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A tapestry of stories: 8 famous ancient sites in Turkey!

Some may consider ancient cities as mere ruins and rubble. However, each ruin has a tale to tell, each carries a story of the past. A picture or a column can speaks volumes about the people that inhabited those lands. Turkey is a cradle of civilizations and has the marks to prove it. Almost every province reveals traces of a different civilization, each more fascinating than the next. Watch the ruins come to life, and discover the stories that await you in the ancient sites of Turkey.

1. Ephesus, the grandest ancient city in Turkey

Ephesus is not only an urbanized ancient site paved with streets, avenues, squares, inns, bazaars and more but also a city infused with a rich historical background. A port city during the Roman Empire, Ephesus served as an important trade hub, a religious center boasting the Temple of Artemis, as well as a city of political significance as the ruling city. Frequent earthquakes and the razing of The Temple of Artemis, the flooding of the Menderes river banks due to rainfall all subsequently resulted in the inevitable abandonment of the city thus leaving the port untouched and submerged in the earth for 1000 years. Ephesus reemerged by chance in archaeological excavations that lasted 100 years, with 80% left still to uncover. It is believed that there is plenty more to excavate in areas branching off to the Selçuk district and other nearby provinces. What more does Ephesus have to offer? For now, let's stick to what has been uncovered… Such as the Celsus Library, amphitheater, Yamaç House, Kuretler Street, Hadrian Temple, Liman Street, Hercules Door, Trajan Fountain, Agora and the Basilica. A population of 250,000 citizens inhabited Ephesus during its Golden Age. We recommend that you access the ancient site, which has two entrances and witness the incredible streets and architectural beauty of Ephesus via the first entrance Magnesia Gate. That way you won't get tired constantly walking uphill as you explore the city. Book a flight to İzmir and discover Ephesus, Turkey's grandest ancient site.

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2. Aspendos, the famous theatre with incredible acoustics

Aspendos, situated in the village of Belkıs, within the district Serik in Antalya, was a trading route, dating back to 10 B.C. The city is comprised of a stadium, agora, amphitheater, baths, shops, and cisterns. Despite the earthquakes and natural disasters the amphitheater has faced over time, it is still intact and can hold up to 12 thousand people. The agora, parliamentary building, monumental fountain, and the Hellenistic temple surround the amphitheater. Another incredible feature of the Aspendos Amphitheatre, one of the world’s best-preserved ancient theatres, is its incredible acoustics. It is said that the sound of a coin tossed to center stage resonates and can be heard even from the back of the theater. Having retained such acoustics, in recent years the amphitheater is host to many shows and events. Book a flight to Antalya to explore the historical ruins of this unique ancient site.

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3. Bearing the fine traces of settled life; Çatalhöyük

9,000 years on and Çatalhöyük is another ancient site that has withstood all odds and remains with us to this day. The roots of hunting and agriculture were planted at Çatalhöyük. This site occupies 14 hectares, proving how immense such a shift to settled life was. As the name Çatalhöyuk suggests, which can be translated roughly as forked hills, the hills separate or fork off, in the direction of the West and the East. On the eastern side, there is a wealth of wall paintings, reliefs, sculptures and other artistic expressions that reveal the extent of the social organization and transition to settled life. The Western side displays the cultural characteristics of the Chalcolithic period.

One of the most riveting features of Çatalhöyük is the houses made from sun-dried mud, and straw mix cob and reed, exhibiting traces of the lives of Neolithic and Chalcolithic peoples. The house entrances are on the ceiling of these two-roomed, cellared, glassless houses, indicating that the houses are adjacent According to certain sources, the concept of streets originated here. The houses were also used for the production of art. Excavations of other ancient sites, such as Göbeklitepe show us that art was also produced on other structures, such as temples. Furthermore, the excavations on Çatalhöyük prove the continual effort put forth in the production of art. It is known that 8 thousand people lived in these houses, and findings reveal that each person would produce art, the real question is why these people spent so much time engaged in it. Explore the mysteries of Çatalhöyük, located in Çumra Ovası. Book a flight to Konya, then rent a car to reach the ancient site, where settled life and art production began.

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4. Mosaic heaven; Zeugma

Many ancient cities are alike, all display urbanization over the centuries. Some ancient cities display other traits, such as art. One of these is the ancient site of Zeugma in Gaziantep. Excavations brought luxury villas and mosaics, the result of urbanization to light. As excavations ensue, more and more mosaics are emerging, revealing art that influenced a city many centuries ago. The famous Gyspy Girl mosaic, the Mona Lisa of Zeugma, moved the world. What is the Gypsy Girl story? In 1998, a column fell at the Ancient City of Zeugma and a treasure emerged – The Gypsy Girl, with her striking, large eyes, earrings, and headscarf. Part of the mosaic is missing, and it was later discovered that parts had been taken. Exactly 52 years later the missing pieces were found in America, and returned to the mosaic in 2018, 20 years later. Book a flight to Gaziantep and visit the ancient city of Zeugma. There you can view the Gypsy Girl and other works that were recovered from the Fırat River at the biggest mosaic museum in the world, Zeugma Mosaic Museum.

