Turkey was once part of ancient Anatolia, boasting a flourishing Greek civilisation. The great Achaemenid Persian Empire allowed coastal regions to prosper, and many port cities such as Side grew large and wealthy. On the western coast of Anatolia, from 1200 BC onwards, Ionian and Aeolian Greek settlers also founded great cities such as Ephesus.
Persian rule in Anatolia ended with Alexander the Great’s conquests around 330 BC, and the region was largely Hellenised afterwards. Great clashes with Rome in the battles of Thermopylae and Magnesia eventually led to the region being conquered by the Romans in the 2nd century BC.
Such an impressive ancient history has left modern Turkey with an equally impressive number of ancient Greek ruins to visit. From the multicultural haven of Hierapolis to the city of Assos, sat atop a dormant volcano, we’ve selected 10 of the very best Greek ruins to see when you’re exploring Turkey.
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, Ephesus is indeed 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.
Troy or “Truva” is one of the most famous and historically significant sites in the world. Located in modern day Turkey, the now UNESCO World Heritage Site marks the meeting place of Anatolia, the Aegean and the Balkans, making it a vitally important source of information about the historic relationships between these regions.
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.
Pergamum, also spelt Pergamon, is a famous archaeological site in present-day Turkey which developed under the Attalid dynasty following the death of Alexander the Great. Pergamum grew rich and powerful as an ancient Greek city in Mysia, situated close to the Aegean Sea, becoming the Kingdom of Pergamon during the Hellenistic period.
Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pergamum is open to visitors and has a small archaeological museum in Berlin, containing a selection of the finds excavated from the site in the 1880s.
Established during the late Hellenistic period, Aphrodisias became a prosperous city under Roman rule from the 1st to the 5th century AD. In the 1st century BC, the city came under the personal protection of the Roman Emperor Augustus and many of the structures which can still be seen today date from that period and the following two centuries.
Today, Aphrodisias is an archaeological site, whose ruins include the remains of a beautiful ancient stadium.
The city of Assos on the Aegean coast of modern Turkey was founded by Ancient Greeks sometime around the 7th century BC. Today the site, whose modern name is Behramkale, is a beautiful seaside resort littered with ancient ruins dating from the ancient Greek and Roman periods.
Perhaps the best known ancient site at Assos is the Temple of Athena, which is situated on the crest of a dormant volcano. It offers beautiful views of the area stretching as far as the island of Lesbos, which is just 12km across the sea, and also of other nearby ruins such as Pergamum. For the best views, stay until dusk or get up early to see the sun rise.
The archaeological site of Didyma in Turkey contains the remains of the ancient Sanctuary of Apollo, one of the most important oracles of the Hellenic world. It is one of the world’s greatest and best preserved temples to both Apollo and within classical antiquity.
Apollo was the main deity of the sanctuary of Didyma. The oracle, second only to Delphi in importance, was linked to the Greek city of Miletus by the 17 kilometre-long Sacred Way, which was built in the 6th century BC and was used for festival processions.
Hierapolis was once a thriving, multicultural ancient city and spa, the remains of which can now be seen in modern day Turkey.
Hierapolis is said to have been founded by the rulers of Pergamum, a powerful ancient Greek city in modern-day Turkey. A member of the Attalid Dynasty, its founding is usually attributed specifically to King Eumenes II (197BC-159BC), however it is suspected that Hierapolis was actually in existence a couple of centuries earlier.
Whatever the case, part of what made – and still makes – Hierapolis such an attractive site were its hot springs, once thought to have had miraculous healing properties.
Kaunos archaeological site in Turkey contains the remains of this ancient city which has witnessed the rise and fall of several empires, cultures and civilisations over almost 3,000 years of history. Though not as spectacular as many ancient cities in Turkey, it has the advantage of being quieter, tranquil and picturesque.
Today, the ruins at Kaunos include a well preserved theatre, which displays both Roman and Hellenistic features, a temple dedicated to Apollo, a Byzantine basilica and Roman baths as well as the spectacular rock tombs – known as the Kings’ Tombs – situated just outside the archaeological site.
The remains of the ancient Greek city of Knidos, near the modern Turkish town of Datça, are among the most picturesque historic attractions in the region. Perched upon a steep hilltop, looking out over its natural harbour, Knidos boasts stunning views alongside its ancient ruins.
The city was famed for its association with Aphrodite and for its famous statue of the goddess, sculpted by the renowned classical sculptor Praxiteles of Athens. While this statue has not survived, a number of copies exist, one of which can be found in the Vatican Museums. At Knidos itself, the ornate marble pedestal that the Aphrodite statue stood upon can still be seen.
10. Side Ruins and Museum
Turkey’s Side Ruins and Museum are among of the most spectacular that remain in the modern world, showcasing hundreds of years of Greek life in the Roman Empire.
Side’s coastal location made it a desirable trading port and despite the prominence of piracy, Greek settlers flocked to the city around the 6th century BC. Unusually, this resulted in the preservation rather than destruction of the native culture and Side became a cultural melting pot.
With ancient ruins dotted among the thriving modern city, Side truly combines a hands-on and hands-off approach to understanding the site’s jaw-dropping history and is well worth a visit to those seeking ancient exploration.