Much like the ubiquitous Turkish delight candies that have differing ingredients, flavors, and textures, the delights of Western Turkey are just as varied. The seven Turkish delights I offer range from mosques, former basilicas, Greco-Roman ruins and Byzantine architecture to unique natural world wonders such as the fairy castles of Cappadocia and the terraced pumice pools of Pamukkale. Traversing through Turkey is like traveling through time – to a place permeated and punctuated with ancient cultures, where a mixture of Greco-Roman, Christian, and Islam converge over time to produce a culturally-rich tapestry in a nation now called Turkey.
Seven Turkish Delights
A top attraction in Turkey, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul has gone through many changes since its original construction in the sixth century by the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I. Originally a Greek Eastern Orthodox basilica that was once the largest enclosed space in the world, it became a Roman Catholic church briefly in the 12th century. It was then converted to a mosque in the 15th century by conquering Ottomans and remained that way until opening as a museum in 1935.
Over the years Hagia Sophia served as an inspiration for other mosques, including its geographic neighbor, the Blue Mosque. Besides being a magnificent example of Byzantine architecture, it is also famous for the many religious mosaics scattered throughout the cavernous interior.
Started in 1609 with the intention of being more grandeur than Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque took seven years to build. Also known as the Sultanahmet Mosque, it is located in the old section of Istanbul and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Turkey. Since the mosque is an active place of worship, it is closed during the five daily prayer times for Muslims.
Over 20,000 Iznik ceramic tiles in differing patterns and shades of blue decorate the high ceiling, providing the namesake for the mosque. This along with the cascading domes and six slender minarets are what uniquely define the Blue Mosque. Interestingly, the six minarets were initially considered scandalous as only the mosque in Mecca had six minarets, with most having only four. The sultan solved the dilemma by sending his architect to Mecca and adding a seventh minaret.
Once a thriving Greco-Roman metropolis in what is now Aegean Turkey, today the ancient home of the Ephesians is resident to one of the world’s greatest classical sites. It is also one of Turkey’s most popular tourist attractions.
Ephesus, now one of the many Turkish delights, was once a cultural heartland of ancient Greece and a major seaport and trading center for the Mediterranean. It thrived from about the fourth century BC, eventually becoming one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire by the 1st century BC. It was also home of the famous Temple of Artemis, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
But when Rome fell, so did Ephesus. Eventually its once thriving port silted up and was abandoned. Today, the ruins of Ephesus are best known for its famous pillared façade of the Library of Celsus, third largest of the Roman Empire. A two-story structure, it was built around 125 AD to house more than 12,000 scrolls and to serve as a monumental tomb for Celsus, the governor of Asia. The façade was carefully reconstructed in the 1970s from original pieces. The Apostle Paul once spoke in the nearby theater.
Cappadocia is a huge, semi-arid region in central Turkey dominated by a volcanic plateau and the extinct volcano Erciyes. Ancient eruptions blanketed the land with a thick layer of tuff – a soft rock easily carved – followed by thin layers of a more resistant basalt. Natural forces of wind and water eroded the softer underlying tuff at a much greater pace than the harder top rock. The result is the fairytale landscape of Cappadocia with its bizarre hoodoo formations including fairy chimneys, cones, tents, and pinnacles.
Around 2000 BC, the Hittites sculpted underground tunnel complexes as they sought safety from invading Persians and Greeks. Much later, Christians would seek refuge in the many tunnels and caves, carving out churches, chapels, and monasteries while painting descriptive Biblical frescoes inside cave walls.
Today, you can see many of these rock-hewn sanctuaries at Göreme Open-Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can also experience troglodytic dwelling by spending the night in any number of cave hotels and boutiques in the region that cater to visitors.
A surreal calcite city of travertine terraces and milky turquoise pools, Pamukkale is a spectacular natural wonder created from calcium carbonate mineral springs flowing downward to the plain below. Meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish, this fairytale landscape in conjunction with the temples and ruins at Hierapolis are now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is considered to be Turkey’s premiere attraction, with more than two million visitors flocking to see one of the great wonders of the natural world.
Aspendos harbors one of the best preserved ancient theaters of the world. A wonderfully preserved Roman theater with a mesmerizing height of 315 feet, Aspendos Theater could seat up to 8,500 in its day. It was built by architect Zeno between 160-180 AD during the reign of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Later, the theater was used as a caravanserai (roadside inn) during Seljuk times, which might account for its excellent state of preservation.
In 1909, British archaeologist David George Hogarth had this to say about the Aspendos Theater: “You may have seen the amphitheatres in Italy, France, Dalmatia and Africa; temples in Egypt and Greece; the palaces in Crete; you may be sated with antiquity or scornful of it. But you have not seen the theatre of Aspendos.”
Church of St. Nicholas in Demre
Considered a sacred destination and place of pilgrimage for many, the Church of St. Nicholas in Demre (ancient Myra) is a ruined 8th century church and former tomb of revered St. Nicholas. Patron saint of children, sailors, and father of Orthodox faith, St. Nicholas was born in 270 AD in Greco-Roman Lycia, now modern-day Turkey. He is also the inspiration for Santa Claus.
The edifice is noted for its architectural and religious significance, where you will find remarkable wall frescos, mosaics, and a Byzantine structure that unfortunately was buried in silt until Russian Tsar Nicholas I began restoration of the church in 1862. During prime season, it’s not uncommon to see up to sixty bus loads a day of dedicated Russians pay respect to one of their most revered.
I hope you enjoy these seven Turkish delights as much as I did.
Written by and photos by Karin Leperi for EuropeUpClose.com
As an award-winning writer and photographer, Karin embraces the natural world but also savors the spirit of people and place. Her specialties range from aviation, culture, cuisine, and cruising to luxury, lifestyle, photography, nature, and wildlife. For more of Leperi’s photography, visit www.travelprism.com