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Turkey:  A country of experiences of an incredible diversity in nature, culture, history, beliefs and ideas.

As a bridge between Europe and Asia, Turkey has so much to offer visitors: breathtaking natural beauty, unique historical and archaeological sites, steadily improving hotel and touristic infrastructure and a tradition of hospitality and competitive prices. Therefore, it is not surprising that Turkey has become one of the world’s most popular tourism destinations.

In Turkey you will experience an incredible diversity in nature, culture, history, beliefs and ideas. This in itself may not be a challenge for the seasoned traveller. After all, diversity is the most prized feature of favourite destinations. In Turkey this diversity is rich enough to challenge even the most experienced eye because it is packed into tight spaces with abrupt changes of scenery. This is why people sometimes describe the Turkish landscape as a "symphony of sounds, smells and people in the most unlikely combinations of appearance and action".

Due to Turkey's diverse geography, one can experience four different climates in any one day. This rectangular-shaped country is bordered on three sides by three different seas. Its shores are laced with beaches, bays, coves, ports, islands and peninsulas. Turkey is also blessed with majestic mountains and valleys, lakes, rivers, waterfalls and caves perfect for winter and summer tourism as well as sports of all kinds. Fans of skiing, mountain climbers, trekkers, hikers and hunters can all enjoy new and unforgettable experiences in Turkey. The country is rich in hot springs, healing waters and mud baths, which are highly recommended by the medical authorities as a remedy for many diseases. But Turkey is above all a huge open-air museum, a repository of all the civilisations nurtured by the soils of Anatolia.

Besides its great sights and monuments, Turkey offers unlimited opportunities for leisure and pleasure. Majestic mountains are ideal for climbers, hikers, skiers and paragliders. There are over 8000km of coastline laced with picturesque bays and coves offering not only unique spots for summer holidays but also exciting opportunities for scuba diving, sailing, parasailing and cruising. Year-round sunshine destinations are accessible in Turkey, while there is plenty of snow in others. There is a solid and expanding tourism infrastructure, one of the world’s healthiest cuisines and an extremely hospitable people. Seniors, historylovers, yachtsmen, mountaineers, young parents with toddlers and business people who look for new adventures can all find something special in Turkey.

 

A Unique Geography Connecting East to West

Turkey is like a mosaic made up of many different reliefs and formations: parallel mountain ranges, extinct volcanoes, plateaux fissured by valleys and plains.

Turkey is a vast peninsula, covering an area of 780,000 sq km and linking Asia to Europe through the Sea of Marmara and the Straits of İstanbul and Çanakkale.

It is characterized by a central plateau surrounded by chains of mountains to the north, west and south and a rugged mountainous region in the east with an average elevation of 1050 metres. The Northern Anatolia mountain range and the Taurus range in the south stretch like arcs, becoming ever denser in the east. In the west, however, the mountains descend gently towards the sea.

Turkey is like a mosaic made up of many different reliefs and formations: parallel mountain ranges, extinct volcanoes, plateaux fissured by valleys and plains.

Surrounded by seas on three sides, it is placed in the temperate climate zone. The climate varies considerably from region to region, however: a temperate climate in the Black Sea region, a Mediterranean climate on the southern coast and the Aegean, a continental and arid climate on the central plateau, and a harsh mountain climate in eastern Turkey. Because of these variations in climate, the fauna and flora are some of the richest in the world.

There are more than 10,000 species of plants in Turkey, 20% of which are endemic. Turkey is home to a number of ornamental flowers, the most notable being the tulip. Bulbs of these plants were brought to Vienna from İstanbul in the 1500s, beginning the craze for tulips in England and the Netherlands. By 1634 the interest in tulips had grown so intense that in Holland ‘tulipomania’ emerged, with individuals investing money in tulips as they do in high-tech stocks now. This period of elegance and amusement in 17th-century Turkey was also symbolized by this flower, giving the era the name "the Tulip Age".

Turkey has a great variety of wild animals, with around 160 species of mammals. The forest belt to the north is home to grey bears, while the south is home to wild goats. Sea turtles and seals play in the waters of the Mediterranean and the Aegean. Just as in other parts of the world, some species have become extinct or are on the verge of extinction. There are 418 species of indigenous or migratory birds, some of which are extinct in Europe, such as the black vulture. The most important species for environmentalists is the "bald Ibis", a peculiar bird with a bald pink head and drooping feathers.

