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Last updated : Nov 2009
Sea of Marmara
Sea of Marmara - TravelPuppy.com
West of Istanbul, the provinces of Thrace and Marmara embrace the Sea of Marmara, while the towns of Gelibolu and Çanakkale mark the entrance to the Dardanelles, the narrow straits leading through to the Mediterranean. This was the site of the infamous Gallipoli landings during World War I, which led to the deaths of nearly 250,000 British, Anzac and Turkish troops and shot Turkish General Mustafa Kemal (later known as Ataturk) to fame. Inland, the cities of Edirne, in Thrace, and Bursa, in Marmara, are both fascinating historic towns with a wide range of outstanding architecture, such as the Selimiye Camii in Edirne, said to be the masterwork of Turkish imperial architect, Mimar Sinan. Just outside Bursa, the Uludag National Park is a magnificent forested mountain reserve, with excellent walking in summer and skiing in winter. A short distance from the south of Gallipoli are the ruins of ancient Troy. Of the nine levels of the excavated settlement mound, the sixth is supposed to be the Troy depicted in Homer's Iliad.

The superlative coast of ancient Ionia, a crucible of western civilisation, boasts fine beaches and many important historical sites. The attractive tourist towns of Ayvacik, Ayvalik and Behramkale are good places from which to visit the magnificent Temple of Athena at Assos. Further south lie the ruins of the great city of Pergamum (modern Bergama), famous in antiquity for its splendid library. It is here that you will find the Sanctuary of Asclepieion and two fine temples, the Acropolis and the red-brick Basilica.

Izmir, the birthplace of Homer, is Turkey's third city and an important port. It is a modern metropolis set in a curving bay enclosed by terraced hillsides. As a result of earthquakes and a great fire, there are only a few reminders of old Smyrna - Kadifekale, the fourth-century fortress situated on top of Mount Pagos. The fortress affords a superb view of the city, and of the Gulf of Izmir, the Roman agora with some well-preserved porticos and Statues of Poseidon and Artemis.

Çesme
is one of the many well-liked resorts in the Izmir region. It has excellent beaches, thermal springs and a 15th-century fortress. The port of Sigacik, the ruins of the ancient Ionian city of Teos and the sandy beach at Akkum are all between Izmir and Çesme. A short way inland is another fine Graeco-Roman city, Sardis (modern Sart), with a beautiful Marble Court, Temple of Artemis and a first-century AD synagogue.

The remains of the Hellenistic and Roman city of Ephesus (modern Selçuk), rumoured to have been founded in the 13th century BC; lie at the foot of Mount Pion. Carefully restored and now one of the most stunning ancient cities in the world, top sights within the huge archaeological area include the Grand Theatre, where St Paul preached to the Ephesians, the second-century Temple of Serapi, the elegant façades of the Temple of Hadrian and the Library of Celsus. The site of Meryemana, presumed to be the house of the Virgin Mary, lies very close to Ephesus in the small vale of Mount Bulbul Dagi (Nightingale Mountain). It has become a world-famous shrine, attracting thousands of pilgrims each year. The nearby town of Selçuk is home to the Ephesus Museum and Basilica of St John, said to be the last home of John the Baptist. The ruins of Priene, Miletus and Didyma are also of great interest and, like Ephesus, are within easy reach of Kusadasi, an attractive resort surrounded by sandy bays. Inland are two more fine historic cities, the atmospheric Heraklea ad Latmos, and Aphrodisias.

This magnificently scenic and historically mesmerizing area, where the southern Aegean meets the Mediterranean, is known popularly as the Turquoise Coast, due to the intense colour of the sea. Tourism in the region is dominated by several major beach resorts, each with a series of satellite villages, and a great many large hotels. Rocky cliffs are interspersed by lavish white sand beaches. Each small town and fishing harbour has a variety of pleasure boats, fish restaurants, bars and nightlife, while the larger hotels offer a wide range of watersports. And if that is not enough, the area is densely packed with ancient cities, and there is excellent walking in the hills behind the coast. Bodrum (birthplace of Herodotus, known as the father of history) is dominated by the magnificent 15th-century crusader Castle of St Peter, now home to a fascinating Museum of Underwater Archaeology. Both Bodrum and Marmaris, set in a deep fjord-like inlet, have wild, noisy nightlife and a wide variety of boat trips for daytime hangover cures. Destinations include the Greek islands of Kos (from Bodrum) and Rhodes (from Marmaris). From Marmaris, you can also reach the charming fishing village of Datça, the ruins of Knidos, and the reedy ruins of Kaunos, near the small resort of Dalyan.

