Turkey is an intriguing country with a unique identity straddling both Europe and Asia. In a place where familiarity merges with the exotic, we find a magical blend of the ancient, Christian and Ottoman worlds where the jewel in the crown is the incredible city of Istanbul. A city of great diversity, Istanbul is a combination of tree-lined boulevards, cafés and cosmopolitan restaurants set against a backdrop where little else has changed for centuries. You still see the thriving street market-stalls, groaning with immense displays of produce and even live poultry for sale, with noise and atmosphere in abundance. High-class jewellery and fashion shops equalling the best Paris or London can muster jostle with hawkers selling freshly prepared food, shoeshine boys and the largest covered bazaar in the world. Consecutive capital to both Christian and Ottoman Empires, you can at once admire a fascinating Byzantine church whilst listening to the haunting chant from the mosque calling the faithful to prayer.
During its 3,000 years of turbulent history it has been home to Greeks, Romans, the Crusaders, Ottomans and finally the Turks themselves - all leaving their mark. Originally called Byzantium, it became Constantinople after the Roman Emperor Constantine made it his capital and finally, Istanbul. We are taught the Roman Empire fell in 410 AD when Attila the Hun sacked Rome, but rarely told is that the Eastern and wealthiest half lasted another 1,000 years. This has lead to amazing preservation with perhaps the greatest legacy being the 6th century Haghia Sofia built as the largest ever church - for over a thousand years the largest covered space on earth. During the Middle Ages the Ottoman Empire held sway and built another range of monuments to match: the Blue Mosque, taking its name from the intricate blue tiles lining its interior and the amazing Topkapi Palace which was the seat of government of arguably the greatest empire of the medieval age.
We also visit three of the most famous ancient sites in the country: Troy, Pergamon and Ephesus. Each one is very different, with Troy being the oldest, dating from 3,000BC and during more than a century of excavations, nine separate cities have been unearthed, all built in layers over each other. Pergamon, once a Greek colony of 100,000 people built high on a huge rock, is an impregnable defensive site, with amazing views in all directions and flourished as one of the ancient world’s greatest centres of learning and healing. During Roman times the greatest city in the eastern Mediterranean was Ephesus, which boasts an extraordinary number of superbly preserved monuments – including the stunning 2-storey Library of Celsus. For many, this is the Pompeii of the East.
Turkey is the perfect place if you are looking for something a little bit different and it will not disappoint - a genuinely unique blend of diverse cultures, centuries of history and an atmosphere which links the mysterious east and modern west.
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