Turkish Delights

Click on the links to get more information and pictures.

Our trip to Turkey, September 23 through October 10, 2014, was fantastic!

Was it safe? Because of certain items in the news, some friends and family thought it was dangerous for us to go to Turkey. It was not. The troubles in Turkey are happening far away from where we went.

Turkey had far more to offer than I had expected. I knew Istanbul is a large city straddling Europe and Asia, that Ankara is the capital of Turkey, that Ephesus contains excellent ruins, and vaguely that Antalya is on the Turquoise Coast. I knew about Cappadocia because our daughter toured Turkey a few years ago. I also had heard of the travertine pools at Pamukkale. But there was far more to experience in Turkey’s history, culture, ancient and modern religion, and antiquities as we joined our fellow travelers on the trip.


The group we were with was one of the big surprises. Previously we had been more or less indifferent to those who were with us on trips. We figured we would know them for only a couple of weeks and only know them, really, as dinner companions. But it was different in this case for a number of reasons.

First, we were only 29 persons. The group was very diversified (which is a plus for those of us who like to see the world). Sixteen were non-native English speakers, although all the travelers were American citizens or living permanently in the United States. Eight were of Chinese origin: two from Hong Kong, six from Taiwan. Two couples were from India, one from the north and one from the south (which differ considerably). There was a Brazilian, a Lebanese, an Italian, and a woman from Thailand. Also, there were two people originally from Canada and one from the United Kingdom.

In addition, people had some interesting traits. One was very loud (as she herself put it) but also a lot of fun. Another was perhaps the sweetest person I’ve ever known; she always smiled and made people feel comfortable with kind gestures. Another person was the most helpful person I’ve ever encountered. For example, after he overheard me saying I really wanted a particular book, he went out of his way to look for it, and when he saw it he made a point to tell me where I could find it.

Another factor is that thirteen of our companions were traveling as singles, three of them (somewhat unusually) men. Probably single travelers tend to be more social.

Finally, two members had recently lost their spouses, and one of our number had to go home early. These events brought out the strong empathy some have and heightened empathy in the rest of us; for by this time we were quite a tight bunch, so much so that after the trip we organized an online discussion group to keep in touch.

Turkey provided an unforgettable tourist experience. The street vendors were far less aggressive than those I have seen in other places, and for the most part they weren’t eager to dicker, which I liked (but many don’t, of course). The itinerary was well organized: the long bus rides were scenic and were arranged such that we stopped for many of the included tours, so the day passed quickly. There were unexpected surprises. For instance, at Izmir we visited an impressive and bountiful Sunday market. The food was absolutely beautiful, and I think everybody bought some.


Documented human presence in Turkey goes back more than 11,000 years, as we learned at the amazing Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, more commonly known as the Hittite Museum, in Ankara. The Empire of the Hittites from 1750 to 1200 BC matched the Egyptians in power. At the ruins of the ancient capital Hattusa, we walked through the foundations of the Great Temple in a large open-air cultural center and also saw the Lion Gate.

The Hittites were very careful in their approach to the gods and goddesses. There were about a hundred they acknowledged, and when they conquered a foe, just to be safe, they adopted the other people’s deities as their own. We drove to an artificial hill the Hittites constructed (in the 2nd millennium BC) to look down into the valley and see the foundations of dozens of smaller temples.

Less vast at the site but equally impressive was Yazılıkaya, a sacred Hittite sanctuary with two chambers enclosed by natural rock formations with wonderful rock-carved reliefs and an astoundingly large angled flat surface carved on the rock. How did they do that in the 13th century BC, before the Iron Age?

Another pile of rocks (to use my son-in-law’s pejorative term) was ancient Troy. Many people don’t know that the Trojan war was not just a legend. There were actually nine cities built on top of one another at this site; the venue of the Iliad is at level VII. The site is confusing but of course an unforgettable place to visit.

The Graeco-Roman antiquities in Turkey were to me the most interesting of our experiences. For me, Pergamum had the greatest impact. After the sudden death of Alexander the Great, the lands he conquered were divided and ruled by four of his generals. Pergamum was the capital of one of these empires, that of the Attalid Dynasty. Take a look at these Pergamum pictures, especially the Great Altar of Zeus, which is now at the Pergamum Museum in Berlin. The city was built on the top of a steep mountain, and one wonders how they got all the building material up, with many huge stones weighing hundreds of tons. Nearby, Galen, known as the father of medicine, had his famous Asklepeion (healing temple). Pergamum had a library of 200,000 parchment volumes. In fact, parchment was invented at Pergamum; the word comes from the name of the city: (Pergamum pergaminus or pergamen parchment).

The biggest little thrill for me was the Roman theater at Aspendos, the only one I have seen (even in photographs) with a scaenae frons, the building-like background which is absent in most surviving theaters. See this set of images of the theater. Almost as amazing was the impressive stadium at Aphrodisias, which seated 30,000 spectators. In Perga, the Roman baths were quite remarkable.

Ephesus is an extremely well-preserved Roman city and a name well known to me and many others because it was to its early Christians that Paul wrote one of his epistles. It was the one place on our trip that was jammed with tourists, mainly from the several cruise ships that visited that day. (Mostly, there were not that many tourists where we went, and the weather was almost always fine.) Truly impressive at Ephesus were the Library of Celsius and the Great Theater, where Paul debated the Pagans. The tomb of St. John the Apostle is also located in Ephesus.

