Get inspired by these UNESCO Heritage Sites in Turkey
As of 2020, 16 cultural and two mixed regions in Turkey have been cited among UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to the cultural and natural sites that are of universal value to the rest of humanity. Eighty-four more remain on the Tentative List, waiting to get the attention and value they deserve.
Due to its rich culture and natural beauty, historical tourism in Turkey abounds. The country is lucky to have so many sites of universal historical value, and many regions have been named official UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Your trip to Turkey is sure to expand and enrich your knowledge of humanity's extensive heritage.
1. The mysterious ruins of Ani in Kars
Situated in close vicinity to Turkey's eastern border, on what used to be a significant trading hub, the medieval ruins of Ani carry traces of a history that goes back thousands of years. The ancient site is located on a triangular piece of land whose climatic and geographical features make it naturally defensive. Also called the City of 1001 Churches, it found its place on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2016. The historical site, together with its 50 churches, 33 cave churches, and 20 chapels, is a representation of the technological and artistic advances during the time it was built. It's a must-visit region for all history enthusiasts and lovers of early Gothic architecture.
2. The Lion Gate in Hattuşa, Çorum
Considered a Near East superpower, the Hittites built their capital city close to the Turkish province of Çorum. Six gates were constructed to let people enter the city's interior—the Lion Gate being particularly outstanding. Built in the early 14th century, it's the first gate you'll come across when you follow the official sightseeing route. The silhouettes of wild lions that adorn the gate are thought to have served a protective purpose, scaring away evil spirits from the city.
3. Mount Nemrut and the Mausoleum of Antiochus I in Adıyaman
Antiochus I built this tomb as a monument to himself. The site includes giant limestone figures of deities and Antiochus's paternal Persian ancestors and maternal Macedonian ancestors. It's said they're there to bear witness to the dual origin of the kingdom's culture enriched by Persian and Macedonian influences.
Built during the Hellenistic period, the construction of Mount Nemrut and the Mausoleum of Antiochus I is a marvel. UNESCO describes these statues as "a project unequaled in the ancient world."
4. Ephesus, an ancient city in İzmir
Located in İzmir, the ancient city of Ephesus showcases Hellenistic and Roman settlements. The site now stands out as an example of a Roman port city, whose functionality has now been replaced with pure aestheticism. Pergamon Ancient Theatre is located near this site and should be added to your itinerary for an awe-inspiring trip.
5. Troia, an ancient city in Çanakkale
Historical tourism in Turkey starts and ends with the ancient city of Troia. With its 4,000 years of history, Troia was immortalized by Homer in The Iliad, and it's been depicted in many other books and films ever since. The Siege of Troia started when Helen (wife of Agamemnon of Mycenae) eloped with Paris, a prince of Troia. It lasted for years before finally being resolved by a simple trick: Achaean soldiers hid in this giant wooden horse and pretended to have left. The Trojans took the horse inside their walls and thus opened their gates to the Achaeans, leading to the unfortunate fall of the city.
6. Aspendos, an ancient city in Antalya
Situated in Antalya, the ancient city of Aspendos is one of the big-hitter historic attractions for tourists visiting the Turkish Riviera. Part of the glorious city of Pamphylia, this town was founded in 1,000 BCE. Its acoustic properties are extraordinarily good and offer an unmatched experience for its visitors. It's one of the most well-protected ancient theatres of all time and houses many festivals and concerts throughout the year.
7. Sümela Monastery in Trabzon
Overlooking the valley of Altındere, Sümela Monastery offers a picture-perfect landscape that only Turkey can offer. It was first constructed as an Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism dates back to around 386 CE, during the reign of the emperor Theodosius (375-395). Throughout history, the monastery fell into ruin several times, with its last restoration conducted in 2015.
