The 10 Best Historic Sites in Turkey | Historical Landmarks | History Hit

The 10 Best Historic Sites in Turkey

Travel the 10 best historic sites in Turkey with this guide featuring unmissable sites such as the beautiful Hagia Sophia to the Iron Age fortress of Van Castle.

Peta Stamper

25 Aug 2021

Sitting where the Middle East meets the Balkans, the Caucuses and the Mediterranean, Turkey has indeed witnessed the rise and fall of many empires: the Greeks and Romans, the Byzantines, the Seljuq Empire, the Ottomans and a modern Turkish republic.

The legacy of these great cultures has left prehistoric ruins and ancient cities, to underground treasure troves and abandoned villages, so Turkey has much to offer any history enthusiast.

To help you get started, we’ve picked out 10 incredible historic locations to visit in Turkey.

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1. Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia, or ‘Ayasofya’ in Turkish, is a world-famous 6th century church-turned-mosque in Istanbul, whose blended architectural styles and vast proportions have installed it as Turkey’s most-visited attraction.

Today the Hagia Sophia functions as a mosque yet allows visitors of all faiths and nationalities through its doors. Remnants of the first two Hagia Sophias may be viewed as well as the current building with its vast domed ceiling and ornate Muslim altars and chapels.

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2. Ephesus

Ephesus, or ‘Efes’, was a vibrant classical city which now borders modern day Selçuk in Turkey. It represents some of the best preserved Greek and Roman ruins in the Mediterranean. Today, visitors can enjoy exploring the numerous ruins alongside enjoying the museum which houses many artefacts discovered at the site.

Today, Ephesus is a treasure trove for enthusiasts of Ancient Roman and Greek history, allowing them to walk through its streets and view its magnificent houses, community buildings, temples and stadiums.

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Image Credit: Ruslan Kalnitsky / Shutterstock

3. Topkapı Palace

Topkapı Palace was the seat and residence of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire. Built in a traditional Ottoman style, Topkapi Palace measured a staggering 700,000 metres squared in volume upon its construction, made up of a series of courtyards, the main palace and several ancillary buildings.

Today, it is a popular tourist destination, with visitors flocking to see its Ottoman architecture, courtyards and Muslim and Christian relics, even including the belongings of the Prophet Mohammed.

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4. Cappadocia Underground Cities

The Cappadocia Underground Cities are a series of magnificent subterranean cities built by the ‘cave goers’. Of the almost forty known Cappadocia underground cities, some in Nevshir are open to the public, including Kaymaklı, Derinkuyu, Özkonak, Mazi and Ürgüp.

The most incredible aspects of the underground cities are their sheer scale and complexity. Some of them delve eight levels underground, with comprehensive living quarters and facilities for making grape juice, cooking, drainage and plumbing and even stables for horses. Visiting the cities is an exciting, authentic and fascinating journey.

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5. The Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is a subterranean wonder and one of the greatest – and certainly the biggest – of Istanbul’s surviving Byzantine sites. With its imposing columns, grand scale and mysterious ambience, this subterranean site seems like a flooded palace, but it is in fact a former water storage chamber.

Today, visitors can explore the cistern, treading its raised platforms to view its 336 beautiful marble columns, enjoy its vaulted ceilings and experience its eerie nature complete with dripping water.

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6. The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque was the ambitious creation of a young sultan and would become one of Istanbul’s most iconic sites. When it was completed in 1616, the Blue Mosque was a worthy neighbour of the Hagia Sofia. With its hierarchy of increasingly large domes, this vast complex helped define the city’s skyline.

The interior of the Blue Mosque is just as grand and ornate. Furthermore, a journey into the interior of the Blue Mosque reveals the reason behind its alternate name – the swathes of blue tiles which adorn its walls.

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7. Van Castle

Van Castle (Van Kalesi) was an Iron Age castle which now stands as a stunning ruin on the rocks to the west of the modern city of Van. It was constructed as part of the Urartu Kingdom in the 9th century BC. Upon the fall of this kingdom in the 7th century BC, Van Castle was taken by the Assyrians.

The site of Van Castle bears the marks of these two civillisations as well as others, such as the Ottoman Empire. In particular, it is home to the remains of a mosque built by the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566).

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8. Church of Saint Nicholas, Myra

The Church of Saint Nicholas at Myra – also called St Nicholas Museum – is an ancient Byzantine church which charts the life of this famous Christian Saint and is one of the oldest surviving churches in existence.

Despite its relatively modest size the Church of Saint Nicholas is nonetheless spectacular, and is popular with pilgrims and tourists alike. Particular highlights are the magnificent vaulted rooms, and the small gallery nearby containing the remains of some wonderful mosaics and frescoes.

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9. Gobekli Tepe

Older than Stonehenge by 6,000 years, 7,000 years older than the Great Pyramids, and 1,000 years older than the walls of Jericho, Göbekli Tepe in south-eastern Turkey has literally rewritten human history.

Thanks to this sensational 12,000 year old discovery by a team from the German Archaeological Institute led by Professor Klaus Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe is regarded as a find of such profound importance that it may well change our current understanding that agriculture and permanent settlements came first then religion followed – a paradigm shift in the knowledge of a crucial stage of our societal development.

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10. Kayakoy

The curious deserted town of Kayakoy in Turkey bears witness to an early 20th century upheaval that saw hundreds of thousands of people uprooted in a population swap between Greece and Turkey which followed the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922).

While the houses are run down and abandoned – with natural decay taking its toll on wooden doors, windows and upper coverings of buildings – the majority of the structures themselves are still intact, leaving an eerie atmosphere weaving through the ruins.

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