If you take a cross-section along the east-west axis, you will encounter the rugged, snow-capped mountains where winters are long and cold; the highlands where the spring season with its rich wildflowers and rushing creeks extends into long, cool summers; the dry steppe with rolling hills, endless stretches of wheat fields and barren bedrock that take on the most incredible shades of gold, violet and cool and warm greys as the sun traverses the sky; the magical land of fairy chimneys and cavernous hillsides; and eventually the warm, fertile valleys between cultivated mountainsides of the lace-like shores of the Aegean where nature is friendly and life has always been easy.

A north-south cross-section begins with the lush, temperate zone of the Black Sea coast, well protected by a chain of high mountain ranges, cultivated in hazelnuts, corn and tea (which will become a part of the daily ritual during your stay here). High passes and winding roads offer breathtaking views of the Black Sea, leading to highlands and steppe, with orchards tucked into the foothills of lower mountains; then on to the vast Konya plain, and up the Toros (Taurus) Mountains into coniferous forests, which eventually descend to a scrubby maquis fragrant with bay leaves and oregano as the Mediterranean coast approaches. Then, if you turn east, passing banana plantations and cotton fields, you will come to the desert-like part of Turkey. Just north of Syria, the earth displays all the textures and shades of brown imaginable. In short, for every two to four hours of driving, you find yourself in a different geographical zone with all the attendant changes in scenery, temperature, altitude, humidity, vegetation and weather.

Turkey’s landscape has the combined characteristics of the three oldest continents of the world: Europe, Africa and Asia. It has an ecological diversity surpassing any other place along the 40th north latitude. This diversity is reflected in the intermingling of all species of animals just as they were found before the geological separation of the land masses occurred, but whose habitats are now dispersed among these continents. Now it is possible to observe the yearly ebb and flow of nature as birds continue on their migratory routes twice a year. The flocks of storks and birds of prey convey a magnificent spectacle that you can watch from the hills of Çamlıca in İstanbul every fall. The flamingos nest in the river valleys of the Aegean and the Mediterranean and spend the winter in the saltwater lakes of the inlands. If you happen to be visiting Dalyan (or some other beaches along the Mediterranean) on a warm spring night in May, you will be sharing the sand dunes with one of the most delightfully shy creatures in the world, the sea turtle, which lays its eggs in the sand at this time of year.

The bucolic, rural scenery radiates with sincerity and health, enhancing the traveller’s experience. In this, the motherland of wheat, the taste of ordinary Turkish bread surpasses any other when eaten freshly baked. The orchards, vineyards, and vegetable fields grow delicate and vibrant crops. As well as grains, staple crops include rice, cotton, sugar beets, tobacco and potatoes. This diversity and abundance of food products have contributed to the richness of the Turkish cuisine.

A Melting Pot of Peoples

Turkey has an extremely rich cultural heritage. Perhaps no other land has witnessed so many diverse civilisations over the last 11,500 years. After the great Mesopotamians, the Hittite and Urartian kingdoms flourished in Anatolia. The Ionian and Roman civilisations predominated the western Anatolia. İstanbul has the honour of having served as the capital of three successive empires – the Roman, the Byzantine, and the Ottoman. Anatolia itself became a crossroads of peoples, cultures and religions. Christianity, for example, thrived in these lands and Islam was glorified by the Seljuks and Ottomans. Occupying a highly strategic position on the world map, Turkey combines the wealth of the East and the West, offering a synthesis of the traditional and the modern, the old and the new.

People of various origins came in waves and mingled with those already settled, each wave resulting in a new synthesis. Between 2000BC and 1500AD, this landscape was the centre of world civilisation. Interpretation of the world scene today is based upon our understanding of what took place on this landscape, and which is now manifested in the ruins and monuments which adorn the landscape.

In Anatolia, the settlement pattern is more or less as it was during the time of the ancient civilisations. There is a good chance that the road you are travelling on is the same one that great warriors of East and West trod, colourful caravans passed along, and couriers with mail or secret treaties galloped. Perhaps it is the same road travelled by St Paul and his companions, or by Sufis spreading their divine knowledge. Graceful aqueducts built by the Romans made urban concentrations possible. Bridges built by famous royal architect Sinan dot the countryside and are still used for the safe passage of goods and services. Caravanserais dating back to the Seljuk Empire of the 11th century offered sanctuary and relief to weary travellers. You can even stay in a caravanserai today, as several have been restored as hotels.

