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Turkey: Land Of Wonders Past And Present


Travelling in Turkey allows one to retrace millennia of history through remarkably preserved sites. From Julius Caesar and his conquest of the Amasya region to St. Paul and his crossing of the country, traces of the passage of the greatest names in history can be found in all four corners of Turkey. The Byzantines, the Ottomans, the Romans… All of them left a testimony behind them, be it through the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul or the small rock churches of Cappadocia.

Turkey is also a culinary culture unique in the world. Eating here is considered a real ritual and dishes with Mediterranean and oriental influences are eaten in the form of mezze, dishes served on small plates that allow you to taste the various local dishes. The dishes are usually made up of olive oil, fresh vegetables and meat marinated in spices: a real treat!

Turkey is a fascinating mixture of East and West

With a culture all of its own, Turkey stands out above all else because of its proud heritage. It must be said that the country has perfectly preserved its historical vestiges and ancient traditions. Whether you are lost in the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, strolling through the steep and colorful streets of Istanbul or conquering Mount Nemrut, it is impossible to miss the natural and historical treasures of the country.

With a strong identity of its own, Turkey brilliantly blends the smell of spices in the bazaars with the beauty of wild creeks and semi-arid steppes. From east to west, one discovers a territory of inexhaustible wealth and inhabitants of infinite kindness.

This country offers an unlimited diversity: desire for cultural discoveries, idleness, beautiful landscapes, meeting the population: Turkey is made for you!!! Turkey offers a fascinating past, the incomparable heritage of the fascinating Istanbul with prestigious monuments such as: the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque and the Basilica of Saint Sophia, now officially a mosque.

Striking sites such as the lunar landscapes of Cappadocia in the heart of the fairy chimneys. Or the white ponds of Pamukkale the Cotton Castle; a unique site in the world. Not forgetting the beaches: With four seas (Mediterranean, Aegean, Marmara and Black), the choice is endless. Ideal for holidays with your feet in the water in Antalya, Bodrum or Alanya 

The charm of Turkey is also due to its gastronomy which is one of the most varied in the world: Try the mezze which is an assortment of varied small dishes, cold or hot, it is also absolutely necessary to test and savor the real kebabs grilled meat on skewers with inimitable flavors.

Fascinating mix of the exotic and the familiar, Turkey is much more than just a crossroads between East and West. Conquered many times in the course of its history, Turkey is at the confluence of the Middle East, the Balkans, the Mediterranean and Central Asia. In its largest metropolises, mosques coexist with Christian churches. Roman theatres and temples stand side by side with the ruins of ancient Hittite civilizations. Dervish ceremonies and Gypsy festivals are just as much a part of the social landscape as musical concerts and sporting events. 

Turkey is the land of a people full of kindness and deeply welcoming, where an invitation is never refused. Its immense charm lies in its archaeological sites, a bewildering succession of Hittite, Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Armenian-Georgian and Ottoman legacies. From the ruins of Nemrut Dagi overlooking the Euphrates Valley, the archaeological site of Ephesus to the remains of the ancient tombs of Kaunos, Turkey has not finished revealing its secrets and is still subject to exciting new discoveries today. If Ankara is its capital, Istanbul is however its most recognized metropolis and certainly one of the most beautiful in the world.

Istanbul, the pearl of Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul is a captivating destination filled with Byzantine palaces and churches decorated with magnificent frescoes and colorful mosaics. Many of these buildings still survive today, such as the Christian Church of Constantinople, which has become the Museum of St. Sophia (recently made a mosque again). With richly decorated lower arcades, interlacing acanthus leaves carefully carved in white marble on Ionic pillars, domes decorated with mosaics or flanked by half-domes in apses, Saint Sophia is one of the most accomplished examples of Byzantine architecture. 

The Suleymaniye Mosque with its tapering minarets, surrounded by balconies, and that of the breathtaking Sultanahmet, are symbols of architectural success. Today they form one of the most impressive skylines in the world. Among the city’s places of interest, the Bosphorus Strait is a beautiful urban panorama that is pleasant to discover. On its European shore, the Dolmabahçe Palace, once the residence of the Sultan, stands out superbly with its neoclassical, rococo and baroque decoration, mixed with Ottoman art. The rich collection of art objects in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum is also worth a visit. The Turkish metropolis is also the ideal place to taste one of the world’s greatest cuisines. Its nature is not to be outdone and offers a foretaste of its natural wealth with the TurkuaZoo aquarium and the urban park of Emirgan.

