Archaeological Tours in Turkey
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There are many reasons to visit Turkey: the country’s great variety of landscapes, its fascinating cuisine, the fascinating mix of tradition and modernity and of course the long shoreline of azure waters sparkling under the Mediterranean sun – they all are major points of attraction.
World-famous Archaeological Sites
But for most of us, the name Turkey also invokes other images: the ornate monuments lining the marble-paved streets of ancient Ephesus, the towering columns at Temple of Apollo at Didyma, the Haghia Sophia and the great mosques of Istanbul with their shining domes and minarets, the mysterious and cavernous Underground Cities of Cappadocia, the revered walls of Troy, hallowed in myth and celebrated as a birthplace of prehistoric archaeology, or the great citadel of Hattusha, capital of the Bronze Age Hittite Empire, its gates flanked by its stone-carved sphinxes and lions… A stupendous wealth of archaeological wonders is one of Turkey’s most striking and most unique features, and one that draws us and our guests there.
A Geographic Bridge…
No wonder: Anatolia, Turkey’s main landmass, is in a unique geographic position that has made it a place of great cultural and historical significance for many millennia. Separated from the European continent only by the narrow Dardanelles and Bosphorus Straits, the peninsula forms a bridge between Europe and Asia, a fact that is reflected by its chequered history.
Many different peoples and cultures have been present in the region, some passing through it and others based there, making it an area where civilisations have met and rubbed shoulders, sometimes in conflict and sometimes in harmony. These encounters have not only shaped world history, but also the country itself, making them a key avenue to discovering and experiencing Turkey in all its depth and beauty.
…and A Cultural Melting-Pot
It is impossible to list all of these civilisations here. In prehistory, they range from early hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers to the Bronze Age Akkadians, Hittites and even Mycenaeans. During the Iron Age, Anatolia’s regions developed their own cultures and identities, such as the Carians, Lycians or Lydians, all of them in increasing contact with the Greeks who started to settle the coasts by the 7th century BC.
In spite of the incorporation of Anatolia into the Persian Empire in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, the west became a heartland of Greek culture. Alexander’s conquest of Persia in the 330s, passing through Anatolia itself, changed the map dramatically; after his death, the area was split into several competing kingdoms. The Roman Empire gained control from the 2nd century BC, and its province of “Asia” became one of its core regions before long.
When Emperor Constantine decided that a new, second capital was needed for the East, in AD 330, he founded his new city on the shores of the Bosphorus as Constantinople (modern Istanbul), core of the Byzantine Empire for eleven centuries. The Byzantines were not the last culture to leave their mark on the area, they were followed by Crusader Knights, Seljuk Turks and the Ottoman Empire with its fascinating mix of cultural elements. During all these millennia, Turkey was a central theatre of historical events.
The Present Past
Each of these peoples, each of these cultures has left traces throughout Turkey. From Bronze Age forts via Classical Greek citadels to medieval castles, from prehistoric settlements via Greek or Roman cities to the standing medieval centres preserved today, from age-old cave shrines via grandiose temples to dazzling Byzantine churches and splendid Ottoman mosques, the past is a constant presence in Turkey – and exploring it is one of the most rewarding ways to engage with the country.
The great “must-see” attractions may be easy to find – but the visit benefits immeasurably from the presence of an expert guide, sharing his or her profound knowledge with the visitors. Such an expert can point out fascinating details that are easily overlooked, explain the hidden meanings of sites and artefacts, and paint a broad picture of what these places and their world were like – in others words, bring the past back to life in an engaging, entertaining and accessible way.
Moreover, one of the greatest joys of Turkish travel is to be found in going to the little-known archaeological sites, those off-the -beaten-track places that most guidebooks and organised tours pass by – places of supreme beauty, great interest and evocative atmosphere. Age-old shrines set in remote highlands, mighty fortifications set on coves that can only be reached by boat, long-abandoned cities hidden in distant valleys, their temples and theatres; ancient cemeteries still glistening in the sun and tiny rock-carved churches covered in fresco paintings. Visiting such places is a profound experience, imbued with a sense of discovery and exploration, an adventure in space and time.