Where East meets West, Turkey has been at the frontier of disparate and competing civilisations for centuries and today it boasts some of the most fascinating history and culture in the world. Combine this with supremely hospitable people, breath-taking scenery and world-class cuisine, and it`s easy to understand Turkey`s appeal.
Gaining legendary pseudonyms such as `Babylon` and `The Garden of Eden`, Eastern Turkey has long captured the imagination. Little visited, the region`s range from fascinating natural landscapes, enigmatic historical sites, to smiling faces and exotic markets, which combine to make an alluring combination of old and new.
The culinary capital of Eastern Turkey, Gaziantep`s famous baklava (pistachio pastries) are shipped all over the country and beyond, and its renowned restaurants serve up mouth-watering dishes. Besides cuisine, Gaziantep boasts a fine Seljuk-era citadel, numerous impressive mosques and restored old buildings, so that much of the city appears almost as it was in past times. Gaziantep`s chief draw however is its mosaic museum, believed to be the best in the world. The mosaics were recovered from the ancient Roman town of Zeugma, which is now underwater. The town`s bustling city markets are also well worth a visit.
Sunrise and sunset at Nemrut Daği (a.k.a. Mount Nemrut) is one of Eastern Turkey`s most exhilarating experiences. At the peak of this mountain (at over 2000m) sit the striking statues of the pre-Roman king, Antiochus I Theos of Commagene, surrounded by the various gods he believed to be his ancestors. The fearsome heads of the statue-figures are now separated from each other in the surrounding stone rubble, and the site still retains this sense of a lost world. Sublime views from the summit, across the distant Euphrates, add to the enigma of the place.
Halfeti & Rumkale
The quaint village of Halfeti sits on the side of an azure lake and is the staging post to catch a boat through a stunning valley to the beautiful cliffside fortress of Rumkale, which is only accessible by boat. Rumkale`s setting is superb and the nearby village with its minaret rising up from the water is spectacular.
Mardin & Urfa
Mardin is a remarkable town full of beautiful mosques and churches set in a stunning, rocky landscape. With baked-brown alleyways, ancient, honey-coloured buildings, and a maze of a market, Mardin is charmingly authentic.
Urfa (known as `Sanliurfa` or `the Prophet`s City`) is the most spiritual city in East Turkey. It is a major centre for pilgrimage and its traditions are very much alive and well. Discover its `park of mosques`, imposing castle, its `holy trout`, its wonderful markets, historic buildings and picturesque squares.
Göbekli Tepe & Harran
Göbekli Tepe is the oldest man-made place of worship in the world, dating back an incredible 11,500 years. The site stunned archaeologists when it was first discovered, and its sheer expanse and craftsmanship is overwhelming, with exquisite stone carvings of people, lions, foxes, snakes and birds - some of the oldest known art in the world.
Once home to the Prophet Abraham, the ancient site of Harran is mentioned in the book of Genesis. Home of the first Islamic university in Anatolia, Harran also boasts the remains of an 8th century mosque, a citadel and some 300 year old beehive mud homes which enjoy a constant temperature throughout the year.
Dramatic Hasankeyf is like a mini-Cappadocia with beautiful honey-coloured buildings clinging to a cliff-side overlooking the river Tigris. Climb up the hill to see this wonderful site with its castles, palaces, mosques and a crumbling bridge. A government dam project means that the future of Hasankeyf hangs precariously in the balance.
This Kurdish dominated town (known as `Amed` to Kurds) was once the flashpoint for anti-Turkish rebellion and indeed is seen by Kurdish people as the capital of their would-be nation. Today the city is experiencing a renaissance and is full of character and soul. The city walls are superseded only by the Great Wall of China and inside the walls you will find impressive mosques, churches, and an interesting architectural spectrum.
Close to the sublime Lake Van, Van is a university town with a relaxed character. The beautiful, sprawling Van Castle is the perfect place to watch the sun set. Take advantage of Van`s laid-back character and have a drink while watching live Turkish and Kurdish music.
Hosap Castle & Akdamar Island
About an hour from Van is the magnificent Hoşap Castle. Perched on a rocky hilltop slightly above the town, the castle offers breath-taking views of the surrounding areas. Its entrance is dramatically framed by the hillside, appearing to lead into another world, and there are intricate lion carvings set into the stone.
The short boat ride across Lake Van to Akdamar Island has views of the snowy peaks, azure water and the crown jewel Akdamar Kilisesi (an Armenian church). This exquisite church boasts an exterior of relief carvings showing biblical scenes, and inside are some stunning, though faded, frescoes.
Ishak Pasa Palace & Mount Ararat
En route to Ishak Paşa Palace are the picturesque waterfalls at Muradiye, set in lovely, pastoral surroundings, and the drive to Ishak Paşa Palace is equally beautiful. Mount Ararat, Turkey`s highest peak at over 5000m, and known in legend as the birthplace of Noah`s Ark, looks down over the road making a spectacular backdrop for Ishak Paşa Palace. The palace itself is one of the world`s most beautiful buildings with Armenian and Georgian influenced stone carvings and inspiring views.
Kars & Ani
Famous as the setting for the novel Snow by Nobel-prize winning author Orhan Pamuk, Kars is a fascinating mix of Russian, Azeri, Turkmen, Kurdish and Turkish influences and its cheese and honey are famous throughout Turkey. Nearby Ani, however, is the gem of this region. Once the Armenian stately capital and a rival to Constantinople, Ani today is an impressive set of ruins spread over a large site with jaw-dropping views in every direction. Here you will find the spectacular remains of several churches, a convent, a castle, a cathedral, a Zoroastrian temple and a palace.
Other Regions of Turkey
Sitting on the Bosporus, Istanbul is one of the world`s truly great cities, overflowing with culture and historical sites. World class attractions such as the exquisite Hagha Sofia and the Blue Mosque, excellent bars and restaurants, wonderful architecture, vibrant markets and a history of epic proportions makes Istanbul a city par excellence.
Cappadocia, Turkey`s most famous cultural draw, is a natural phenomenon. The unique landscape of peaked domes, nick-named the `fairy chimneys`, is the product of year upon year of volcanic activity and erosion. Cappadocia has a rich, exciting history and its labyrinthine, ancient underground cities are riddled with tales of intrigue. There are also excellent trekking options in this captivating region.