Turkey’s geographical location between Europe and Asia means it has been a crossroads of civilisations for thousands of years. Turkey has seen incredible civilisations, empires and people which have left their mark widespread across this magical country. From popular Ephesus, to the famous site of ancient Troy, all the way to recently discovered sites such as Aphrodisias and Assos, with its theatre overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. To stand amongst the ruins of these ancient civilisations is a feeling like no other, and in some of these locations, it is likely that you will have them all to yourself.
Here’s just 10 ancient sites to visit in Turkey. We’ve visited them all and can vouch for each and every one of them for their uniqueness, historical significance and how truly awe-inspired we were. So apply for your Turkey visa, book your flight with Turkish Airlines and be ready to be marvelled by this incredible country.
Most people know the ancient site of Troy from the blockbuster film starring Brad Pitt! What most people don’t know is that Troy is famous for an outstanding 46 levels of occupation from 3000 BCE to 400 CE! The first civilisation began in the Bronze Age when Troy seems to have been a flourishing mercantile city and it is really interesting that whilst Troy was once a harbour city, the site now lies 3 miles inland from the coast!
In the 1870s it was the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann who first excavated the area, subsequently revealing the many cities built in succession to each other. One of these earlier cities, Troy II, is often identified with legendary Homeric Troy, and centre of the Trojan War. Overall, what remains to explore in Troy is an incredible insight into 4000 years of civilisations since the Bronze Age!
Alexandria Troas, an ancient city founded by Alexander the Great’s general in 300 BC lies 30km south of Troy. The site which was only fairly recently discovered, has no entrance fee and consists mostly of Roman ruins surrounded by 8km of city walls. The main structures that have been excavated are baths, an odeon, a theatre, a basilica and a recently discovered stadium! It is amazing to see these ancient structures from the road as you drive past and to stop and walk around them with no one else around. Alexandria Troas is well worth the short detour.
The beautiful city of Aphrodisias is one of the finest archaeological sites of Anatolia Turkey and is both partly excavated and partly undiscovered. Whilst it remains one of the lesser visited sites in Turkey it was certainly one of our favourites. Aphrodisias was discovered by a Turkish photographer in the 1950s who stumbled across a village where he discovered locals living amongst the ruins, using ancient pillars to hold up their houses and ancient tombs for troughs for their cattle!
Without a doubt the most incredible part of Aphrodisias today is the Roman Stadium which is still standing despite earthquake damage in the 7th century! The stadium would have seated 30,000 people and is one of the largest and best preserved ancient stadiums in the world! There are many other fascinating sites of interest in Aphrodisias including temples, baths, churches, public squares, streets and a monumental gateway from 200 CE. In addition to the stadium, Aphrodisias is also know for the Aphrodisian Sculpture Academy which was famous throughout the Roman empire!
The metropolis of Ephesus evolved as the center of classical sea trade, the birthplace of the Hellenistic Greek renaissance, the Roman capital of Asia Minor, and the site of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In its day it rivalled Rome in its magnificence. The site of Ephesus is enormous despite only 10% of the city excavated and the site is already unrivalled as the world’s largest intact ancient Roman city.
You’ll be transported to another world as you explore the ancient streets, the Agora, the countless fascinating temples that have been uncovered, the Odeon theatre, baths, ancient aquaducts and water pipes as well as the iconic library! In addition there is the Byzantine Terrace Houses and the extraordinarily well-preserved theatre, which hosts performances today!
Ephesus is the most famous and largest of the ancient sites to visit in Turkey, which also means it will likely be the busiest as well.
Apollon Symintheion was a small town dedicated to the god Apollo that was built on a natural water source. The ruins are quite extensive and well preserved, in particular the temple which makes it well worth a stop!
At the end of the 2nd century BCE, the dynasty of the Attalids who were the kings of Pergamon, established a thermal spa in Pamukkale and built the ancient city of Hierapolis above it. Today, both Pamukkale and Hierapolis are protected World Heritage Sites and people still travel from all around the world to bathe in the healing waters.
The ruins of Hierapolis are an enormous site where you are able to walk among the ruins and visit ancient baths, temples, Greek monuments, an incredible theatre, library, gymnasium and one of the world’s largest necropolis! The height of the ancient city provides majestic views across the unique landscapes and countryside which surround Hierapolis and Pamukkale.
You can combine your trip to Hierapolis with a visit to Pamukkale when choosing which ancient sites to visit in Turkey.
The ancient site of Knidos which is famous in antiquity for the cult of Aphrodite which started there. Situated at the end of the Datca peninsula, this Dorian city was built on terraces rising to the acropolis. Knidos had a harbour on either side of the peninsula and flourished during the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods. The city was renowned as one of the most beautiful in ancient Greece and was a fantastic ancient site to explore when sailing in Turkey!
Ancient Assos is located at the top of a hill surrounded by olive groves, charming stone buildings and crumbling city walls and boasts spectacular views of the Aegean Sea and the Greek island of Lesvos! Assos is an amazing site that in addition to its spectacular views and interesting history also is an archaeologists dream with fascinating ruins and fragments of ancient pottery scattered throughout the entire site waiting to be discovered!
Ancient Assos was first settled around 900 BCE by Aeolian colonists from nearby Lesvos. Today it is possible to walk around and discover the city’s panoramic lofty ruins, the bronze age Acropolis, the 530 BCE Doric temple of Athena and a breathtaking view over the Aegean Sea. It’s possible to walk around the 2,500 year old city walls and visit the ancient theatre which would have seated around 5,000 people and overlooks the sea!
Assos was one of our favourite ancient sites to visit in Turkey as it was so quiet and in a beautiful location by the sea.
The ancient site of Pergamon sits atop a hill overlooking the modern town of Bergama. Pergamon is one of the largest sites in Turkey and without a doubt one of the most impressive! Pergamon was a major world power and its influence generated great wealth for centuries and was among the 7 cities addressed by John in the Book of Revelations.
Its amphitheatre is the steepest in antiquity and the library which was built by Eumenes II around 197 BCE was the second largest in the ancient world! Pergamon is an enormous site and we’d highly recommend visiting with a guide or hiring an audio guide. We did the latter and learnt so much about this very powerful ancient city which left us speechless by its incredible amphitheatre!
Asklepion is an ancient healing centre that was dedicated to the serpent god Asklepius. Today it is believed that Asklepion was more like a modern spa than a hospital with therapies included mud baths, music concerts, and doses of water from the sacred fountain.
You can stroll the Sacred Way which originally connected Asklepion with the Acropolis in Pergamon. Throughout the site there are a number of pools and fountains which were used for bathing, drinking and various other forms of treatment. It is very impressive to walk along the northern colonnade where there are 17 columns still in place and leads to the restored Roman Theatre.
Applying for your Turkey Visa
Unless you’re a member of a visa-exempt country, you will need to apply for a Turkish visa before visiting Turkey. Once approved, your visa will allow you to enter the country by land, sea or air and allow you to travel through this truly incredible country.
You can apply online for your e-visa Turkey in less than 5 minutes! You simply fill in the online application form, pay the fee and your visa will be sent to you by email usually within a couple of days, however you can apply for an urgent visa which will be issued much faster.