Africa & Middle East

A Walking Tour of Turkey: 10 Most Cherished Ancient Ruins

Discover the ancient relics left behind by the Greeks and Romans, two of the most impressive civilizations of the ancient world. In a walking tour of Turkey, explore the ancient crossroads of trade, information, and culture that centered around Angolia, the Asian side of the country. From carved rock and tombs to great pantheons and open-air theaters, witness some of Turkey’s most magnificent outdoor museums that hold the key to secrets of the early empires.

10. Ephesus

The partially reconstructed Library Celsus is a marvel, especially considering that the ancient civilization of Ephesus was during a time of little mechanical inventions. Located in the heart of a fertile valley, Esphesus was once a major trading center of the ancient world before it became a religious center for early Christians. Today, the small village of Selcuk, a popular base from the site, surrounds the ruins. With its massive theaters, great pillars, and Hellenistic temples, it is considered one of Turkey’s most cherished open-air museums. It’s also interesting to note that the original site of Ephesus was on the Aegean coast, which over the centuries, opened up to the plain of the Kucuk Menderes. For a peak into their world of upper class society, check out the Hillside Houses across from the Temple of Hadrian that faces out onto Curetes Street.

Ephesus Turkey

9. Lycian Tombs

On a boat ride near the islands of Dalyan, Kaunos, and Myra, visitors get the chance to explore up close the Lycian Tombs, an impressive series of classical temples carved into vertical cliffs. Known for their elaborate funerary art, the fascinating Lycia people left behind a magnificent series of burial tombs that stand out with distinctive Gothic detailing in facades that resemble typical Lycian homes. In an incredible feat, some of the tombs were carved directly out of the face of the cliff. The unusually large tombs held more than one body, which suggests that Lycians were a family-oriented society, and sometimes depicted scenes from mythology.

Lycian Tombs Turkey

8. Yazilikaya

In central Anatolia, the Hittites of Turkey ruled the land and their sacred holy site was Yazilikaya, a series of cone-headed deities carved into the rock. Located within walking distance from the gates of the city, the Hattusas Sanctuary contains two galleries, including an impressive open-air pantheon filled with Hittite gods and goddesses that date back to the 13th century. In the larger gallery, there is interesting evidence that Hittites were open to accepting gods of other cultures into their pantheon like Enki, the Mesopotamian god of Wisdom and the Teshub the Hurrian god. The sacred ruins mean “Inscribed Rock” in Turkish and can be reached from either nearby Corum, Ankara, or the little farming village of Bogazkale.

Yazilikaya Turkey

7. Hierapolis

For an exploration of the “Sacred City” of the ancients, head to the ruins of Hierpolis in southwestern Angolia, which is now a World Heritage Site and popular tourist destination among tourists and ancient history aficionados. Today, you’ll find ancient theaters, crumbling relics of white terraces, and stone pillars overlooking the modern town of Pamukkale. Thought to have been created by the god Apollo, people were drawn to the spot for centuries for its curative hot springs whose vapors where believed to have healing powers granted by Pluto, god of the underworld. In fact, scholars believe many ancient people went here in their old age to retire and relax in the warm waters. Although its origins are still debated by scholars, it is believed that the Seleucid Kings founded the city in the 4th century AD, a time when Turkey was a flourishing trade route between Africa and Europe.

Hierapolis Turkey

6. Cappadocia Monasteries

A must-see on a tour of the ancient ruins of Turkey is the Cappadocia Monasteries, an ancient network of cave dwellings and chapels carved out of the soft rock of the Cappadocia mountains. The rocky landscape was once home to early Christians fleeing prosecution from the Romans. Taking a cue from Mother Nature, settlers started carving out homes and structures in the soft rock of what is now the Goreme National Park in central Turkey. By the 4th century AD, the Cappadocia Monasteries were an urbanized underground system of homes, churches, stables, and storehouses. Monks worked tirelessly to decorate their cave dwellings with biblical frescoes in the 7th century, which are preserved in isolation to this day. Even more impressive are the hotels and homes still used in the ancient caves for a truly one-of-a-kind experience.
Cappadocia Monasteries

5. Aphrodisias

The ancient people of Aphrodisias took advantage of the nearby quarries of white and blue-grey marble, which is why the ancient city of love contains an unusually large amount of sculptures and Hellenistic monuments. In the peaceful, open-air museum, you’ll discover the spirit of the ancient world among relics from a great civilization. Dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, the temple was a 30-year search for archaeologist Kenan Erim, the person we have to thank for the discovery of one of Turkey’s most dramatic series of ruins. Located in western Antolia, the ruins are part of an earthquake zone and have taken a beating over the years. The worst earthquake was in the 7th century, which caused the city to fall into disrepair.


4. St. John’s Basilica

Situated near the ancient ruins of Ephesus is St. John’s Basilica, one of the most cherished religious sites of the Middle Ages. Today, visitors can witness the rare, haunting beauty of a once great ancient civilization, including broken pillars on the slopes of the Ayasoluk Hill. According to legend, Emperor Justinian built the church in the 6th century in tribute to St. John whose 300-year-old tomb was buried at the site. During the medieval era, thousands of people made a pilgrimage here to pay their respects to one of the most sacred sites in ancient times. Over the centuries, the church has seen its share of destruction starting with the Arab raids. In 1330 it was converted into a mosque and finally destroyed in 1402 by the Mongols. Today you can still see the traces of greatness from its glory days when Turkey was the epicenter of trade and culture.

St. John’s Basilica Turkey

3. Pergamum

Prepare to witness the ruins of a once thriving metropolis in the Western region of Turkey overlooking the ancient Acropolis. In its heyday, the city of Pergamum was one of the most influential cities of the ancient world. Today, you can still see outlines of its former glory such as the acropolis, broken pillars, and the public theater that overlooks a grassy plain. The settlement was established during the Archaic Period, a time of great wealth from the export of fine carpets, cotton, and gold. Nearby the modern city of Bergama in the western Izmir Province, the Pergamum ruins are popular among tourists who travel here to witness the broken pillars of the Temple of Trojan, the Hellenistic Theatre of Pergamum, and the ancient library looking out over present day Bergama.

2. Sardis

When western Turkey was the center of a thriving ancient civilization, Sardis was a bustling metropolis and capitol of Lydia. Located in western Angolia, its central location was strategic in connecting trade routes from the interior of Asia Minor to the Aegean Coast. After the Persians and their allies sacked the once great city of Ninevehin in 612 BCE, the kingdom of Lydia ruled over the region with Sardis as the capitol. Under the new regime, the city began as a hilltop citadel where the king of Lydia resided. Once serving as major crossroads for trade, it also was an important meeting place for exchanging ideas and information. Since 1958, scholars from Harvard and Cornell have been excavating this major archaeological discovery for clues into ancient history and its tumultuous origins.

Sardis Turkey

1. Troy

Situated in northwester Anatolia, the Asian part of Turkey, is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, the ruins of Troy. According to the legends of ancient Greek and Latin literature, Troy was the city center and setting for the Trojan War, one of the most notable stories from the Greek myths. The site was discovered in 1793 and according to scholar Charles MaCleren, the ruins were the site of Homeric Troy, but classical scholars still regarded Troy as a myth. It wasn’t until archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered it that scholars had evidence to its origins. But even after the revelation, scholars continued to debate many theories ranging from Troy being a wealthy and heavily populated city or merely a minor settlement. With 4,000 years of history before you, get ready to channel your inner Indiana Jones and become an amateur archaeologist for a day.

Troy Turkey