36 photos

Turkey as the crossroads of the world. There is more to write here because Turkey is truly a unique and extraordinary place. If you think about it, humans first appeared on the planet in Africa, and eventually found their way to Europe, across Asia, and over the Bearing Straight to North America. Thus, Turkey stood at the working center of the ancient world, and, essentially, if you were a conquering nation, you needed to pass through it. If you are looking for the world’s greatest “melting pot,” this is it. This gave Turkey a uniquely old and rich history and makes it a fascinating country to explore.

Without even attempting a complete history of the region, consider this incomplete, non-academic history of some of the groups who ruled parts of Turkey:
  • 10,000 BC, the Stone Age People who built the temples of Göbekli Tepe
  • 3rd millennium BC, Trojans, tin & bronze
  • 2nd millennium BC, Hittites and competing Mitanni Kingdom, iron, the chariot
  • 1st millennium BC, Urartus, hydraulic works, irrigation, canals, artificial lakes, horse breeding, cavalry
  • 12th-7th centuries BC, Assyrians, Samal, Milid, Kaska, Tabal & Tuwanuwa
  • 8th-4th centuries BC, Phrygians, including King Midas
  • 8th-4th centuries BC, Lydians, including King Croesus, invented money
  • 6th – 4th centuries BC, Persians
  • 4th century BC, Macedonians (Greeks), Alexander the Great
  • 3rd century BC, Seleucid Empire, intellectual center
  • 4th century BC- 13th century AD, Roman Empire, Constantinople taken from the Greeks and so named, and later the Byzantine Empire, which was Greek in culture
  • 13th century, Crusaders, Mongols & Suleucids
  • 11th -14th centuries, Persians, Arabs, Seljuks, Ottomans and “peoples of the North”
  • 15th century to independence, Ottoman Turks
  • 1923, independence
Cappadocia. Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for both its natural and cultural qualities. It is one of the most interesting and amazing geological and archeological locations in the world.
Many million years ago, three volcanos erupted in the area, disgorging lava and blasting rock, ash, and magma high into the air. These minerals fell to the ground, having been partially cooled and dried in flight, and the resulting consolidated volcanic ash is called volcanic “tuff.” These hardened ash piles were covered with a layer of harder basalt (“lava”). Over time, the lava layer covering the tuff gave way along pre-existing cracks, and, as erosion continued, this resulted in formations of volcanic ash that became known as the “fairy chimneys” of today’s Cappadocia. In addition to the “chimneys,” these piles of volcanic ash formed as cones, pillars, pinnacles, and mushrooms, some of which rose as high as 130 feet. In the 2nd millennium BC, the area was inhabited by Hittites, who discovered that the tuff formations beneath the basalt coverings was soft and could easily be carved away to make dwellings and that it would harden once exposed to air.
By the 4th century AD, substantial troglodyte communities had been dug into these formations; and Christians, fleeing religious persecution by the Romans, lived in the area in great numbers and excavated extensive monasteries, as well as dwellings.

And Cappadocia would appear to have a good case for being the hot-air balloon capitol of the world. Sure, Albuquerque has the most balloon – as many as 100 a day – during its annual week-long hot-air balloon fest, which makes it the largest such event in the world. But, Cappadocia launches a hundred balloons every day of the year, with each carrying 16-20 passengers, and I am pretty sure that no place on earth can match these total numbers. It is difficult to imagine the effect of the injection into the small-town local economy of a half million dollars a day.

