Straddling two continents, Europe and Asia, Turkey has much to offer its visitors: unique historical and archaeological sites, a varied and beautiful landscape, a steadily improving hotel and tourist infrastructure and a well established tradition of hospitality at competitive prices. It is not surprising this country has recently become one of the world’s most popular tourism destinations, writes Rhona Wells
In 2011, 31.5 million international tourist arrivals into Turkey generated an estimated $23 billion worth of tourism receipts. In 2013 the number of arrivals had spiraled to reach 37 million visitors, generating around $30 billion. According to the United Nations World Touriswm Organisation’s (UNWTO), Turkey moved into sixth place in world rankings in 2011 and continued to maintained that position last year.
The number of Arab tourists who chose Turkey for holidays and shopping has increased by 98% in the last five years. According to Sedat Gonulluoglu, the Turkish Culture and Information Attaché in Dubai, the increase is due to the political and economic relationships that Turkey has developed with the Gulf countries in recent years, including the impact of a hugely successfulTurkish TV series on the people of the region, as well as the natural beauty of the country and the easy lifestyle. The main Gulf visitors come from Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain and, in 2014, Iran ranked in the top five embarkation points of tourist arrivals.
An exceptional open-air museum
Turkey is a vast country full of unique natural landscapes with a rich history and culture spanning centuries. The country has nine registered locations on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, which are dotted all around the country and was once home to two of the ancient wonders of the world – although neither has survived to the present day – the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.
According to figures from the Istanbul Culture and Tourism Directorate, 26.8% of all tourists entering Turkey in the first six months of 2014 visited Istanbul. The city is particularly popular with Iranians, according to the latest UNTWO tourism statistics.
Strategically located on the Peninsula between the Balkans and Anatolia, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, Istanbul has been associated with major political, religious and artistic movements for more than 2000 years. The city is the only one in the world to straddle two continents – Europe and Asia – , was the capital of three great empires: The East Roman empire, the Byzantine empire and the Ottoman empire; which has resulted in a stunning architectural and cultural legacy boasting myriad palaces, churches, mosques, synagogues and countless other historic private buildings. “The Historic Areas of Istanbul” were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1985, and are composed of four main areas: The Archaeological Park, Süleymaniye Mosque and its associated Conservation Area, Zeyrek Mosque and its associated Conservation Area and the Historic Walls of Istanbul.
Situated on the north-west Black Sea coast, Safranbolu is renowned for its well-preserved Ottoman houses dotted around narrow, cobbled streets; other sites worthy of mention include the Cinci Hani, a caravanserai dating back to 1645 and the Cinci Hamami, a 17th-century Turkish bath. Safranbolu was an important stop on the East-West trade route from the 13th Century to the advent of the railway, reaching its zenith in the 17th Century Ottoman period –the wealth of its former inhabitants of that time are reflected in the lavish villas that survive to this day.
Cappadocia’s Göreme valley and its surroundings are among the most mysterious and extraordinary natural landscapes in the world. Over time, wind and weather have sculpted the sensual curves of this once-volcanic region, forming the pinnacles and peaks now known as ‘fairy chimneys’. This spectacular landscape has been the home of humans since the 4th century and the area is peppered with cave dwellings, troglodyte villages and underground towns, as well as evidence of Byzantine art from the post-Iconoclastic period, much of which has been restored.
Hattusha,the Hittite capital
The archaeological site of Hattusha, former capital of the Hittite Empire, is one of the most important in Anatolia. At the height of their power, around 1300 BC, the Hittites had conquered most of Anatolia and were rivaling other great powers of the day, Egypt, Babylon and Assyria. Set in a national park area in what is now known as Bogazkoy, the city was originally built around 1600BC and was a hugely important urban centre, originally containing some 70 temples, the largest of which, Buyuk Mabet, has been well preserved. The most famous of its monuments is they Lion’s Gate or Aslankapi, although the original stone carvings are now in the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations in Ankara.
The Archaeological site of Troy
The name of Troy is one of the best-known and most evocative names of any world historic site. Situated in Turkey close to the town of Canakkale at the entrance to the Dardanelles, it was the site of the siege of Troy by Spartan and Achaean warriors from Greece in the 13th or 12th century BC and immortalised by Homer in the Iliad. In recognition of this, a replica wooden horse stands at the site. Troy is, however, also of archaeological significance. Unearthed in the 19th Century by a Germany archaeologist, the site is formed of nine cities dating back to 3000 BC. The fortifications from the 6th city can still be seen, fortifications which were defended by Priam and his sons Hector and Paris – and into which the Greeks smuggled their famous wooden horse.
Sivas great Mosque and Divrigi hospital
The region of eastern Anatolia was conquered by the Seljuk Turks at the beginning of the 11th Century and became the seat of the Mengucekogullari tribe. In 1228-29, their leader, Emir Ahmet Shah, founded a mosque with its adjoining hospital at Divrigi. The mosque, with its wonderfully ornate doorway is one of the finest examples of Seljuk stone carving and architecture in Turkey with its intricate and exuberant sculpture work adorned with carvings of plants and animals.
Mount Nemrut stone heads
The huge disembodied stone heads of Mount Nemrut are one of Turkey’s iconic images. The site is remote, on a mountain-top some 2150m high; it was discovered in 1881 by a Germany engineer carrying out a survey. The statues represent the dream of Antiochus I (69-34 BC), who reigned over the Commagene kingdom. The tomb and temple complex consist of three terraces featuring seated statues of Greek and Persian gods 26-33 feet tall and although decapitated, the remains are still very impressive. The site can now be reached by road.
The remains of the ancient federation of Lycia, which encompassed some 19 independent cities, can be seen throughout the south-west corner of Turkey. Most striking are their tombs, particularly the rock tombs cut into high cliff faces. Xanthos, situated between Fethiye and Kalkan, became the capital of Lycia during the 2nd Century BC and is an impressive site with examples of Lycian tombs. It was here that a pillar inscribed in both Greek and Lycian was found, which enabled the Lycian language to be understood.
Pamukkale means ‘cotton castle’ and is one of Turkey’s most impressive natural wonders. Made up of a series of white terraces cascading down a cliff almost 200m high, they are caused by the calcite-laden spring waters which run down the cliff, congregating in warm pools on the terrace below. It was the thermal waters which led to the founding of the spa town of Hierapolis at the end of the 2nd century BC by the dynasty of the Attalids, the kings of Pergamon. The remains, which can be visited today, include the ancient ruins of the baths, temples, the well-preserved theatre and the largest necropolis or graveyard in Anatolia containing 1200 tombs.
Turkey has long been a favourite with sun-seekers and with 8000kms of coastline and over 300 blue flag beaches (the blue flag award denotes cleanliness and safety), this is likely to continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. Adding to its cultural and historical appeal, a new area of tourism is fast finding favour with international visitors: health tourism. Whereas other countries can only hope to offer state-of-the art hospitals and medical care, Turkey is already rich in natural hot springs, healing waters and healing muds, which gives it a unique selling point. Eco-tourism is also on the increase, with the array of stunning geographical locations, many still unspoilt and wild enough to captivate the intrepid traveller.
With such diverse offerings, Turkey’s popularity is on the increase and if the figures for the first quarter of 2014 are repeated throughout the year, the tourist arrival figures are expected to reach 40 million visitors a year by the end of 2014.