalya region is the second most popular holiday destination in Turkey after Istanbul. It attracts everyone from rich and influential millionaires to budget holidaymakers. The long sandy beaches and typical Mediterranean climate lure all nationalities from British, Russians, Scandinavians, and Americans.
While Antalya city centre has many attractions, hotels, bar and restaurants, people tend to flock to the nearby coastal resorts of which a few include…
Alanya is popular because of its long, sandy beaches, landmark historical castle, and the nearby mountain regions. The resort is open all year round although in winter, sunbathing is definitely off the agenda.
Side has the added bonus of the historical amphitheater and structures in the heart of the resort. At the end of the harbour stands the ancient temple of Apollo and the nighttime bars here, make ideal environments for relaxing with close company, while dining on fine food and wine.
Kemer is typically a manmade resort that heavily features five star all inclusive hotels and large nightclubs. This destination is a favorite for Russians. Belek is the golfing capital of Turkey. Tiger Woods and other big names have played in many golf courses. This resort is small but ideal if you want luxury at no cost.
Cirali is a small, one street rustic village with cheap accommodation and the area is ideal for hikers and trekkers. The long beach is also protected because of loggerhead turtles that lay their eggs in the sand.
Kaş (pronounced cash) is everything that a typical Mediterranean seaside resort in Turkey should be. White washed houses cascade down the winding mountain roads to show the way to beautiful beaches and a harbor.
THINGS TO DO IN THE REGION
Mount Tahtali cable car ride should be first on the list because it gives an amazing panoramic view over the coastline and backing Taurus Mountains. During high season, be prepared for long queues.
The ancient Greco-Roman ruins of Aspendos is a must see. Suspected to date from 1000BC, it was often the focus of invasion, specifically by Alexander the Great and the Romans. Visit the Ancient City of Perge, the place where most of the statues on display in Antalya Museum were unearthed.
The theater stage has finely carved marble reliefs, and other carvings from around the city are displayed in the stadium. Amateur archaeologists will want to see the handsome city gate flanked by two lofty towers, a long colonnaded road once paved with mosaics and lined with shops, a large agora, the public baths and a gymnasium.
Gushing waterfalls are plentiful in Antalya with the most popular being Duden that flows into the sea. Manavgat also features on most daily excursions and it has a traditional Turkish tea garden to relax in.
History lovers should head to the city centre to view the impressive Hadrian’s Gate that is the entrance into the old town. Nearby, the large archaeological museum holds many artifacts from across Turkey while the local landmark of Hidirlik tower is said to date from the second century .A day should be spent in this old part of the city known as Kaleici.
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