Turkey – A Country of Contrasts
Its position between Europe and Asia characterises Turkey and has made it a cultural interface for centuries. While powerful empires dominated the country in the past, today it is the connection of modern and traditional influences, which is reflected in the population. A world of contrasts is also displayed in Turkey's nature with its scenic beaches and the wild, native landscape.
Geography - Bosporus and Dardanelles divide the continents
Turkey lies in the Middle East, on the territory of both Europe and Asia. It borders on the Mediterranean, the Aegean, the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea. Between the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea we find the famous Bosporus strait, which is about 30 kilometres long and divides Europe and Asia. Further south the Dardanelles strait connects the Marmara Sea and the Aegean. The western part of Turkey, including the region Thracia, is relatively flat. The country raises towards the east, where a hilly landscape first develops into plateaus and mountains of heights up to 3,900 meters and is then followed by a high mountain range, which has the Ararat (5,137 m) as its highest peak. The rivers Euphrates and Tigris have their source in this range. In the south you find the Taurus Mountains. Depending on region and season, Turkey has temperatures between 10 and 45 °C but it can be considerably colder in the mountains.
Nature - From fine beaches to open plains to harsh mountains
Turkey's landscape is very varied. The beautiful, fine beaches at the coast allure visitors from all over the world, while the heartland's fruitful soil is intensively used for agriculture. Olives, citrus fruits, wine, bananas, tea, cereal or cotton are grown on the expansive fields and groves. Cypresses and carob trees contribute to the image of the perfect holiday idyll. The vast steppes, which are mostly vegetated by grasses, bushes and a few trees, form a contrast. The mountains, which exist in large numbers in Turkey, are equally harsh. While we find pines in the regions of medium height, the high peaks of the mountain ranges are sparse and icy. Common members of the fauna are bears, lynxes, wolves, jackals and hyenas. Camels, which are kept as working animals, are also typical of the country.
Natural sights - Turkish Riviera, salt terraces and the eternal flame
Those who want to take in as much sun as possible will enjoy the fine beaches, the marvellous sea and the mild climate of the Turkish Riviera, which lies in the south of the country and borders on the Mediterranean. The focal point for city tourists is the region around Antalya and Side, which lies 75 kilometres to the east and was once the romantic meeting point of Cleopatra and the Roman Emperor Marcus Antonius. Some of Turkey's most beautiful seaside resorts are Fethiye (Ölüdeniz Beach) and Bodrum, from where you have easy access to the Greek island Kos. The snowy white, bowl-shaped travertine terraces of Pamukkale, which huddle against the rock, seem like formations from another planet. They are permanently fed by the water of hot springs, which is known for its heeling properties and set into limestone over thousands of years to form the bizarre structures. Equally fascinating are the everlasting flames of Chimaira south-west of Antalya (Olympus National Park), which have been flickering in the middle of the stony rock for thousands of years. This rare natural spectacle is caused by escaping gases. Highlights regarding landscape are the Düden and the Kursunlu Waterfalls, which can be explored from Antalya. Another appealing spot is the salt lake Lake Tuz, which is gigantic and looks strange. Turkey's second largest lake has a salt content of almost 33 percent and is covered by a crystalline layer in summer. It is also worthwhile to make a trip to the famous straits Bosporus and Dardanelles to be close to the legendary border between Europe and Asia. The Princess Islands in Istanbul offer a great destination for trips into nature. At this place, which was formerly populated by the emperors' banished brothers, you can now swim, hike, take a horse-drawn carriage, ride or cycle. Those who want to experience native nature should go and see the mountains Uludag or Ararat. To climb Mount Aratat, however, you need a permission. You find even more natural wonders in the national parks Yedigöller (land of the seven seas), Kaz Dagi and Dilek.
Culture - Between tradition and open-mindedness
Turkey has been influenced by many world cultures over the years. In ancient times, the Greeks, the Romans and the Persians ruled the region. After the breakdown of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire emerged on the grounds of present-day Turkey. Later on, in the 13th century, the Ottoman Empire developed into a global power and together with Constantinople (today's Instanbul) as a centre it spread over greater parts of South East Asia, North Africa and Europe as far as Vienna. When the great empire had split up, Mustafa Kemal "Atatürk" ("father of the Turks") founded the Republic of Turkey in 1923. Turkey is an Islamic, traditional country which at the same time is open to western influences. One element of Islamic culture, which have become a tourist attraction, are the whirling dervish. Almost 20 percent of the population are Kurds, an ethnic minority which still struggles to retain acknowledgment. Superstition plays a major role in society. For example, people protect themselves against evil with a talisman which has the form of a blue eye. The Turkish hospitality is downright legendary. Visitors are served the best and most lavish dishes. The Turkish people generally take their time eating. Almost 20 percent of the population are Kurds, an ethnic minority which still struggles to retain acknowledgment. Superstition plays a major role in society. For example, people protect themselves against evil with a talisman which has the form of a blue eye. The Turkish hospitality is downright legendary. Visitors are served the best and most lavish dishes. The Turkish people generally take their time eating.
