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Turkey - Places to See

Turkey

Ankara
Turkey's capital is a sprawling urban mass in the midst of the Central Anatolian steppe. It's very different from the Ottoman town of Angora which preceded it on this site, a quiet place known for its fluffy jumpers of knitted goat fleece. Several significant attractions make it worth a short visit.

Most visitors head straight for Hisar, the Byzantine citadel atop the hill east of the old city, and the nearby Museum of Anatolian Civilsations. Just south is Atatürk's mausoleum, a monumental building, spare but beautiful, that echoes the architecture of several great Anatolian empires.

Antalya
Antalya is the chief city on Turkey's central Mediterranean coast. As well as several km of pebble beaches and a historic Roman-Ottoman core, Antalya is a good base from which to explore the quieter beach towns and more spectacular ancient cities of the region.

Side, 75km (47mi) east of Antalya, is the increasingly popular beach town once chosen by Mark Antony and Cleopatra for a romantic tryst. Alanya, 115km (71mi) east of Antalya, is another sea-sun-n-sand joint with a mini-Miami feel. Patara is a party town a few hundred km south-west of Antalya.

Bodrum
South Aegean's prettiest resort, Bodrum has a yacht harbour and a port for ferries to the Greek island of Kos. Palm-lined streets ring the bays, and white sugar-cube houses and ranks of villas crowd the hillside. Boating, swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving are prime Bodrum activities.

At night Bodrum's famous discos throb, boom and blare, keeping much of the town awake until dawn.

Gallipoli Peninsula

The site of many a ferocious battle, it is surely the WWI melee of Atatürk's troops and the Allies that stands out. Today the Gallipoli battlefields are peaceful places covered in scrubby brush, pine forests and farmers' fields, but this strategic peninsula has always held the key to Istanbul.

Gallipoli is a fairly large area to tour, especially without your own transport (it's over 35 km (22mi) from the northernmost battlefield to the southern tip of the peninsula). The two best bases for a visit are Çanakkale on the eastern shore, and Eceabat on the western, both are covered by tours.

Harran

Harran, in Kurdish southeastern Anatolia, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited spots on earth. The hills around the town are surrounded by crumbling walls and topped with ruined buildings. It all looks so ancient that it's not hard to believe Abraham was one of Harran's early inhabitants.

Some residents still live in beehive-shaped mud houses and get by on a mix of farming, smuggling and the sniff of wealth as water starts to filter through from the vast Southeast Anatolia Dam. There's a fortress on the eastern side of the town, and some good mosaics in the 8th century Ulu Cami.

Istanbul
Straddling the Bosphorus, its skyline studded with domes and minarets, İstanbul is one of the truly great romantic cities. Its history tracks back from Byzantium to Constantinople to its place at the head of the Ottoman Empire. Today it hums as Turkey's cultural heart and good-time capital.

In this sprawling, continent-spanning city you can tramp the streets where crusaders and janissaries once marched; admire mosques that are the most sublime architectural expressions of Islamic piety; peer into the sultan's harem; and hunt for bargains in the Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar).

Devrent Valley
Many Cappadocian valleys boast collections of strange volcanic cones, but the ones near Aktepe in northern Cappadocia, known as the Valley of the Fairy Chimneys, are the best-formed and most thickly clustered. While geologists might congregate to appreciate the effects of differential erosion, everyone else just likes their other-worldly appeal.

Most of the rosy rock cones are topped by flattish, darker stones of harder rock that sheltered the cones from the rain that eroded all the surrounding rock. This process is known to geologists as differential erosion but you can just call it kooky.

Ephesus
Ancient Ephesus was a great trading city and a centre for the cult of Cybele, the Anatolian fertility goddess. Under the influence of the Ionians, Cybele became Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt and the moon, and a fabulous temple was built in her honour. When the Romans took over, Artemis became Diana and Ephesus became the Roman provincial capital.

Of Turkey's hundreds of ancient cities and classical ruins, Ephesus is the grandest and best preserved. Indeed, it's the spunkiest classical city on the Mediterranean and the ideal place to get a feel for what life was like in Roman times.

In 356 BC the Temple of Cybele/Artemis was destroyed in a fire set by Herostratus, who claimed to have done it to get his 15 minutes of fame, proving that modern society has no monopoly on a perverted sense of celebrity. The Ephesians planned a grand new temple which, when finished, was recognised as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

To avoid the heat of the day, come early in the morning or in the late afternoon, when it's less crowded. If you can, avoid public holidays all together. Bring water with you as drinks at the site are expensive.

Mt Ararat
A highlight of any trip to eastern Turkey, the twin peaks of Mt Ararat have figured in legends since time began, most notably as the supposed resting place of Noah's Ark. For many years permission to climb Ararat was refused because of security concerns, but this fantastic summit is back on the trekking map, albeit with restrictions.