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5. Phaselis, a remarkable port city

Phaselis, an ancient Lycian city, is as historically rich as it is naturally beautiful. Phaselis was founded in the Phaselis Bay uncoincidentally one of the most wooded, beautiful bays in Antalya. It is said that the city was founded by Rhodesian colonists on a small peninsula on the Mediterranean Sea. Another legend, that is supported by certain findings, claims that the city was founded to transport the timber of the Taurus Mountains to Mediterranean ports. The geographical setting of Phaselis, suggests it was ideally situated at a port city, with three harbors. The depictions of ancient ships on city coins, agoras and city’s ports also tell of the city’s commercial port past. Having been touched by many civilizations over the years, Phaselis has many Roman and Byzantine traces, namely on both sides of the Main Street that connect the northern and southern ports. The Phaselis amphitheater, a Hellenistic relic, is one of the most important places for you to discover on the site. The city cemetery is located on the hillside behind the northern side harbor. The most monumental remains are the aqueducts. There are three agoras in the city, one opposite from the amphitheater, the other two are on the right side of the Main Street leading to the southern harbor. At the agora opposite the amphitheater, you can find Byzantine basilica ruins. Two other important ruins are the two baths in the city square. Book a flight to Antalya to explore the ancient city of Phaselis and discover the Phaselis bay.

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6. Göbeklitepe, an unforgettable historical experience

The famous ancient site known as ‘the dawn of civilization’ and ‘the birthplace of human history, Göbeklitepe, has been a hot topic in recent years. Excavations began in 1963 and the findings soon revealed that the presumptions were true; Göbeklitepe was home to Neolithic discoveries and temples, and one of the oldest and largest faith centers in history. As humans settled around temples, the places of worship, we can also surmise that Göbeklitepe was the first place in which the shift to settled life took place, To find out more about the mystery behind Göbeklitepe, read our piece on 5 questions about Göbeklitepe. Book a flight to Şanlıurfa, which is located 12 kilometers northeast Göbeklitepe; Discover the mystery of Göbekliepe, situated on the Tek Tek Mountains.

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7. Troy, a city of legends!

Troy is a spot of mythological and historical proportions. Situated on the outskirts of Çannakale at the base of Mount Ida, Troy is the city in which the Trojan War took place and the setting of Homer’s Iliad. In Greek mythology, the Trojan War circles around Paris’s kidnapping of Helen, Spartan King Menelaus’ (Menelaos) wife, and the subsequent attack of the Greeks on the Anatolian city of Troy. The Trojan horse was invented by the Greeks, the hollow wooden structure was granted entry, allowing the soldiers to sneak into the city. In the evening, the soldiers emerged from the horse and began to plunder the city thus claiming victory. The ancient city, where the Trojan War took place, has been excavated intermittently since 1870, revealing 9 different city settlements that a large number of civilizations have taken residence in over the years. The ruins bear the marks of Grecian, Roman and Byzantine influences. Embark on a historical journey and view other ruins such as Pithos Garden, where a 20-ton granite stone lies; It is a symbol of Troy and the eternal stone of the city. The most important place to see in the city is the Temple of Athena. Another rare building is the Odeion, a meeting place, and a music hall. Additionally, there are amphitheaters and baths dotted around the city. Book a flight to Çanakkale to reach Troy, then visit the Çannakala Troy Museum after you have marveled at the ancient ruins of the city.

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8. One of the best-preserved ancient cities in Anatolia; Assos

The ancient city of Assos dates back to the 6th century B.C. Situated in the Ayvacık district of Çannakale, Assos, is built on an extinct volcanic hill at a height of 236 meters from sea level. Behramkale Köyü emerged as a result of urbanization that once stretched out towards the sea, later receding inland during the post-Ottoman times. The discovery of the city began in 1981, with excavations first revealing a graveyard, known as a necropolis.

There are several places to explore in the city. Starting with the necropolis, you can head to the Temple of Athena, said to be the only doric order temple structure built in the Archaic age in Anatolia. We recommend that you settle on the hill to watch the sunset; at this time of day, the temple is beautifully illuminated. Then head to the Agora, Gymnasium, Stoa and the amphitheater. It is also rumored that Aristotle lived here for 3 years and opened a school of philosophy. Book a flight to Balıkesir, or book a flight to Çannakale to visit the ancient city of Assos, renowned for its fine preservation since the 17th century.

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Things to remember when wandering round the Ancient cities!

  • Many ancient cities are made of marble. Marble attracts sunlight, so to protect yourself we recommend that you dress lightly, wear hats and sunglasses and perhaps take an umbrella with you.
  • 2. The roads of the ancient cities are paved with stones and there are many footpaths. We, therefore, recommend that you wear trainers.

Words that will come in handy when wandering round the Ancient cities!

Agora: The main square where the citizens of an ancient city would convene.

Forum: The selling place in Rome and the place where formal or religious events were held.

Acropolis: The high city.

Necropolis: The public graveyard.

Gymnasium: Where sports events would take place in Ancient Greece and Rome.

Stoa: Covered, columned galleries on the streets or near the agora.

Doric: Structures: Simple columns that give an ordered harmonious feel to the structures.