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Serving as the land bridge between Europe and Asia, Turkey’s history is fundamental to the histories of both of these continents, and its culture is largely influenced by both as well. The land has seen empires, dynasties and major religions live and die, all impacting its history at least a little.
The Hittites were one of the best-known early people to live in Turkey. Their cuneiform tablets give insight into the government and culture of the day. They morphed into an empire by 1450 BC, pushing their way into Egypt and Syria. In 1250 BC, the Trojan Empire also grew as a regional power in the area.
After the Hittite Empire died off, Turkey experienced a period of time where the Greeks and Persians vied for control of the land. In 334 BC, Alexander and the Macedonians took control. After his death, the Hellenic tradition was solidified in Turkey, and temples, aqueducts and other tributes to the Hellenic culture rose up throughout Turkey. Soon, Greek became the official language of the region.
The Roman Empire would not leave Turkey untouched, and in 190 BC, Rome first entered the land. Within 60 years, they had taken over most of it under Emperor Augustus. Turkey enjoyed peace and prosperity under Roman rule, and also saw the birth of Christianity.
When Rome split under Diocletian, Turkey and the rest of the eastern half of the empire became known as Byzantium, and under this new government the Greek language and Christianity became strong. Under Justinian, Roman law was codified, and the empire stretched all the way into North Africa and Spain. However, the Byzantines were weakened by ongoing struggles with the Persians, and the land that is now Turkey fell to Arab armies in 654 AD, bringing a new language and the religion of Islam to the land.
During this time, the First Turkish Empire, the Seljuks, was also becoming a force in Turkey. In 1204, the Crusaders attacked Constantinople, and in 1242, the Mongols descended on the land. All three of these groups had a role to play in modern Turkish culture, yet none were able to get rid of the Byzantine influence completely.
In 1300, however, a single Turkish entity, the Ottoman dynasty, rose to power and was able to push the Byzantine rules out once and for all. The culture of the Ottomans was an interesting mix of Greek, Turkish, Muslim and Christian elements, which made it possible for them to rule the people a bit more easily as they pushed the boundaries of their empire.
The Ottoman Empire reached a golden age in 1520 under the reign of Sultan Suleyman. It was during this time that Ottoman law was codified and the empire reached it cultural zenith. After his rule, the empire slowly drifted into oblivion, but what is now Turkey remained under Ottoman control until World War I.
When war loomed in Europe, the Ottomans were on the losing side. By the end of the war, the Turkish land was in pieces, with French, Greeks and Russians all controlling a portion. At the Treaty of Sevres, only a small sliver of land was left to the Turks. This pushed the Turks to revolt, and in 1923 they were given back their land, and the modern Turkish borders were set.
The Turks consolidated Ankara as their capital and began establishing a new government. They were able to avoid involvement in World War II, but found themselves pushing for democracy after the war. A few coups occurred, but democracy was able to remain the main form of government until the first Gulf War in the 1990s, in which Turkey helped the Allies invade Iraq.
In 2001, Turkey faced an economic collapse, and the Turkish people looked to new leadership, turning the government over to the Justice and Development Party and the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had decided Islamic ties. Erdogan began pushing for European Union membership for Turkey, and this became the focus of the government well into the 21st century.
- Strangers at one’s home are considered “God’s guest” for at least three days.
- Males in Turkey are required to serve in the military for at least three weeks.
- A full 99 percent of the Turkish population claim to be Muslim, yet only 95 percent claim to believe in God.
- Tourism is a strong industry in Turkey, with over 30 million tourists visiting the country each year.
- Saint Nick of Santa Claus fame was originally from Turkey.
- While most Turks follow Islamic law in regards to not eating pork, many ignore Islamic law in regards to not consuming alcohol.
- Istanbul sits in both Asia and Europe, and is the only city in the world to span two continents.
- The biblical account of Noah’s Ark states that it landed on Mount Ararat, which is in Eastern Turkey. Many explorers hike the mountain looking for the remnants of the fabled ship.
- Turkish cuisine is considered quite unique. People visiting Turkey should take the time to sample some of its food for themselves.
- Written language is believed to have originated in Turkey with the Hittites.
- Istanbul – Home to many of Turkey’s historic treasures, like the blue mosque and the Topkapi Palace, this is the city to visit if you only have an opportunity to see one place in Turkey.
- Pergamum – Pergamum is home to the Acropolis, one of the primary attractions in all of Turkey.
- Ephesus – In Ephesus you can tour some of the most extensive Roman city remains.
- Safranbolu – This Ottoman townscape has many historic recreations of what life was like at the apex of the Ottoman Empire.
- Gallipoli Peninsula – Tour the remnants of the Anzac battlefields in this historic location.
- Capppadocia – Tour the remnants of the cave-dwelling populations of yesteryear, and if you are brave enough, you can even stay in a cave hotel.
- Hierapolis – Another city with beautiful Roman city ruins, here you can also explore Turkey’s Cotton Castle.
- Amasya – The Ottoman house in Amasya overlooks a beautiful river, making a postcard-perfect scene.
- Ani – Once the capital of the Armenian empire, this city has some excellent ruins to explore.
- Sumela – the monastery at Sumela seems to defy gravity as it clings to the rock face. From this city you can explore the Kackar Mountains.
How to Get Cash
- You can find ATMs in most Turkish towns, and most of the machines will offer instructions in English. In fact, ATMs are so prevalent that you can get around the country using just them as a source of cash, provided you remember to get cash out before visiting a small town and avoid the holidays.
- Bank and exchange offices are the best places to exchange your money into lira. You may also be able to exchange your money at post offices, shops and major hotels.
- Most locations in Turkey do not appreciate traveler’s checks, and while they may cash them, they will often charge heavy fees for doing so.
- If you are staying within major tourist areas, you'll find that hotels, stores, bars and restaurants are happy to accept your Visa or MasterCard credit card, but not your Amex card. However, outside of the major tourist areas, credit cards may not be readily accepted.
- Look for a Western Union if you face a money emergency. While expensive, these locations allow you to have someone back home wire money to you.