Turkey - Attractions
Turkey's capital is a sprawling urban mass in the midst of the Central Anatolian steppe. It's very different from the Ottoman town of Angora which preceded it on this site, a quiet place where long-haired goats were raised and their fleece knitted into fluffy jumpers. Since 1920 when Atatürk set up his provisional government here, Ankara's main business has been government but several significant attractions make it worth a short visit.
Most visitors head straight for Hisar, the Byzantine citadel atop the hill east of the old city, and the nearby Museum of Anatolian Civilsations. A couple of km to the south is Atatürk's mausoleum, a monumental building, spare but beautiful, that echoes the architecture of several great Anatolian empires. The Presidential Mansion is preserved as Atatürk used it, with decor and furnishings of the 1930s including billiard table and cigar-and-brandy nook. There's a lot of ancient history around too. Roman Ankara was a city of some importance, and Roman ruins are dotted in amongst the mosques and monuments of Muslim Anatolia. Most of the cheaper hotels and restaurants are in old Ankara, a km or so northeast of the train station.
Antalya is the chief city on Turkey's central Mediterranean coast. As well as several km of pebble beaches and a historic Roman-Ottoman core, Antalya is a good base from which to explore the quieter beach towns and more spectacular ancient cities of the region. Side, 75km (47mi) east of Antalya, is the increasingly popular beach town once chosen by Mark Antony and Cleopatra for a romantic tryst. Alanya, 115km (71mi) east of Antalya, is another sea-sun-n-sand joint with a mini-Miami feel. Patara is a party town a few hundred km south-west of Antalya. The beach here is a simply splendid 20km (12mi) long and there are Roman ruins in amongst the dunes. You'll have to do your sunset-watching elsewhere, however, as the beach closes at dusk to give sea turtles access to their nests. The towns along the Mediterranean coast are all linked by bus and dolmus services (especially frequent in summer).
Bodrum is the South Aegean's prettiest resort, with a yacht harbour and a port for ferries to the Greek island of Kos. Palm-lined streets ring the bays, and white sugar-cube houses, now joined by ranks of villas, crowd the hillside. Boating, swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving are prime Bodrum activities. At night Bodrum's famous discos throb, boom and blare, keeping much of the town awake until dawn. Both Turkish and foreign visitors complain about the ear-splitting cacophany, but the local attitude seems to be, 'If you wanted peace and quiet, why did you come to Bodrum?'. If this sounds like your kind of town, you can grab a bus to Bodrum from just about anywhere - it's 4 hours to Izmir by road. There are frequent ferries to Kos in summer, and a hydrofoil to Rhodes between May and September.
Of Turkey's hundreds of ancient cities and classical ruins, Ephesus is the grandest and best preserved. Indeed, it's the spunkiest classical city on the Mediterranean. Ephesus was Ionia, a flourishing cultural centre during the Greek Empire, and a busy provincial capital during Roman times. Ionia's Temple of Diana was counted among the Seven Wonders of the World, and the city was generally renowned for its wealth and beauty. Sts Paul and John took up the quill in Ionia and the Virgin Mary is said to have spent her twilight years here. A walking tour of the ruins will take at least half a day, and if you're here in summer, start early, because it gets stinking hot by high noon. Places you'll come across include the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers, in which seven persecuted youths slumbered for two centuries, then woke up and ambled down to town for a meal; the colossal Harbour Gymnasium; the grand marble-paved Arcadian Way; the impressive Temple of Hadrian and a scattering of Roman fountains, pools, brothels, libraries and public toilets.
Selçuk, a town of 25,000 people with more than its fair share of nagging touts, is the main tourist centre for the region. There's a beautiful museum in the centre of town and a fair swag of Roman, Christian and Muslim sights including the St John Basilica and a Byzantine Aqueduct. Izmir is the closest transportation hub. Frequent trains and buses trundle the 1-hour trip to Selçuk which is a mere 3km (2mi) from Ephesus.
Straddling the Bosphorus, its skyline studded with domes and minarets, İstanbul is one of the truly great romantic cities. Its history tracks back from Byzantium to Constantinople to its place at the head of the Ottoman Empire. Today it hums as Turkey's cultural heart and good-time capital.
The heart of historical İstanbul is Sultanahmet, the district centred on the Byzantine Hippodrome in the oldest part of the city. Best explored on foot, most sights are within easy walking distance of each other. If the pace does get too much, a çay bahçe (tea garden) is never too far away.