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Topkapı Sarayı

Topkapı Palace was the home of the Ottoman sultans and the heart of the empire. Its grassy courtyards once buzzed with the comings and goings of soldiers, ambassadors, eunuchs, and pashas, while in the private chambers of the Harem, dripping with lovely blue tiles, the sultan's women schemed to bring a son to the throne. Former storerooms overflow with gold thrones, gigantic diamonds, and the holiest relics of Islam.

Aya Sofya

Hagia Sophia was, for nearly a thousand years, the greatest church in Christendom. Built by the emperor Justinian in the 6th century, it's one of the few buildings of its age, size, and grandeur to survive today. Its giant dome shelters numerous historic artworks, from Byzantine mosaics to Islamic calligraphy.

Basilica Cistern

Dark basements with serious damp problems aren't normally tourist attractions, unless they happen to be evocative Byzantine cisterns, held up by ancient columns that are reflected in water teeming with fish. Built 1,500 years ago as part of a system to preserve the city's water supply through siege and drought, Yerebatan Sarnıcı is a peaceful, surreal escape from the heat of an Istanbul summer.

The Blue Mosque

Elegant, cascading curves and a central location make the Blue Mosque (aka Sultan Ahmet Camii) the most famous mosque in Istanbul. Inside is a spectacular coating of blue İznik tiles, which gives it its nickname.

Ephesus

Ephesus was the metropolis of Asia Minor and archaeologists have revealed a treasure trove of ancient streets once walked by Alexander the Great and St. Paul. The houses, theaters, temples, toilets, even a brothel, and the columned facade of the Library of Celsus are in remarkably good condition.

Göreme Open-Air Museum

The unique lunar landscape of Cappadocia is honeycombed with Byzantine churches cut from the rock in the Middle Ages, many decorated with beautiful frescoes. The most famous and easily accessible place to visit is the collection of churches and dwellings known as the Göreme Open-Air Museum.

Mt. Nemrut

Atop a lonely mountain overlooking the Euphrates, this ancient shrine to the megalomania of one man is an extraordinary archaeological site. The oversize heads of King Antiochus and a pantheon of gods litter the ground beside a great burial mound.

Olympos

These jungle-entangled ruins in a valley by one of the Mediterranean's most beautiful beaches are overlooked by the natural eternal flame of the Chimaera. Few places combine so many of Turkey's many attractions as does Olympos.

Pamukkale

Stunning white travertine pools of water cascade down a hillside in the hinterland of the Aegean coast: this unique rock formation was created over eons by mineral-rich water and has attracted tourists for millennia, although the rock pools are smaller, and not as pristine as they once were.

Updated: 2014-04-07

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