Cultural capital of Turkey, Istanbul is a multi-faceted world city. Located at a strategic crossroads between Eastern Europe and Asia Minor, the Republic of Turkey was created in 1923 by its founding father and first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1923-1938). Crossed by the Bosporus Strait, Istanbul is the cradle of many civilizations, including the Ottoman Empire (1299-1923) which ruled this city, formerly known as Constantinople. From its past, Istanbul has preserved a majestic cultural heritage that we strongly recommend you to discover.

The Basilica of Saint Sophia, built in the 4th century and renovated in the 11th century, then became a mosque in the 15th century. It was only since 1934 that it was converted into a museum offering a rare architectural wealth and has now been converted into a mosque. It is one of the must-sees for a successful tourist visit to Istanbul, as in 2018 it was the second most visited museum in the country with nearly 3 million visitors. The basilica is also famous for its aerial dome and Christian mosaics.

Just a few steps away from Saint Sophia, a visit to the gigantic Blue Mosque is also recommended. It is open to visitors outside prayer hours. The stained glass windows that have adorned its walls since the 17th century and its size make it unique. Also located in the Sultanahmet district (the central district of historical monuments), the great bazaar of Istanbul is a place not to be missed under any circumstances for lovers of good deals. Indeed, it is one of the largest bazaars in the world, located along some sixty covered streets, housing nearly 4,000 shops. 

The Valley of Love in Cappadocia

Located in the heart of Anatolia, the Cappadocia region is unique in the world. Three volcanoes have sculpted a landscape that seems to come straight from another planet. Its ochre and powdery-coloured land contains true works of natural art. But the different human civilizations that have succeeded one another have also left the world priceless treasures. You will find a profusion of troglodyte remains and rocky sites, swept away by a veritable breath of mythology.

 Turkey Fairy Chimneys Natural Landscape Cappadocia

Among all the wonders that can be found in Cappadocia, the Gorëme valley is the most famous. It contains a small troglodyte village of the same name, sculpted jointly by erosion and man. Walking through its alleys, you have the opportunity to observe these curious round houses dug into the rock from the 4th century. Around you, a lunar panorama stretches out. It is speckled with fairy chimneys, natural rock columns topped with a hat.

Nearby, you will find the open-air museum of Gorëme. It is a Byzantine monastic complex, which became a place of pilgrimage from the 17th century. Here you can marvel at churches, monasteries and chapels carved into the rock. Some remains contain breathtaking religious frescoes.

The Valley of Love in Turkey is located in Cappadocia in the Göreme Valley. Its particularity lies in its large rocky columns called “fairy chimneys”. An unusual, immense and fascinating Turkish landscape, which gives such a special character to the region. The Göreme National Park is home to several valleys, it is between the White Valley and the Red Valley that you will find the Valley of Love, a poetic name in reference to the phallic aspect of its sculptures. Close to the town of Göreme is the Göreme Milli Parklar, which translates as “Göreme Open Air Museum”, which encompasses all the valleys.

The historical region of Göreme, in the Nevsehir province in central Anatolia, is home to this landscape covered with impressive geological formations. “Aşıklar vadisi” in Turkish, this natural and cultural site has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. The density of the formations carved into the heart of the rock makes it one of the largest and most remarkable rock formations in the world. More than 10 million years ago, several volcanoes covered the soil of Cappadocia in Turkey. They then buried an area of 20,000 km² under their lava, forming a gigantic field of volcanic tuff, brittle rocks in a monochrome of beige. These chimneys were later carved by wind and rain. The rock is so soft that the inhabitants were able to dig churches, monasteries or cave dwellings in the 4th century.

Bursa, the Green City

Bursa is a dynamic and modern city located in the north west of Turkey (4th largest city in Turkey: 2 million 700 thousand inhabitants). It is nicknamed BURSA the GREEN in reference to the many parks and green spaces … the city is located at the foot of the Mount Uludag massif, famous for its winter sports resorts. Bursa is also well known for its thermal baths dating back to Roman times. It is located on the road to Izmir. The first capital of the Ottoman Empire, it is today modern and has a commercial and industrial vocation. Since the sixties, many factories have settled there, like the French brand Renault.

