Travel consultant focused on cultural travel in the Middle East & Mediterranean
Turkey has always been regarded as the bridge between Europe and Asia, and the grand view from the 14th century Galata Tower in Istanbul, overlooking the imperial city and the three strategic waterways it is built on, illustrates this perfectly. For me, the great appeal of the city is that the monuments, mosques and street life are all mixed in together, so that it feels like a vibrant and living place and never like a museum. Of course, the “must do” sights, such as St Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar are very rewarding, and the bustle of the city and the easy charm of the locals give these places another dimension altogether. Istanbul’s cultural richness is worn lightly.
After paying our respects at the beautiful and sombre sites of Gallipoli, we head to Homer’s Troy, where our European civilization began, then down the Aegaen coast to the most spectacular of Roman cities at Ephesus. This region of Turkey was important to the Greeks and later the Romans, and they left us some magnificent sites – in addition to Ephesus, we visit the dramatic hill-top acropolis of Pergamum, and the beautifully preserved ancient theatre at Aspendos, still used for an annual opera and ballet festival.
Our quest for culture and history is not allowed to get in the way of enjoying the marvellous Aegean coast. The modern city of Antalya is perfect for relaxation, and we usually manage a half-day boat cruise (and a swim, if weather permits). And this being Turkey, Antalya happens to have a jewel of an archaeological museum with a unique collection of Roman sculpture.
Turkey often feels like several countries in one – from the Mediterranean atmosphere of the Aegean coast, we turn to the dry inland of Anatolia with its distinct air of Asia Minor. Our destination is Konya,the ancient capital of the Seljuks, set in a high and bleak plain. The main attraction for us is the Mevlana Museum, burial place of Rumi, the mystic and founder of the “Whirling Dervish” sect of Islam. The Dervishes, who espouse a philosophy of spiritual union and universal love, always make visitors very welcome at their services.
The jewel of Anatolia is the Cappadocia region, with its extraordinary “fairy chimney” landscapes and clusters of early Christian chapels and monasteries cut into the soft rock. The Goreme Open-Air Museum, declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO, dates from the 9th century on; and this cultural wonder is carefully tended by the Turkish government.
A great way of appreciating this remarkable landscape is with an early morning balloon flight (optional, of course).
Our return journey to Istanbul is broken by a visit to Ankara, Turkey’s capital. The Ataturk Mausoleum is a reminder of the continuing legacy of the founding father of modern Turkey. And the great Museum of Anatolian Civilizations reminds us how this energetic and thriving country lives so comfortably with its glorious past.