There’s a host of top Historic Sites in Turkey to visit and among the very best are Hagia Sophia, Ephesus and Topkapı Palace. Other popular sites tend to include Troy, Cappadocia Underground Cities and The Basilica Cistern.
We’ve put together an experts guide to Top Turkish cultural locations, landmarks and monuments, with our top ten places to visit as well as a full list of Historic Sites in Turkey, which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Historic Sites in Turkey?
The Hagia Sophia is a world famous sixth century church turned mosque in Istanbul, which now operates as a museum. The building was converted to a mosque in 1453 under the orders of Sultan Mehmed II when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and thus it remained until 1935, when it became a museum.
Visitors can view remnants of the first two Hagias Sophias as well as touring the current building with its stunning mosaics and ornate Muslim altars and chapels. Outside, cannonballs used by Mehmet the Conqueror during his invasion of the city line the paths and there is an eighteenth century fountain for ritual ablutions.
Ephesus was a vibrant classical city, now bordering modern day Selçuk in Turkey and representing some of the best preserved Greek and Roman ruins in the Mediterranean. 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.
Some of the most impressive sites at Ephesus include the Library of Celsus, the ruins of which stand two storeys high, the Temple of Hadrian which was built in 118 AD, the classical theatre where it is believed Saint Paul preached to the Pagans and the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, so called because legend has it that the Romans locked seven Christian boys there in 250 AD, who only awoke in the 5th century.
A trip to Ephesus usually takes at least half a day – some tours include other local sites such as Priene and Miletus – but history enthusiasts will probably want to enjoy this site for a whole day.
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. The Harem is also quite popular, but costs extra. Audio tours are available.
Troy is one of the most famous and historically significant sites in the world. Imbued with several millennia of history and the subject of legend, Troy’s fame mainly derives from being the fabled location of the Trojan War.
The vast ruins now found at Troy lay witness to thousands of years of history, with the oldest section dating back to the late fourth millennium BC. Each part of the site is numbered, correlating to a specific period of time. The famous walls of Troy, which played such an important role on the Trojan War, some of which remain, can be seen in the VII section.
Regardless of whether Troy was the actual site of the Trojan War, the archaeological site of Troy is a fascinating place for history enthusiasts and tourists alike.
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.
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.
Bodrum Castle was built by the Knights Hospitaller in 1402 in order to offer protection from the invading Seljuk Turks. Today, the castle is open to the public and houses the world renowned Museum of Underwater Archaeology founded in 1962.
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.
Aspendos Roman Theatre is a beautifully preserved Roman site in Turkey. In fact, it seems to be almost completely intact. Still able to seat up to 15,000 people this Roman amphitheatre was once part of the city of Aspendos, which was founded by Ancient Greeks from Argos and was first written about by the Hittites in 800 BC.
Visitors can wander around the theatre and it even plays host to an annual summer festival. Nearby are also the remains of an Ancient Roman aqueduct.