Göbekli Tepe. “Göbekli Tepe is the most important archaeological site in the world.” (David Lewis-Williams, Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg) "Göbekli Tepe changes everything." (Ian Hodde, Stanford University). “We used to think agriculture gave rise to cities and later to writing, art, and religion. Now, the world’s oldest temple suggests the urge to worship sparked civilization.” Göbekli Tepe is the world’s oldest example of “monumental architecture;” it contains the world’s oldest temple. Incredibly, it was only recently discovered, and excavation only began in 1995. It was built in pre-historic times, around 10,000 BC, near the end of the Stone Age and long before any civilization known to man. “The site is vaguely reminiscent of Stonehenge, except that Göbekli Tepe was built much earlier and is made not from roughly hewn blocks but from cleanly carved limestone pillars splashed with bas-reliefs of animals.” This assemblage was built 8 thousand years before Stonehenge and 7 thousand years before the Great Pyramids of Giza!

Mt. Nemrut. At the top of Mt. Nemrut, in central Turkey, lies the mausoleum of King Antiochus, who ruled over the kingdom of Commagene in the first century BC, after the breakup of the empire of Alexander the Great. The site was one of the last ambitious constructions of the Hellenistic period, with the large statues standing almost 25 feet tall. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most ambitious constructions of the Hellenistic period. It is a significant climb up to the mausoleum, which lies above 6,000 feet, but it is well worth it.

Ani. These ruins are those of an ancient capitol of the Armenian Empire, which lies now on the Turkish side of the border with Armenia. It rose to preeminence in the 5th century AD and grew in power for the next six centuries. Ani was a major stop on the historic “silk road,” the 4,000 mile trade route that linked the Roman Empire with China. The Byzantines and shortly thereafter the Turks conquered it in the 11th century. Thereafter, until the early 17t century, the city was conquered by the Kurds, the Georgian Empire, Attila’s Mongol Hordes, various Turkic and Persian Empires, and finally the Ottoman’s, before falling into ruin.

Gaziantep Zeugma Mosaic Museum. This is the largest – and probably the very best – mosaic museum in the world. Recently built and opened in the city of Gaziantep, it houses a startling, truly overwhelming collection of very large, highly-artistic, finely detailed mosaics from the ancient city of Zeugma, founded by one of Alexander the Great’s generals as part of the Kingdom of Commagene. This Kingdom was an ancient Armenian kingdom of the “Hellenistic Age,” the period of Greek history between the death of Alexander the Great in the late 4th century BC and the emergence of ancient Rome in the early first century AD. The Hellenistic Age followed the period of classical Greece and is recognized as the zenith of Greek culture and power in both Europe and Asia, in terms of economic prosperity and remarkable advances in the arts, exploration, literature, theater, architecture, music, mathematics, philosophy, and science. The singular mosaic from this collection is the “Gypsy Girl.” With her hauntingly-realistic eyes and beautiful detail, many have compared this mosaic to Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Cappadocia 5681

Cappadocia 5681

Cappadocia 5724

Cappadocia 5724

Cappadocia 5804

Cappadocia 5804

Cappadocia 5685

Cappadocia 5685

Cappadocia 5720

Cappadocia 5720

Cappadocia 5679

Cappadocia 5679

Cappadocia 5709

Cappadocia 5709

Cappadocia 5683

Cappadocia 5683

Akdamar Island, Lake Van 5319

Akdamar Island, Lake Van 5319

Akdamar Island, Lake Van 5321

Akdamar Island, Lake Van 5321

Akdamar Island, Lake Van 5322

Akdamar Island, Lake Van 5322

Göbekli Tepe, 10,000 BC 5415

Göbekli Tepe, 10,000 BC 5415

Göbekli Tepe, 10,000 BC 5418

Göbekli Tepe, 10,000 BC 5418

Göbekli Tepe, 10,000 BC 5422

Göbekli Tepe, 10,000 BC 5422

Mt. Nemrut 5471merge

Mt. Nemrut 5471merge

Mt. Nemrut 5508

Mt. Nemrut 5508

Ani, ancient capital of medieval Armenian kingdom 5244

Ani, ancient capital of medieval Armenian kingdom 5244

Ani5228

Ani5228

Dogubeyazit 5261

Dogubeyazit 5261

Gaziantep 5558

Gaziantep 5558