As the 37th largest country in the world, the diversity of culture, traditions, weather, landscapes, and food throughout Turkey is overwhelming in itself. Even the history of the country would fill a book containing thousands of pages, yet it is because of its past that we see the glory of Turkey as it is now, so a quick brief introduction to its history would start with Istanbul, formerly Constantinople and the capital of both the now defunct Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
Many kingdoms including the Lycians, Persians, and Alexander the Great ruled these lands stretching between Asia Minor and Europe, but from 330 A.D, the eastern Roman Empire swept throughout the region conquering and claiming supreme status. Building many significant landmarks such as the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, they enjoyed many fruitful years until 1453 A.D, when Sultan Mehmed the 2nd, nicknamed the conqueror, invaded Constantinople and claimed the throne for himself.
A new empire was sweeping over the globe and ruling from Constantinople; the Ottomans built a reputation as fierce and almighty fighters. Yet their customs and traditions slowly altered over time exposing their weakness and eventually bankrupting them in the early 20th century. After the war of independence against allied forces, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk formed the Turkish Republic in 1923 and that is how Turkey became a secular Muslim country.
For many years, it stayed off the international radar, trying to repair damage left by the wars, but in 1970, the famous hippie trail introduced Turkey to mass tourism and in the 1980s, package holidays put it on the map as a popular tourist destination. By 2015, it had become one of the top ten visited destinations in the world.
Geographical Layout and Regions of Turkey
First-time visitors to Turkey are often surprised to witness landscapes entirely different from the barren, desert-like plains they imagined. Bordered by eight countries, the north, west, and most of the south (Mediterranean) are coastlines, filled with sandy beaches and home to many popular holiday resorts.
Istanbul in the north-west is Turkey’s largest city with many urban neighbourhoods, both conservative and cosmopolitan. Some like Beyoglu are heavily influenced by art, music, and western trends. On the opposite side of the country, the northeast region is a stark difference.
The Kackar Mountains sitting at a higher altitude provide the perfect weather and soil conditions for plants and trees, therefore making the district the tea-producing capital of Turkey. Snow falls in winter and locals build their houses by hand using wood from the abundance of forests. One can easily see a similarity between the region and the hills of Switzerland.
Heading to the conservative southeast district, consisting of well-known cities such as Gaziantep(famous for pistachios nuts and baklava,) Sanliurfa( nicknamed the city of prophets,) and Mardin, a contender for the UNESCO world heritage site list, the region’s famous landmarks include Pool of Abraham, said to be where Nimrod threw Abraham into the flames.
Finally, in the middle of the country, the Anatolian district comprises of places like Ankara, the capital of Turkey but more popular is Cappadocia, a district defying belief because of its lunar landscape, underground cities, and cave churches.
Food and Drink
Labelling Turkey as a country of kebab eaters would be a mistake since many other recipes make frugal use of the abundance of fruit and veg grown on extremely fertile lands. Despite many people’s assumptions, Turkey is an ideal country for vegetarians because apart from chicken, meat is expensive.
Bread is a staple part of any meal and for special occasions or dining-out, mezes, the Turkish equal of appetizers, often starts the menu for the evening. Fish dishes are back into fashion especially during summer when Turks flock to seaside restaurants for fresh catches of the day.
Small Turkish restaurants known as lokantas specialises in cheap and affordable dishes for travellers on a budget such as Corba (soup), Pide or lahmacun (equivalent to pizza) and by far the most favourite sweet dish or snack is baklava, layers of filo pastry filled with items such as nuts and covered with sweet, sticky syrup.
Although Turkish coffee is occasionally drunk, instead sweet, black tea poured into tulip shaped glasses are the nation’s most consumed drink, as reflected in the teahouses of most villages, towns, and cities. The cold drink of Ayran, a blend of yogurt, water, and salt is refreshing in summer and a great cure for stomach-aches, despite the weird combination of ingredients.
Lastly, the national alcohol drink is Raki, of which the nearest equivalent is Greek Ouzo. Combined with water to form a milky white liquid, it is nicknamed “Lions Milk” thanks to the confidence it gives after drinking it.
The Best of Turkey
Certain places within Turkey are renowned for their historical or cultural aspects and, therefore, have become top tourist destinations. They include…
Istanbul: A 4-day city break introduces visitors to landmarks belonging to the UNESCO World Heritage list and left by the Ottoman Empire.
Cappadocia: Highlights include a sunrise hot air balloon trip, cave hotels, and underground cities where thousands of people used to live.
Antalya: As the second most popular holiday destination in Turkey, it is home to historical sites such as Aspendos and the old town featuring Hadrian’s gate.
Pamukkale: One of the most stunning natural landmarks in the country, the white travertine pools cascading down the hillside is nicknamed the cotton castle.
Ephesus: Consisting of the Roman terraced houses, ancient theatre and the third largest library of the ancient world called Celsius; Ephesus is Turkey’s most popular attraction outside of Istanbul.
Fethiye: Popularity can be credited to Fethiye’s reputation as the starting point for a 4-day trip of the Turkish Riviera.
Everything Else to Know
Turkey is a secular country but most of the population are Muslim so the call to prayer five times a day across the country is a common theme. Apart from mosques, religion is not widely displayed except at festivals such as Seker Bayram where children knock on doors for sweets and familys visit each other during the day.
Turks are big football lovers and if a team wins, supporters normally take to the streets in a convoy of cars to beep their horns while cheering and waving the flag. Other times, you may see a convoy of beeping cars is on wedding or circumcision occasions. Turks love their celebrations!
Banks and offices are open Monday to Friday while during the summer; bars and restaurants are open every day and well into the early hours of the morning. A typical guideline for tipping is 10% depending on how happy you are with the service.
Turkey operates on a two-prong plug for electricity so bring adaptors or buy them at the airport. The national currency is Turkish lira, although the euro, pound, and dollar are widely accepted in most touristic places. ATMs are prominent in most towns although if you plan to travel somewhere remotely to small villages, stock up on cash first. Obtain an e-visa online to enter the country and tourists can stay for a maximum of 90 days out of 180 so enjoy the best of what Turkey offers!
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