Bursa has a history that spans the centuries. It was part of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century BC, before becoming a beacon of Christianity. Being the last eastern stage of the Silk Road, it develops the use of the silkworm. Under Ottoman rule, the city was the center of royal silk production, facilitated by the cultivation of mulberry trees around the Nilufer district.

In addition to extensive local sericulture, natural silk is imported, mainly from Iran and sometimes from China. It was then the center of caftan-making, the traditional long tunic, as well as cushions, embroidery and other silks adorning the imperial palaces until the 18th century. Silk cocoons can still be bought in the bazaar in the city center. To this day it remains a large center of natural silk production, with 1 million meters of silk being produced every year. The city is also the center of production of knives and carriages.

In 1920, it was occupied by the Greeks and regained its sovereignty with Atatürk. Many Ottoman Sultans are buried in Bursa, such as Osman Gazi (the founder of the Ottoman Dynasty), Orhan Gazi (the conqueror of Bursa, in 1326), or Mehmet 1st. Many buildings inside the city bear witness to this Ottoman period. The upper city has preserved its ramparts. There are magnificent monuments of traditional civil architecture. It offers visitors a breathtaking view of the lower city.

The city of Bursa is lively and modern. In its centre are the old bazaar, caravanserais, the great mosque, the green mosque and the green mausoleum. Rich historical heritage, many museums and mausoleums of Ottoman Pachas to visit. The city has more than 300 monuments. A large number of mosques cover the city. The city also has important museums: Archaeological Museum, City Museum, Atatürk Museum, Museum of Islamic Art, Iznik Museum. Close to the city is the district of İznik, the ancient Nicea, known for its history and major buildings. The city Bursa is the seat of Uludag University and its population has one of the highest levels of education in the country. The city is, also, a traditional magnet for Balkan refugees, who arrived in waves after the founding of the Turkish Republic.

Karagoz and hacivat, the two characters of Golge Oyunu (Chinese Shadow Theatre) were born and buried in Bursa. The theme of the plays is a contrast between these two characters, with Karagoz portraying an illiterate common man close to the audience while Hacivat belongs to the educated class and expresses himself in Ottoman Turkish using literary turns and poetic terms. Originally, this theatre was particularly associated with the Ramadan period and remained a very popular entertainment in Turkey for a long time. Today, it survives only in a watered-down form for children.

Karagöz and Hacivat themselves are said to have been inspired by two workers who entertained their comrades during the construction of the Bursa Mosque (Ulu cami) during the reign of Orhan Gazi. They were executed for the delay in the work but became popular heroes. One version of the legend claims that one of their contemporaries made puppets representing them and began to perform plays featuring them.

The Iskender Kebap is a Bursa culinary speciality based on grilled meat from the 19th century. Other specialties include The Kemal Pasa dessert (Kemalpaşa tatlısı, this dessert is made with cheese from the town itself. The secret of this dessert is the unsalted cheese it contains. This cheese is made from cow’s milk), the Marron glacé de Bursa (kestane şekeri), the Mihaliç cheese (Mihaliç peyniri, the mihaliç is a sheep’s milk cheese, pressed into cloth. The pressed curd is cut into cubes and matured in firm barrels for 3 months. It is salty and strong).

The Black Sea region

The Black Sea region (in Turkish Karadeniz Bölgesi) is one of the seven regions of Turkey and includes almost all the provinces bordering the Black Sea. This region owes its name to the Black Sea which borders it. It is therefore bordered to the north by the Black Sea, to the east by Georgia, to the south by the regions of Eastern and Central Anatolia, and to the west by the region of Marmara. It covers 121,422 km2 or 15.37% of Turkey’s total area. The region has a population of 7,636,000, or about 10.68% of the country’s population.

The Black Sea coast receives the largest amount of rainfall and is the only region in Turkey that receives rainfall all year round. The eastern part of this coast receives an average of 2,500 mm of rainfall per year. As a result, the Black Sea region contains a large part of Turkey’s natural wealth.

The Black Sea region is known for its lush vegetation and is home to half of the 7,000 plant species growing in Turkey. It abounds in dense forests, for which it is famous, especially for hazelnut production. In addition, this part of Turkey, which remains little known to tourists, contains beautiful landscapes such as mountains over 2,000 meters high, around Lake Uzungöl, for example. In addition, the Pontic chain borders the southern Black Sea coast. Also known as the Pontic Alps, this mountain range in northern Turkey is covered with dense forests, mostly coniferous. Thus, this chain of the Black Sea region has a specific climate since it is home to a temperate rainforest.

