Life in Turkey is a vibrant variety of cultures and traditions, some dating back centuries and others modern, an intriguing mix of east and west, past and present, exotic and avant-garde.
Turkey provides a perfect blending of the old and new, natural wonders and cosmopolitan cities to fascinate the visitors in the cradle of civilizations and in the center of world history. Well known as a great destination for relaxing beach holidays, it also offers many sporting activities, the world’s most important ancient monuments, welcoming Turkish hospitality and a delicious national cuisine..
So many reasons to explore Turkey!
- Homer was born in Izmir on the west coast of Turkey and he depicted Troy, in his Epic the Iliad.
- Istanbul is the only city in the world located on two continents, Europe and Asia. In its thousands of years of history, it has been the capital of three great empires – Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman.
- The world’s oldest known temple was unearthed in Gobeklitepe, Sanliurfa (Southeast Turkey)
- The world’s oldest known settlement is in Catalhoyuk in central Anatolia, Turkey, and dates back to 6,500 BC.
- St Nicolas – the original Santa Claus – was born in Patara in Turkey and has a church dedicated to his name in Demre.
- The Virgin Mary spent her last days in Selcuk near the ancient city of Ephesus.
- Leonardo da Vinci drew designs for a bridge over the Bosphorus, the strait that flows through Europe and Asia. It was never built.
- Julius Caesar proclaimed his celebrated words “Veni. Vedi, Veci” (I came, I saw, I conquered) in Turkey when he defeated Pontus, a formidable Kingdom in the Black Sea Region of Turkey.
- Aesop – famous for his fables and parables – was born in Anatolia.
- The Turks introduced coffee to Europe when the retreating Ottoman army abandoned sacks of it at the gates of Vienna.
- The Smallpox vaccination was introduced to England and Europe from Turkey by Lady Montague in the early 19th century (after Turkish physicians saved her son’s life).
- Part of Turkey’s south western shore was a wedding gift from Mark Antony to Cleopatra.
- The famous Trojan Wars took place in western Turkey, around the site where a wooden statue of the Trojan horse has been erected today.
- Florence Nightingale practiced her nursing skills in a hospital in what was then Scutari and now known as Uskudar, a suburb of Istanbul.
- Two of the world’s seven wonders are located in Turkey; The Temple of Artemis and The Halicarnassus Mausoleum.
- The word “turquoise” comes from “Turk” meaning Turkish, and was derived from the beautiful colour of the Mediterranean Sea on the southern Turkish coast.
- The first coins ever minted were done so at Sardis, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, at the end of the seventh century B.C.
- According to the Legend of Great Flood, after the withdrawal of the waters, Noah’s Ark landed on Mount Ararat in eastern Anatolia.
- Anatolia is the birthplace of many historical figures such as the Phrygian King Midas, the father of history Herodotus and St Paul.
- One of the first most accurate world maps were drawn by the well-known Turkish cartographer and navigator Piri Reis in 1513.
- The Turks first gave the Dutch their famous tulips that started the craze for the flower in England and the Netherlands. Bulbs brought to Vienna from Istanbul in the 1500s were so intensely popular that by 1634 in Holland it was called “tulipmania”. People invested money in tulips as they do in stocks today. This period of elegance and amusement in 17th century Turkey is referred to as “The Tulip Age.”
- The seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation are all found in Turkey: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.
- The most valuable silk carpet in the world is in the Mevlana Museum in Konya, Turkey. Marco Polo’s journeys in the thirteenth centuries took him there, and he remarked that the “best of rugs” were to be found in Turkey.
- The first man ever to fly was Turkish. Using two wings, Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi flew from the Galata Tower over the Bosphorus to land in Uskudar in the 17th century…
Turkey is a secular state. The majority of the Turkish population is Muslim but in Turkey religion is a private affair; as with other European countries, the weekly holiday is Sunday and there is no dress code, except for when visiting a mosque. However, the call for prayer can be heard five times a day and there are two Islamic festivals in the country alongside the secular national holidays: Seker Bayrami at the end of Ramadan, and Kurban Bayrami. There are also Christian and Jewish minorities throughout the country, with 236 churches and 34 synagogues open for worship.
Turkish is spoken by over 200 million people and is the world’s 7th most widely spoken language. Modern Turkish is a member of the Ural-Altaic family of languages, evolved from dialects since the 11th century, and is related to Finnish, Korean and Japanese. Turkish is easy to learn as it based on the Latin script and alphabet – with the addition of just 6 different characters from English – and the language is phonetic (how a word is spelt is how it sounds).
Nature & Environment
Turkey is a land of natural wonders, many of which are protected as national parks, of which there are 40 in total to date. Not only protecting its rich variety of flora and fauna, many are home to archaeological treasures too. The coastal parks include areas of pristine coastline and beaches while inland there are marshes, lakes, waterfalls, mountains, forests and canyons.
Turkey was for years on the silk road of trade between the east and west and the arrival of travelling strangers who needed to be fed and put up for the night became a normal part of the culture.
