With a reputation as the world’s largest outdoor museum, Turkey is home to numerous historically important ancient ruins.
Located at the junction between East and West, Turkey was once a powerful hub targeted by a variety of ancient civilizations through the centuries, from the Romans and Greeks to the Persians and Huns. These ancient settlers created some remarkable monuments and cities, many of which still stand to this day. From Ephesus to Troy, read on to learn more about four of Turkey’s most fascinating ruins.
One of the most significant sets of ruins in all of Turkey, Ephesus is shrouded in legend. Some say that these impressive structures were commissioned by an Ionian prince, while others credit the city’s creation to the Amazons, a tribe of female warriors that inhabited Anatolia in around 2000 BCE. According to legend, the Amazons were the daughters of Ares, the Greek god of war, and Harmonia, the goddess of harmony.
Today, with its towering columns and slick marble streets, the ancient city takes visitors on a journey back through time. Ephesus was once regarded as the most important trading center in the whole of the Mediterranean region. It survived numerous attacks and changed hands multiple times between conquerors.
The well-maintained Library of Celsus ranks among the site’s biggest attractions today. Its two-story columns and marble facades demonstrate the scale of what was once a sprawling city. Nearby, the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is well worth a visit.
One of Turkey’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Göbeklitepe is set on a small hilltop, where its pit of ringed megaliths offers some insight into mankind’s early cultural beginnings.
A site of worship, the pillars with lavishly carved animals were erected around 12,000 years ago during the Neolithic era, when humans still led a hunter-gatherer existence. The discovery of Göbeklitepe disproved the previously accepted theory that settled villages and agriculture came long before the arrival of religion.
Located 30 miles from Turkey’s border with Syria, Göbeklitepe’s 40-plus T-shaped monoliths stand as high as 18 feet, with intricate carvings that are said to symbolize the power of religious devotion. Experts believe that 250 more pillars may remain covered. While some pillars are blank, others feature incredibly detailed totem-like carvings, depicting people, symbols, and numerous animal species, including spiders, insects, birds, snakes, wild boars, bulls, foxes, scorpions, and lions.
Located in Turkey’s Central Anatolia region, Cappadocia is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the nation’s most famous natural wonders, Cappadocia is one of the most extraordinary natural landscapes on Earth, featuring ‘fairy chimneys,’ a distinctive geological feature created by the erosion of a volcanic landscape by wind and rain.
The region’s human history is equally impressive. Carved into the rock is a vast underground city that dates as far back as the fourth century. Some of these structures were capable of accommodating tens of thousands of people. Experts believe that these ancient structures were created by Christians sheltering from Arab invasions at a time when the area formed part of the eastern edge of the Byzantine Empire.
What Troy lacks in surviving temples, columns, and amphitheaters, it more than makes up with historical significance. Homer’s Iliad, penned in the eighth century BCE, featured Troy as a backdrop, telling the story of a Greek king’s capture here following the 10-year Trojan War.
Visitors to Troy follow in the footsteps of Achilles, who was shot in the ankle and died at the western gate, which is still discernible today. Also visible at the site is a line of blackened rock where Greek kings razed the defeated city.
Though the ruins of Troy are not as visible in comparison with other archaeological sites from the same era, they evoke an energy and excitement all of their own, having been a place of pilgrimage for many kings over the years. Augustus, Julius Caesar, Xerxes, and Alexander the Great were all said to have visited Troy to honor Greek heroes and legends of the past.
Today, the main entrance incorporates a huge model wooden horse, reimagining what the original Trojan horse may have looked like. Troy is not really one city but nine, each built on top of the last. The earliest settlements date back to around 3000 BCE.
The new Troy Museum, 800 meters from the archaeological site at Tevfikiye village, is open to tourists year-round. Opened in 2018, it exhibits archaeological treasures recovered from Troy, along with finds from other nearby sites. Highlights include the Polyxena sarcophagus, a statue of the Greek god Triton, and various gold necklaces, bracelets, and coins.