Cultural sights - Diving into the legendary worlds of Istanbul, Cappadocia and Troy
The city Istanbul is entwined by numerous legends and fairy tales. Over centuries it was the centre of powerful empires, which is evident in many cultural treasures. The Hagia Sophia, for example, was once the greatest Christian church on earth. The Muslim faith is represented by the Blue Mosque with its many peaks and towers. You can dive into the world of the Orient in the Topkapi Palace, which used to be the sultans' place of residence for centuries. Up to 500 people belonged to his harem. On the Grand Bazaar, the world's greatest roofed bazaar, visitors are drawn into a magical ancient world and experience the noisy demeanour of traders who sell goods like carpets and jewellery. Especially worthwhile is a trip to the Egyptian Bazaar, which is heavy with the scents of numerous exotic spices. But Instanbul is without doubt also a modern metropolis. The city, which counts 15 million inhabitants, is always in motion and draws visitors into a vibrant flow of rapid, varied activity, for instance in the districts Galata and Pera, which lie west of the Bosporus strait. They are connected to the eastern part of town via the Galata Bridge at the bay of the so-called Golden Horn, which is 500 meters long. A stroll over the bridge, which is populated by traders, travelling artists and anglers, is an extraordinary experience. The capital Ankara's facets extend from history to Modernism. Roman ruins, mosques, the mausoleum of the founder "Atatürk" and the Palace of the President form a colourful mosaic of cultural influences. The region Cappadocia in Central Anatolia seems to have arisen from One Thousand and One Nights. In the midst of a landscape of bizarre rocks, gorges and stone cones in the form of asparagus, whole settlements have been built into the soft stone since 400 BC. Near Göreme and in the Ihlara Valley you find the world-famous monolithic churches. Worth seeing are also the underground cities in Cappadocia, which brought shelter to persecuted Christians. 36 of these cities have been discovered so far and the most famous ones are the 8-storeyed, tunnel-like settlements Kaymakli and Derinkuyu. Of all the ancient places in Turkey, Ephesus is considered the best preserved. Other treasures in the ruined city are the remains of the Artemis Temple (once a wonder of the world), the Celsus Library, the massive thermal baths and the Temple of Hadrian. Shrouded in myth is also the archaeological site in the Canakkale Province, which is said to house the remains of the legendary city Troy. There is one way leading through the ruined city on which you are surrounded by the magic of Greek heroes. Other fantastic historical cities are Pergamon (baths, temples, theatres and the altar dedicated to Zeus), Myra (impressive rock tombs, Saint Nicholas' birthplace) and Aspendos (an ancient theatre, which is still in use and has seen performances of stars like Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras). A spectacular highlight are the statues of Nemrut Dagi. These mighty monuments in the Taurus Mountains were built in the first century BC in honour of King Antiochos I.
Experience - Haggling on the bazaar, eating stuffed leaves and watching belly dance
Who wants to experience Turkey should visit a traditional bazaar, where you perceive a genuine oriental atmosphere and can prove your haggling skills. Being friendly and persistent, you can often get a discount on popular souvenirs like carpets, embroideries, clothes and painted tiles. You also get a feel for the culture when you taste the native cuisine, which comprises much more than kebab. This fast food dish, which is very popular in many parts of Europe, is actually not very common in Turkey. The national dish Dolma is made of cabbage or wine leaves which are stuffed with rice and minced meat. Lamb, beef and chicken are essential to the Turkish cuisine with bread, many vegetables and yogurt dishes as common sides. Tea (Cay) is also very popular. You can best discover the Turkish lifestyle on a visit to a carpet factory or a wrestling match, where oiled martial artists fight duels. A belly dance show, where flexible dancers move to sensual, melodic music, also displays insights into the native culture. Apart from this traditional entertainment you can also go to the theatre, to concerts, to discos or to clubs at night.
Activities – Superb for relaxing at the beach or in wild nature
Many tourists are drawn to Turkey's scenic beaches. This is no wonder because you can perfectly relax under the warm sun or swim in the sea here. The fascinating, diverse underwater world is ideally suited for diving and on the water you can do water sports of any kind such as surfing or sailing. The heartland has developed into a first rate destination for activities in nature as well with hiking, cycling, rafting, riding and climbing as a few examples. In addition, winter sports are growing more and more popular in Turkey, especially at the mountain Uludag, where visitors can ski and snowboard in a number of resorts. After all this action you can relax in the thermal and sulphur springs of Bursa.
Taking the plane, you can reach many places in Turkey by direct flight, for example Ankara (ESB), Antalya (AYT) and Istanbul (IST). You can also arrive by train, bus, car or ship. The infrastructure within Turkey is fully developed, so that the heartland can be explored by car (rental is unproblematic), bus, ferry or train as well. The share taxis Dolmus can be used for local traffic. Apart from the official language Turkish, communication in English also works well most of the time.
Turkey has plenty to offer as a travel destination. Those who want to relax at the seaside in splendid weather will be as happy here as those who love nature and look for an adventure in a beautiful, multifaceted landscape. The numerous historical treasures such as the ancient sites or the fascinating rock constructions also make the country a first rate destination for visitors who are interested in culture.