Turkey is full of historical treasures. While you might know of Ephesus, or have seen the ruins at Side or Patara, there are plenty of sites that very few tourists ever see. We’ve unearthed a few historical treasures to be found well off the beaten track in this incredible country. Sit back and indulge in some armchair travelling of some of the most intriguing sites imaginable.
1. The City of Manazan
This striking structure is actually a single rock face, carved to create a vertical community of small rooms. This ancient version of a modern apartment block provided protection from invaders and the weather. Located in Central Anatolia, the five-storey block has survived centuries of war, weather and regimes. The structure stretches over three kilometres, and once functioned as a complete city, with tunnels containing churches, storage facilities and even cemeteries. Nowadays the ancient city is largely abandoned, used only by locals who use the cool compartments to store wheat, cheese and grains.
2. Durupinar: the controversy of Noah’s Ark
Although this is a natural rock formation, it has historical status due to its association with Noah’s Ark. Located near several nameless mountains near the Iran border, locals claim that a nearby mountain is in fact Mount Judi - listed in the Quran as the final resting place of Noah’s Ark. The Durupinar rock formation is the shape of a large boat, which has caused much debate and conjecture since its discovery in 1948 after earthquakes and heavy rains revealed the structure. In 1960 the site was surveyed and the formation was deemed to be natural, possibly formed by an upflow of lava. Despite the thorough debunking Durupinar has received, the site still attracts staunch believers and pilgrims who visit the site. In fact, road signs point the way to Noah’s Ark, and locals still believe the structure was once the vessel that saved Noah and his family - and a host of animals - from the biblical great flood.
3. Ishak Pasha Palace
Abandoned for years, this opulent palace is now visited only by a few tourists, which is a shame as it’s such an incredible building. Due to its location near the Iranian border, Ishak Pasha Palace lacks the Ottoman architecture that featured in other contemporary buildings, instead adopting more Middle Eastern designs. The 400-year-old palace was built over a century by generations of the Pasha family, and the rambling structure is still in great condition even after all these years. The palace contains a huge number of facilities including a bakery, dungeons, a mosque and a harem, and is complete with an ancient heating system. When the Ottoman Empire fell the Pashas abandoned the palace to the elements. It remains empty, although it’s now a listed historical landmark. Tourists can wander the rooms and the courtyards, and enjoy the view from the palace’s incredible vantage point.
This enormous city complex was once home to around 10,000 people. Consisting of interconnecting tunnels and homes, the city was constructed with mud bricks that were added to as centuries passed and the community grew. It’s thought that the city’s population reached a peak around 7000 BC. Oddly for such a large community structure, there is a lack of commercial or craft spaces, although when the site was discovered in 1958 there was a treasure trove of animal and goddess figurines, cave paintings and other arts, as well as bones buried under floors and hearths. Excavation of the site is still continuing, with some portions of the site open as exhibits showing how our ancestors once lived. One of Catalhoyuk’s most intriguing facets is that the whole site is remarkably clean and debris free, compared to other ancient sites. It’s thought that since each of the chambers was used as a private home, they were kept cleaner than other civilisations where people lived more communally.
5. Derinkuyu Underground City
One of the most fascinating aspects of Derinkuyu relates to its discovery. A man discovered a hidden room behind a wall in his home. A little digging revealed he was living at the perimeter of a massive underground complex - 18 storeys deep. Derinkuyu was established around the 7th century BC, built for protection against the elements and invading forces. As it grew over the centuries it developed into a sophisticated complex containing stables, churches, homes, storage and even a winery. The 20,000 inhabitants were able to live completely underground for long periods of time thanks to their innovative ventilation shafts and waterways that took fresh air and water to each level. Massive stone wheels could be rolled in front of entrances, turning them into impenetrable walls. Around 600 entrances have so far been discovered in courtyards and homes around the city.
This Cappadocian underground city (located in the same region as Derinkuyu) was discovered by a farmer in 1972 who noticed that when he watered his crops the water seemed to drain away quickly to some underground location. A little digging revealed an ancient underground city, age unknown. While Ozkonak has the same dug out chambers, ventilation shafts and water system of neighbouring Derinkuyu, there are a couple of differences that make Ozkonak unique. Hot oil holes sit above each entrance - an unpleasant, probably lethal welcome for a marauding army, and a crude communication system was in place in the city, to allow each level to speak to the one above or below it. Four of 10 storeys are open to tourists so that you can get a sense of what underground living was like.
The incredible medieval city of Ani once held up to 200,000 people. Today it stands empty and ruined, as it has done for centuries. Also known as The City of 1001 Churches and the City of Forty Gates, Ani is located in the Kars province, near the Armenian border. Originally, the city was Armenian, but today the territory is in dispute. Ani was once a rival of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), Cairo and Baghdad and eventually fell to invaders in 1064 and the city was sacked by Turks. A colourful and graphic account by Sibt ibn al-Jawzi describes the event:
"The army entered the city, massacred its inhabitants, pillaged and burned it, leaving it in ruins and taking prisoner all those who remained alive...The dead bodies were so many that they blocked the streets; one could not go anywhere without stepping over them. And the number of prisoners was not less than 50,000 souls. I was determined to enter city and see the destruction with my own eyes. I tried to find a street in which I would not have to walk over the corpses; but that was impossible."
Over the centuries earthquakes, conflict and vandalism have left their mark on the ruined city, but lately there has been a shift in thinking that the city should be protected. The remaining churches are incredibly beautiful, even in their deteriorated state, especially the minaret Menucehr Mosque, nearly a thousand years old and a symbol of the city’s history and varied cultural influences. It’s now much easier to visit Ani than it was a decade ago, due to an increased interest in historical sites in Turkey. Plans are underway to restore parts of the site.
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