In addition to the historic edifices proudly displayed at such main archaeological sites as Troy, Pergamum, Ephesus, Miletus, Priene, Didyma, Aphrodisias, Heraclia, Caunos, Perge, and Aspendos, many coastal villages and towns are blessed with their very own Anatolian ruins on the outskirts. This is usually an ancient theatre commanding a spectacular view of the beach where villagers will tell you Cleopatra often swam. You don’t have to look far for the agora either. It is probably what it has always been – the local market place! Several villages are also privileged to have ‘sunken cities’ or ruins under the sea, which you can see if you look down into the crystal clear, turquoise waters as you swim. Until very recently the cave refuges in Cappadocia were used by villagers as cold storage or wine cellars.

The Anatolian hinterland will show you glimpses of ancient civilisations: the Hattians, the Assyrians, the Hittites, the Phrygians, the Urartians and the Lydians. From these civilisations come many familiar legends: the wealth of the Lydian King Croesus, King Midas with the golden touch and the Knot of Gordion that young Alexander was able to undo only with a blow of his sword.

Then there are the smaller sites, both sacred and ordinary, but with profound meaning: monasteries, tombs of saints, heroes, artists or poets, mosques, churches, walls, fortresses, palaces, fountains and cemeteries. The hillsides are covered with broken pieces of ancient pottery and even in more modern settlements you can see incorporated stones which may date back to antiquity.

As civilisations succeeded each other over a period of 11,500 years, they each left their religious legacy and, after the monotheistic domination of Anatolia, Islam, Christianity and Judaism co-existed in harmony.

Any visitor to Turkey will be struck by the plethora and variety of religious buildings and ancient shrines. There are temples dedicated to ancient gods, churches of many denominations, synagogues and, of course, mosques. As civilisations succeeded each other over a period of 11,500 years, they each left their religious legacy and, after the monotheistic domination of Anatolia, Islam, Christianity and Judaism co-existed in harmony.

The Hattians, Hittites, Hurrians, Urartians, Ionians, Lydians and Phrygians had rich mythologies. Greek mythology began with the Iliad, the epic poem of Homer who was himself a child of Anatolia. Homer was deeply influenced by the cultural environment of his motherland, in particular, by the legacy of the Mesopotamian civilisations.

Turkey is the land where the first Christian state, the Byzantine Empire, was founded – a state that lasted for 1000 years. This land was also a cradle of a great Islamic Empire that involved Turks and all Arabs. Anatolia was also the first home of Christianity and it is here that Christianity was no longer considered a Jewish religion. The Virgin Mary and the Apostle John are believed to have died in Ephesus. And it is in Antakya (Antioch) that the Disciples of Christ were called Christians for the first time.

This is also the land of the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse and was the venue for the first seven councils. Christianity took root and thrived in Anatolia, where it found a historically intense religious and spiritual lifestyle. The population easily adopted the new religion preached by St Paul, St Barnabas, St Silas and St Timothy. The Church of Ephesus was founded in 54AD. By the second century, two dioceses had already come into existence, one in Kayseri and the other in Malatya. Cappadocia was Christianised long before Emperor Constantine accepted

Christianity as a legal religion. When monasticism started to expand rapidly, all those who longed for solitude or were escaping persecution found solace in the fantastic landscape of this region where they could settle in natural caves.

Later, Anatolia became the centre of religious schisms which characterized the early centuries of Christianity, in particular the great theological debate on the relation between the components of the Trinity and on incarnation.

Before adopting Islam Turks living in Central Asia, where they find their origins, followed Shamanism. They encountered Islam on the frontiers of Central Asia and adopted the religion in the tenth century. This religious shift was practised willingly. That’s another indicator that Turks bow down to nothing. Once the Ottoman Empire consolidated its power, it dedicated itself to the enhancement of the Islamic faith and values, though for centuries people of different religions or from different ethnic groups coexisted peacefully and harmoniously in Anatolia.

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