Further along the Mediterranean coast are the small port town of Fethiye, with its imposing Lycian rock tombs, and Ölü Deniz, a dazzling crystal-clear lagoon with a beautiful beach, surrounded by pine-covered mountains. The lagoon is protected from rampant commercial development by its status as a national park, although the surrounding valley is completely overwhelmed by tourist development. Continuing east along the coast, there are several relatively small and charming resorts such as Patara, with its 18km (11 mile) beach; charming little Kalkan; Kas, one of the most upmarket resorts on the Turkish coast; Olympos, a backpacker's paradise and home of the chimaera, a living flame erupting eerily from rock; and Kemer, where mass-market all-inclusive hotels hold sway. Between them are a wide range of historic sights, including the ancient cities of Patara, Xanthos, Myra and Phaselis.

Inland, there is excellent walking at Saklikent and in the Olympos National Park. Further away, other worth visiting stops include the pretty old town of Mugla, the carpet-making centre of Milas; and Pamukkale, near Denizli, famous for its spectacular calcified waterfall and thermal waters, used since Roman times for their therapeutic powers. Pamukkale also has ruins of the Roman city of Hierapolis.

With sunshine for most of the year and a magnificent coastline, the western Mediterranean Coast is a popular holiday area. It is also a region steeped in history and legend, dotted with important attractions and great medieval castles. Situated on a cliff promontory, Antalya is a popular resort, boasting a charming walled old town and harbour, Kaleiçi, the monumental Hadrian's Gate, Kesik Minare and Yivli Minare mosques and Hidirlik Kulesi, the round Roman tower, and a superb Archaeological Museum. With its mix of charming small guest houses and modern hotels, it is the ideal starting point for tours to the outlying Roman cities of dramatic Termessos, in the mountains behind the city; Perge, a well-preserved and atmospheric place with tall Hellenistic walls and streets which still bear the marks of chariot wheels; and Aspendos, home to a remarkable second-century AD amphitheatre, still used for live performances during the annual festival. Turkey's finest Roman channel lies to the north of the city. Belek, 30km (19 miles) east of Antalya, has two championship golf courses, is the habitat of hundreds of species of birds, and one of several local breeding grounds for the rare leatherback turtle. In Side, now a thriving seaside resort, the Greek enclosure walls are still virtually undamaged. The town also boasts an exquisite fountain, a theatre, two agoras and Roman baths, great beaches and lively nightlife.

Nestling at the foot of a rocky cape and crowned by a Selçuk fortress, the town of Alanya has some fine beaches and a great many large resort hotels. A spectacularly scenic road connects Anamur, striking for its wave-swept Selçuk castle and ancient city, and Silifke, dominated by yet another vast fortress. The museum in ancient Silifke contains finds from the many archaeological sites in the vicinity. Mersin, built on a site dating back to Paleolithic times, is a major port. Nearby, parts of Tarsus date back to biblical times, when St Paul was a child here and Anthony met Cleopatra in the main square. The prosperous city of Adana, in the middle of the flat Cukurova plain, is the centre of Turkey's cotton industry, and home to an imposingly huge modern mosque. The enormous Taskopru Bridge, built by Hadrian in the second century, the ancient covered bazaar and nearby Crusader castles and Hittite settlements are all interesting sites. The road from heavily polluted Iskenderun leads through the Belen Pass to Antakya, the biblical city of Antioch, where St Peter founded the first Christian community. The grotto where he preached can be seen just outside the town.

