Top 10 Historical Sites in Turkey

By Kimi Huang | Updated Nov. 9, 2021

Turkey has a rich history featuring some of the oldest empires in the world. The remnants of these ancient civilizations can be seen in Turkey even today. In addition to modern works of architecture, Turkey has significant Ottoman, Roman, and Byzantine historic sites and archeological wonders.

In this guide, we have listed the top 10 historical sites in Turkey so that you get the most out of your trip to this fascinating country.

1. Hagia Sophia

Built on the ruins of two previous churches after the Nika riots of 532, the Hagia Sophia was Byzantine Emperor Justinian I's crowning achievement.

Primarily an Orthodox basilica, it was briefly converted into a Roman Catholic cathedral during the Fourth Crusade. It was renovated as a mosque in 1453 and was finally turned into a museum in 1935.

Hagia Sophia features a central dome spanning 33 m (107 ft). The dome rests on a ring of 40 arched windows that shed a soft light on the interior, showing off the church's original marble and glittering mosaics. The vast interior gives the impression of a golden weightless shell.

2. Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616, under the direction of Sultan Ahmed I. The mosque features a cascade of domes and six minarets.

Countless beautiful blue tiles fill the interior with exquisite floral and geometric motifs. You'll see dramatic designs and calligraphy inside the mosque. Excerpts from the Quran and quotes from Prophet Muhammad are written on the walls using artful Arabic calligraphy.

3. Gobekli Tepe

Built in the 10th millennia BC, Gobekli Tepe is the world's oldest temple and Turkey's oldest known historical site. The temple is located in Urfa, just a few miles from Turkey's border with Syria.

You'll see massive carved stones and distinctive T-shaped pillars that are more than 12,000 years old. The stones were crafted by prehistoric people without the help of tools, and are considered an impressive feat of architecture and engineering.

4. Ephesus

Located in the Izmir province of Turkey, the city of Ephesus lies on the edge of the modern-day town of Selcuk. This is the place where the Temple of Artemis once stood. Ephesus was designated as the capital of Asia in 133 BC, when Asia Minor was incorporated into the Roman Empire.

It is one of the most famous sites of Hellenistic and Roman cultural history, featuring excavated monuments, terraced houses, and ruins. The Library of Celsus is a must-see highlight in this ancient city, as it was the third-largest library in the ancient world, following those at Alexandria and Pergamum.

5. Cappadocia

Situated in the Anatolian plains is the extraordinary Cappadocia region: a magical landscape of natural volcanic formations called "fairy chimneys", which reach up to 40 m (131 ft) into the sky.

Yet, it is humans that have made Cappadocia the place it is today, by carving an intricate network of caves, tunnels, and underground complexes into the malleable rock.

From the 4th century onwards, it was a sanctuary for Christians fleeing persecution under the Roman Empire. As a result, the area contains beautiful art from the Byzantine and early Christian eras.

6. Troy

You might be familiar with the legend of the Trojan horse mentioned in Homer's Iliad, or the Hollywood movie Troy, starring Brad Pitt. But do you know that the city of Troy actually exists? Well, Troy is a real city located in northwestern Turkey.

Troy is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, as it has more than 4,000 years of history. You can see historic cemeteries, Hellenistic burial mounds, and Roman ruins there.

7. Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace takes up a massive amount of prime real estate in Istanbul. Originally the residence of the Ottoman sultans in the 15th and 16th centuries, it is now a museum that houses many historical and religious artifacts. It's one of the largest and oldest palaces still accessible to this day. The harem section of the palace has about 400 rooms that housed roughly 4,000 people at one time and worked almost like a mini-city.

8. Mount Nemrut

Mount Nemrut is one of the most striking remains of the ancient Kingdom of Commagene. It is located close to the town of Adiyaman in southern Turkey.

The mausoleum that crowns the summit was built by King Antiochus I of Commagene. The most fascinating aspect of this mausoleum is the statues that flank the tomb. Measuring up to 9 m (29 ft) high, these represent characters and creatures from Armenian, Iranian, and Greek mythology.

Iconoclasts damaged the statues in the past, and now only the scattered heads remain.

9. Hierapolis

Hierapolis was an ancient Greco-Roman city in southwest Anatolia. The ruins of baths, temples, and other Greek monuments give us a glimpse of what life must have been like in Hierapolis, which was built on top of hot springs and was considered a place of healing as far back as the 2nd century BC.  

The unusual landscape, consisting of large white limestone formations, was turned into a tourist attraction in the 20th century and was named Pamukkale (literally, "Cotton Castle" in Turkish).

  • Hattusha

Near the present day Bogazkale district in central Turkey are the remains of Hattusha, the capital city of the Hittite Empire. This Bronze Age civilization began in the 6th millennium BC during the Chalcolithic period.

The formidable Hittites exerted a notable influence on the civilizations in Anatolia and northern Syria in the 1st and 2nd millennium BC. Today, you can see the astonishing and ingenious remains of Hattusha, such as impregnable walls, underground tunnels, temples, palaces, and one of the most sophisticated libraries of the ancient world.

Enjoy a Turkey Tour That's Tailored to You

If you're overwhelmed by the thought of planning your own itinerary and can't decide which destinations to visit in Turkey, don't hesitate to contact our specialists. They will help you maximize your travel experience by recommending trip options tailored to your requirements.

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Get Inspired with Some Popular Itineraries

7-Day Turkey Classical Wonders Tour (Istanbul–Ephesus) 13-Day Natural Highlights of Turkey 10-Day Turkey Honeymoon Tour (Istanbul to Cappadocia) 16-Day Turkey Great Circle Tour

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