| Southeast of Ankara,
Cappadocia is a fantastic, almost
surreal landscape of rock and cones, capped pinnacles
and fretted ravines. Residences have been hewn from the soft, volcanic
rock since 400 BC, and the sophisticated cave systems have sheltered
generations of persecuted settlers. Today, it is a fascinating
mix of truly outstanding scenery (as beautiful in the winter
snow as in summer), an excellent destination for outdoor
activities from mountain biking and hiking to hot-air ballooning,
and one of the most compelling historic and artistic regions in
this culturally rich country. Many people still live, at least partially,
in cave houses and in the main tourist centres, there are a number
of charming small hotels with cave rooms. The main towns
in the region are Nevsehir and Urgup.
Göreme is probably the main
attraction, with over 30 magnificently frescoed
Byzantine rock churches open to the public. Zelve
has a huge, somewhat strange underground monastic complex.
The villages of Ortahisar and Uchisar,
clustered around rock pinnacles and crowned by citadels, offer excellent
views. There are over 400 underground cities in the area; two of
the biggest and most exciting are Kaymakli
and Derinkuyu, with up to eight floors and complex
systems of apartments, public rooms and streets that could house
literally hundreds of people. In the northern part of the area,
Avanos is a pretty little town
with a thriving local ceramics industry.
A short distance west of the main area of Cappadocia, the 10km-
(6 mile-) long Ihlara Canyon is another Byzantine
religious hideout, with around 60 churches, most of them still painted,
carved into the walls of an idyllic green Shangri La.
The vast, empty expanse of eastern Anatolia differs
greatly from the rest of the country. The landscape has a desolate
exquisiteness, with ochre red plains and fertile valleys,
lakes, waterfalls, snowcapped peaks and, in the far south,
dusty deserts. This again is a fascinating cultural and historic
area, stuffed with Biblical and Islamic history, Kurdish
and Armenian cultures, fine mosques, palaces and monuments.
The region has suffered a degree of political instability and lack
of security for several years and is only just reopening to tourists,
who should take up-to-date advice before visiting the area. It is
far less developed for tourism than western Turkey; accommodation
can be very basic and is often hard to find. Eastern Turkey can
be said to begin along a rough line from Samsun, on the Black Sea
Coast, through the Anatolian towns of Sivas and Tokat,
noted for their Selçuk architecture, to
the busy industrial town of Gaziantep in the south.
Erzurum, the largest town in the northeast,
was one of the eastern bastions of Byzantium for many centuries,
and has mosques and mausolea from the Selçuk and Mongol eras,
Byzantine walls and two Koranic colleges characterised by minarets
and finely carved portals. The frontier town of Kars,
to the north of Erzurum, is dominated by a formidable 12th-century
Georgian fortress. The ruins of the 10th-century
Ani lie east of Kars.
On the eastern border with Armenia, Agri Dagri
is the biblical Mount Ararat where, according to
legend, Noah's Ark came to rest. Below it lie the imposing palace
and mosque of Ishak Pasha at Dogubeyazit.
The walled town of Van, on the eastern shore of
the immense Lake Van, was an important Urartu fortress from
800-600 BC. The citadel dominates the ruins of Selçuk,
Ottoman mosques and numerous rock tombs. On the island of Akdamar,
in Lake Van, is the enchanting 10th-century Church of the Holy Cross.
Further south, the twin rivers Tigris and Euphrates, cradle an agriculturally
rich oasis within the desert. This is Biblical Mesopotamia
and, some say, the original Garden of Eden.
Today, the GAP Project is creating an enormous series of interlinked
lakes and canals to create hydro-electricity and irrigation, to
the fury of neighbouring countries who also rely on the water, and
the local Kurkish people who see their homeland slipping from their
grasp forever. Its centrepiece, the Atatürk Dam,
is the fourth-largest in the world.
The southeast is filled with ancient cities, traditional
cultures and compellingly beautiful, if often forbidding, landscapes.
Places of note include Sanliurfa, site of the ancient
pools of Abraham; the strange beehive houses of Harran,
from where Abraham decided to move to the land of Canaan;
Nemrut Dagi, the home of the enormous stone statues erected
by King Antiochus I in the first century BC; Diyarbakir,
built in the fourth century and surrounded by forbidding
triple walls of black basalt; and the white-coloured
medieval architecture and Roman citadel of Mardin.
Turkey may not be the obvious ski destination,
but it does have a number of winter sports resorts,
generally located in forested mountains of average height. The main
season is from January to March.
The following ski centres are easily accessible
by road or Turkish Airlines domestic flights:
25km (15 miles) from Kayseri (Cappadocia);
Koroglu: on the Istanbul-Ankara highway, 50km (30 miles)
from Bolu and the Black Sea coast;
Palandoken: 5km (4 miles) from Erzurum (central-eastern
Saklikent: 48km (30 miles)
north of Antalya, in the Bakirli Dagi mountain range (Mediterranean
Sarikamis: near Kars (far eastern Anatolia);
Uludag: 36km (22 miles) south of Bursa (Marmara).