The glaciers of Mount Kaçkar, located near the village of Ayder, are among the highest mountains in Turkey, at about 4,000 meters above sea level. These mountain ranges have enabled this Black Sea region to create small winter sports resorts, including the resort of Kartalkaya, located in the province of Bolu. Deserted beaches are also characteristic of this Turkish region.

A destination little frequented by foreign tourists, the Black Sea circuit reveals real little treasures. Whether it is the old Ottoman houses of Safranbolu and Kastamonu, Sivas and the superb Blue Mosque, the “Gates” of Divrigin classified as a World Heritage Site or Trabzon and the little Stainte Sophie or the famous Sumela Monastery, an enchanting place or a monastery is literally “hung” on the mountain.

In addition to the 1,500 km of coastline it offers Turkey, this ancient freshwater lake, which borders Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Georgia, is marked by diversity. Sometimes high cliffs jutting into the sea, sometimes a coastline abundant with hazelnut, tea, cherry, pear and tobacco plantations, sometimes sublime green pastures where the vegetation becomes wild, with forests of fir, beech and ferns, where bears still live. Here creeks, mountain villages, castles, Georgian churches and monastic complexes mingle. The Black Sea coast will satisfy all desires, all ages and all budgets. Without forgetting that little despoiled by tourism, the Turkish culture is more strongly felt there. And what a pleasure!

While most tourists prefer the Mediterranean and Aegean shores, the Black Sea (Karadeniz), which is very different, deserves just as much attention. After the festive atmosphere of Amasra and the city bustle of Trabzon (Trebizonde), you can relax in small fishing villages or explore the hinterland and climb up to the yaylalar (high altitude pastures). In addition, the spectacular coastline provides a superb route through Turkey to other parts of Anatolia.

This region has a tumultuous past and is dotted with vestiges of successive civilizations and empires. Castles, churches, monasteries and mosques with remarkable architecture recall the times of the Bridge Kings, Genoese and Ottomans. Queen Hippolytus and her tribe of Amazon warriors are also said to have lived here. At Yason Burnu (Cape Jason), a seaside chapel marks the spot where Jason and his argonauts passed.

One of the Black Sea Coast’s most famous attractions is Sumela Monastery (official name: Monastery of the Virgin Mary), which seems to sprout out of the sheer cliff face enclosing it. About 70 kilometers south of Trabzon, this atmospheric place has a history that goes back to the Byzantine era, and it was only finally closed as a working monastery in 1923. There are fabulously vibrant (though sadly defaced) frescoes within the main chapel, and the warren of rooms and chapels that make up the rest of the complex give you a good idea of the austerity of religious life in previous centuries. Possibly the biggest highlight of a visit here, though, are the views of the entire monastery, clinging to the rock face, on the winding road up to the entrance.

Once in this region, one can do the following:

  • Climb through forests to the Sumela Monastery, hanging from a cliff.
  • Enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of the port in Sinop.
  • Take the coastal road D010 and its dizzying twists and turns between Amasra and Sinop.
  • Visit the maze of alleys in the citadel of Amasra.
  • Stroll through the streets of the city and a have a massage in a hammam in Trabzon.
  • A day trip to the high plateaus and mountain villages like Uzungöl.
  • A leap into the past in Ünye along the Bakırcılar Sokak 
  • A cable car ride and a picnic on the heights of Ordu.

Turkey fascinates

Turkey fascinates by its legendary origins, a wonderful blend of various empires throughout history. Its food is now a staple among gourmets all over the world and its main cities are linked by a railway network that is constantly improving its services.

Turkey has one of the richest histories in the world, with evidence of human habitation dating back to the 25,000’s. Many civilizations have left pieces of their art and culture that are still available for exploration. The country is located at the junction of Europe and Asia. Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, is in fact the only major city in the world that spans two continents.

Turkey is on the list of food lovers thanks to the country’s world famous cuisine. It is largely reminiscent of its Ottoman heritage but is also influenced by its neighboring regions: Central Asia, the Middle East and the Balkans. Bread, vegetables and yoghurt are important elements of Turkish cuisine, with lamb, beef and chicken being the most important meats. Try Kebab, a national dish or Turkish coffee for a complete culinary immersion.

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu

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Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.

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