Permit and guide are mandatory and you'll need to apply at least 45 days in advance. Several guides and hotel staff in Doğbayazıt claim they can get the permit in a couple of days. Don't believe them. It's much safer to follow the official procedure, even if you have to endure the excruciatingly slow-turning wheels of bureaucracy.

Despite the difficulties and costs, climbing Ararat is a fantastic experience. You'll be rewarded with stupendous views and stunning landscapes. The best months for climbing are July, August and September.

You can also do daily treks around the mountain. Provided you stay lower than the village of Eliköyü (2500m/8200ft), you won't have to go through as much official hoohah, but you still need permission from the local jandarma (police) - it's best to go with a local agent.

Museum of Anatolian Civilisations
Still proudly displaying its 1997 Best European Museum award, this is the perfect introduction to the complex weave of Turkey's chequered past. It's home to artefacts discovered in most excavations throughout the country, taken from nine different civilisations. Even the museum itself is an artefact, housed in a beautifully restored 15th-century bazaar.

The 10-domed central market building houses reliefs and statuary, while the surrounding halls display exhibits from the earlier Anatolian civilisations: Palaeolithic, Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Bronze Age, Assyrian, Hittite, Phrygian, Urartian and Lydian. The downstairs sections holds classical Greek and Roman artefacts and a display on Ankara's history.

You may be approached by would-be guides outside the museum; if you want to use their services, agree a price in advance and be sure that it's for your entire group, not per person.

Pamukkale-Hierapolis
Calcium's not just good for bones - the spa town of Pamukkale has built a centuries-long reputation on the stuff. The unique formations of travertine shelves, pools and stalactites, hugging the ridge above town like a white scar, were created by the area's warm mineral water, which cools as it cascades over the cliff edge and deposits its calcium.

The tourist boom of the '80s and '90s had a detrimental effect on the site, as a line of hotels above the travertines drained away the waters, leaving the travertines dry, dull and dirtied. In a drastic attempt to preserve the site, all the hotels have been demolished and visitors can no longer bathe in the pools; however, the flow of water is still very slow, and it may be that the real culprits are the many swimming pools in the village below.

Long before Pamukkale was listed as a World Heritage site, the Romans recognised its appeal and built a large spa city, Hierapolis, to take advantage of the water's curative powers. These days, the extensive ruins of Hierapolis make Pamukkale well worth a visit, whether you paddle the ridges or not.

Safranbolu
Hidden away in hill country, Safranbolu boasts a glorious collection of old Ottoman houses so beautifully preserved that it qualifies as a Unesco World Heritage site, on a par with Florence. It's a place to slow down and enjoy ambling along narrow cobbled lanes, observing traditional trades and crafts practised just as they were in Ottoman times.

During the 17th century, the main Ottoman trade route between Gerede and the Black Sea coast passed through Safranbolu, bringing commerce, prominence and money to the town. During the 18th and 19th centuries Safranbolu's wealthy inhabitants built mansions of sun-dried mud bricks, wood and stucco, while the larger population of prosperous artisans built less impressive but similarly sturdy homes. Safranbolu owes its fame to the large numbers of these dwellings that have survived.

The weather, too, can play a part in this unique experience: summer thunderstorms periodically close over the sunken valley like a heavy black lid, and you can watch the lightning-pierced darkness drawing on inch by inch until finally the light is gone and the rain bursts down onto the tiled roofs. Simply magic.

Troy
The ruins of ancient Troy may not be as breathtaking as those of Ephesus, but for anyone who has ever read Homer's Iliad or who has heard the tales of the Trojan Wars, they have a romance few places on earth can hope to match. Excavations have revealed nine ancient cities on the site, with Troy VI or VII believed to be the setting for the Iliad.

When amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann started excavating Troy in 1871, the pants of classical studies boffins around the world became decidedly damp. Up to this time, the Iliad was assumed to be based on legend, but post-digs, Troy was revealed as the Homeric city of Ilium, site of an epic battle between the Achaeans (Greeks) and the Trojans in the 13th century BC. Excavations by Schliemann and others have revealed nine ancient cities, one on top of another, dating back to 3000 BC. Troy VI (1800-1275 BC) is the city of Priam and the one that engaged in the Trojan War.

For aficionados this is all amazing, but unless you have a keen appreciation of archaeology, you may find little of interest in Troy. Apart from a hokey replica of the Trojan horse, there's little to catch the amateur eye. That said, this is the site of one of the world's grandest tales, so soaking up the atmosphere should be just about enough.

Recently, Troy has become a popular destination for weekending school parties. Do yourself a favour and visit midweek.

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