A look at the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey

Turkey has a phenomenal history. Few realise just how important the country has been throughout time. It’s easy to stumble across a historical ruin whilst out and about on holiday, or head off on a day trip to Ephesus or a tour of Istanbul whilst enjoying your break away. But it’s only when you really sit down and read a little of the countries past that you start to appreciate the sheer historical importance of Turkey. Thankfully there are organisations like UNESCO that help put this history in perspective. Did you know that there are 13 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey, 2 official combined entries and over 62 sites currently being considered? Impressive eh?

Take a look at the official sites. Some you may have heard of, others may be a little less known but all are impressive and certainly worth a visit if you get the opportunity.

The official UNESCO World Heritage sites in Turkey;

UNESCO world heritage sites in Turkey
Troy, with over a 4,000 year history, is one of the most famous archaeological sites in Turkey.

1. Troy – Troy is an ancient bronze age city in Northwest Anatolia, former Asia Minor. An impressive archaeological site famed as the setting of the epic Trojan War which formed the basis of Homer’s Iliad. The city is interesting and well worth a visit. It straddles both mythology and ancient history. Since its discovery in 1863, the site has been the topic of much scholarly debate. Some question if this city is that described in legend. If this Troy is really the famed mythical Troy. Either way, it has become accepted that it is the site described in Homer’s Iliad recounting the Trojan War that took place during the 13th Century BCE.  Today Troy is a large and impressive. Excavations have uncovered nine cities and 46 different levels of habitation. Archaeologists are still present at Troy and new discoveries are not uncommon.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey
Safranbolu City, Turkey.

2. Safranbolu City – An important city that was at the heart of the East West trade route from the 13th to the early 20th Century. It is located in the Black Sea region, around 200 km from Ankara. The areas architecture significantly influenced urban development throughout the Ottoman Empire. The Old Town lies in a deep ravine and contains many preserved buildings and over 1000 registered historical artifacts. These include 25 mosques, 5 tombs, 8 fountains, 5 Turkish baths, a clock tower, hundreds of houses, bridges and a variety of other features throughout the area. The New Town provides a modern contrast to the old around 2km away.

UNESCO World Heritage sites in Turkey
Bursa’s Orhan Ghazi Mosque.

3. Bursa and Cumalikizik – Bursa is a large city in Northwestern Anatolia lying on the slopes of Uludag Mountain. It is widely recognised as the Ottoman Empires first capital. A total of eight sites, seven in the historic city of Bursa and one in the village of Cumalikizik, make up the UNESCO listing. The sites include a public bath, mosque, religious school, public kitchen and tomb of Orhan Ghazi, the founder of the Ottoman Empire. These areas are famed as forming the initial structure of the urban and rural development of the Ottoman Empire and the Sultans seat in the early 14th Century. The city is an interesting mix of the old and new and still remains one of Turkeys key trading centres.

Unesco world heritage sites in Turkey
The impressive Diyarbakir fortress.

4. Diyarbakir Fortress and Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape. Diyarbakir is located in South Eastern Turkey. It was officially added to the UNESCO listings in 2015. The fortified city and surrounding land played an important role throughout Turkish history. The city includes an inner castle, buttresses, inscriptions, towers and basilicas. The area was important during the Hellenistic period as well as during the Roman, Byzantine, Islamic and Ottoman times. The lush surrounding gardens were also added as they supplied the inner city with food and water.

5. Divrigi Great Mosque and Hospital. This area was conquered by the Turks back in the 11th century. During 1229 a mosque with an adjoining hospital was built by Emir Ahmet Shah. This impressive structure featuring vaulted ceilings and exuberant sculptures is seen as a masterpiece of Islamic architecture.

The remarkable site of Ephesus near Izmir.
The remarkable site of Ephesus near Izmir. Photo via Wikimedia.

6. Ephesus. Surprisingly, this well known and remarkable site was only officially added to the list in 2015. Ephesus is one of the most impressive sites and was an important settlement during Hellenistic and Roman times. Located in the Central Aegean Region near Izmir, it’s within easy reach of many of the popular coastal tourist resorts. Day trips and overnight stays to Ephesus are found easily making it one of the most visited historical sites in Turkey. Ephesus has many highlights; the Library of Celsus, Great Theatre and Temple of Artemis – one of the seven wonders of the world to mention but a few. Please do pay a visit if you get a chance, you won’t be disappointed.

UNESCO World heritage sites Turkey
A few of the cave dwellings and fairy chimneys in Cappadocia. Photo via Wikimedia.

