Turkey is home to countless fascinating landmarks, relics and structures dating back to the Ottoman, Roman and Byzantine eras. The landscape, culture, and heritage are diverse, ranging from ruins that have stood for centuries to lavishly decorated palaces that feel like stepping back into another time.
The property experts for buying luxury villas in Turkey, Property Turkey, have summarised some of the must-see historical sites across Turkey, each of which has a unique past, a story to tell, and bears the legacy of some of the greatest societies that existed long before the modern-day Turkish Republic.
1. The Hagia Sophia
Called Ayasofya in Turkish, this building was originally a cathedral constructed in the 6th century for Constantinople. It remains one of the world's most important and visually stunning mosques and was the largest place of worship in the Eastern Roman Empire at the time, staying so for over 1,000 years.
The Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque following the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire and acted as a museum between 1935 and 2000 when it was reinstated.
Inside, the mosque contains Byzantine architecture, ornate and beautiful mosaics, original marble pillars and enormous domed ceilings stretching high into the sky. Visitors of all faiths and nationalities are welcome.
Known in Turkish as Efes, this ancient city offers the opportunity to wander around some of the best-preserved ruins dating back to ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, with an on-site museum displaying some of the intriguing treasures and artefacts discovered.
Walking down the streets of this once classical city is a glimpse into times past, with a wide range of structures and villas in Turkey, from residential homes to stadiums and temples. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Turkey’s most famous landmarks and was originally constructed by the Ancient Greeks in the 10th century BC.
The Temple of Artemis, found in Ephesus, is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world where some historians believe the Gospel of John was written. You can sit inside the Roman amphitheatre, with seating for 24,000 spectators, and visit the Temple of Hadrian and the Library of Celsus.
3. Topkapi Palace
The Topkapi Palace was home to Ottoman sultans throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. It was built in the traditional style of the age, with an astonishing 700,000 metres of indoor space, created as both a private residence and a seat of power.
Within the palace are numerous courtyards and smaller buildings, with Muslim and Christian relics of importance, alongside priceless artefacts that once belonged to the Prophet Mohammed.
Today the palace stands as a museum, with a glorious array of weapons, manuscripts, clothing and religiously significant artefacts. Some rooms containing priceless relics are closed to the public, including the treasury, where the Topkapi Dagger and Spoonmaker’s Diamond are kept, and the Ottoman Imperial Harem.
Built by the order of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror in 1450, the palace was constructed after the Sultan took power of Constantinople and was renovated extensively following a fire in 1665 and a previous earthquake in 1509.
4. The Underground Cities of Cappadocia
Venture underground, and you’ll find the magnificent cities built by people known as cave goers. There are 40 known subterranean cities, and only some are open to visitors, including Ürgüp, Özkonak, Mazi and Derinkuyu.
The size and complexity of these underground structures are unimaginable, with some extending eight stories into the earth, containing everything from living quarters to stables, cooking spaces, plumbing and special areas for producing grape juice.
Above ground, the fairy chimneys comprise soft, volcanic rock. They are found primarily in Cappadocia in the Central Anatolia region, some dating back to the Bronze Age.
The legend is that people fled Constantinople around 1,500 years ago, particularly Christians who were persecuted for their beliefs, and constructed houses within the fairy chimneys, as well as homes, monasteries, churches and settlements in caves and under the ground.
Interestingly, the fairy chimneys are not artificial but were created from the ash produced during volcanic eruptions, covered with a basalt layer, making these natural and unique structures, which people adapted to construct safe places to live.
5. The Basilica Cistern
Another historical underground site is The Basilica Cistern, one of the greatest and largest Byzantine sites that still survives in Istanbul today. Visitors can marvel at the scale of the space, ambience and huge columns, built as a water storage chamber but reflecting the appearance of an ancient, flooded palace.
Raised platforms allowed guests to view the 336 columns, built from solid marble, gaze at the vaulted ceilings and learn how the Early Roman Empire used cisterns in the third and fourth centuries when Istanbul was known as Constantinople.
The structure was rebuilt by Illus following a fire in 476 and is only 150 metres from the Hagia Sophia. It became even more well-known after featuring in movies such as Inferno and From Russia With Love.
6. The Blue Mosque
Conclusions about why The Blue Mosque gained its name vary – some believe that it is due to the rows of elegant blue tiles decorating the interior, whereas others think it relates to the building's colour at night; a soft, iridescent blue.
The landmark was finished in 1616 for Sultan Ahmed I and is also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It is one of the finest architectural sites in all of Istanbul, with a hierarchy of domes increasing in size that have become fixture on the city skyline.
Visitors can view the marble mihrab and over 200 stained glass windows within the mosque, which is also the final resting place of Sultan Ahmed I and the location of his tomb.
7. Göbekli Tepe
Historians and those interested in ancient history must visit Göbekli Tepe, dubbed the world’s first temple, discovered as a 12,000-year-old ruin by a German archaeological team.
The megalithic structure is one of the oldest ever discovered, and pre-dates the Great Pyramids, Stonehenge and the walls of Jericho by thousands of years.
Nobody can establish how people created the elaborate carvings or moved the immense pillars and stones to complete the 20 installations. The site is of tremendous significance to historians, for whom Göbekli Tepe has changed all assumptions about how today’s societies and ways of life came to be.