Turkey Feature

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Ancient Sites

Turkey, a sort of bridge between Europe and Asia, has been a cultural crossroads for thousands of years. Numerous civilizations—Greeks from the west and Mongols from east—settled or moved through the (vast) area at one point or another, leaving lasting and impressive reminders of their sojourns. As a result, virtually every region in Turkey has a bounty of stunning ancient ruins.

Mt. Nemrut : At the top of a desolate mountain, this 2,000-year-old temple—a collection of larger-than-life statues facing the rising and setting sun—is a testament to the vanity of an ancient king.

Ani : The abandoned former capital of a local Armenian kingdom, this haunting city in the middle of nowhere is filled with the ruins of stunning churches.

Ephesus : This remarkably well-preserved Roman city has a colonnaded library that seems like it could still be checking out books and an amphitheater that appears ready for a show.

Termessos : This impregnable ancient city is set dramatically high up in the mountains above Antalya; even Alexander the Great and the Romans found it too difficult to attack.

Cappadocia's underground cities : A marvel of ancient engineering, these subterranean cities—some reaching 20 stories down and holding up to 20,000 people—served as a refuge for Christians under siege from Arab raiders.

Beaches

With 8,000 km (5,000 mi) of coastline, it's no wonder that Turkey is home to several world-famous beaches, and you can find all kinds: from pristine, remote coves to resort hotel beaches with water sports and all sorts of amenities.

With its frigid waters and sometimes rocky shores, the Black Sea is not usually considered a beach destination, but it has some stretches of lovely, sandy shoreline. The beaches at Kilyos just outside Istanbul, are among the nicest and are easy to get to, although you may find them crowded on the weekends.

The Aegean has crystal clear waters and a mix of resorts and quieter seaside spots, although its beaches tend to be pebbly. An exception to that is Altınkum, near Çeşme, a series of undeveloped coves with glorious golden sand beaches.

Turkey's Mediterranean coast has turquoise waters that stay warm well into October and an abundance of picture-perfect beaches, although overdevelopment has become a problem in some parts. Thankfully, there are still a good number of unspoiled beaches left. Dalyan's İztuzu Beach (a nesting ground for sea turtles) stretches for 5 sandy kilometers (3 mi), with a fresh water lagoon on one side and the Mediterranean on the other. Near Fethiye is Ölüdeniz, a stunning lagoon of azure waters backed by white sand. The beach at Patara is one of Turkey's best, an 11-km (7-mi) stretch with little but fine white sand and dunes.

Olympos, near Antalya, is another top spot, with a long crescent-shaped beach that is backed by spectacular mountains and ancient ruins.

Castles

The Byzantine and Ottoman empires may be long gone, but they left behind some truly striking monuments: churches, mosques, and palaces that still hold the power to take your breath away.

As the former capital of both empires, Istanbul has the lion's share of Turkey's most famous structures, but there are also impressive ones to be found in every other part of the country. Aya Sofya, the monumental church built by the emperor Justinian some 1,500 years ago, continues to be an even more awe-inspiring site—arguably the most impressive one in Istanbul or Turkey. The Kariye Museum, in what was the Kariye Cami, is much smaller and not as famous as the Aya Sofya, but this 12th-century Byzantine church, located on the periphery of Istanbul's old city, is filled with glittering mosaics and stunning frescoes that are considered among the finest in the world.

Topkapı Palace, the former home of the Ottoman sultans, is a sumptuous palace with stately buildings, tranquil gardens, and the must-see Harem. Also in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque : with its cascading domes and shimmering tiles, this exquisite mosque is one of the Ottomans' finest creations.

Edirne, not far from Istanbul, was the Ottoman capital before Istanbul. It's home to Selimiye Cami, the mosque that was the real masterpiece of the sultans' favorite architect, Mimar Sinan. It's massive dome has made many a jaw drop.

In Turkey's far east, near the legendary Mt. Ararat, is Ishak Paşa Sarayı, an 18th-century palace that seems like it was transported straight out of a fairy tale.

Museums

The country's wealth and depth of history guarantee that Turkey has lots of artifacts for its museums—even if there has been a problem with other countries shipping the booty off to foreign lands. The best and biggest museums are in Istanbul, where you can spend your days hopping from one fascinating exhibit to the other. The sprawling Archaeology Museum, near Topkapı Palace, holds finds from digs throughout the Middle East. Nearby is the excellent Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, housed in an old Ottoman palace, which displays carpets, ceramics, paintings, and folk art. For a taste of something more up-to-date, visit the stylish Istanbul Modern, which has a good collection of modern Turkish art and a stunning waterfront location. Also worth visiting is the Rahmi M Koç Industrial Museum, an old factory that is now used to display a quirky collection of cars, trains, ships, airplanes, and other industrial artifacts that will pique the interests of children and adults.

Istanbul doesn't have a monopoly on the museum business, though. The Gaziantep Museum, in Turkey's southeast, is one of the country's best, with a world-class collection of Roman-era mosaics. Ankara's Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, found in a restored 15th-century covered market, holds masterpieces spanning thousands of years of local history. Konya, in central Turkey, is home to the fascinating Mevlâna Museum, dedicated to the the founder of the whirling dervishes and located inside what used to be a dervish lodge. The unusual Museum of Underwater Archaeology, in a 15th-century castle in Bodrum on the Aegean coast, displays booty found in local shipwrecks.

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