7. Goreme National Park and Cappadocia (Mixed Entry) This entry should appear on everyone’s bucket list! If you want to feel as though you’re on the set of a sci-fi movie, head across to Goreme National Park and Cappadocia. Located in Central Anatolia, the phenomenal hoodoos or ‘fairy chimneys’, are really something – cone-shaped rock formations where many troglodytes (cave dwellers) lived and that were later used for refuge by early Christians. Naturally formed over thousands of years of erosion, the volcanic panorama has been used as a setting for many films including Jackie Chans Accidental Spy and Nicholas Cage’s Ghostrider. The area includes an underground city and the 100m deep Ihlara Canyon home to many rockface churches. Some of the cave dwellings and rock houses have now been converted into hotels. It is also possible to take a sunrise hot-air balloon ride across the valley to see the area in its true glory…not to be missed!

unesco world heritage sites Turkey
Cotton Castle or Pamukkale. Photo via Wikimedia.

8. Hierapolis and Pamukkale (Mixed Entry) A combined entry. Pamukkale, otherwise known as the ‘Cotton Palace’, is another well known entry firmly on the tourist trail and often offered as an excursion from tourist resorts. Carbonate filled waters flowing from springs along a 200m cliffside have formed a surreal array of pale terraced, mineral rich water filled plateaus supposed to have wonderful healing properties. The neighbouring thermal spa of Hierapolis forms the second part of this entry. Also a popular tourist attraction, the ruins of the baths, temples and Greek monuments present at the site date back to the 2nd Century B.C. when the kings of Pergamon established the thermal spa for their pleasure during the dynasty of the Attalids.

unesco world heritage sites turkey
Historic Istanbul. Photo via Moyan Brenn at Flickr.

9. Historic Istanbul. Istanbul has been the capital for both the Eastern Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The city where East meets West ideally situated on the Bosphorus, it has played a major historic, trading and religious role throughout time and as a result, is classed as a city of significant and outstanding importance. Istanbul is packed full of historic sites, many making up it’s serial listing with UNESCO. Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Suleymaniye and Sehzade Mosques and the Blue Mosque are just a few of the highlights listed. No tour of Turkey would be complete without visiting Istanbul. It really is where old meets new and history lies next to contemporary.

10. Hittite capital of Hattusha.  An ancient archaeological city of considerable influence during the 2nd millennium B.C. The remains of impressive temples, fortifications and royal residences can still be seen at the site.

unesco sites in Turkey
Nemrut Dagi. Photo via Wikimedia.

11. Nemrut Dag. Listed with UNESCO since 1987, the archaeological site of Nemrut Dag lies in South Central Turkey and is truly awe-inspiring. It is thought to be the Holy Seat and burial tomb of the Commagene King, Antiochus I Epiphanes, dating back to the 1st Century B.C.  Re-discovered in around 1881 by an Ottoman geologist, this mountain top shrine with temples and striking stone sculptures is still surrounded in mystery. Although many studies have been conducted over the years, they have left no firm indication as to how this impressive site was originally built, its true purpose and if this is indeed the burial site of the Commagene King.

12. Catalhoyuk. The Neolithic site of Catalhoyuk covers two hillsides of the Southern Anatolian Plateau. The site is thought to date back to around 7400 B.C. The two mounds home evidence of 18 levels of Neolithic occupation including reliefs, wall paintings, symbols and artwork. This site has helped us gain a good insight into social and cultural evolution during the Chalcolithic period and given us a greater understanding on early urban settlement.

13. Pergamon and it’s Multi-Layered Landscape. Just 25km from the Aegean Sea, in the Izmir Province of Turkey, lies Pergamon. This ancient city has a rich history. During the Hellinistic period it became the capital of the Attalid Kings and it was also the first capital of the Asian province during whilst the Romans ruled before they relocated the capital to Ephesus.

14. Selimiye Mosque. Added to the UNESCO list in 2011, this stunning mosque is found in Edirne and commissioned by Sultan Selim II. Built between 1569 and 1575, it is considered a masterpiece and a magnificent example of Islamic architecture.

unesco world heritage sites in Turkey
Xanthos. Photo via Wikimedia.

15. Xanthos and Letoon.  Just an hours drive from Fethiye, Xanthos and Letoon are often referred to together as they lie just a few kilometers apart. Daily trips and jeep safaris often take visitors to the sites from nearby Kas, Kalkan and Fethiye resorts, they tend to stop off here before heading to the wonderful beach of Patara or Saklikent Gorge. Xanthos was once the capital city of the Lycia and dates back to at least the 8th Century B.C., some believe it even existed during the Bronze and Iron Age. Letoon was also an important site in Lycia. It was one of the most important religious centres in the region. Both are well worth a visit if you get the opportunity.

How many have you visited? Do comment and let us know if you have been to any of these sites, we would love to hear about them. Much of this article was based on information from the UNESCO website. To view full details, please click here.

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