Food: One of the major cuisines of the world
Recognized as one of the major cuisines of the world, Turkish food comes in a great variety and every region of the country has its own specialties. Because of the trade route which passed through its heart the people of Anatolia were constantly being exposed to new foodstuffs and herbs and spices, and new dishes were constantly created. The fertility of the land meant, and still does, that fresh fruit and vegetable were available in abundance for preparing delicious dishes. Generally speaking the cuisine of the eastern regions is hot and spicy and meat-dominated reflecting its proximity to the Middle East while the further west you are more likely to find seafood and olive oil vegetable dishes. As eating well is such an important part of Turkish culture wholesome freshly prepared food can be found easily wherever you go, even in the most basic establishments.
The Turks are nomadic in origin and weaving carpets (hali) and flatweaves (kilims) which would furnish their tents has been an important part of the culture for thousands of years. Traditionally a craft learnt by women, each carpet would be unique, its variations reflecting both the character of the maker and the place she was from. Thus each region of Turkey has evolved a style of carpet pattern and colours; these days chemical dyes are more common and carpets may be made from wool, silk and cotton. The density of the knots determines the quality of the carpet – the more knots per cm, the more hard-wearing it will be. If you decide to purchase a carpet, most sales-merchants will be happy to spend some time explaining the history and meaning of the many symbols in the weave – often over a glass of apple tea. In recent years, a number of ‘carpet schools’ have opened where traditional arts and processes are preserved and the process of carpet-making is shown to visitors.
Traditional ceramic arts:
The development of tile and ceramic art began in Turkey in the 11th century by the Seljuk Turks and reached a pinnacle in the days of the Ottoman Empire. During the 15th century, the great demand in tiles which were used to decorate the mosques and palaces built in the Ottomans’ new capital Istanbul meant a center of production was established in Iznik, where at least 300 work-shops specialized in tile-making. For two hundred years Iznik produced tiles with swirling forms and floral motifs in an ever greater range of colors that reflect precious stones – emerald greens, lapis lazuli and turquoise blues and coral reds – and increasing sophistication. These tiles were also exported throughout the world via the island of Rhodes.
There have been hammams or public bath houses in Turkey since medieval times, used both as a place to relax, get clean and as a social spot. The tradition reached its height during Ottoman times, when it became the social focus for women. The baths are open to tourists in beach resorts, where it is not uncommon to have mixed bathing and even to be massaged by someone of the opposite sex, which would not happen in a traditional bath. There are still historical hammams open for business, those most popular with visitors to Istanbul include the Cemberlitas designed by the master architect Sinan near Sultanahmet, Cagaoglu and the Galatasaray near Taksim Square.
Turkey has a rich musical tradition of varied and often contrasting styles. From the folk music which originated on the steppes of Asia to the refined music of the Ottoman court; from the strident military music of the mehter takimi, the Janissary band, played with kettle drums, clarinets and cymbals to the mystical sound of the ney or ‘reed pipe’ which accompanies the Whirling Dervishes as they dance.
Classical Turkish music is monophonic, meaning all instruments essentially play the same tune. There are a number of instruments commonly heard such as the kemence or violin; ud or lute; kanun, which is similar to a zither; zurna similar to an oboe; and zil or cymbal.
With the formation of the Turkish Republic, a form of modern polyphonic Turkish music began to develop and there are now numerous successful classical composers. At the other end of the spectrum, there is also a thriving popular music industry in Turkey boosted by the MTV style TV channels playing non-stop music videos. There are a number of prominent music festivals in Turkey including the Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival which is held in June and July and the Istanbul Music and Jazz Festivals.
Turkey has a rich tradition of folk dancing with dances performed at all social occasions, from weddings and celebrations held for young men leaving for military service, to national and religious festivals, or local festivities. Each region has its own dances which reflect the cultural life of that region. Some of the most famous dances are the bar, originating from the province of Erzurum, the halay in the East and Southeast, the hora in Thrace, the horon in the Black Sea and the spoon dances in and around Konya. Recent developments in Turkish folk dance have seen the emergence of River-dance style troupes performing modern variations on the traditional dances in elaborate, spectacular, stage shows such as the Fire of Anatolia.
Mevlana – Whirling Dervishes
The order of Mevlevi, better known in the west as the Whirling Dervishes, was founded by the 13th century Sufi mystic, Celaleddin Rumi, who was also known as Mevlana. He was a poet, who believed that music and dance provided the means to enter a religious state of ecstasy thereby discovering divine love, and formed a religion, or philosophy based on tolerance. His most famous poem represents the central beliefs of Sufism:
Come, come, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire-worshipper or idolator, come!
Come even if you have broken your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is the door of hope, come as you are.
Every year, thousands of people descend on Konya for an annual event in December to commemorate the Mevlana and watch the mesmerizing whirling dervishes in their spiritual home. Central to the philosophy is the sema ceremony, the climax of which is the whirling dance. It is performed in traditional symbolic costume of a conical hat or sikke, which represents the tombstone of the ego, and white robes or tennure, which represent its shroud. The dervish whirls with his right hand pointed upwards towards God and his left pointing down to the earth to the accompaniment of the ney or reed pipe.
Basic source: Ministry of Culture and Tourism/ Turkey