The most incredible sight we encountered was Kaymakli, an underground city in Cappadocia built right into the tufa, malleable volcanic rock that formed in the region about 2,000 years ago. There are a number of these villages, one with fourteen stories underground. In addition, there are hundreds of other tufa dwellings in the lands roundabout, which may at one time have housed as many as 20,000 people. Nearby is the Open Air Museum, where eleven monastic churches are cut into the side of the cliff. At that time (10th – 12th centuries), monks living in the area based their religious practice on the fact that Jesus had twelve disciples: a lead monk would have had twelve followers, and each of these groups would carve their own church from the rock. The church decorations are very impressive. Some of the churches are very small, the size of a garage, but one, Tokal Kilese, is relatively spacious.

An unusual geological feature of the Cappadocia region is the strange rock formations fancifully called fairy chimneys. These striking cone-shaped formations come in a variety of lively colors. They are abundant and are formed from the same geological material as the underground city and churches.

Classical architecture abounds in Turkey. The first building most people will think of is Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, which was first a church, then a mosque, then a museum. Nearby is the Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque, famed for its blue and white Iznik tiles which cover most of the walls and domes. Also in Istanbul is the fabulous Dolmabahçe Topkapi palace, a city-palace that served the Sultans between the 15th and 19th centuries and is now one of the world’s richest and most extensive museums.


Izmir was the city I liked best. Formerly called Smyrna, it lies on the Aegean coast. The Graeco-Roman agora (marketplace) was just one of the many surprises we encountered in Turkey. It not only had the “rocks” we encountered elsewhere, but also an extensive underground level with large stone supportive arches. People lived in here in prehistoric times, and the city was established by the third millennium BC.


Pamukkale is the home of the travertine pools. Ancient Romans came to nearby Hierapolis to enjoy the hot springs as part of a health resort. I hoped to do the same, but the pools were crowded and a bit slippery, so I contented myself with pictures. I had to console myself by lounging in the warm spring water at the hotel.


Antalya is a beautiful city on the Turquoise Coast of the Mediterranean. We stayed in a hotel built on the brink of a 150 foot cliff. The hotel has a 200 yard long “garden” behind it. One night we walked along a path there and it looked like there was no safety rail seaside. We never went back to check during the day. Anyway, you have to take an elevator to get down to the beach, which is really a rocky shore with very nice bathing facilities; there is no sand there.

Antalya boasts a splendid archaeological museum.


The chief attraction in Konya is the mausoleum of the famous 13th century poet and mystic Rumi. The tomb is housed in a beautiful mosque within the Mevlana museum. The whirling dervishes order of Sufi Muslims was founded in Konya by Rumi’s followers. Later in the trip we witnessed the ceremony of their twirling meditation called sama. It took place in a beautiful caravanserai.

The Cappadocia Region

On the way from Konya we stopped at a very old caravanserai. These were fortifications for the protection of merchants traveling the Silk Road.

As seen above, Cappadocia is full of extraordinary geological and historical wonders. There are other attractions as well. In Avanos we visited a textile factory and watched carpets being hand woven. These were silk carpets, and we had the opportunity to observe how silkworms are used as well as to see the marvelous carpets. We were also able to visit Chez Galip, a renowned pottery school and the home of a hair museum, surely one of the world’s oddest museums.

Though we didn’t go, our friends told us about their experience “Ballooning Over Moonscape.“ This optional tour offered “a new perspective on the intriguing tufa landscapes” while providing “a panoramic view of the strangely shaped pillars and cones,” the fairy chimneys.

Another noteworthy visit was to Uchisat Kale, a fortress from which you can see for miles and miles. It too is a tufa hill. Oh, by the way: we had dinner one night in a restaurant inside a tufa hill. Elsewhere, I walked into a hotel “in tufa.”

Finally, before we left Cappadocia, we stopped by Pashabag, which features conical formations capped with basalt that are still used as storage units today. Plus, we saw a police station there neatly ensconced in a “fairy chimney.” No kidding.


Turkey's capital, long famous for Angora goats, cats, and rabbits, is a fine modern city. It is also very old, founded in 2000 BC. With beautiful administrative buildings built by the Germans in the early 20th century, it has a rich history, numerous archaeological sites and several museums.

The Atatürk mausoleum in Istanbul, Anıtkabir, was well worth the visit.Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey, is revered by the Turks. He commanded the Turkish forces at Gallipoli in 1915 and led the Turks against the Greeks and Armenians in the Turkish War of Independence (1920-1923). He served as the first President of the secular Republic of Turkey until his death in 1938. In the Atatürk Museum there is a vast panorama of the important World War I battle of Gallipoli, which resulted in victory for the Turks and the beginning of Atatürk's rise to power. The battle itself was between the Turks and British / ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps). The Turks consider both sides to have been very valiant. We visited the Gallipoli memorial at the battlefield in the Dardanelles. There is a good movie about the Gallipoli engagement.


It was fascinating to see how modern Turks live. In Istanbul there is a huge spice market selling the many spices Turkey is known for. The cavernous indoors Grand Bazaar, which attracts between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors a day, has marble drinking fountains and a stunning gate.

Turks are 98% Muslim. Due to the fact that Turkey has been a secular republic since 1923, Turkish Muslims are very different from others in the Middle East and elsewhere. For example, the majority of women do not cover their heads, but you do see a considerable number of women in different sorts of the customary Muslim garb.

In most ways, though, it is East Meets West in Turkey. In the areas we passed through, most Turks looked like typical Europeans. The female fashion industry is as large as any other in the world; this set of images will give you an idea of the variety of women’s Muslim dress.

It was near Troy that we enjoyed a home-hosted lunch with a Turkish village family. Neither the grandfather, the grandmother, the mother, or the three girls spoke English, but we all enjoyed the simple meal very much.