Taking a magic carpet ride through Turkey was in the planning stages when the pandemic began. Now it’s on hold. However, my trip planning was done and my interest in history never stops! As I learn, I share, so thought it would be fun to write about some of the fascinating things I learned about Turkey and lead you on this armchair tour of this extraordinary country, focusing on Ankara and Cappadocia in particular. Also, I’ve added a special section on Pamukkale! You might just want to add Turkey to your bucket list of places to visit.
Why Visit Turkey? My Backstory
Turkey is a destination I’ve not yet explored. Every year I hear family and friends talk about traveling to and around Turkey. They always love it, can’t believe I haven’t been, and make me promise I’ll visit next year.
Then I was visiting with a bunch of Hyatt fans. They had just come back from Turkey, and particularly in Istanbul they sampled three different Hyatt properties. Knowing I’m a Hyatt fan girl, they were in disbelief I hadn’t been to Turkey. Well, that was enough to get my knickers in a twist!
Hearing that I had been to Istanbul airport so many times that I knew the airport layout by heart, and that Turkish Airlines was one of my favorites, especially in business class, just didn’t cut it. So that was the last straw…….my trip planning began!
Fast Facts About Turkey
Being interested in the idea that some countries border so many other countries, while some border so few, makes me a bit of a geography geek, I guess. Turkey ranks as one of the areas with the most bordering countries (8): Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Bulgaria, and Greece. There are more than ten UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey.
Turkey is the site of the world’s earliest settlements. The country was built 8,800 years ago, beginning with the Hittites, who created an empire where they ruled for years. Turkey was the site of the place we know as Troy. After the Trojan War, King Midas became ruler in 700 B.C. Constantine was elected the Roman Emperor and created Constantinople. Istanbul was formally established in 1923. This date also marks the official fall of the Ottoman Empire, opening the way for the Republic of Turkey.
Turkey is now a secular country, meaning that there is a separation between government and religion. In terms of religion, Turkey is mainly a Muslim country (65% Sunni Muslim; 13% other Islam), though about 21% of people follow other religions. According to World Atlas, the Prime Minister of Turkey leads a “secular parliamentary representative democratic republic” (that’s a political mouthful).
Did You Know These Other Turkish Tidbits?
The first signs of writing were found in Anatolia, Turkey. It was in 1950 B.C. when clay tablets were found in the Assyrian ruins.
The oldest recognized human settlement is in Catalhoyuk, which is in Central Turkey. The first Neolithic paintings found on man-made walls were discovered there.
In the Bible, Noah’s Ark is said to have landed on Mount Ararat, located in Eastern Turkey.
The country has two places that are part of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. (Temple of Artemis and Mausoleum of Halicarnassus).
Saint Nicholas, who is popularly known as Santa Claus, was born in Turkey.
The famous Gordian Knot, which was untangled by Alexander the Great, is located in Ankara.
Turkey was one of the first countries that allowed women to vote.
The species of birds called Turkeys got their name from Turkey (the country).
As I continue my magic carpet tour of turkey, my trip begins in one of the oldest capital cities in the world: Ankara. Today more than 4.5 million people live in this busy metropolis. Ankara is a main center of government, commerce, and education in Turkey.
But looking back, Ankara has always been a hub of human life and activity.
It’s not difficult to see why. Roads running in all directions through Anatolia met in Ankara, making it a highway stop for sustenance, trade, and of course the exchange of ideas and merging of cultures.
Its history extends as far back as the Stone Age. A progression of empires conquered and ruled this area. In the third century BCE, Alexander the Great (of the Greek kingdom of Macedonia) ruled Ankara. By 25 BCE, the emperor Augustus claimed Ankara for the Roman empire.
From the 4th century all the way through the 11th century, Ankara served as a refuge for the Byzantine emperors. For centuries, leaders retreated to the area to relax and enjoy the dry, temperate climate. The Byzantine influence is reflected in the architecture and art seen throughout the city even today.
Through the centuries, Ankara defended itself against invasions by Persian and Arab armies. It was incorporated into the Ottoman dynasty in the 14th century, and officially remained a part until Turkish independence in 1923.
Modern Ankara reflects this kaleidoscope of history. Visitors can view a range of historical sites, from the baths and ruins of the Roman era, to the citadel and cemetery from Byzantine times. Numerous structures remain from Ottoman times as well, featuring mosques, temples, markets, and mausoleums.
