“Let’s Talk Turkey”
By Kathryn Marchi
The time for turkey, the holiday bird, may have come and gone, but the timing for Turkey, the country, is just right.
Turkey, as history tells us, was an integral part of the Byzantine Empire, which began as the eastern half of the Roman Empire. It flourished and expanded long after the fall of Rome in AD 476. Istanbul, now Turkey’s largest city, had a colorful history in this era: It was first known as Byzantium and remained so for 1,000 years. As Rome was failing as the center of civilization, it is said that the Roman Emperor Constantine I had a vision which brought him east to Byzantium. In AD 324, he renamed the city Constantinople. This city served as the capital of the Byzantine Empire until the Ottomans captured it in 1453. In 1930, the city was renamed Istanbul.
Modern day Turkey has an interesting location in the world which is important to note. It actually occupies two continents: Europe to the southwest, a space the size of Massachusetts, and Asia on the southeast, an area the size of the state of Texas. Interestingly Istanbul is the only city in the world that straddles two continents. It is located on the Bosporus Strait that separates Europe and Asia and links the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. Indeed, the location of Istanbul from the beginning was due to this deep water harbor which helped it become a cultural and commercial center for the area.
Today the city of Istanbul is a modern, vibrant city where contemporary buildings stand side by side with the structures of antiquity. Residents are proud of both their Western and Eastern heritage. More than 135 mosques with their domes and minarets dot the horizon and the call to prayer can be heard echoing throughout the city. It’s a beautiful and fascinating place!
Following are the not-to-be-missed sites that are part of most tours:
v Blue Mosque: The atmosphere inside is actually blue due to the many azure blue tile mosaics on the inside of the dome and walls.
v Topkapi Palace: Occupied by the Sultans and the royal court until the mid 19th century, the jewel collection in the National Treasury is spectacular.
v Hagia Sofia: Begun by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, this was the world’s largest Christian church for 1,000 years.
v Hippodrome: Roman statues and an Egyptian obelisk are placed in this area. A fascinating Roman underground cistern and aqueduct is beneath this space.
v Grand Bazaar: This is a shopping delight! You can find all things Turkish: rugs, scarves, jewelry, Turkish Delight candies, T-shirts, jackets and “Evil Eye” trinkets.
v Spice Market: Merchants have laid out a virtual patchwork quilt of spices in front of their shops. The fragrance is remarkable! A favorite to buy is saffron.
v Turkish Night Club: Dinner and belly dancing are the favorites here.
The exquisite city of Ephesus was well-known for its riches and luxuries between 1-4 AD. With a population of around 225,000 during that time, Ephesus had one of the most advanced aqueduct systems in the ancient world.
Many of the tour ships dock at the port city of Kusadasi, which is said to be one of the most attractive cities on the Aegean. From here bus tours are offered through a rugged area of mountains and olive groves in order to reach Ephesus:
v The House of the Virgin Mary: Located outside of Ephesus, it is said to be the place where Mary lived out her last years. A visit to the house, which is now a shrine, is a profound experience. In the mountainous area nearby, St. Paul is said to have preached to crowds of Ephesians.
v Ruins of Ephesus: Walking along an ancient paved road, the magnificent ruins of the city rise up and surround visitors. Significant buildings include the Odeon, the Baths, the Great Theater, and the Celsus Library. At this time, the newly excavated “Terrace Houses” are open to the public.
This is just a tip of the iceberg of what can be seen and learned in Turkey. Others have shared their experiences of seeing more historic ruins in the interior of the country. Indeed, the ancient ruins of Turkey rival those in Greece and Italy.
If you have an interest in touring Turkey, there are many ways to plan a trip. Most cruise lines offer Mediterranean cruises which include Istanbul and Ephesus. They also provide travelers with the required visa for their stay at these sites. Of course, there are other travel agencies that will help set up tours according tourists’ specific needs.
For More Information:
“Lost to the West” by Lars Brownsworth is a great book to read before traveling to Turkey. For more information on trips to Turkey, Google these websites:
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