When you think of tailor-made holidays to Turkey, your mind often turns to either golden unspoiled beaches or the grand mosques of Istanbul. But in a country the size of Turkey, there are a lot more hidden treasures to discover. The Black Sea coast can be reminiscent of Switzerland with its forests and hilltop villages, the eastern regions have Russian architecture, and the southeast is Arabic in its cuisine, architecture and lifestyle. Here are just five of our favourite spots…
If you were asked where the world’s best Roman mosaic museum was, you probably wouldn’t say the town of Gaziantep. However, this small town in the southeast of Anatolia does contain one of the finest collections of Roman mosaics in the world. Due to the large dam projects which were built in the area, a large majority of Roman villas were discovered during their construction and their contents transferred to the Zeugma Mosaic Museum. Housed over several floors, these intact mosaics offer a wonderful insight into Roman life. One of the most striking mosaics, the Gypsy Girl is the symbol for the city and has even appeared on postage stamps and even currency.
Apart from the museum, Gaziantep is a wonderful town to explore on foot, where you’ll pass silversmiths fashioning ornate plates, jugs and trinkets within narrow alleys leading to a castle that housed British troops in 1918. Any visitor to the town must try its cuisine, which is heavily influenced by Middle East flavours. A favourite of many is the lahmacun, a flatbread topped with minced meat.
If you are looking for some of the best atmospheric views in Turkey, Mount Nemrut would be in our top three. With views over the vastness of Mesopotamia, this archaeological site dates back to 1BC and was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. The journey up to the site is by a long and winding single-track road and is then followed by a walk over the millions of loose stones and rocks which cover and guard the seldom-explored tumulus of Antiochus I. Discover the east terrace which contains the beheaded throne statues of Antiochus I flanked by Greek and Persian gods. The fallen heads are scattered around the terrace, with some of them being remarkably intact, considering they’ve survived for over two thousand years in a bleak and hostile environment. On either side of fallen heads are bas-reliefs of former rulers of the region, including the legendary Darius I. Continue to the smaller (but no less dramatic) western terrace, with throne statues and, again, more severed heads. Both sunrise and sunset are spectacular times to visit this atmospheric site, but dusk just edges it for us as the ideal time to see Mount Nemrut at its best.
Have you ever looked at a picture of a town or city from a hundred years ago and struggled to see the difference compared to today? Mardin is one of those towns. From one thousand years ago and today, you would be hard-pressed to notice the difference. The beauty of Mardin lies in its architecture, which hails from the Artuqid dynasty and is still very much prevalent today. For new buildings for Mardin, they must follow the same pattern to be in keeping with its surroundings. Formerly a barracks with separate stables but now housing the Sakip Sabanci Mardin City Museum offers a great insight into Mardin’s history with its artefacts through the centuries. Apart from the historical collection, the museum also houses an excellent collection of modern art collected by the Sabanci family, with pop-up exhibitions featuring throughout the year.
When you view Sumela Monastery for the first time, you immediately wonder how they built it. Overlooking the Altindere Valley at an altitude of nearly 4,000ft, the myth of its construction lies in the story of two Athenian monks who built the monastery late in the AD4. Modern-day visitors, after negotiating the numerous steep steps, encounter an inner courtyard with a number of buildings such as the kitchens, monks’ and visitors’ accommodation and, most importantly, the rock church. Upon walking into the church, you are viewing a magnificent collection of frescoes, which depict scenes of the Old Testament. Vivid in colour, these fourteenth-century artwork are evidence of the craftsmanship of that age. If you have viewed the rock churches of Cappadocia with their frescoes, then you will know exactly how great these are.
With flocks of sheep and cows grazing among pastures and deserted ruins, it’s difficult to believe that the town of Ani once inhabited over 100,000 people at its peak and rivalled the great cities of Cairo and Baghdad for power. The modern-day version is a shell of its former past with several deserted and decaying buildings dotted around, with barely any visitors to break the silence.
Due to its strategic location, it was often visited by traders from the Caucasus and enjoyed an enviable trading status for a number of centuries. Unfortunately, this status also brought invaders in the form of the Seljuk and Mongol empires who both sacked the city. Today, you can gaze at abandoned churches and chapels, with the Cathedral of Ani being one of the most intact. The cathedral’s gothic elements served as inspiration for many European Cathedrals.
For the iconic picture of Ani, look no further than the UNESCO-listed Church of the Redeemer, which resembles something from a post-apocalyptic movie, with its dome neatly sliced into two. Due to its location in the far east of Turkey, on the border of Armenia, it remains a hidden gem for intrepid visitors.