Facade of the Library of Celsus at Ephesus, completed ca. 117
Anatolia’s colorful history has left a windfall of riches—ancient ruins, ornate Byzantine churches, supremely elegant mosques, and splendid Ottoman palaces. In an illustrated series, Serif Yenen, a Turkish-born tour guide and author, highlights the heritage and splendor of ancient Turkey through an examination of some of its cultural gems.
March 1 Neolithic and Bronze Ages
Civilization started in Mesopotamia, the upper portion of which lies in the lands of modern-day Turkey. In the past few decades, more than 100 archeological rescue excavations have been undertaken in the area, particularly in places where dams were built, and many previously unknown neolithic settlements have been discovered including the sites of Göbekli Tepe and Karahan Tepe, reflecting Anatolia’s emerging importance in the Bronze Age.
Kültepe was the center of ancient trade between Anatolia and Assyria. Hattusha, capital of the Hittites, was once the site of four large temples and elaborately decorated gateways. Gordion, the Phrygian capital, was the location of numerous tumuli (grave mounds), including the tomb of King Midas.
March 8 Iron-Age, Hellenistic, and Roman Periods
Anatolia experienced many innovations in the Iron Age. Civilizations of this era began using iron in both daily life and for military purposes. The Iron Age came to an end, followed by Hellenistic and Roman periods. From ancient synagogue ruins found in Sardis to the gigantic temple of Apollo in Didyma to the recent excavations in Ephesus that uncovered the unusual terrace houses, the area is replete with the remnants and history of the Hellenistic era.
March 15 Christianity in Anatolia
It is still possible today to follow the footsteps of Paul, who was born in Tarsus and made most of his missionary journeys through Anatolia. The Seven Churches of Asia mentioned in the Revelation of John are all located in the Aegean region of Turkey. Cappadocia is laced with vast underground cities and hundreds of rock-cut churches built by early Christians.
March 22 The Turkish Period’s Capitals
Turks came to Anatolia beginning in the 11th century and established two empires: the Anatolian Seljuk and the Ottoman. Bursa, the westernmost city of the Silk Road trade route, was an early Ottoman capital and is the site of the spectacular 20-domed Ulu Camii (Great Mosque), as well as other beautiful structures including baths and government buildings. Edirne, the second Ottoman capital, is filled with stunning mosques, bridges, and old Roman homes, and reflects the Ottoman Empire’s innovative architecture and city planning. In the middle of the 15th century, a 20-year-old sultan, Mehmed II, aspired to capture Constantinople (Istanbul’s Byzantine name) and become the ruler of the whole world. Once captured, he declared it the new capital of the Turks.