Everyone knows about the Blue Mosque and the even bluer Mediterranean sea. But we guarantee you won’t have heard of more than two or three of these truly remarkable sites.
The extraordinary rock formations at Pamukkale look like they belong to another world. Located on the outskirts of an ancient city in the Denizli province, the striking natural wonder has been formed over millennia by carbonate deposits, funnelled into unusual terraces by hot springs and streams. People travel from all over the globe to this UNESCO site to luxuriate in the thermal waters, and some even believe that the waters have healing powers. Whatever your beliefs, this unusual landscape is an unforgettable destination.
2. Nemrut Dag
This eerie site, filled with ancient statues, is thought to be the ancient tomb of King Antiochus, built in the first century. The mountain, located near Adiyaman in southeastern Turkey, contains statues of King Antiochus, lions, eagles and various Greek and Armenian gods. No one knows too much about the statues or why they are there, so the silent figures will hold their secrets forever on the haunting hillside.
3. Mount Ararat
Not only is this dormant volcano a striking part of the Turkish landscape (at 5,137 metres tall, it is the tallest mountain in Turkey and taller than the highest point of the Alps at Mount Blanc with 4,810 metres) along the Iran border, many scholars believe that this is the site where Noah pitched up his ark after the great flood. A 2007 expedition found seven large wooden compartments near the peak of the mountain.
The partitions correspond to the way an ancient ark would have been constructed and carbon dating shows the wood is around 4,800 years old, which tallies with the time the bible claims the flood was sent to destroy most of humanity. Noah filled his ark with his family and pairs of every animal species on the planet to save them from the rising waters.
4. The Trojan Horse
Most people think that Troy, made famous in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, is as fictional as the Cyclops or the Sirens who tried to tempt Odysseus to his death. Think again - today’s Troy is located in northwestern Turkey, and is now a UNESCO heritage site.
According to ancient poet Virgil, after a ten-year siege on Troy the Greeks built a large wooden horse and left it outside the city gates. The Trojans pulled the horse into the city, only to discover the horse contained the best of the Greek soldiers, who destroyed the city and ended the war. Today, you can wander around the ruins of the ancient city, climb inside a replica of the Trojan horse, and imagine the battle that sacked one of the most important cities of the ancient world.
5. Avanos Hair Museum
This must be a contender for the world’s weirdest - and creepiest - museum. What started as a publicity stunt has grown into a museum containing hair samples and the names and addresses of more than 16,000 women from around the world. The founder, potter Chez Galip, claims that the museum began as a way to increase attendance levels at his pottery workshops. The hair museum is located in a cave in Cappadocia, its surfaces covered with hair of all colours, dangling creepily from the walls and ceiling. Once a year Galip chooses ten hair samples at random, and invites these women to come and stay with him for free and attend a pottery workshop. Did we mention the whole thing’s a just little creepy?
6. Cappadocia’s cave houses
The town of Goreme is found in the heart of Cappadocia’s ‘fairy chimneys’, weird and wonderful rock formations jutting up into the sky.
A number of Goreme residents live in dwellings carved out of the rock, or in large cave structures beneath the ground. Visitors to the area can stay in hotels hewn out of rock faces, and visit underground Byzantine churches. It’s eerie and mysterious and unlike no other place on earth.
7. Seven wonders of the world (well, two)
Here’s a little known fact you can use to impress your friends: Turkey contained two of the seven ancient wonders of the world. You can still visit both sites: the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus was built in the fourth century BC by the Greeks and was famed for its beauty. The site can still be seen in Bodrum, although the structure itself was destroyed by earthquakes.
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was rebuilt twice and was described by some as the most spectacular of the ancient wonders.
You can see the foundations and some ruins at the ancient city of Ephesus, which itself is one of the most important ancient sites on the planet.
8. Mardin’s sandstone buildings
Mardin is built entirely of yellow chalk stone. The result is beautiful - and unusual.
The houses are decorated with different motifs but on the whole are very similar, giving the whole city a slightly unreal look, like a film set. Located on a hilltop in southeastern Turkey, Mardin’s origins can be traced back a mind-boggling 4000 years.
Tourists are only now starting to discover this intriguing city - and the majority get lost in its labyrinthine streets.
9. Myra’s rock tombs
In ancient times, the wealthy and important citizens of Myra were placed in tombs carved out of the hillside. In this way they could keep an eye on the living in the town below. Myra was part of the Lycian empire, in modern-day Demre, on the Aegean Sea. Today, visitors can see two groups of tombs, designed to look like temple fronts. These beautiful necropoli are haunting monuments to their mysterious occupants who died thousands of years ago, still watching over their ancestors.
10. Sumela monastery
This haunted looking monastery was built over 1600 years ago. It’s now a Greek Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but has changed identity several times in its lifetime with under a succession of various emperors and reigns. Located in the Altindere Valley on the Black Sea, the monastery is nestled into a steep cliff at an eye-watering altitude of 1200 metres. Don’t look down! Today it’s primarily a tourist attraction than a religious site, but every now and again religious ceremonies are held there.
11. Gemiler Island
To the casual observer, this uninhabited island just off Fethiye’s Mediterranean shore is just another pretty part of the coastal scenery. However, modern archaeologists believe that it’s a bit more than that. Gemiler Island is also the final resting place of everyone’s favourite, gift-giving saint: St Nicholas. The traditional name for the island is Gemiler Adasi, or The Island of Boats - St Nick being the patron saint of sailors.
The island’s ruined church is believed to contain the saint’s tomb, with the saint originally interred there following his death in 326 AD. Around 650 AD the remains were transferred to Demre, but pilgrims still visit Gemiler to pay homage to the saint who inspired the modern-day Santa Claus and visit the ruins of the ancient church.
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