Cultural and Historical Holidays: Mystical Turkey
Turkey offers a journey into a dazzling historical legacy stretching back thousands of years. Step back into antiquity and literally walk through an archaeological heritage created by dozens of civilisations that once called Turkey home.
Explore the sprawling ruins of Greco-Roman Ephesus, its amphitheatre where St Paul once preached and marble streets where Anthony and Cleopatra once strolled. Visit the dazzling white limestone terraces of Pamukkale and the ancient Roman Amphitheatre in Aspendos.
Make time to cruise the Bosporus for spectacular views over Istanbul, discover the stunning basilica of Aya Sofia and the magnificent Blue Mosque, then head to Cappadocia to explore the fascinating lunar landscape of GorIme - clamber around the underground houses and churches there and at Kaymakli. Stroll among ancient rock cones, capped pinnacles and fairy chimneys of the Karst Mountains. On the Turquoise Coast, swim beneath Crusader castles in the warm waters of the Mediterranean, enjoy the hospitality of the Turkish people and sample their unique cuisine.
Turkey has so much to offer. Here are some of the country's finest historic sites and natural wonders.
Istanbul One of the world's truly magical cities and the only city in the world to straddle two continents, Istanbul is an exciting place to explore. Visit palaces, shop for bargains in the immense bazaar and admire distinctive Islamic architecture. Discover the Topkapi Palace overlooking the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara, once the sumptuous home of the Ottoman sultans. Be amazed by the vast interior domed ceiling of Aya Sofya, built in 536 AD as a Christian (Byzantine) cathedral, later converted into a mosque and now a museum. The underground Byzantine cistern of Yerebatan Sarayi, supported by 336 Corinthian columns is a must-see, as is the intricately decorated Blue Mosque, the only mosque in the world to have six minarets. Don't miss Istanbul's grand covered bazaar, Kapali Carsi, a shoppers paradise with more than four thousand shops and sixty-six streets, said to be the largest covered bazaar in the world. Upstream along the Bosporus marvel at the Sultans' 19th-century Dolmabahae Palace, and on the Asian shore discover Uskudar (Scutari), where Florence Nightingale nursed the sick during the Crimean War.
Cappadocia A spectacular landscape of rock and cones, capped pinnacles, fretted ravines, pretty valleys and magnificent scenery. Here, homes have been hewn from the soft, volcanic rock since 400 BC and an elaborate network of caves and tunnels have sheltered generations of persecuted settlers. At GorÍme, explore more than 30 elaborately frescoed Byzantine rock churches. Within the region are more than 400 underground cities; don't miss two of the most exciting at Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, with up to eight floors and complex systems of apartments, store rooms and streets that may have been home to literally hundreds of people.
Ephesus This is the largest and one of the best-preserved ancient cities in the Mediterranean. Visit the Grand Theatre, where St Paul preached to the Ephesians; the elegant facades of the Temple of Hadrian; and the Library of Celsus. Nearby lies the site of Meryemana, reputed to be the house of the Virgin Mary. A world famous shrine, Meryemana attracts thousands of pilgrims each year. Be sure to visit Sel¡uk, home to the Ephesus Museum and Basilica of St John, said to be the last home of John the Baptist. Wash the dust off with a swim in the Mediterranean at nearby Kusadasi, a beautiful spot surrounded by fine sandy bays.
Troy For anyone who has ever read Homer's Iliad or who has heard the tales of the Trojan wars, this is a site not to be missed. Excavations have revealed nine ancient cities on the site, dating back to 3000 BC, with Troy VI (1800-1275 BC) the city of Priam, believed to be the setting for the Iliad and the one that engaged in the Trojan War.
Turkey's Mediterranean Coast Steeped in history and legends, dotted with important archaeological sites and great medieval castles, the southern coast is a destination to be discovered. Discover the cliff-top town of Antalya, which boasts a picturesque walled old town and the monumental Hadrian's Gate. Explore the nearby Roman cities of Termessos and Perge, where streets still bear the marks of chariot wheels. Also visit Aspendos, home to probably the best preserved 2nd-century AD amphitheatre in Asia Minor, still used for live performances during the annual summer festival. The scenic road between Alanya and Anamur is famous for its collection of striking Crusader fortresses, and in Antakya, the biblical city of Antioch where St Peter founded the first Christian community, you can see the grotto where he once preached.
Best time to go
Spring and autumn, with temperatures between 16°C and 25°C, are the best times to visit Istanbul, the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts - unless you love hot weather, in which case summer is best. The peak tourism season is in summer from July to mid-September, when most Turks take their holidays. Turkey is a huge country with varying regional climates. The Aegean and Mediterranean coasts have a typical Mediterranean climate with hot summers and mild, wet winters. Antalya on the south coast enjoys average summer temperatures of around 30°C. In Istanbul, summer temperatures average around 28°C; winters are chilly, wet and sometimes with some snow. Summer on the Anatolian plateau is very hot and very cold in winter. In Ankara, winter temperatures average -4°C and summer 30°C in summer. The Black Sea coast is wet year round, mild in summer and cold in winter. Eastern Turkey is very cold with snow in winter but warm in mid-summer. The east of the country is mountainous with warm summers and very cold, snowy winters.
Istanbul's Kapali Carsi bazaar has a huge range of jewellery, carpets and antiques for sale. Turkish handicrafts include a rich variety of textiles and embroideries, articles of copper, onyx and tile, mother-of-pearl, inlaid articles, leather and suede products, jewellery and, above all, carpets and kilims. Other cities and larger resorts have markets where you can buy souvenirs and handicrafts.