8. Göbeklitepe archeological site in Şanlıurfa
Human history was rewritten through the discovery of Göbeklitepe. Located in Upper Mesopotamia, the archeological site of Göbeklitepe saw the emergence of the most ancient farming communities in the world. Offering the earliest example of human settlement, the site dates to some 12,000 years ago. It exhibits megalithic structures that were first erected by hunter-gatherers in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic age. Of a ritualistic, and most probably funerary nature, these historico-cultural monuments have a new story to tell almost every day. They recently revealed, for example, that Neolithic people had a command of geometry.
9. Çatalhöyük archeological site in Konya
Another throwback to the days of the Neolithic era awaits you in Konya (ancient Iconium). Thought to have flourished around 7,000 BCE, the site has been listed among UNESCO World Heritage Sites since July 2012. The site overlooks the Konya Plain, which has been of considerable archeological interest after the discovery of the Neolithic Çatalhöyük area.
Çatalhöyük, in its entirety, is composed of domestic buildings, and to this day, no public facilities have been discovered. A striking feature of these assets is that they're mostly composed of female figurines, thought to represent a female deity. Although a male deity also exists among the carved figures, statues of the female deities far outnumber them.
10. Hierapolis, an ancient city in Denizli
Part of the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1988, Hierapolis is an ancient city that once served as the center of eparchy. Today, you can go there to visit the archeological museum. It's situated on some hot springs, which have been used as a spa since the 2nd century BCE. The earliest known examples of crank and rod mechanisms are exhibited around the area, and the ruins of ancient baths, temples, and other monuments await.
The most important places you should see include the Necropolis, where some 1,200 tombs exhibit local varieties of limestone and marble, Ploutonion (Pluto's Gate), and the St. Philip Martyrium, which was named after the Christian apostle. The Antique Pool (Antik Havuz) is still active and open to visitors.
11. Xanthos-Letoon in the Turkish Riviera
Two neighboring settlements located in the boundaries of Antalya and Muğla provinces of Turkey, Xanthos-Letoon is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site that sticks out as a remarkable archeological complex. Sources inform that Xanthos was the successive capital, and a cultural and commercial center, of the Lycian Civilization as well as the later civilizations. The region now gives out many clues about Lycian traditions as the epigraphic inscriptions there—engraved in rock or on huge stone pillars—house the most important texts in the Lycian language. Its examples of Lycian tomb architecture as well as the Xanthian Obelisk are must-sees.
12. Bursa and Cumalıkızık
UNESCO announced a series of eight component sites in the city of Bursa and the nearby village of Cumalıkızık in its World Heritage List. Bursa was the capital of the Ottoman Empire between 1335-1363. Today, the streets are endowed with many historical heritages you can wander around—the most renowned site is the Grand Mosque of Bursa or Bursa Ulu Cami.
Located 10 kilometers east of Bursa Province, Cumalıkızık has become a tourist favorite with its Ottoman-style houses and exceptional city planning method. The town was built as part of a vakıf project, meaning it belonged to an institution and provided an income for the Orhan Ghazi Social Complex (Orhan Gazi Külliyesi). The site now holds 270 historical three-story houses, all still intact and begging to be explored. If you visit the site, don't forget to visit the Cumalıkızık Ethnography Museum, which displays historical objects from the village, proving that Bursa and Cumalıkızık together provided the Ottoman Empire with the prosperity and development it necessitated in its first years of establishment.
13. The city of Safranbolu in Karabük
The city of Safranbolu is a typical Ottoman city, located in the present-day Turkish city of Karabük. It served as a trading hub after the Turkish conquest in the 11th century CE, and its traditional wooden houses entered the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994. The castle, Turkish baths (hammams), bazaars, inns, mosques, the old government house, and unique and civil architectural buildings are the major places of interest for tourists. The site's greatest architectural development is thought to have taken place during the 17th century. About 800 of the Safranbolu Houses are under legal preservation. Today, you can visit the Safranbolu City History Museum, a cultural unit established to collect and preserve information, documents, objects, visual material, and audio and video recordings to promote and present the cultural, historical, and social richness of the city.
For more visit gotürkiye.com