Turkey’s ancient ruins tell stories of powerful empires, and its cultural monuments span millennia. UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites offer glimpses into the country’s long and diverse history.
19 cultural sites have been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey, with two more on the tentative list. These are the places to visit on your trip to Turkey.
The ruins of Ani are right on the border between Turkey and Armenia. The entire area was a militarized zone until recently, but now relations are thawing and visitors can travel to this spectacular site. The ruined city feels like a ghost town or even an abandoned film set, but it’s also one of the most unique places to visit in Turkey. There are 7-day Turkey tour packages that include everything you enjoy for your stay in Turkey.
Visiting Ani will take you back in time to the 10th and 13th centuries when it was an important trading city along the Silk Road, connecting Asia with Europe. Today the site is dotted with the remains of churches and chapels, palaces, a citadel high on a hill, and a bridge over a river merger.
Most of the buildings here date from the tenth to thirteenth century, but there are signs of much earlier structures. It was a city of merchants, craftsmen, and artisans who built magnificent buildings that reflected the rich blend of eastern and western traditions.
The most impressive structure is the Church of St. Gregory of Abumarents, a round church with a conical roof that dates from the 10th century. It was built for a wealthy Armenian merchant named Tigran Honents and originally featured wonderful interior frescoes.
Other must-see sights at Ani include the remains of a complex that once housed a sultan, the octagonal minaret which was once part of the Menucer Mosque (built in the 12th century), and the ruins of a Zoroastrian fire Temple. Be sure to wander around the old bazaar as well, where you can see remains of shops and houses.
If you have extra time, hike up to the ancient citadel for a view over the ruins of Ani. The climb is a bit steep, but it’s worth the effort for the views. You’ll also find the remains of a monastery and a palace, but most of the edifices on the summit are in ruins. It’s also possible to walk up to the foundations of the octagonal tower of the royal palace. The best part of the hike is that you get to see how Ani looked before it was lost to history.
Gobekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill) is one of the world’s most extraordinary archaeological sites. It’s the oldest man-made place of worship discovered, dating back to 10,000 BCE. It’s a temple in the shape of a T, and its carved monolithic limestone pillars depict totem animals like gazelles, snakes, boars, and lions, along with abstract signs, symbols, and enigmatic carvings.
The pillars were likely erected by hand using flint tools and were brought from a distance to the site. They were then stacked in circular fashion, perhaps in the hope that they would resemble the constellations of stars in the sky. Some of the earliest examples of human writing, called hieroglyphs, are also present on the pillars.
Klaus Schmidt, the German archaeologist who first recognised the importance of Gobekli Tepe, explains that it is the first temple to be built by humans and that “the people who made this place were making statements about themselves and their world.” The discovery is reshaping our understanding of early human culture, history, and religion.
In a climatised room in Bahrain, Lee Clare of the German Archaeological Institute is awaiting the verdict of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee on whether or not Gobekli Tepe will be added to the list. If it is, Clare will be the person in charge of preserving and interpreting the site for visitors.
Excavations at Gobekli Tepe have been ongoing since 1994, and the team is collaborating with Turkish authorities, including the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the Sanliurfa Museum. It’s a partnership that’s working, and experts have discovered some remarkable things at this fascinating site.
The first revelation came when the excavations began, when a team led by Schmidt discovered a large number of buried pillars. They were uncovered in circular patterns and could reach heights of up to 5 metres. Schmidt estimates there are probably more than 250 pillar circles across the 22 acres of land at the site. Ground-penetrating radar scans suggest there may be many more yet to be uncovered.
Besides the circle of pillars, researchers have found a high concentration of “special buildings,” which don’t follow the typical plans of domestic buildings from contemporaneous settlement sites. Some of these buildings feature images of rams’ heads, a goat’s head and tail, and even a mask. Of the 69 pillars excavated so far, 86 depict animal motifs and 38 depict human figures, including nine composites of animals and humans and three phalli.
The white travertine terraces of Pamukkale, called ‘cotton castle’ in Turkish, are a stunning sight. They are shaped by minerals from thermal waters that cascade down the mountainside. The site is a testament to nature’s creative genius, and it was recognized as such in 1988 when it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Known for its glistening mineral water, Pamukkale is a popular spot for Turkish locals and foreign tourists. You can walk along the travertine pools and even swim in them, although it’s not encouraged because the pool water is extremely hot (around 105 degrees Fahrenheit).
You can also visit the Antique Pool, which is said to be one of Cleopatra’s favorite places. It’s a good place to alleviate your exhausted travel muscles in the mineral-rich hot spring water, and it’s not as crowded as the other pools.
There’s nothing quite like seeing the travertine pools with your own eyes. They’re a little bit like something out of a fairy tale, and they are absolutely spectacular to behold. You’ll want to take lots of pictures, but you can also walk around and just enjoy the beauty. To protect this delicate environment, you’re expected to adhere to visitor information signs and stay on the pathways.
As you walk on the travertine cliffs, it’s important to remember that it can be slippery. There are grooves in the stone that cause water to accumulate, and if you’re not careful, you can fall and get hurt. It’s for your own safety that there are guards who whistle at people without shoes, and you need to wear footwear when walking on the travertine pools.
When it comes to visiting the ruins of Hierapolis, you should also keep in mind that this site is still being excavated. As such, there are some parts of the ruins that have yet to be restored, and it’s not as safe as other sites. Nevertheless, it’s well worth the trip to see this beautiful site for yourself. It’s a great example of how destruction can create something beautiful, and it’s definitely a site to see before you die.
The ancient ruins of Ephesus are a must-see for anyone visiting Turkey and UNESCO has officially recognized the importance of this site with its inscribed status. This was announced by the governing body at the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Germany’s Bonn.
The excavations at the site reflect a number of important historical periods from classical Greece to the Roman Empire and the arrival of Christianity. The city became a hub of trade and culture. Its two theaters are particularly impressive. It also houses one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of Artemis. Although not much remains of this temple, its imposing columns are a reminder of the once magnificent structure.
This is a major site that is visited by thousands of people each year. It is a favorite stop for cruise ships and tour groups. There is a lot to see so visitors need to allow at least half a day to explore. The best way to visit is to join a guided tour.
Ephesus was founded in 10th Century BC by Androclus, son of the Athens King Codrus. Legend has it that he followed the advice of the oracle at Delphi when choosing a location for his new city on the Aegean Sea coast of western Turkey.
From the 10th Century BC to 2nd century AD Ephesus was one of the most important cities in Asia Minor. It was renamed Ephesus by the Romans as a tribute to the Greek goddess of love and fertility. The city was later famous for its house of the Virgin Mary where it is believed St John stayed with his mother during her last years.
Visitors to the ruins can stroll down the well-preserved streets and visit the baths, houses and the mighty Library of Celsus. There is also a great view of the temple of Artemis from the terraces in the upper part of the city. A highlight of recent years are the Terrace Houses which have been opened to visitors and give a sense of what the rich citizens of the city used to live like.