This rugged, mountainous region of Turkey has a wild beauty, but lacks the wealth of historical and climatic attractions of the rest of the country, while the thunderous main road leading west from the CIS destroys much of the local atmosphere. Despite the variable weather, there are several coastal resorts with good, sandy beaches. These include, from west to east, Kilyos, Sile, Akcakoca, Sinop (also very interesting historically), Unye, Ordu and Giresun, many of which are sadly tacky, catering to the poorer end of the home-grown tourist market. There are also several fascinating historic towns such as Safranbolu, a short distance inland, whose traditional Ottoman architecture has been deemed worthy of UNESCO World Heritage Status; coastal Amasra with Hellenistic walls, Roman ruins, Byzantine churches, and 14th-century Genoese fortresses; and Amasya, a dramatically sited town which was capital of the short-lived Pontic Kingdom (founded in 120 BC) and has a wide range of ancient, Byzantine and Ottoman buildings, including the rock tombs of the Pontic kings.

Keep to the side roads if you want charm, between the two regional centres of Samsun and Trabzon. Samsun has an important place in modern history as the War of Independence began here in 1919, which is reflected by one of the finest monuments in Turkey, though little remains to testify to its ancient origins. In Trabzon (the sadly shabby Trebizond of history), the ruins of a Byzantine fortress can still be seen, together with many fine buildings including the Fatih Camii, built as a cathedral during the 200-year rule of the Comnene family (11th-century upstarts who overthrew Byzantine rule and carved themselves a small kingdom). The spectacular 14th-century Monastery of the Black Virgin at Sumala, 54km (34 miles) from Trabzon, is set into the face of a sheer cliff, 300m (1000ft) above the valley floor, and contains some magnificent frescoes.

East of Trabzon, there are few large towns and tourism concentrates on the fascinating lifestyle of the small Laz and Hopa peoples, hiking in the remote, beautiful Kaçkar Mountains and the region of Artvin, once the centre of Turkish Armenian culture and home to several magnificent century churches dating from the ninth to the 11th centuries.

The hub of this vast, central plateau - the cradle of the ancient Hittite and Phrygian civilisations - is the modern metropolis of Ankara. Kemal Atatürk supervised the construction of Ankara, a capital to replace Istanbul, in this hitherto under populated region during the 1920s and 1930s. Since then, it has grown into a thriving, trendy city with a population of nearly three million that has grown to rival Istanbul's sophistication, and is much more fascinating than is often imagined. The Anitkabir, Atatürk's solemnly imposing mausoleum, dominates the new city. Ankara was, however, built on the site of more ancient settlements and it is fitting that the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, built under the ramparts of the Citadel, should house a magnificent collection of Neolithic and Hittite artefacts. There are also reminders of the area's more recent past as part of the Roman and Selçuk empires. More modern additions to the cityscape include the huge, elegant Kocatepe Mosque and the Atakule, a high tower with a sightseeing platform and restaurant.

Southwest of Ankara are Afyon, centre of the legal opium industry, and a fine old Ottoman town; Yazilikaya (Midassehir), home of the legendary golden king and his giant mausoleum; Kutahya, an attractive old city at the centre of the Turkish ceramic trade; and the 'lake district', a pretty, green area of interlocking fresh and brackish lakes that are an excellent birding habitat There are a number of interesting small towns along the lake shores, such as Isparta, famous for its roses, and Egirdir, founded by the Hittites, but with a fine collection of Ottoman and Greek houses. Ruined cities of note in the area include Antioch ad Pisidia, the recently reconstructed Sagalassos and Kremna, where the earthworks built by the Roman siege are still clearly visible. Due south of Ankara, past the vast salt lake of Tuz Gölü, Konya is a former Selçuk capital and one of the great religious centres of Turkey, home of the Mevlana Tekkesi, the monastery and mausoleum of Mevlana Celâddin Rumi, one of Islam's most celebrated mystics and founder of the Order of Whirling Dervishes. Other places of interest include the 13th-century Alâeddin Mosque, the Karatay Medrese (now an excellent Ceramics and Tile Museum) and the Iplikci Mosque, Konya's oldest structure.

South of the city, Catalhöyük is the 2nd oldest town in the world, dating back to the 6th millennium BC, while to the east, Binbirkilise is an area stuffed with '1001' Byzantine chapels and churches, most now sadly in a desperate state of repair. East of Ankara, the Hittite state archives were found in Bogazkale (Hattusas) in 1906, and contained within the Bogazkale-Alacahöyük-Yazilikaya triangle are the most important sites of the Hittite Empire. Sungurlu is a good base for visitors to this fascinating but underdeveloped region.
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