Continuing on our magic carpet ride, I’d head to Cappadocia. Cappadocia is located about 140 miles to the south of Ankara in central Turkey. It is a remarkable place on Earth for a couple of reasons.
First is how the earth itself formed the landscape of the region. Erosion chiseled the soft volcanic rock into magnificent cones, pillars, precarious stone “tents,” and spiraling towers. Natural valleys and caves extend throughout the area. The breathtaking vistas and rock formations led to the creation of Göreme National Park, which was designated a World Heritage Site in 1985.
The second reason for Cappadocia’s uniqueness is the way humans have inhabited the region throughout time. With the dry, rough terrain, it wasn’t easy for people to survive here. But that didn’t stop civilization from reaching this remote land.
In fact, archeologists have found tools and pottery dating back to the Neolithic era. Clay tablets from the city of Kanesh date back to the 3rd millennium BCE. According to a National Geographic source, towns were built in the soft stone descending as many as eight stories underground! The name Cappodocia can be traced to the 6th century BCE.
Cappadocia was a place of occupation and invasion. Byzantine, Persian, Greek, as well as Islamic artifacts have been found in rock-cut churches and underground tunnels. The natural caves became dwellings for humans first traced to around the 4th century A.D.
You could say that Cappadocia was a needed hiding place. Because of its vulnerable position, the various settlers built fortresses for protection, and expanded the underground structures for safety. The structures included storehouses, stables, and living areas.
One notable group of settlers was the early Christians escaping from Roman persecution in the 4th century. Monks moved in and formed monastic communities; their frescoes have been preserved on church walls to this day.
During the 10th and 11th centuries, Cappadocia experienced a period of prosperity. This is when many of the monasteries and rock-cut churches were built, decorated with frescoes that have been preserved so that we can still appreciate them.
As Turkish power strengthened and spread, Cappadocia became part of the Ottoman Empire by the 15th century. The city of Nevsehir was established as a regional capital in the 1700s.
Modern Day Cappadocia is actually a region in the city of Nevsehir. It is primarily a tourist destination known for spectacular hot air balloon rides. It is also know for exploring geological wonders, underground cities, caves, churches, and mosques. I’m definitely going up, up, and away in a hot air balloon when I visit Cappadocia!
What’s So Special About Pamukkale?
Our next stop is Pamukkale, located in southwest Turkey, close to the city of Denizli. It is about a 300-mile drive from Ankara (an hour flight).
Pamukkale is a carbonite mineral formation and hot springs. In Turkish the word Pamukkale means “cotton castle.”
Does it really look like a castle?
According to this National Geographic description, “After rising up through limestone cliffs, the waters then cascade dramatically downhill. The result is almost other-worldly: the calcium in the water has, over time, built up to form ghostly white terraces of travertine rock.”
To explain further, over centuries, limestone deposits built up to form petrified calcium waterfalls. The limestone formations created terraces and hot spring pools. These mineral-rich hot pools are fed by underground springs. The subterranean heat reaches temperatures of over 200 degrees.
Early humans appreciated the healing powers of the hot springs. In the 2nd century BC the Greeks built a spa town on the site, which they named Hierapolis. Greek ruler Antiochus the Great apparently re-located 2,000 Jewish families from Babylon and Mesopotamia. By 62 BC, there may have been a Jewish congregation with as many as 50,000 Jews in Hierapolis.
In AD 17 the city was destroyed by earthquakes. The region then became part of the Roman empire, and later in the Byzantine period, Hierapolis was a center for Christianity.
Enjoying the hot springs of Pamukkale was not just for the early Greeks and Romans. Thousands of tourists today bathe in these remarkable pools. Tourists can also visit the Hierapolis Theater and other ruins.
Pamukkale was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
These special sites give you a sense of Turkey. As you can imagine, the country plays an important international role connecting Asia and Europe. Cities like Ankara are rich with history, yet also determine Turkey’s future. And the hauntingly beautiful landscape of places like Cappadocia remind us of our planet’s vast, mysterious splendor—and our tiny human presence in the scope of things.
If you’ve traveled through Cappadocia or Ankara Turkey, do let me know highlights so I can share them with others!
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